London born Actor, Producer, Oris Erhuero carved, in the early 90’s a successful international modeling career as one of the most photographed male models of his era, rapidly acquiring campaigns for top clients in the fashion industry. Starting out as an actor Erhuero had a regular role as Rongar in the US television series “The Adventures of Sinbad”. That followed roles in Highlander: Endgame and Wolf in Black Mask 2: City of Masks.
In 2005 he was nominated for a Black Reel Award Best Supporting Actor for Golden Globe and NAACP nominated HBO film “Sometimes in April” which was based on the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Leaving Los Angeles and returning to London in 2008 he landed various roles which included his first British television debut on “The Bill”, and later on stage in the award-winning play the “Diary of Black Men”.
In 2016, Oris won the UK Screen Nation’s Best Leading Actor award for the African Academy Award movie “The Cursed Ones”. In the same year, he was also nominated as best leading actor for the awarded Best West African Movie “Road to Yesterday”, currently five stars Netflix movie and one of the most viewed films on the major transatlantic airlines.
His latest film is action horror film “Redcon-1 Zombie Apocalypse” which is out in selected UK cinemas. After a screening at the recent Raindance Festival Alt A caught up with Oris.
Oris Erhuero: (he spells his name)
AA: Ah OK! It would be silly of me to ask, is that a Nigerian name, because I’ve never seen it before?
OE: Absolutely. It’s from near the north-western Niger Delta in Nigeria the, Urhobo tribe.
AA: Something new every day, ah!
OE: We’re pretty much all a family. As you know most Nigerian names are…they kinda come from one family, one origin, most of us never duplicate, you know, like, there’s only one of us, only one.
AA: Ah, interesting…so, let’s start at the beginning… So, let’s just talk about your career…why did you leave to go to the USA to begin with?
OE: Oh well, I pretty much left in the eighties when I was young, in London I was part of a breakdance and Rap movement. Covent Garden was our place of gathering, and back then we used to interact with a lot of Americans, great rappers, great dancers, because Hip-Hop was originally from the States, and during that period I was studying drama, never expecting, later, to follow it up. I originally pursued breakdance and Rap and choose to advocate it and, as in life, in your journey and the purpose we have I realised years later that was my purpose, so that is what led me to the States. Also I was told when I did realise that that would be the better place at that time for me to pursue it, it was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made, but it’s funny enough how it started because I was told to do modelling as a way for me to make money and get experience in front of the camera, as well as commercials and understand the workings of it. And that whole journey led me to my first TV American series called “The Adventures of Sinbad”. I don’t think I would have had that opportunity if I hung around London. When I analyse it now I think it was a passion I had as a kid that helped me tap into my real purpose as an artist.
AA: Ok. You’ve kind of answered the next two questions. I was about to ask you how you became a model, and at what stage you decided to turn it into an acting career…so, saying that, let me ask you the next question…Do you think you would have had the same career had you stayed in the UK?
OE: I don’t think so, because to be honest during that time there wasn’t a lot of Black actors, and if they were it only lasted for like a period…You know certain actors will reign on stage in the West End and you’ve never heard of them again. I think you had more of a chance being a musician, because in music it does never stop. But unless you’re a comedian, people like Lenny Henry, at that time it was kind of strange, it was a career for only white, British English people. No offence, but it just felt like that. Our parents, even when they were supportive, they saw it as sort of dangerous zone, but I had my eyes in America. More people doing it, more things going on over there, in music, you know, you saw the likes of Run DMC, LL Cool J, at the time you saw endless young artists coming up, and they were recognised and respected. In England it was just…I don’t know what it was…I think we, as Blacks in England during that time our (something I didn’t get) would play for that. As much as I wanted to play, you know, the English people, I can’t really do that because our parents, from the Caribbean and the Nigerian communities were all about having kids who wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, you know, like they would say. “We work hard to bring you to this country, we don’t want to hear you climbing into the elite world, you want to be an actor or a painter. No, over my dead body”…so none of us young artists, if we didn’t have our parents, but our community really respected it, like for example Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton Laurence Olivier…if we had that community in the Black community, it would have really really helped us. It’s so easy to blame the British elite for not giving us a chance…but as I got old I thought that no, we are to blame, whereas in American there was a lot of James Browns, they really had a community where they saw that if we stick together and support our child he’s gonna come back, and we didn’t have that, a lot of us in England had to run away from home, for many of us, all we had was each other, and through that community you get pushed to say “OK, you’re a cool lad, you’re one of us, you could be a good model you know?” and you would say “but I want to be an actor” and they’d be “Yeah, but you gotta start somewhere”. All we had was each other and the artistic world in England and through that we kinda encouraged each other to dare, and I dared to cross that line and say “I’m going to the States”, I’m gonna go where a guy can act. To answer your question: no, I’d never, if I stayed here, gone to be at the level I am. I’d probably ended up in a career – like most people I know – with anger and bitterness. I am very happy with how things have turned out in my life. I trusted and pushed my children and encouraged the next generations because I know what is to be done, and that encouragement and that support, it must start from home.
