In our interview with key industry professionals who inspire us, we welcome Oris Erhuero, the actor from the Adventures of Sinbad who chat down with DNAcheampong, leads us through his struggle, persistance and breakthrough.
Oris Erhuero is an award winning British Actor, Producer and Fashion Model. Born On September 23, 1968 in England, he transitioned into acting after years in modeling involved in campaigns for Christian Dior, Armani, Moschino, Vivienne Westwood and many others in the world fashion industry including commercials such as Coca-Cola and other endless TV Ads. Oris breakthrough in acting came after he starred in Television Series “The Adventures of Sinbad” and also played the role of Winston in “Highlander: End Game“. In 2005, he starred in “Sometime In April” a film about the 1994 Rwanda genocide directed by Oscar nominated Raoul Peck. The HBO film got nominated for Golden Globe and NAACP Image Awards. In 2008, Oris left Los Angeles to London and made his British television debut in crime drama series “The Bill” and also starred in the award winning stage play “The Diary of Black Men“. He has since starred in The Cursed Ones, Road to Yesterday, Redcon1 and the latest Europa amongst many others. Oris owns his film production company and is the head designer of Bespoke Jewelry.
DNAcheampong – Let’s Start By Talking About Your Beginnings. You Were Born In England, How Was Growing Up As An African/Black Whose Parents Hailed From Nigeria?
Oris Erhuero – In fact I was born in London. When I was five I was taken to Nigeria to be raised by my uncle until I was thirteen. Looking back I can see I benefited immensely from being amongst thriving, proud, young Africans from all walks of life, many who later went on to become central figures in the community. Their hopes, their aspirations and their big dreams gave me the boost to have bigger dreams. I just felt there is no way I could let all those uncles and aunts and pretty much the wider community down. Because of where my parents come from, they expect nothing less than upmost excellence from me and my siblings. After all we are the first generation children with all the advantages of being born in the UK. You can say my parents and our Nigerian heritage have pretty much kept us on the straight and narrow! And they still do!
DNAcheampong – So When Did You First Realize That Arts/Entertainment Was The Path For You? Was It Something You Wanted To Do?
Oris Erhuero – Funnily, I was taking Drama class at school as a way to avoid all the other classes! It quickly became one of my favourite subjects, but at age 14 I never dreamt it would lead me to where I am today. Back then it didn’t seem like something one could make a career out of. The goal was to join the army or go to university and do what I thought society wanted me to do. Luckily for me, all my teachers and every one around me kept saying to me that I had a strong connection with the arts and drama and to not push it away. Even my head teacher said to me that I belong to that world, and said to be honest the university path wasn’t for me. I learnt that it’s important to listen to your own voice, and not to the expectations of others. My gut feeling and I daring to listen to it – allowed me to live the dream.
DNAcheampong – How Did You Enter Into The Fashion/Modelling Industry??
Oris Erhuero – A piece of me want to say by the stroke of some luck …but many who know me would say otherwise As some things are meant to happen and there is no stopping it. . So I will accept it with gratitude, and share that journey of how it all happened. They say life is a journey and not a race, and along your life journey you can be distracted, only to find yourself exactly where you need to be. From 1988 to 1993 I was working my way up in the music industry in New York. I was part of the Hip Hop movement from London. I was also a break dancer and a big Rap fan. I was so excited when Chuck D of the group Public Enemy asked me to drop by the studio, as they were working on their second album ” It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” and got the opportunity to lend my voice on a track called “She Watch Channel Zero?!”.
Here I was with the biggest Rap group on the planet, just hanging out and learning from them, and it inspired me with the hope of some day managing acts or being hired as an A&R at some big label. The parties, the life style, award shows, DJs and Rap battles, you name it… I was just around the who is who of it all.
Then I suddenly encountered a life threatening incident where I was suddenly caught in a cross fire where by sustaining endless gunshot wounds, over another rappers squabble, living me in a coma for a while. When I came out if it, I decided I wanted to start a brand new life and erase everything I knew of my past. You could say it was an enlightening awakening. So I moved to Miami Beach, Florida. Just like that. I literally walked out of the hospital against doctors’ orders with a one way bus ticket and a plastic bag of gym clothes and 50 dollars in my pocket. I had walked away from friends, contacts and everything I had built in New York. I was a young kid, so I didn’t care. Simply because I had this feeling, that everything could be replaced, as long as I was alive and healthy, I could do it all over again. I just wanted out of the hectic, hustle and bustle of New York to be somewhere calm, and instead found myself on a bus to a part of America that had just been hit by one of the biggest hurricane disasters in its history! Miami was turned upside down by Hurricane Andrew, it was like a war zone.
