FYIG recently had the chance to chat with actress Olunike Adeliyi about her upcoming film, BOOST. Find out more about her role as Amina Nour in BOOST, her upcoming film Darken, and her interesting creation Monologue Slam!
Tell the readers a little bit about yourself for those who may be unfamiliar with you.
I’m a first-generation Canadian. My parents immigrated from Jamaica and Nigeria. I was raised in Jamaica for many years of my youth in the countryside of St. Anne’s with my grandparents. It was the perfect beginning for a young child to develop their imagination. I know that’s where I first caught the performing bug because I used to sing at our church harvest and Easter celebrations. I always felt at home on stage. I continued to practice my craft throughout junior high and high school. Toronto has been my birthplace and where I’ve lived the majority of my life. I have friendships that span 30 years. Even our kids are friends. I’ve had a pretty great life and I don’t take it or anyone for granted, because I know I’ve been blessed. To get more personal, I have the cutest all black cat named Michael Jackson and we go for walks without a leash. He just trots beside me like a champ. I’m his mommy and I’m scared to think of the fact that I will outlive him. We even shadow box in the morning to stay in shape and healthy.
When did you decide to pursue a career as an actress and how did that start to materialize?
I believe I started to think of it as a real profession when I started to do background work on television and film sets. I would watch all the known actors I saw in these productions and study their work. Denzel Washington was fun to watch on John Q because I grew up mesmerized by his work. He was very kind to me on set and asked me if I wanted to pursue an acting career seriously. I said yes, and he recommended schools for me to apply to in New York, to fine tune my craft. Let’s just say when Denzel Washington gives you advice, you listen and apply it to your life.
How did your time at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) shape you as an actress?
AADA shaped me into a disciplined actor. I had to read a ton and show up for everyone. I became responsible for my fellow students because it was a partnership. We all had so much fun together and we trusted each other. What I loved the most were all the assignments we were given to explore New York City. It took us out of the classroom and into the hustle and bustle of real life. I remember one assignment was to sit on the train from Far Rockaway to Upper Manhattan back and forth multiple times and just watch the changing of the types of people that got on and off the train. What a fascinating way to be quiet, listen and observe. AADA also provided the students with free Broadway tickets every week to see shows and watch the best in action. I must have seen three to four shows a week and gifted family and friends with free tickets when they were in town. My thesis play, I played the lead role and my whole family flew to New York to support me. The Nigerians and Jamaicans packed the house. That was a great moment!
What did it mean to you to land your role as Leah Kerns on Flashpoint?
When I returned from New York things went pretty fast in terms of getting work. When I booked Flashpoint I was already on a tour with the African Theatre Ensemble in a play called “The Marriage of Anansewa” by Afua Sutherland. I played multiple roles, including the lead. I was lubed up and ready to go when Flashpoint came around. Playing Leah Kerns meant a lot to me, because of what it meant to the Black community. Seeing my image on screen in such a big series, with my hair short and natural, sent out a wave of positivity to that community. They got to see their image reflected publicly and I thank Flashpoint for giving me the opportunity to affect so many people in a positive light. Leah was also a badass, extremely authoritative, but had your back with her strength. It was an honour to play her. I owe my career to her.
You play the role of Amina Nour in the upcoming film BOOST. What drew you to want to play this character?
I wanted to play Amina Nour because this was a story written about the immigrant experience in Canada. Amina’s experience with her family was specifically the African immigrant experience, but an experience that is also universal. Amina is a woman full of love and life and I drew from my mother’s life when she journeyed to Toronto for a better life and to eventually meet someone and start a family. So many hopes and dreams, but so many hard obstacles as well-being from another country and being female and black. It’s hard to find where you fit in. Amina like my mother also became a single mother unfairly and I wanted to explore the broken heart vulnerability of that life lived while trying raising children. I wanted the role so badly I flew myself from LA to snag the role of a lifetime.
What can audiences expect from BOOST?
Fast cars, sex, and violence to hit all the entertainment goals. However, it’s also a human story about a family just trying to survive in a country they aren’t familiar with but want to be a part of the Canadian fabric. It’s about defining one’s identity while trying to hold on to loved ones through the journey. It’s a film about love. I was shocked to watch it all unfold on screen. I never really watch myself on screen, but this one was a must and I was honoured to be a part of it.