AA: And so fast forwarding to twenty, thirty years, when we look at the UK, in terms of television, you know, you are now starring in a blockbuster movie, lead actor, Sky One has done quite a lot, Idris Elba is out doing his thing, are you not optimistic about the opportunities for Black actors in the UK now?
OE: Yeah you know, you got to look at John Boyega, you gotta look at Idris (Samson Idris) who’s doing Snowfall in the USA…there’s a lot more than just Lenny Henry and Idris Elba…there’s a lot of us now…I think what we need to do is lift every one of us…Letitia (Wright)…there is a lot of us. Am I optimistic? Absolutely. There’s a lot of support now, we have Screen Nation …the community is stronger. Many of us, like myself, are also producing, so we are not waiting for an agent or anyone. We know the tricks now, we know the tricks and the trade. Parents, families and friends are more supportive. Communities started throwing money at us to make it happen, if we can plead the case, so the doors are wider, we’ve been given the opportunity to be more optimistic and beyond. Platforms are wide open for films, people are paying attention now, thanks to the likes of “Black Panther” and the likes of my generation who went to the States, became citizens and never came back. For me we can wake up and we guarantee our children who choose to walk into this world that we can make a solid living…we have no excuses now, no excuses…there’s so much channels, Netflix, platforms, endless series, TV shows, the chances are more but I think the world now is watching those of us…the Boyega’s, the Letitia’s the Oris-sis, Idris-sis and the list goes on…they’re watching us now to come up with some juicy story of our lifestyle, people like Genevieve, thanks to my generation, we were able to link hands and bring each other up…we are very blessed. Although it came with a lot convincing over the years and not to take away from those who made it possible, like Denzel (Washington), and Laurence Fishburne, I still think we could have done better but it took our generation to take it further. It’s like with Rap music, you know, you make your own music, you put it out there.
AA: So, let’s talk about Redcon-1, tell us a bit about your character and his motivation?
OE: My character is pretty much a husband and supposedly father-to-be, and you know he’s a man of mission, he fought many wars, he built a career in the war game, he understands that this one is a different kind of war, it’s based on the backdrop of a world that’s stricken by an apocalypse, a disease, I don’t use the word “zombie” because zombie could mean a state of life we’re in this time but in this case there is an illness: people are living in a certain way, mentally, and we are out there trying to find a cure. But to find a cure there’s a lot of politics involved, our lives are at stake and we are literally up against the world. A soldier, up against the world, thousands and thousands and beyond, and if you think you could ever imagine…that scale of war is beyond Iraq, it’s beyond Afghanistan…the whole world has gone nuts. And he got to find a cure, he’s like the needle in the haystack, he’s gotta go and find the doctor with the cure. Me, I’m the leading soldier, and I’m up against something, and I’m not quite sure but determined to complete the mission by any means necessary, and that’s exactly what it was: this is a man on a mission with seven of the finest soldiers he put together to complete this mission. And that’s in a nutshell how I can put it, and in a way, it’s the love story of a man, he loses his wife while she was pregnant so he’s coming to the table now, up against the wall to make a difference, to go out and do something. He is a man on a mission with nothing to lose. He’s lost his wife; his family is gone. He doesn’t need any motivation but to use it and use it with thoughts. He’s not an angry man, he has accepted his fate….that’s the way I would describe him, and that’s the way he encounters a lot of reality, he encounters lies, he comes up against things he thought he knew, but he did not. There is a lot of betrayal, there’s a lot of broken trust.
AA: Is there something about that character that you like, something you could really relate to…his back story is that he has lost his wife and his daughter…what can you if anything relate to, you know, on any level?
OE: There’s so many aspects I could relate to. There’s a lot of stuff there…I remember the scene with me and Alicia…this girl was way too high on life. And that motivated me to carry on a mission and that was the crossroad, and it hit me hard because many many years ago I was protecting a friend, he was about to be ambushed and robbed in New York and I remember literally protecting him and taking a bullet myself. This scene, with me and Alicia, when she put the gun to her, you know, to take her own life for me to complete my mission, that kind of reminded me of me, but his girl was only 12. but I remembered the fact, you know, backtracking, me ending up with seven bullets, in a coma, back in New York. Go figure…So yeah, you know, it was a touching scene…as actors we are very fortunate to ever encounter some aspects that we can use in many projects, and this one I can relate to. When someone is willing to take their life…we hear this in the Bible, you know, Christ and saints they take their life for something they believe in, but there are some people in the world, they are not perfect, I’m not perfect by any chance, human beings aren’t perfect but in reality many of us would do that, we would sacrifice ourselves. Which is not always a good thing because people don’t appreciate it. I remember when I went through this, this guy, his soul rest in peace, never acknowledged it, he never came to visit, that’s why I say for me personally, I could relate with that as well, betrayal. You see, in this film another aspect was that another character betrayed me over and over and over and I can relate to betrayal and be forgiven and betrayed again…so yeah, I hope that answers to your question. Part 2 of the interview will be in the February 2019 issue of Alt A Review