This 25-year-old Hollywood rookie is here to stay, and he has the acting chops to prove it.
Fans know him best from adrenaline-packed roles in The Hunger Games as Thresh and on NBC’s Revolution, but in this month’s teen romance Endless Love, Nigerian-born actor Dayo Okeniyi is able to show off a feistier side. “I get to be the life of the party, which is definitely refreshing,” says Okeniyi, whose own path to Hollywood was intense. “As an actor of color in L.A., I’m constantly on my game,” he says, “and there are days I wish I could be carefree like that, live in the moment. But I want to make this my life — and that means I’ve got to work for it.”
Here, the Nigeria- and Indiana-raised actor shares his Hollywood success story with American Way.
LET'S MAKE A DEAL: “When I headed to L.A., my parents gave me a deadline — I had to make something of myself within a year or come home, sleep on the couch and get a real job. I landed The Hunger Games the last week of that year. I cut it really close. They were already reupholstering the couch.”
A REAL GENIUS: “If it didn’t work out, I had applied for a job at Apple. That process is crazy — you’re as likely to get into Stanford University as you are to work there. I was supposed to start that Monday, but I went to the Hunger Games audition instead.”
ATLANTA PROUD: “It’s the new Hollywood. There’s so much happening there, but it’s still got that small-town feel. It was our first taste of the American dream, and my parents still call it home.”
MISSING MOM'S COOKING: “There’s just nothing like it. It’s a lot of Nigerian food: fried rice and chicken, a lot of curries, a lot of spices. It’s comfort food. There’s no cookbooks, no recipes — it comes from the soul. You can’t replicate it.”
ON DIVERSITY IN HOLLYWOOD: “It’s definitely changing, but it’s still hard being an actor of color. I think the only way to beat that is to create your own material, which I’ve been trying to do. No one’s going to write those roles for you; you’ve got to do it yourself.”
HE'S GOT SKILLS: “I’m a chef, for sure. I make excellent peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and I can boil eggs. It definitely gets the ladies. But if I really get a craving, I go to this place, Veronica’s Kitchen, in L.A. It’s as close as you’re going to get to Mom’s.”