BN Saturday Celebrity Interview: The Dapper Nigerian Star Making it Big in Hollywood! Dayo Okeniyi of “The Hunger Games” dishes on Nollywood, Nigeria & His Dream Girl exclusively to BN

It’s always great to see Nigerians taking on major roles in Hollywood movies and making good names for themselves in the competitive industry. 24 year-old Dayo Okeniyi is one of them.
Raised in Lagos Nigeria, Dayo began acting in the Theatre at his Secondary School. In 2003, he moved from Nigeria with his family to the United States. Dayo received a Bachelor’s degree from Anderson University in Visual Communications Design and Advertising in 2009. After College he decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue Acting, his true passion. In 2012 Dayo landed the highly coveted role of “Thresh” the gladiatorial tribute from District 11 chosen along side his female counterpart “Rue” to fight to the death in the successful motion picture franchise “The Hunger Games.” Since then he has been cast in upcoming films “The Spectacular Now” and the Ben Affleck / Justin Timberlake Starer “Runner Runner”. Both films are due out in 2013.
In this exclusive interview with BellaNaija’s Adeola Adeyemo, Dayo takes us through his journey from Lagos to Hollywood and tells us that despite his international success, he is very much Nigerian at heart.


The Early Years
As someone who has featured on big international screens, you are somewhat an unfamiliar face on our local screens. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Although I go by Dayo Okeniyi, my full name is Oladayo Okeniyi. I’m the 24 year-old son of a Nigerian Father and a Kenyan mother. Even though my family is from Ogbomoso in Oyo state, I was born in Jos. When I was only a year old my family relocated to Lagos where I spent most of my formative years.

What fond memories do you have about growing up in Nigeria?
I absolutely loved my childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. I grew up in Ikeja, Omole phase 1 with my four older siblings – three sisters and one brother. Those early years were without a doubt, till this day, the best years of my life. Fond memories range from being very young and playing football bare footed on the streets to blowing ‘banger’ and fireworks at Christmas time. Even my time spent at my secondary school, Green Springs, was epic. All my best friends today came into my life at that time.

When and why did you relocate to the United States and how did you initially feel about the move?
I relocated to the United States in 2003 for academic reasons. While growing up, my parents were always adamant that my siblings and I receive the best education they could afford. I was just entering the final phase of my secondary school (high school) and gearing up for University (College) when I moved. At the time I was extremely excited but it was a bittersweet excitement. It was sad leaving my best friends behind. Living in the U.S. is a privilege I have never taken for granted till this day.

Did you move with other members of your family or was it just you?

I moved with my whole family except my brother who is in the Nigerian Air Force. All my sisters were already attending University in the states at the time so my mother and I went to join them. Shortly after my father joined us as well.

Starting off as an Actor

Your first role in “The Hunger Games” is a highly coveted one that quickly brought you into the limelight. How did you get into acting and land this interesting role as “Thresh”?
Acting has always been my passion for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I was always involved in the theater program at all the schools I attended. Even though I graduated with a Design degree from the University, I participated at the Theater program and it was at my final year there that I decided to take it seriously. Shortly after I graduated, I packed up and moved out to Los Angeles with the complete support of my parents to try and make it happen. I was attending an acting class where I met a casting director who introduced me to my current managers. A week after that introduction I auditioned for “The Hunger Games” and a month later I got a call that the role was mine. I had only been out in LA for a year at the time so you can imagine how fast everything changed.

What was the best thing about starring in “The Hunger Games” and how has it opened doors to other acting roles?
The best thing was getting to do what I loved to do at the highest level and on one of the biggest platforms ever. As an actor, that is all anyone could hope for. Getting the chance to work with the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci was amazing. I made a lot of great friends on that set that I’ll know for the rest of my Life. It was such a loving and creative environment, my best working experience ever.

Your fans are eager to see you star in other roles. Tell us about other acting roles and offers you’ve had since “The Hunger Games”.
I have multiple projects opening this year. I had a film that I was a part of called “The Spectacular Now” which just premiered a couple of weeks ago at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival to amazing reviews. I am so proud of this Indie film which also stars Miles Teller, Shaliene Woodley and Brie Larson. It just got acquired by A24 distributors and will be released this summer. I also have a cameo in the Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake starer “Runner Runner” due out at the end of the year. I also star in the movie “Cavemen” alongside Chad Michael Murray, Skylar Astin and Kenny Wormald also due out this year. As well as a guest star on NBC’s fall hit show “Revolution”. Needless to say its been crazy busy lately.

What is the most interesting thing about being a young, handsome actor in the US?

