Meet Hunger Games star Dayo Okeniyi

The Hunger Games is a human tale that follows a girl (Katniss) and the lengths that she would go to protect the ones she loves in a world that doesn’t care about her. No vampires, no werewolves.

You must be excited about starring in The Hunger Games. How did that gig come about?

I had just been introduced to my current managers and they decided to put me on a trial period. They were going to send me on some auditions to see how I performed in the room with casting directors and to see what I had to work on, maybe take some classes or what not. During that trial period the first audition they sent me on was The Hunger Games. I went in and auditioned at Debra Zane’s office where they put me on tape and sent it to the director Gary Ross. Instead of having me come back for a second audition or a screen test. Gary Ross cast me off of that first tape and the rest as they would say is history.

Were you a fan of The Hunger Games trilogy of books?

I wasn’t aware of the books until I had the opportunity to audition. I knew a movie was being made based off of the book by Susanna Collins but I wasn’t aware of how loved the novel was. I did some research online and it was immediately made clear to me the huge following the trilogy had. So a couple of days before my audition I got my hands on a copy of The Hunger Games and half way through I was absolutely hooked.

”]”Dayo Okeniyi [image credit Vince Trupsin]There are obvious comparisons to Twilight. What are your thoughts on this?

The obvious comparisons to Twilight never cross the threshold of plot, story or tone. These are two completely different stories, trilogies and movies. I do understand where they come from. Both movies are adaptations from novels beloved by mostly teenage girls and both share a female protagonist in somewhat of a love triangle but the comparisons stop there. The Hunger Games is a human tale that follows a girl (Katniss) and the lengths that she would go to protect the ones she loves in a world that doesn’t care about her. No vampires, no werewolves.

Tell us a bit about the character you play, Thresh.

He is the male tribute selected from District 11 to partake in The Hunger Games. Described in the book as a physical wonder, he is one of the tributes favored to win the games. Even though he has all this going for him, he by no means wants to be a part of the games. He is not out for blood, glory or fame. He is a gentle giant who aids Katniss on her journey.

What was it like working with Lenny Kravitz?

Amazing, I was surprised to find how incredibly humble of a man he is. It was also cool to learn from him about his time in Nigeria as a stage boy years ago. When he lived in Yaba and ate suya! Really cool guy.

What was the best thing about starring in The Hunger Games?

Getting the chance to work with amazing actors. Even on the days when I wasn’t filming I would go to set to watch the older actors do their thing. There was always a vast wealth of knowledge being tossed around. I learned so much watching Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks and Donald Sutherland. As a young actor watching those actors work was priceless.

”]”]”]”]”]Dayo Okeniyi [image credit  Benny Haddad]Tells us something that nobody knows about you…

I went to college to study graphic design and advertising. It was supposed to be a back up degree in case acting didn’t work out. I still have a passion for design I must admit. I co founded an entertainment branding company in Nigeria geared towards the music industry called Balcony Entertainment. Currently my team is branding a young artist called Novakillz he has a mix tape called W.I.N. (Who Is Novakillz) @novakillz mix-tape will be dropping this summer.   

Can you tell us more about your involvement in the SCI Cure Foundation?

SCI Cure is a foundation that my good friend and roommate Marcus York a fellow actor is a part of. He was paralysed from the waist down in an accident years ago but that hasn’t slowed him down one bit. He is an advocate for SCI Cure, which is a foundation, dedicated to the raising of funds for non-embryonic stem cell research and the advancement for human trails.

How important are your Nigerian roots to you?

My Nigerian roots are extremely important. Nigeria is my home and the advancement of my people means everything to me. I visit Nigeria regularly once or twice a year. A lot of my extended family live there. Nigeria has so much to offer but the terrible actions of our past leaders has left a bad taste and impression of our nation to the world. I absolutely and unequivocally believe that myself as well as my generation will bring about change in that impression.

The Hunger Games is out now.

Interview by Sophia A Jackson