Young, Gifted, and Natural: Adepero Oduye
by Shirley Johnson Soulistic Wellness
I had the pleasure of chatting with the very talented 34-year-old New York City–based actress Adepero Oduye. Featured in this year’s standout independent film, Pariah
, Adepero has become a familiar face and name, but she’s been acting on stage and on film for the past 15 years. An Ivy-league grad, naturalista, and passionate woman, Adepero is one to definitely watch out for on the big screen and beyond.
What does transition mean to you?
. I feel like life moves in stages, you get to a point where you live life a certain way—whether it be what kind of clothes you wear, how you wear your hair, what job you do—hopefully you get to a certain point where you realize that in order to get to a different point, you have to try different things.
For me personally I have had different points like that, where I wanted different things and where I noticed certain things that worked before weren’t going to work now.
What were your dreams as a kid?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. That was the only thing since I was 4. Part of it was my dad was a doctor. But I always was creative. In terms of color, I remember being really young and dumping my crayons out and color coordinating, going through my mom’s catalogues, and cutting out the woman and making paper dolls. I sung, but I never did theater. In high school, I started writing and had a teacher who encouraged me a lot.
When I got to college and realized I didn’t want to be a doctor. After my father died, it started to make sense and I realized life is too short. I took an acting class, and I loved it. I remember the first day of class saying, “ I want to be an actor.” I didn’t know what that meant or what it would entail, but I declared it in that moment. I graduated pre-med, but I wanted to be an actor.
What are some things about acting that you love?
I love it! I love being in rehearsals for 8 hours a day—figuring it out, talking about it, rehearsing. For Pariah
, I was on set all the time and I was so excited to do it all again each day. I love learning about different things through research. I love the creative aspect of learning, especially learning things you didn’t know before. But what I truly love is giving voice to characters and people that you don’t really hear, that don’t really have a voice. Being able to embody that and give insight into a time period. Sometimes I feel like living in this world, you watch the news and read the paper, and it’s really sad and horrible things happen around the world. You can go through my life and almost become numb. For me it’s when I watch a movie or a documentary and I see a real person’s face or hear their names and that’s when it really hits home. And when I act, I get to bring a voice and try my best to find a way to do that. That is why I act.
This has been a big year for you professionally—what were some of the highlights? What was it like most recently to work with Jill Scott, Alfre Woodard and Phylicia Rashad in Steel Magnolias?
It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been an awesome whirlwind where a lot of things happened and I experienced a lot of things and a lot became really clear. There’s always another layer of clarity about what kind of work I want to do and what people I want to work with.
At the end of the day, I am so thankful.
What were some of the biggest highlights of 2012 for you?
Wow! So many—for one the Meryl Streep shout-out at the Golden Globes. That was so crazy, just because she’s such an idol of mine. I remember seeing her for the 1st
time and the fact that she said my name in her acceptance speech, that meant she saw the movie. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, she sat on her couch and watched the movie.
Being on the Vanity Fair
cover, again it’s insane and crazy.
, I got to work with some amazing people in that project. It happened so fast. I booked it, there was a moment and I was going to go on set in Atlanta, and I thought, “Oh my goodness, I am going to work with all these people!” I wondered what it would be like. On my way there, I met Condola [Rashad], we were on the same flight. It was like we were separated at birth. When I got to set in Atlanta, there was no ego. Everyone was so helpful and supportive. We had a great time together. It was really great. I am just really thankful. There are some amazing people in this industry and I’ve gotten to work with them.
And of course, Pariah
– getting to talk with people and meet with all different types of people who’ve seen and been impacted by this film – Black, white, young and old. Shows me the power of film and how Pariah
effected so many people.
What does beauty mean to you?
Loving all of who you are and showing it, and not hiding it, not diminishing yourself or making yourself small. We all have different features and it drives me crazy when there’s an idea around beauty
that suggests there is only 1 standard. Everything is beautiful.
When it comes to Black women, and as a Black woman, I notice there is a stigma about wearing your hair the way it came out of your head. There’s an idea that’s natural hair is difficult, but it’s just taking care of yourself. Being who you are in your own terms. But it’s all about deciding what you want—whether you’re natural, have a perm, or have blue and pink hair, your choice and there’s no judgment.
Who is an example of natural beauty?
My mom. She’s just very elegant in her own way. Anything that I have starts with her.
My dad was the one who was really adamant about all his daughters being natural. It’s because of my dad that I never got a perm. My mom has done all types of things to her hair and would support me if I wanted to try something new. However, my father would talk about why he felt that way, he’d say, “Who you are is beautiful and you don’t need to process anything.”
What’s your fave natural hair beauty tip?
I have had natural hair all my life. My mom braided my hair, and I wore braided extensions. It bothers me when people say Black hair doesn’t grow. Right now my hair the longest it’s ever been in my life and I believe that it is because I have taken the time to learn about my hair. I have learned that I need
to moisturize my hair. The moisturizing HAS BEEN KEY!!
Coconut Oil is amazing! I use coconut oil
for my skin. I remember my mom bringing some coconut oil from Nigeria, and I didn’t like the smell. But I was in a play and we had to use it to make us look like we were sweating. And then I thought this is amazing. And then I started to use it on my hair.
How do you maintain your hair? Any advice to women
I’m always on a mission to figure it out. I’ve been natural my whole life and as my hair gets longer, I have to figure out new things. I’m constantly searching and testing out different things. It can be very overwhelming because there’s so much information out there, and especially because natural is a very broad term. Even my sisters, we all have different types of natural hair. The most you can do is try, and be patient. Patience is the key. And I’m learning that every day, how to be patient with my hair. There was this idea that natural hair is so strong and you can be rough with it. But it’s the opposite, it’s like fine silk. It’s all a learning process, and it’s all part of the journey of loving yourself.
What are you looking forward to in 2013?
I’m looking forward to creating my own work. I wrote a short that I’m going to shoot. I’m looking forward to exploring who I am outside of an actor—whether it be a writer or director. I wasn’t ready before, but now I’m ready to try new things, fall flat on my face and learn. I’d love to travel more. I really need that for myself. Also, learning new languages—I’d really like to learn French and practice more my own language, Yoruba.
Any inspiring words to women "transitioning" into their dreams...
I do believe with all of my heart that anything is possible. I feel like if you know what you want to do, like to do, want to do, you owe it to yourself to go all out and try it. It might lead you to something else. But you owe it to yourself to go to it fully. Fear will never go away, but what I’ve learned is to not let it paralyze me. Get clear about what it is you want. We are all deserving of the absolute best in our lives.
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