If you are referring to what it’s like being famous, I really couldn’t tell you. It’s all so new to me. I didn’t get into acting to be famous and that’s God’s honest truth. I love movies, I love making movies and that’s why I do what I do. Fame is a by-product of my passion and I put up with it. It’s not a burden at all but it can grow to cloud one’s judgement of why they wanted to be an actor in the first place. I try to live a very balanced, grounded and normal life. Don’t get me wrong, getting recognized is extremely flattering but I’m not going to change who I am because of it. Fame will come and go but a great film will always stand the test of time.

The Nigerian Factor
Does being a Nigerian affect your career in anyway, positively or negatively, as an actor in the U.S.?
Being Nigerian does not affect my career negatively at all. It’s absolutely a positive. In Hollywood, diversity is checked as a positive strength. My ethnicity absolutely stands out in my Resume. Being Nigerian/Kenyan and able to play African American as well only adds color to how wide my range as an actor can be. With a name like Dayo Okeniyi, casting directors always remember me. It’s your uniqueness that sets you apart.

The Nigerian movie industry has grown in huge leaps since you relocated. Do you still follow Nigerian movies and actors? Who are your favorites?
I love the older Nigerian films and our film stars from yester years like Richard Mofe Damijo, Segun Arinze and Sandra Achums. To me those guys are the Lords of what I refer to as the golden era in Nigerian Cinema. They need to all make a reunion come back.

That would definitely be interesting. What are your thoughts on the Nigerian movie industry? Are you impressed with the changes?
I think it desperately needs a resurgence and renaissance similar to what happened to our music industry which has absolutely taken off within the last 6 to 7 years. I think the natural progression will be for our cinemas to take off which I believe will happen within the next 5 years. To produce feature films that compete with the western world standards, Nigeria doesn’t lack talent it lacks infrastructure. The problem with Nollywood is a political problem. The year Nigeria can have uninterrupted power supply is the year Nollywood will blossom. It’s an industry that needs power.

Of recent, there have been more collaborations between Nigerian international stars and Nollywood movies. If you were approached to star in a Nigerian movie, would you be willing to do so?
It depends on the financing, script and director. I read everything. Every writer and director deserves to be heard.

Do you have any favourite Nigerian musicians or songs?

I love Nigerian music! I co-founded Balcony Entertainment with my partners Tomide Odeyemi and Tayo Osuntogun a year ago and we currently manage musical talent. Our flagship client is Novakillz, he is definitely one to watch for in 2013. The music industry is great and booming but at the same time, it’s young and a little naive. It hasn’t truly found a way to effectively market and brand itself on a global scale which is why I started my company. The dream is to create a path for Nigerian acts to break out locally and crossover to become international brands which is already happening with the likes of D’banj, Wizkid, Aramide, Ese Peters, Phenom, L Marshal and so on, all of whom I love their music. I also hope to grow the company to produce content for television and feature films in Nigeria.

Do you like Nigerian food and do you get to eat some often? What are your favorites?
I love Nigerian food. Hands down one of the best places to chow down in the world. Pounded Yam and Egusi is always on check when I travel home to visit at Christmas time. Amala and Gbegiri… don’t get me started. Omo Ogbomoso, we don’t play with our Amala.

When last did you visit Nigeria? When do you plan to visit again?
I was in Nigeria this past Christmas/ New Year and I’ll be back next Christmas. It is of paramount importance for me to visit Nigeria at least once every year.

How do you stay connected to your roots and the happenings here in Nigeria?
I visit regularly. I stay connected with my family and friends always. Social networking has truly made the world a very small place. I stay very close to my Nigerian roots. Never forgetting who you are or where you came from, second to my faith in God is the most important thing to me.

When you think about Nigeria, what are the things that and make you happy, and the things you don’t feel proud about?
The education rate in Nigeria is skyrocketing right now and I am beyond proud about that. Everyday, more and more average Nigerians are earning an education and as we all know, education is power. It’s the key to a better future. I love how creative Nigerians are in spite of our plight. We seem to hustle and always keep afloat. Nigeria is a nation that seems to have naturally adopted entrepreneurial thinking. The young people of Nigeria always put a smile on my face because their optimism is infectious. The only thing holding us back is corruption in politics and oil and it’s because of the colonially damaged minds of our current leaders. When young people, truly confident in themselves who grew up in total independence and not partially in colonial Nigeria take the higher ranks of public service, then will we see change in Nigeria. We need better ambassadors to clean our bad reputation and that is what I hope I am doing. The era of suffering the sins of our past leaders must come to an end.