You also have a sci-fi/fantasy feature coming up called Darken. Tell us about this film and your role as Kali.
Darken is a crazy sci-fi feature about a bizarre, mysterious, and violent unknown world with danger and death around every corner. It’s designed like a violent prison-like world of labyrinthine rooms, interconnected with no apparent rhyme or reason and no way of escape. Kali, an instinctual warrior, and citizen of Darken creates makeshift weapons expertly in her continual battle for survival. Kali and her close friend Mercy are radicals on the run that stay one step ahead of the murderous disciples of the evil high priestess, Clarity. I created Kali’s role starting with animal work. I choose a panther jungle cat with hyper-awareness that can slip in and out of places smoothly and undetected. She will also kill in a heartbeat if she felt threatened. I wouldn’t mess with deadly stares.
What advice do you have for aspiring actors/actresses?
Study you’re a** off like a brain surgeon. It’s all about character development and self-development. You learn more about who you are and what your opinions are through art. Through acting specifically, you can’t play a character truthfully without having your own voice. Characters have different ideologies and past experiences than you, but also share similarities. This kind of work is explored through lots of research, discipline, and passion. I’m a part of an acting studio called LS&CO where artists explore everything imaginable. There’s is no hiding from who you are as a human being, because Michéle Lonsdale-Smith, our master teacher and artist director, will see you clearly and work with you to accept all facets of yourself. This called being prepared for when the opportunity strikes. Also, invest in yourself with good PR.
You co-created Monologue Slam. Tell us what that’s all about.
I created Monologue Slam in New York and used it as a tool to develop young students in marginalized communities. I taught children’s theatre in Brooklyn and found it was a great way to have young people write monologues based on their lived experiences and perform it on stage in a battle, using their words to affect instead of guns, knives, and fists. I took them out on field trips to different Slam competitions, so they could be inspired, and it worked. My classes were full and fun. My business partner Andre Newell and I design one especially for Canadian artists to display their talents on stage in front of a panel of judges who are industry professionals. I get to work with such powerful people behind the scenes and wanted to share my network resources with other artist looking to be discovered. So many actors have graced our stage and have booked major productions. Monologue Slam is in its 7th season and still going strong.
You’re currently studying at the University of Toronto majoring in Psychology and double-minoring in Caribbean and African Studies. How hard is it to find time to study with your busy career?
It’s a crazy task I took on. There was a time two years ago that I was not happy with the content of scripts being sent to me. I was in LA and I was also caught in this place of being passed up for roles because I didn’t look old enough or young enough. Those were the meaty roles too. So I left and spent a great deal of time in Jamaica and Nigeria to redefine my journey. When I returned to Toronto I enrolled at U of T and it has been the greatest decision. The universe saw that I made a choice to enrich my life further with more education and sent shiploads of roles at the same time, so my amazing team and I had to work together to balance everything. My professors understand my acting lifestyle as well so they do their best to accommodate me. Who knew that I could have both, but I’m proving that you can do whatever you want with lots of hard WORK and tutors lol.
You work with the charity Third World Awareness. What prompted you to get involved with this charity in particular?
I was looking for a charity to work with ten years ago when I returned from New York. My heart was broken and I was going through a divorce at the time and needed to find a community to serve others. I met a friend in the acting community and she told me about Third World Awareness that began over 20 years ago at a high school. It’s a small charity organization that goes to give help where it’s needed without trying to impose themselves on the culture. The first year I traveled with them to Haiti was just after the devastating earthquake hit in 2010. That opened my eyes to so much that I’ve never experienced before in my life. I was so scared, but I was willing to lay down my life for those Haitian people. I’ve been going to Haiti almost every year since to help out and I’m excited to go this year to unwind and connect with the Haitian people and culture. I’ve gained some incredible friends in the organizations and Haiti. If anyone wants to get involved check out www.thirdworldawareness.org It’s a game changer.
Let the readers know where to find you online.
@olunikeadeliyi & @olunikefitness on IG
@olunike & @olunikefitness on Twitter
They can also see me strolling through the streets of Toronto stylishly dressed in all black with a backpack about to crush a yummy hotdog. Superhero vibes!