Just as the Florida locals fought to rebuild their lives in the aftermath I had to do the same to rebuild mine. I was now homeless, nowhere to sleep, no friends, but trust me I was happy and grateful just to be alive! I came up with an idea to sleep on the beach and blend in silently with the homeless. But things would take a turn. I woke up one morning to find a guy sitting a couple of yards on the beach from where I was. He was smoking a cigarette and just starring at the water, as if in a trance. Apparently he had been watching me the last few days and realised I wasn’t from there, we greeted and we talked. I told him my situation, and ended the conversation by saying I was just happy to be alive and open to whatever life would throw my way at that point. Little did I know this man I was talking to, worked for a millionaire who owned several yachts and properties on Miami Beach, which he managed He took me to one of the yachts and asked me to take good care of it, and to sleep there instead of the beach, until I was able to get my life and finances in order.
I was shocked by this man’s heart, knowing full well that he was also taking a risk doing this and his job was on the line if his boss was to ever find out. I decided to use this opportunity to get out and seek any form of work. One morning after buying breakfast at a local Cuban family bakery, I decided to ask the owner if they had any vacancy available. They looked at me and said to be honest they had, but the kind of work wouldn’t be fitting for a guy like me. But at this point I was happy with anything. The job was a 4 am start, to wash pots and pans. I laughed and said I would take it, we shook hands and at 3.30am the next morning I started work. After a month, I saved enough to move out of the yacht into a hotel as well as join a local gym. I switched to a waiting job at the some high end restaurant I washed dishes for, having moved for more money from doing the same at the Cuban bakery. The manager laughed and said he wasn’t going to hide my pretty face behind the restaurant. I was actually happy and enjoying hiding behind pots and pan as I was struggling with my confidence at that time. He could tell I was hiding, and had this idea to push me to front-of-house as a waiter and to his surprise, and mine, I went on to be his highest top sales waiter, I made more money in tips than my salary. I was selling every top item on the menu including the most expensive champagne and wine. Being born in England went a long way too.
It was like this new found confidence just emerged out of me, I was working out even harder in the gym. I started to build a world of friends from all walks of life, and at this time a photographer by the name of Azabra, whom I was waiting on at the restaurant one evening. He was entertaining a famous supermodel yet found time to give me his card and tell me that I had a face and physic the fashion and commercial world were desperate for and that there was a lot of money in it.
He also asked me to consider becoming an actor as he felt I was a natural and should return to drama class. I was taken aback and really moved by him, as he was very sincere and saw my life clearly. To me this man who is also my best friend today, was beyond just a photographer. He pretty much read my future. He said to please consider it. I took him up on the offer and in so doing, Azabra went out of his way day and night to give me endless free test shots, as well as actor’s head shots, and single-handedly passed my pictures around agencies who all had connections in South Africa, Milan , Paris, New York and Los Angeles. Little did I know that it would come together exactly three months from that night in that restaurant in Miami … and here I am 26 years later!
DNAcheampong – You Were Involved In Campaigns For Big Brands Including Armani, Dior, Moschino, Vivienne Westwood And Many Others. What Would You Say Accounted For Your Success Having Worked With All These Labels And Also As One Of The Most Photographed Models In Your Era?
Oris Erhuero – I have always believed in the power of meditation, as its keeps me incredibly focused. After all, you can have all the contact and talent in the world, and still not know how to go about achieving your goals and dreams. Through meditation I find that not only can one break through what seems to be impossible, one can actually go beyond and surpass ones expectations.
Once I set my mind to something, I keep going till I master it correctly, and take and learn what I need from it. I never know when a “younger me” might come along and need advice and support, and to then enable me to “pay forward” the many times in my life where total strangers stepped in to give me a helping hand.
I always make sure I enjoy the task and opportunity in front of me, and give it 100 percent focus, and do it right. I have also always had that great mentor by my side, Daisaku Ikeda, whom I seek advice and guidance from. From his many words of wisdom, what always sticks with me is: “When you encounter a severe difficulty, you may despairingly feel that it’s the end of everything and give up. However you should never succumb to such difficulties in life .You must win by all means. If you do you, will later be able to look back with a feeling of satisfaction, on your days of desperate
DNAcheampong – Would You Say Adventures Of Sinbad Was Your Breakthrough Into The Foray Of Acting And How Has The Experience Been On That Set And Subsequent Ones?
