Your new movie The
Black Emperor of Broadway - in a few words, what is it about, and
what can you tell us about your character in it?
Black Emperor of Broadway
is a wonderful biopic about the life of an
unsung hero, 1920ís Broadway star Charles Gilpin. He was a trailblazer
that very few people know about. He was the first black Broadway star. And
he was very outspoken about his beliefs.
did you draw upon to bring your character to life, and how much Nija Okoro
can we find in Florence Gilpin?
drew mostly upon the time period and my imagination. Thereís very little
information out there about Florence Gilpin. So I tried to put myself in
the shoes of a woman who supports her partner in becoming a star of the
stage. Which really made me curious about her. I mean, it was the 1920ís
so it was almost revolutionary to believe in anything other than porter
work or being an elevator operator or other jobs usually available to
black men in that time period. I drew on my own ability to dream despite
the hand I was dealt. As a kid I was told by a guidance counselor not to
apply for LaGuardia HS (the arts school that the movie Fame was based on)
because ďno one from here ever gets into thereĒ. I decided to only apply
for LaGuardia as a result. When I got in it felt like a national holiday.
They made a big announcement and students were running through the halls
cheering. I also went on to get a full merit-based scholarship to
Juilliard. So I know a little something about stepping out on faith.
Since your character in The
Black Emperor of Broadway is based on a real person, did you at
all prepare differently for the role compared to a fictional character,
and did you do extra research on Florence Gilpin in preparation for the
there wasnít much information on her. So I mostly studied the time
period and Mr. Gilpinís life. I sort of worked backwards to fit in
Florence almost like a much needed puzzle piece to complete the
How did you get involved with the project in the
first place, and did you at all know about the story it covers before
making the film?
was recommended to our director by my dear friend Eve Annenberg who plays
Susan Glaspell in the film. Sheís also a fellow Juilliard alum. I sent
in a tape to Arthur and was hired as a result. And no, sadly, I had no
prior knowledge of Mr. Gilpin and his work. As a black actress I stand on
his shoulders and had
no idea. It made me even more excited to help being this story to
life. It is a necessary one.
What can you tell us about The
Black Emperor of Broadway's director Arthur Egeli [Arthur
Egeli interview - click here], and what was
your collaboration like?
is awesome! He was as cool as a cucumber to work with. He was very open to
collaborating. And when there were logistical shenanigans like a problem
with a location or even a short window of time we could use a key prop,
Arthur kept a poker face. He never allowed anything to shift the mood on
set. Heís a rock star for sure!
Do talk about the shoot as
such, and the on-set atmosphere?
on this set was dream. It felt like theatre camp. Not that Iíve ever
been, but itís what I imagine it to be like. Everyone brought a spirit
of play and joy to the work. And we had a beautiful synergy. I certainly
enjoyed every moment of it.
Any future projects
you'd like to share?
I am the co-lead in a pretty awesome thriller called The Stay. Itíll be
released soon. Iím looking forward to seeing it, although I donít do
well with watching horror/thrillers. Iím sure Iíll have nightmares.
Also, Iím scheduled to be in the world premiere of Dominique
Morrisseauís new play Confederates at the Signature Theatre in New York.
We got postponed because of the current quarantine. So fingers crossed
weíll begin rehearsals in January. Iím really excited about getting
back on stage. And Dominique is one of my favorite playwrights. So Iím
What got you into acting in the
first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
a kid I was a bit of an overachiever in school. Everything felt easy.
Except acting. It really challenged me. My mother enrolled me in Harlem
School of the Arts when I was 2. I took dance and later acting. My first
role on stage ever was there. I played Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.
Iím so glad camera phones were not around at that time. Iím sure Iíd
be mortified to see that footage.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The
Black Emperor of Broadway?
than independent films I did more television work. I did ER when I first
moved to LA. And Iíve worked on Insecure, The Deuce,
Monday Mornings and some other shows. Iíve also been blessed with a lot
of stage work. Most recently I was on the National Broadway Tour of August
Wilsonís Jitney directed by Ruben Santiago Hudson. That was an
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
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How would you
describe yourself as and actress, and some of your techniques to bring
your characters to life?
am definitely into transformation. I love stepping into the shoes of my
characters. I love all genres too. Iím always curious and well prepared.
I enjoy preparation! I still utilize the Alexander technique that I
learned at Juilliard. Itís sort of a mind, body and even spiritual
technique. I love it. I am grateful for my education because I have a ton
of tools in my actorís toolbox. So it depends on the role. Whenever I
whip out animal work (where I pick an animal to begin creating my
character) I know Iím about to have some fun. I usually work inside out
Actresses (and indeed actors)
who inspire you?
love Phylicia Rashad. If youíve never seen her on stage, sheís a
revelation. Iíve been blessed to have been directed by her three times.
Iíll never forget seeing her on Broadway in Gem of the Ocean while I was
at Juilliard. I was forever changed. Sheís a big inspiration and my
mentor. Also Ruben Santiago-Hudson. He is divine on stage (and screen). I
learned so much working with him. His dedication to the work is
unparalleled. Love him!
Your favourite movies?
donít know if I have a favorite. Hmm... I love Carmen Jones, Moonlight,
The Tree of Life, Claudine, Imitation of Life, The Devil Wears Prada and
just about any other Meryl Streep movie.
and of course, films you really deplore?
canít seem to get through Gone With the Wind.
social media, whatever else?
@NijaOkoro on Instagram and Facebook and my website is NijaOkoro.com
Anything else you're dying
to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
this was thorough! Thank you!
for the interview!