Dating & Style
Hmm… Those are really strong words. But on a lighter note, are you dating anyone presently?
I’m one hundred percent committed and married to my job right now. Not looking to get into anything serious either. I’m young and thoroughly enjoying my single years. When I do choose to get serious I’ll definitely be keeping that part of my life absolutely private.

And when you do choose to get serious, what kind of lady would you be attracted to?
My lady has to be smart, beautiful, humble and God fearing. There is nothing sexier than an independent woman that’s down to earth, approachable and doesn’t pridefully carry her achievements on her sleeve. Pride and arrogance are a huge turn off for me. She also has to have a great sense of humour. Life is too short to take oneself too seriously all the time.

Talking fashion now, what are your thoughts on Nigerian fashion?
Nigerian fashion has always been impressive. Nigerians have a great sense of style, there is no doubt about that. Unlike anywhere else in the world, we are able to do western style as well as our own traditional style and do them both to perfection. I love all the new fusion styles I have been seeing lately. Rocking the Fila on a suit with an Ankara pocket square; or a fitted T with wooden pants. Mad swag coming out of Naija for sure.

How would you describe your personal style? 
My style really depends on how I’m feeling when I roll out of bed. The one consistency is always comfort and tailored fit. Accessories and detail always seal the deal as well. Every man should always have a great time-piece, a strong belt and a nice pair of shoes when ever out. There is nothing worse that a shirt that is too big or a badly tailored suit. The clothes don’t make the man, the man makes the clothes. Individuality is always a plus.

More and more Nigerians are relocating back home to pursue their careers and invest in the country. Do you ever see yourself returning to Nigeria to settle down?
Definitely, not anytime soon but I definitely see myself moving back to strengthen the Nigerian film industry eventually. The only thing holding me back is infrastructure. Making great films that can compete with the western world need electricity, ease of mobility, local government coordination and cooperation. These are things that Nigeria will ascertain within the next decade at which point I would love to come back and make big pictures in Nigeria.

Do you have any word for your fans, especially those in Nigeria?
The most important message to my fans especially those in Nigeria that seem to be fellow actors, actresses, directors, producers and so on is that it is a hundred percent possible for your dreams to come true. Your thoughts and dreams, if pursued, are a preview of your life’s coming attractions. Even if you are on the down side of advantage and relying purely on courage, anything is possible. God is your number one connection. Always seek him first and the rest will take care of itself.


It was great chatting with Dayo and from BellaNaija, we wish him the very best!

Dayo Okeniyi on Studio 11LA

The Hunger Games trailer

59 Comments on BN Saturday Celebrity Interview: The Dapper Nigerian Star Making it Big in Hollywood! Dayo Okeniyi of “The Hunger Games” dishes on Nollywood, Nigeria & His Dream Girl exclusively to BN
  • Changing Faces February 9, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Thoroughly refreshing…. A nice young man with a good head on his shoulders. God bless you Dayo as you keep making us proud.

  • natty February 9, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I browsed through the interview and went straight for the hawt pictures!! damn!!….. ok bye

    • lala February 9, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      hahaha, same here

    • Purpleicious Babe February 10, 2013 at 3:02 am

      haha,….. guilty as charged… me too. loves the tiny him in native.. cute.. oooo nicey dimples too.

      lifeinstagesdoz.blogspot.co.uk/

      • Purpleicious Babe February 10, 2013 at 3:12 am

        but wait o… i didnt see him in the preview nah?? Anyhoo, i can still hear mild tone of niaja accent but he does sounds good and works hard.

        lifeinstagesdoz.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Bee February 9, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Smart dude…lovely interview…..keep the flag flying.

  • Nok10 February 9, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Awww love him! He’s so down to earth, no airs and charming. Goodluck in Hollywood. Your parents must be proud.

  • M February 9, 2013 at 11:59 am

    we should start getting used to seeing young nigerians reach for the stars, it’s in all of us.

  • Toyeen February 9, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I am smart, beautiful, humble and God fearing, i dont pridefully carry her achievements on her sleeve. i am not Proud and arrogant are and i have a great sense of humour not to forget am single and a year younger so i can wait till when u decide to be serious. I am your dream girl…………………….now i am laughing at myself

    • Karela February 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      LMAO…Keep telling urself all these things and it will stick!

      • Sbaby February 10, 2013 at 12:07 am

        Lmao continuously

    • Slim February 10, 2013 at 11:50 am

      You got me lagging soo hard,but really any1 lucky enuf to marry ds dude damn#lips sealed

    • Slim February 10, 2013 at 11:57 am

      Laffing#

  • Funmi February 9, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Hollywood is not an easy place to be. I hope he doesn’t get lost in it as he seems like a good man. I like how he is also trying his hands in music.

