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O-T Fagbenle…One of Many

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In the 2nd instalment of our (((ABOUT TO BLOW))) series, I got nosey with actor O-T Fagbenle (30) The name may not ring a bell (yet) but the face...you’ll definitely recognise. Currently O-T plays rookie detective Dave Holland
(alongside David Morrissey & Sandra Oh: AKA the legend that is Christina Yang) in Sky1’s adaptation of Mark Billingham’s ‘THORNE novels. 

Born to a Nigerian Father and English Mother, O-T (a RADA graduate) has managed to build up an impressive body of work across TV, Film & Theatre; his credits include BBC series’ 'Material Girl' and 'Walter's War' - where he played Walter Tull himself. O-T also won an M.E.N Theatre Award for his portrayal of Sidney Poitier’s “Son” in '6 Degrees of Separation' and this year we saw the release of  Double Wedding a romantic comedy where he stars alongside Tia & Tamera Mowry. (check out the trailer on our home page)

Now I usually like to set the scene for you guys, however due to O-T’s busy schedule I didn’t actually have the pleasure of grilling interviewing him face to face (lol) however uncannily enough I randomly bumped into him whilst on a shopping trip the very next day (how weird) Anyhoo, during our interview we spoke about work, women, his early years and (dare I say) his dynasty family in-the-making (yes, there are 11 other Fagbenle siblings just like him and they’re all making MAJOR moves) so read on for a glimpse into O-T’s world…

So what does O-T stand for?
My full name is Olatunde Olateju Olaolorun, the O-T comes from the letters in my first two names.

Okay, and you were brought up in Nigeria, Britain & Spain, how did that come about?
Well I come from a kind of nomadic family and my parents followed what was best for us in terms of education & career, so international borders were never really an obstacle for them.

So which country do you call home?
Ultimately I’ve spent most of my time in London and I’ve kind of followed in the footsteps of my parents in terms of their Nomadic lifestyle. I’ve ended up spending half of this year in the UK and the other half in the states, but London is my main base.

What side of London are you from? Well that’ll be telling, but I'm representing Norf-Weezy!…that’s all I can say (laughs) but I love Lagos as well I was there a few weeks ago actually.

Was that for the university talk you gave out there?
Yes, my father [Tunde  Fagbenle] is a journalist and he recently launched his book there entitled “Nigeria: A Thousand Laughs A Thousand Cries” it was a really nice event, and as I play the Saxophone I was asked to give a performance. Also at the event was the Dean of Arts for the university of Lagos who asked if I could do a talk with some of the students there, so I did and it went really well - off the back of that I was asked to give another talk at the university of Ibadan.

How much has Lagos changed since you last lived there?
It was a revelation because we didn’t go back for 10 years during the military rule because my Dad was very involved in the pro-democracy movement, so really the biggest change was suddenly seeing the country through adult eyes. Nigeria definitely has its fair share of struggles in terms of developing responsibility & accountability for the people, however I do feel like the wealth is starting to spread a little more and there’s a burgeoning middle class population.
As mentioned earlier O-T has played the Sax since childhood - he’s embarked on tours & shows at Wembley Arena, Edinburgh Festival and other major venues)
Do you still play Saxophone much?
Every now & then I might do a show. I did a movie called ‘Radio Cape Cod' and once the director found out I played Sax he said ‘right we’re gonna write-in the saxophone’ so every now & then I get to use my talent. My brother Luti recently got married in Jamaica and he asked me to play for his first dance so it’s now more of a novelty thing now.

So your brother’s married off, how about you? Is there anyone special on the scene right now? Unfortunately no but I’m open to offers (laughs) I‘m kind of married to my work right now, but it’s inspirational to see two people make that commitment so I’m kind of hoping I get that lucky in life...

...that reminds me, the Daily Mail (UK tabloid known for printing crazy things) quoted you as saying: “There is no way I can get married to a non-Nigerian woman…not that I am a racist” Just for the record...is this true? No. That’s a misquote, when I read it I was like ahh thanks. You read the Daily Mail and you think they twist things, but when they actually take your words and twist them it's just like…ARE YOU KIDDING ME! You’re actually going after me? I mean I think the world of Nigerian women, black is beautiful straight up I ain’t gonna joke, but I don’t discriminate. It’s a nonsense.......................................................................................................................................

