More than 30 years ago in the 1984 sci-fi cult classic, body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger—whose accent is so thick, a full-time interpreter could be a legitimate tax write-off—uttered a phrase that has become part of the global zeitgeist: “I’ll be back!”
Nigerian-born actor Dayo Okeniyi wasn’t alive then, but he’s about to become part of the “Terminator” legacy, playing Danny Dyson, in “Terminator Genisys.” That’s a great omen because the world of sci-fi has been good to the actor, who first caught the public’s eye in “The Hunger Games.”
You might not know the name yet, but the face will help you connect with this rising thespian. Okeniyi has been on Hollywood’s radar for a minute and was featured last year in Vanity Fair’s “New Wave” portfolio and was named one of Betsy Sharkey’s “30 Under 30” in the LA Times.
The youngest of five, Okeniyi explained that the value of education was always stressed and passion valued.
“I told my parents that I wanted to be an actor, and I also wanted to follow in their footsteps,” said Okeniyi. “They were both educated in Indiana, and they advised that I have a career first, so I received a bachelor’s degree in visual communications design at Anderson University. Degree in hand, they blessed me and I turned my direction to acting.”
From all appearances, when he made his debut opposite Jennifer Lawrence in “Hunger Games,” the road to stardom was neatly paved, but that’s not the reality in the industry. Clearly, it takes skill and a huge amount of luck.
“One of the happiest moments in my life was finishing college,” said Okeniyi. “I am following my passions. As a visual person, on set, I find myself watching the director and crew, and observing the art of making movies. Many people ask if I want to direct, one day, and I answer, ‘Well, you never know where my next creative move might be,’ and I remind them that I do have a college degree.
“There are many directors and many actors’ careers that I admire. I absorb and I learn. Everything about storytelling touches my heart, and I know why my parents did what they did and shared what they shared. I am a happy man.”
Okeniyi is now calling New York City home while working on the new NBC drama series “Shades of Blue” opposite Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta. In the fast-moving series, Okeniyi plays rookie Michael Loman, a new detective who mistakenly kills an unarmed suspect during a bust. Morally conflicted, he wants desperately to believe that his actions were justified and part of the greater good.
“Living in New York is tremendous, and I found the best Nigerian restaurants here,” said Okeniyi, laughing. “Try Fatima, in Brooklyn. Honestly, it’s like going home.”