Today, movie-goers nationwide will pile into theaters to see the first film of the long-awaited trilogy, “The Hunger Games.” Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, this exciting sci-fi thriller will feature many actors such as Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, and 2009 Anderson University visual communication design graduate, Dayo Okeniyi.
The fictional movie tells the story of a not-too-distant future in which society has collapsed. In its place, is a country divided into 12 districts and a capital. Once every year, each district chooses two young representatives to participate in The Hunger Games.
Okeniyi will play the role of Thresh, the representative selected from District 11 to partake in The Hunger Games. “Thresh is definitely the strong, silent type and does more speaking with his actions than his words,” said Okeniyi. “However, he does have a gentle side to go along with his rough exterior.” Director Gary Ross often told Okeniyi to think of his character as a gentle giant.
Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Okeniyi came to AU with plans to become a graphic designer, not an actor. “I have always enjoyed performing, whether it be acting, singing, or dancing,” said Okeniyi. “When I initially moved to the United States, I put performing on hold because it was now time to ‘grow up and be realistic,’ but the longer I put it on hold, the more the passion festered and grew inside of me.”
During his time at AU, Okeniyi participated in step dancing, “Cheap Thrills,” and the university production of “Nickel and Dimed.” His true passion, however, was discovered when he took an introductory acting course during his senior year. The class was taught by an AU alumnus, Steven Pierce. “Instead of treating the class like an intro class,” said Okeniyi, “Steve took us on as serious acting students. Through his teachings, he inspired me and reignited the fire for acting within me.”
“The purpose of this class is to create actors who can honestly and deeply relate to each other,” said Ronald Johnstone, director of theatre arts. “It doesn’t matter if you are a beginning student or a world-renowned actor. That is the essence of acting.”
After graduation, Okeniyi moved Los Angeles to pursue his dreams. He now lives with AU alumni and fellow actors Marcus York and Alex Davis. “Living with close friends who are fellow actors, you are able to share the weight of your stresses, concerns, and success,” said Okeniyi. “They keep me very grounded.”
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Okeniyi enrolled in acting workshops and learned about the film industry by working as an extra in various films. “Learning your craft is the job,” said Okeniyi. “As an actor, you have to stay sharp and really be on top of your game.”
According to Okeniyi, his experience between projects includes a lot of time reading scripts for potential projects which then lead to numerous meetings with casting directors and directors, auditioning for projects, and promoting upcoming projects like "The Hunger Games" for various events. “One day I may be going on an audition, another day it might be a meeting for a project, or another day it may be some kind of event,” said Okeniyi.
Okeniyi’s first acting jobs were the lead role in an independent film called “Slew Hampshire,” followed by the co-lead role in a short film titled “Lions Among Men.”
According to Okeniyi, finding out that he had landed his first major role in “The Hunger Games” was a surreal moment. Barely over the excitement of his newly found success, the exciting news sent him into a mild shock. “It was not until I called my family that the moment became real to me,” said Okeniyi.
Although he is working alongside many famous actors, Okeniyi was never made to feel excluded or isolated by his fellow cast members. “Everyone involved in the movie was extremely welcoming to me,” said Okeniyi. “They really made the newcomers feel important and necessary to the success of the film.”
Although he cannot currently release the details, there are several other exciting projects lining up in Okeniyi’s future. His career is quickly growing, yet he has never lost sight of God and relationships with friends and family.
“You really have to want it within yourself. It can’t be about fame or money. It has to be for the passion of acting. Everything begins with a vision and you have to be willing to work hard to fulfill that vision,” said Okeniyi. “There are definitely going to be hard times involved when anyone chases a dream, but this experience is different. So many things can cause difficulties: money, missing friends and family, people telling you what you can’t do, etc. You really have to be confident in yourself and develop thick skin in order to protect that dream.”
— Kelly Gualdoni is a junior from Fort Wayne, Ind., majoring in communication arts. Gualdoni is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.