Okay so lets get down to business, tell me about Thorne and your character Dave Holland.
When I first auditioned for it I told my sister and she was like ‘oh my gosh I’ve got all his books’ and she brought them all out (laughs) she was so excited.
But essentially Thorne is about the fantastic David Morrissey’s character, who goes around trying to solve murders and at times I think of myself as the Robin to his Batman (laughs)
I guess what’s interesting about this program for me is Thorne is not just another flawed cop, he’s actually a cop who messes up in a big way and he sometimes compromises the investigations…A LOT (laughs) My character Dave Holland is new to the murder squad, as he goes through the investigation he recognises the flaws & cracks and sometimes has to contradict some of the decisions being made by Thorne...his superior/Mentor, and of course when you’re dealing with murder a few lives may be lost through the course of the series…erm I don’t know if I’m saying too much by telling you that.

Don’t worry, we love a good scoop (laughs)
(O-T does his best Thunder Throat voiceover impression)
IVY MUNRO EXCLUSIVE!...THORNE DIES..nah I'm joking (laughs)

Now see if the acting thing ever goes to pot, there’s a voiceover career waiting in the wings.
See what I’m saying…I’m finding out a lot about myself in this interview (laughs)

Thorne is quite heavy and hard-hitting so on the flipside what's it like working on the more light-hearted stuff like 'Double Wedding' with the Mowry twins?

Well firstly I gotta say those girls are great…as women, as ladies I’ve had some of the best times filming with them, they are so much fun (laughs)

LOL did you really wanna marry them ?
Well you see both of them are already taken, but I was very happy to take the friendship role.
I’m still good friends with them and we speak quite regularly. Tia & Tamera produced Double Wedding as well as starring in it, so it was really exciting for them as their first foray into the production side of things, but in terms of the light-heartedness; one of the things that really excited me about being an actor was the idea of doing lots of different things, I was always curious about it all and I’ve been really lucky to have had the opportunity to do physical theatre, musical theatre, TV, Film etc…

…I was gonna say, being an actor of colour there are significantly less roles out there anyway, yet despite this you’ve still managed to work across a wide spectrum of genres. You’re really quite blessed in that respect.
Right, right absolutely. I tell you I give thanks for that, as I know there’s a power greater than me that’s given me that opportunity. So yeah I guess having the opportunity to do something like Double Wedding; which as you’ve said is more jovial is great, but I approached it in exactly the same way I would've approached a deep Shakespearean tragic role. There are so many talented people who would like this opportunity - so out of respect for them and respect for myself and my art, I always try to take it as seriously as possible…but ya’know when you’ve got the Mowry sisters you can’t help but laugh on set quite a bit.

Now you spend a lot of time in LA for work purposes, do you feel there’s a glass ceiling or lack of opportunity UK, not just for black actors but actors in general? There are different opportunities available in different places and some places have more opportunities then others. I think for me, the fantastic man who is Barak Obama kind of made a mockery out of the glass ceiling excuse, it’s not that there aren’t barriers or obstacles faced by black actors, it’s just that I’m not particularly interested in giving those things energy by talking about them. Ultimately Barak Obama said ‘you can do it’ and as long as Obama is the president of the united sates of America it’s me who’s making a fool of myself if I accept the limits others try to impose on me.

I've also got the travelling spirit so although I’m a big fan of London, when winter time rolls around and we start dealing with 7-8 hours of daylight per day, my heart can’t take it (laughs) so I have to find myself in a warmer climate.

Okay so what’s your proudest piece of work to date?
It’s hard to say...when I did Porgy & Bess in the west end it was really artistically challenging because I wasn’t trained in musical theatre and everyone in that ensemble were of the highest order, so I really felt the pressure as it’s a very specific genre with specific artistic requirements. So being able to hold my own in that was something I’m really proud of.
I was also really proud of Walter's War' (a series about the first black commissioned officer to lead British troops during WW1) because it’s art that contributes to our collective consciousness. I was fascinated with his story because this mixed-race man wasn't in England in 1888 because his Dad was a slave, but rather because his Dad was an economic migrant who thought he’d have a better share of his lot here.

