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Gbenga Akinnagbe: All About Drive

Gbenga Akinnagbe: All About Drive

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Gbenga Akinnagbe for Liberated People.

If there is one word that defines the spirit of Gbenga Akinnagbe, it is driven. It’s how he perfected his brand: first as an actor in Hollywood movies and TV series including The Wire & 24: Live Another Day. Then as a writer, having had two articles published in The New York Times. We caught up with the fearless warrior one recent afternoon. In this interview, Gbenga shares his own stories – of struggle, of success, and why, after all these years, he is back visiting the fatherland.

Interview by Ope L. Akinyemi

TW: Tell us about your childhood experience.

Gbenga Akinnagbe: Growing up was tough. My family lived in shelters, as well as project housing during my childhood. I was also in and out of trouble, group homes and other facilities. At home, there was never enough to eat as I spent a lot of time out of school. In addition, my education seemed quite remedial until I started to participate in an after- school sport, which was wrestling. Fortunately, I received a scholarship to attend university and it changed my life. I received a great education from Bucknell University. {On the home front}, I have four younger brothers and one older sister. We are a little spread out now in different states, but most of my siblings still live in Maryland, USA, where we grew up.

TW: What influenced your decision to go into acting? How did it all start?

GA: I used to work for the federal government, in the Congressional Affairs Department of one of the federal agencies. One day, someone came by my cubicle and mentioned that one of their friends was in town doing a play. I was surprised because until that point I had never thought of acting as something a person did for a living. When I asked her about it she was dismissive and said I wouldn’t be able to do it because her friend had studied it and was quite talented. That comment actually sparked an interest in me that made me want to find out more about acting. I researched it like crazy and decided to start auditioning. I have been acting since.

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Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) and Erik Ritter (Gbenga Akinnagbe) talk to Jack Bauer in 24: Live Another Day

TW: Your first credited movie role was in ‘They’re Made Out of Meat’. What was that experience like for you?

GA: That was a short student film and I had a great time on it. However, by the time I saw it, I realized they had cut all my lines out. It could have been the bad Irish accent I decided to give my character half way through shooting. Yeah, maybe that was it. (Laughing).

TW: You appear as CIA agent Erik Ritter on one of the best shows on Television today, 24: Live Another Day. How did you end up getting cast on the show?

GA: Well, I auditioned, they dug it….a few weeks later, Fox Network offered me the role and I accepted.

TW: What is it like to film those violent scenes? And does it affect you in any way?

GA: It can be very intense filming violent scenes. But how I’m affected by it depends on if I am the perpetrator or victim of violence in the scene. When I first started acting, it was difficult to leave the negativity on set because I actually carried around a dark feeling. But, as I grew as an actor, it became easier to leave work at work.

TW: Do you get along well off screen with Keifer Sutherland (Jack Bauer) and Yvonne Strzechowski (Kate Morgan)?

GA: I do. I learned a lot from both of them. In fact, I acquired all my most recent fart jokes from Yvonne.

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TW: Tell us about Liberated People.

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GA: Liberated people is a socially-minded apparel line that celebrates the liberation dates of nations and people around the world. Our umbrella issue is Mass Incarnation. I’ve been a part of movements around the world including Occupy Nigeria. I’ve also being on trial in Brooklyn for protesting Stop and Frisk, as well as going on a Health and Human Rights delegation in the West Bank and Israel. Then I noticed that all these different people from difference races, speaking different languages were out in the streets fighting for the same things. Though we all feel our struggles are unique to our sub-group…i.e. our race, our neighborhood, our gender, and our country. But it’s not. Our struggles are actually what unites us, they are what we have in common. I wanted to make something that was emblematic of that. Hence, Liberated People was born.

TW: Who would you say has most influenced you in the formation of your character and view of life?

GA: I would have to say my parents. Every day, I strive not to make the mistakes they made.

TW: How do you relax?

GA: Good question. I need to find more ways to relax. That’s for sure. I love my work, and that’s the problem. I love it so much…I don’t allow myself a break from it, which is necessary.

TW: Although you were born and raised in the United States, what does Nigeria mean to you? Do you see Nigeria as more than just a spot on the world map? How often do you visit Nigeria?

GA: Nigeria is home, the United States is home. I can feel Nigeria throb in my genes when I eat jollof rice or eba. I actually went to Nigeria for the first time 3 or 4 years ago and have been back every year since. I love being there and plan to continue to spend more and more time in there. I want to contribute.

Photo credit: Asiko, EW, 24: Live Another Day.

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