Standing at 6ft 6inches tall, and weighing some 250+ proportionate pounds, 32-year old British actor of Nigerian descent, Nonso Anozie, cuts an imposing figure, one that made this writer feel rather scrawny, despite the fact that I’m not exactly the slightest guy myself.
Asked during my 90-minute in-person chat with him in a cozy Brooklyn spot, if his size has been an asset or a hindrance to his career as a cross-continental actor, and without any hesitation at all, he responded stating, "there are very few actors in England or in America who are my size, so if a call is casting for my type, it’s a very small group of actors," further adding what he sees as another benefit to being massive, "it’s interesting because I’ve also been considered for roles that my type wouldn’t usually be considered for – like when they want to take chances and cast a role completely differently against what’s in the script. It’s as if I represent an extreme alternative that’s attractive."
We could call him a veteran of the stage despite his young age, given just how much theater he’s done, specifically in London, even on some of its grandest of stages, like the National Theater.
In the summer of 2002, he became the youngest person in history to play William Shakespeare's "King Lear" and won the Ian Charleson Award in 2005 for his performance as Othello – a performance that he believes was ultimately what got him attention across the pond, here in the USA, where he, like many of his Black British contemporaries have voiced, believes a lot more opportunities exist to play more varied characters.
"When I came here in 2004, I was approached by a manager, and she’s still my manager now; she saw me in Othello and said I think you’re going to work here [in the USA], and I think it’s something you should consider, and I’m going to stick with you if you’ll have me. And that was that, the beginning of it,” Nonso said.
So, even though most of us here in the USA likely weren’t aware of him prior to 2011 (or even prior to today), as he emphasized, "I’ve been coming out here [the USA] for a few years. I’ve been building connections with people in Hollywood for the past 6 years, and it’s now working out for me. But at the same time I’ve been working in the UK and building my CV in the UK." Of course, the point there being that his recent success isn’t so recent; he didn’t just suddenly appear out of thin air to land the meaty role he now commands in HBO’s hit fantasy/drama series Game Of Thrones, or co-starring alongside Liam Neeson in 2011’s thriller The Grey.
Anozie has worked quite extensively since he left drama school in 2002 – the famed Central School of Speech and Drama in London – appearing primarily on stage, sharpening his skills; the stage being one half of his preferred/planned platforms; the other being film. "I want to do primarily film and theater; I always want to do a play because it feeds my soul. It’s like an exercise on stage," he said calmly yet assuredly.
Although in recent times, work has kept him away from the stage and instead turned him into a burgeoning TV star, with a few big screen credits also to his name, as well as some high profile movie projects on the horizon, with plumper roles for him to flex with; some he was able to officially discuss, like the rough and tough Battle School trainer Sergeant Dap in the upcoming Ender’s Game adaptation (Viola Davis also co-stars), which is currently shooting; others he preferred to keep mum about until the ink on the agreements actually dry.
And unlike many of his contemporaries, the actor whom we first introduced S&A readers to in 2009, when we alerted you to a film he starred in then called Cass (based on the real-life UK media sensation, and reformed football hooligan who was formerly the leader of England’s most feared football gang – Cass Pennant), isn’t at all concerned about what lies ahead for him in terms of opportunities; as he said, "I consider myself a man of the world; I connect very strongly with Nigeria, but I see that the work exists all over the world, and I will go where the work is."
He's been working constantly since his exit from drama school 10 years ago, whether on stage, tv or film, both in the UK and the USA, and seems confident that won't change anytime soon, even if he has to produce work for himself, which he's clearly positioning himself for.
Through his relatively new production company, Shadow Arts (not to be confused with Shadow And Act), Nonso plans to eventually write and direct, both for the stage and film, sharing that there are lots of stories he wants to tell. And some of the talents he'd love to work with some day in any capacity include directors Steve McQueen, Spike Lee, Antoine Fuqua, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and actors Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Nicole Beharie, Kerry Washington, including fellow Brits Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba, and David Oyelowo, just to name a few.
And just as he’s not married to any one specific genre, he’s also ready and willing to travel, expressing an affinity for South Korean and Japanese cinema especially, naming the works of legend Akira Kurosawa as an inspiration.
He’s also particularly interested in Nollywood (Nigerian Cinema) right now, and believes it’s an industry that’s on the cusp of some magnificent shifts, and with his production company Shadow Arts, Anozie would like to get his feet wet first as a producer of Nollywood product, and then eventually as an actor, when he feels the content is essentially worthy of his immense on screen talents.
"Something is definitely happening over there," He said, finishing with "and I want to be a part of that."
Indeed. A sentiment other actors of African descent here in the USA certainly share.
Not that it’s been a straight line for Anozie, who recognizes some of the challenges and inequalities that still exist for talents of his particular skin color. "It’s still difficult," he said, adding, "it’s not as easy as say any of my white counterparts who are the same age as me; if we got similar reviews when we were 23, their careers have now gone in a different direction than people my color that have been on a similar path, or started out in a similar way; because there are more opportunities for white people."
And while he does acknowledge that there are a lot more opportunities here in the States, he recognizes that there is also a lot more competition as well.
"I wouldn’t say I’m moving to America; I certainly would say that I’m just staying there; and I certainly wouldn’t advise anyone to come here unless they’ve got an extensive CV in the UK; you have to build your career wherever you started from," he believes, emphasizing the last piece of that sentence especially.
And it's partly thanks to that approach and outlook that he says he isn't experiencing the same level of difficulty other black actors in Hollywood continue to struggle with.
But the young thespian insists that he isn't necessarily chasing the Hollywood spotlight; "I just wants to continue do good work and work constantly," he says, while sharing that there's some strategy to his career path, and the types of roles he's chosen to take, and he isn't resting on his laurels, adding, "Image is a lot in this business… and people tend to have short memories. You’re really only as good as the last job you did."
The attention he'll receive from his plump role in Game Of Thrones should certainly help cement his image in the minds of industry decision makers and audiences alike – calling it his most prominent TV role to date, given the mass popularity of that show; and by the way, he mentioned that we should expect to see him in 6 or more episodes this season, which is good for him… and, quite frankly, us too.
Just don't ask him to join Twitter; telling me that others have encouraged him to get onboard the social networking frenzy, Anozie, not-too tickled by the idea, said, "it sounds like a lot of work…"
It most certainly is – speaking from experience.
Enders Game, which is currently in production (he was on a short vacation when we had our conversation in NYC) won't be released until the fall of 2013. But based on what he said about projects he's been offered and is considering, we'll probably see him in something else before then.