When we look at 18th & 19th century England, we don’t hear about black economic migrants who have a very skilled trade, marry a local girl and feel part of the local community - and although that part of Walter's story wasn't concentrated on in the film, I was appreciative for the opportunity to be part of something which was meaningful with the dissemination of some hidden history that could encourage people to re-asses their preconceptions of our British cultural heritage.


So what would you be doing if you weren’t acting?
I applied to study economics at university and I was accepted, but one night I decided to see if I could get into drama school. Back then we didn’t have a lot of money but my mum was like - lets find the best drama schools and apply. We only had enough money to apply to two drama schools because the application fees were like £35 each, so we decided to go for the top two and I auditioned for RADA and got in.

So your family weren’t always as financially stable as they are today? That’s right, we're not millionaires now but we're more stable then we have been in the past. We’ve slept x6 people to a bedroom, in places with intermittent running water and electricity from a generator, but in saying that we had a joyful childhood because if you have a generator you're not considered 'poor' if you go to the developing world you’ll know what poor is...you’re poor if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from (laughs) There were times when money would come through and we would live really nicely for a couple of years, so it was kind of up & down.


The Family Fagbenle…

So you've clearly got a big family...but just how big are we talking? My family is straight up BIG, I've got 8 brothers and 3 sisters and I've gotta say they're the biggest blessing of my life.

Tell me something funny about them (laughs) My family are very competitive…at everything. One Christmas, over a 4 day period, we played over 18 hours of a certain board game… it was intense, I mean people lost their voices (laughs) we went AT IT! It was really serious. If you watch my family play Monopoly or even Scrabble I tell you…wear your face mask (laughs) It’s a fatal sport.

The Sibling Rundown…

O-T's family is doing big things; his younger brother Luti is a BAFTA nominated Producer who runs his own Production company (Luti Media) Two of his younger sisters are on scholarships in the States (one being Harvard) the older of the two sisters is the star of the under 18’s England Basketball team and was also named one of the top 5 players in Europe. His brother Tito also acts & sings and is currently signed to Femi Oguns' Identity Agency Group. There's also another brother in America who plays college b-ball...the list is endless. “There are 12 of us so I could go on...to be honest it's hard to stand out in my family, like I’ll come home and tell everybody that I just landed a x6 part series and they'll be like ‘Oh...nice...so yeah anyway" (laughs)

Moms & Pops…

O-T’s Father, Tunde Fagbenle is a notable and somewhat radical Journalist/Author (Tunde was involved in the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria) and of his Mother he says...
My Mother works in corporate accountability & sustainability, she specialises in assisting multinational corporations in acting responsibly & sustainability towards the environment and indigenous population. She's worked in Vietnam and also a lot in Nigeria on the Niger/Delta crisis, she's worked for the UN and right now she’s trying to work in Papua New Guinea, she even took us to Canada when they were giving back the rights to the land.

So there’s no subpar performance in your family (lol)
(laughs) Yeah but there’s a very supportive atmosphere, at the end of the day we’re human so there’re ups & downs, I don’t want paint some kind of fake picture.


So lastly, what advice would you give to any aspiring actors out there?
There’s no fuel like love, if you can really engage with the love that you have for your profession, that is really going to be your greatest driver, even greater than that of fame or finance. The second thing is to become the hardest working person that you know.

...and second-to-lastly what’s next for you?
Well currently I'm developing an idea for a sitcom, but I’m trying to be patient & real picky about what I’m going to do next.

I don’t think there’s anything left to say about O-T, clearly he comes from an entire family of trailblazers and it’s just a matter of time before one of them crosses over to super stardom status...only question is, which Fagbenle will it be? I know who I’ve got my money on, so Osbournes, Wayans & Simpsons you better watch out - cos there’s a new fam in town!

You can catch O-T in Thorne on Sunday nights at 9pm on Sky1 HD

Check out O-T's latest showreel HERE

Images courtesy of:
Jeff Lorch (Lead/Main image)
Twilight Productions (Double Wedding Image)
Sky1 (Thorne Cast Image)
O-T Fagbenle (All other images)

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