    Media and entertainment definitely seems like the career to be for money in Nigeria. They are making crazy money these days.

  • dayo February 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    toyeen, am laffing @ u too.
    Dayo, God bless ur efforts as u land bigger roles. Saw hunger games and it was great!

  • will February 9, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    First of all Introduction…..*cant stop laughing*,u go wait tire gal!

  • grapes February 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    very nice chap u re Dayo. and the God fearing part of u seals the deal to greatness. keep ur flag flying. great job

  • Chyke February 9, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    @Toyeen girl u funny die……..anyway, dis Dayo guy is cute ooo though he looks somehow older than that 24 he said. He is young, handsome, talented and he has a huge dream. I pray for God to guide him so that he doesn’t get lost in hollywood cos dat industry is tough o. God be with him cos am happy whenever I see a Nigerian making it in d international scene. @Toyeen pls put of your number, email adress or BlackBerry Pin for Dayo to see so he can contact u. He will surely be reading our comments to see if he has haters but I thank God he only has admirers here=no haters. Just put up d number otherwise I will put up mine u know am loving him too. Lol. Funny girl with hot swag.

  • bunmijand February 9, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Hunger games was a great movie. I can’t count the no of times. I saw d movie courtsy of my good friend morex. Keep up the good work and keep making us proud of our root.

  • nnenne February 9, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    very nice guy. he seems to be so natural and down to earth. God bless your hustle bro and keep flying the naija flag high.

  • Biso February 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I’m inlove with the things that come out of his mouth. An educated mode of speech. Love it!

  • NNENNE February 9, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I love the fact that you stayed connected to your roots.Your parents must be proud.It will definitely keep you grounded in Hollywood. You sound like a good chap.
    Best of luck in all you do!

  • tobi February 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Oh i enjoyed the way Thresh treated Clovers fuckup in THG. Bless ya Dayo

  • Bored much! February 9, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    BN,when are you giving us scoop from other celebrities aside actor and musician? There are Models,politicians(Lol),etc

  • cutietemi February 9, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    I like his command of English! His answers were straight to the point – very precise and deep. You can tell he is so close to his roots, like he says. And all the things he said about politicians and Hollywood are so true! Impressive. Ha, even I that re-located to the states 4 years ago, I am only able to keep via stories on blogs via BellaNAija and Linda Ikeji. OVerall, that was a nice interview, at least one of those I didn’t skim through.

    Toyeen, its not just u o. I think I now have a crush too..lol. Difference is I’m 3 years younger :-p.All the best Dayo. Nice to see young folks pursuing their dreams.

  • Boundllad February 9, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Very intelligent young man

  • Missbirkin February 9, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    awesome!

  • bobbydox February 9, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    so u wud only cum when NOLLYWOOD is big after people have labored ba u paaaaaa

    • Sbaby February 10, 2013 at 12:09 am

      Bobbydox long time no hear, where have you been? Abeg free this boy sha, he’s in hollywood which us bigger than nolly so nothing wrong if he joins later

  • corolla February 9, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Very cute dude. i remember his sisters from QC. He needs more publicity here in the states.cos if was an oyibo new comer that got a role in hunger games, im name for don sky rocket fiammmm.

  • Ada February 9, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    congratulations Dayo, you’re an inspiration!

    new posts on my blog guys, read and comment pls! http://www.adainprogress.blogspot.com

  • hana February 9, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    hmm so this is what you get when kenyan mix with nigerian blood, not bad, so that means he should be kinda fast for kenyan side, and super krafty on his 9ja side.I dont mind snuggling next to him,those dimples can make a girl say i do. And plus his need to help make naija better, truly home is where the heart should be.

  • Tolani February 9, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    I know him! He went to University of Lagos Staff School and his sisters were at Queen’s College with me. I know a Hollywood star :D

    • hana February 10, 2013 at 3:06 am

      sad thing is that he doesnt even remeber you, but am sure he would say hi to you if he saw you.. Go do something great so that someone would also be glad to claim to have shared a school or room with you. :)

      • Tolani February 10, 2013 at 7:21 am

        Auntie Ile O’okan, Dame Pitterpatter who ‘arsked’ you? Did I say he must remember me? Mrs. Einstein, we see how your inventions have saved the world! YOU are sad.

      • Urban February 10, 2013 at 6:20 pm

        @ Hana, why so bitter and hateful!Abeg park well jare!

  • Fabulous££ February 9, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    ok Dayo because of you, I’ll go watch hunger games now. meanwhile I love that line “God is your number one connection” because He is indeed. You sound way too mature for a guy that is only 24…that’s cool. stay blessed mate! and bless everyone commenting for being positive and funny :)

  • bj February 9, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Amazing.. wish him all the best..

  • ronny February 9, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    He’s so darn cute. pls keep d naija flag flying. God is your strenght. You will rise like Chiwetal and even higher by Gods grace in Jesus Name.

  • temi February 9, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Our own Idris Elba evolving!

  • Adedayo February 10, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Seem like a smart and level headed kid…All The Best In your future endeavors Mr
    oh and The Dimples tho!! uhhh

  • Busola February 10, 2013 at 1:23 am

    Dayo, I am exactly the ideal woman you described… And wait, I shall wait. I am not in a hurry either :D

  • B February 10, 2013 at 1:40 am

    With a name like Dayo Okeniyi, casting directors always remember me. It’s your uniqueness that sets you apart. Our names sets us apart, the craze for western names only reduces ur childs uniqueness.

  • Ebi February 10, 2013 at 4:25 am

    Those dimples…….i’m melting.

  • temilola February 10, 2013 at 5:40 am

    . this Guy is fine. his my latest crush i have his picture as sreen saver

    • cutietemi February 10, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      Nooooo, he is minnnnnneeeee!! LoL

  • Olufunmi February 10, 2013 at 7:11 am

    cute guy************* :D

    YCFOnline.com

  • Austin Uche February 10, 2013 at 11:12 am

    The best part of this interview was wen he said “its ur name dats sets u apart”…. Dats dope rilly.. Jes dat ppl tend to lose their principles wen they enter the hollywood circle.. I jes hope he doesnt.

    Off topic….. Yesterday, The 9th of February was myconvocation ceremony, and i wanna use dis medium to deeply express my sincerest Gratitude to God for being the most vital part of my schooling this past 4yrs…. Baba, may ur name be glorified forever and ever in Jesus name… Amen !

  • POSHILLA! February 10, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    AWW NICE!HE ACTUALLY STILL SMILES D SAME WAY HE USE TO FRM CHIDHOOD! SWEEETT=!

  • Dee-USA February 10, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    I watched his TV interview and applaud his responses. He said something I hope many of our fake accented culprits note: when we speak to our Naija family and friends, our accents come back full force. We aren’t able to recreate the adapted accent we picked up when speaking to foreigners. So when I go home and see Naijas forming accents for me, I find it laughable.

    My only criticism about this interview is that Adeola treated Dayo as if he was a foreign born and raised Nigerian. He hasn’t even spent a decade in the U.S. so there was no need to ask a question like, do you like Nigerian food. He only grew up on it, so were you expecting him to say he can’t stand it, and prefers sushi, filet mignon and caviar?

    I think he sounds wise beyond his years, which is what a lot of us Nigerians get here. We may get a bad reputation in certain circles, but I absolutely claim Nigerian wherever I am because it gives me a chance to show people how intelligent we are collectively as a people. Despite all our setbacks and shortcomings, we are known as one of the most intelligent people along with Indians and Chinese. I await the day we’ll be known for overwhelmingly positive and great things, and it’s people like him who can help perpetuate this.

  • D Fairy GodSister February 10, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    He sounds mature, like he has a good head on his shoulders, and is very grounded (like any very well raised Nigerian is, regardless of where they find themselves).

    Silly question about Nigerian food, when did he leave Naija abeg? I wish him very well, all the success possible! Do us proud!

    chiomachuka.com

  • fashionandstylepolice February 10, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Such a cutie. Happy to see my fellow Nigerians progressing.

  • Mina February 10, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    ughhh, he is sooo damn FOINNNN *fluttering heart*

  • Opsy February 11, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Lots of young stars who have not gone beyond teenage crush. You see a guy with fine looks and you start drooling. What of character? You think it is ‘fine’ you will live with?

  • Gracie February 11, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    His childhood picture is a YES for me.

  • Retrochic February 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    this guy has truly inspired me, so intelligent, confident, charming and has a bubbling personality, i wish him all the best

  • Toyin February 12, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Dayo is truly a talented actor to look out for. Very mature, refreshing, love how he carries himself and how he answered all the questions. Moving on to the main part, Dayo, don’t mind all these “squareheads” on here claiming you. I am your ideal woman that you described. The only thing is that, we will have to make it official. So, I will make sure I travel to naija for christmas this year, and I will visit your town. From there, the rest is history.

  • pinkymaryberry June 12, 2013 at 12:35 am

    I so much love you now Dayo!!

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