Oris Erhuero – Absolutely! “The Adventures of Sinbad” was the gateway to where I am today. Not only was it my first TV gig, it was my very first TV audition. It was a test to see if acting was for me, and if this was something I could give my all to. Initially, I was cast as a guest in the pilot episode and meant to be killed off after Sinbad’s first sea voyage. However, test audiences and the director, Clay Boris who became a mentor to me, insisted and convinced the producers to keep me. From the show I was able to build a loyal fan base around the world, and this was even before any form of social media existed! Till this day I still get fan mail, (how crazy is that!). One of those loyal fans went on to later direct me in my first leading man role in the multi-Africa Movie Academy award winning film, “The Cursed Ones” 20 years later. This film also gave me my first leading man nomination at this same African “Oscars” for which I will be forever grateful. I always say to all young actors starting out that if they can get on a TV series they will no doubt have a great career, because it’s an excellent training ground. It’s an environment that pushes one to study and work hard. You are made aware of what goes on day in day out in front and behind the scenes. That TV show helped me as a writer and content creator, and taught me all aspects of production.
DNAcheampong – You Starred In “Sometime In April”, A Film About The Rwanda Genocide In 1994. What Did Being A Part Of This Project Mean To You As The Film Centred On A Tragic Occurrence In The History Of Rwanda And Africa As A Whole?
Oris Erhuero – “Sometimes in April” was an eye-opening project beyond anything I have ever encountered. The harsh reality of the Rwanda genocide is something I still find hard to shake off. I am grateful for the journey and for the opportunity to be cast in it by HBO. I am grateful to its director, Raoul Peck who was Oscar nominated for the BAFTA award winning film “I Am Not Your Negro”. I remember the events leading up to me starring in that film in Rwanda years later. I was living in South Africa but also travelling between New York City, Los Angles, Milan and Paris for modelling work whilst trying to transition into a full-time actor. I had arrived in South Africa in May 1994 in the same week Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the first president of the newly liberated South Africa where its people no matter what tribe, colour or creed resolved to progress in peace and harmony. While just a month before, in Rwanda, one tribe decided to wipe out another tribe with machetes, whilst the whole world watched and did nothing. Never once in my mind did it occur to me that I would be playing one of the leads in the film that was based on the tragedy that took place.
The experience was life changing from the moment I landed in Kigali airport. The stories, the mass grave sites that I visited, a church, a place meant for worship, peace, safety and sanctuary scarred with marks from the massacres. Every frame of the film was played out in these exact spots, where the killings took place, the streets from where the murderers marched in and massacred women and children hiding and seeking refuge. Their bones were still scattered there. All this made me question what it meant to be a human being and drove me to become a Buddhist.
DNAcheampong – Outside Of Oris Erhuero The Model, Actor, And Producer, What Is It You Do In Your Spare Time.
Oris Erhuero – I am constantly, on the lookout for and in talks with entrepreneurs with interesting business ideas. I have just partnered up with a young innovative black owned watch makers in the UK, called MAALS. They have been hard at work on designs which will get the world enjoying and wearing watches again.
I also have my own companies in the UK. Oresiri Limited is a bespoke fine jewellery and watch company which has been on the go for the last five years. Together with my wife, we are in constant collaboration with the best designers from around the world, fighting to create the finest customer experience.
Tactical films Limited will be delivering its first TV series and films in 2020. I am so happy and excited to be able to realise the potential of all my knowledge, contacts and experience and to do so collaborating with and featuring the finest talent. Watch this space!
DNAcheampong – Beside Your Heavy Body Of Work, You Are Now A Bonified Leading Man Of 4 Critically Acclaimed Films Out There Right Now. Two Of Them On Netflix ,”ROAD TO YESTERDAY “& “REDCON1” As Well As “THE CURSED ONES” On The Flix Premiere USA/UK Platform , And Your Latest “EUROPA” Doing The Festival Circuit Around The World This Very Moment… How Has All That Changed Your Way Of Working And Choices?
Oris Erhuero – Well from the moment I starred in my very first TV show, I was always pushed by those around me, to work towards being a strong leading man. There were only a handful of leading black men, and the rest were mostly up and coming strong talented actors being wasted on screen playing fillers, in such roles as “Slave”, “Gang banger”, “Thug”, and ”Driving Miss Daisy” kind of characters.
I was encouraged by a lot of the older black actors in Hollywood to fight for the same rolls any white actor would play as the tide was changing. I determined to fight by any means necessary to change the narrative and stereotype. It was made very clear to me that if I wanted to be a serious actor, I must think about the roles I was going up for and been offered to me.
That it wasn’t just about getting ANY acting work. It’s one thing if you are a part time actor doing this for fun, but for me this was serious, this was MY career.
People around me felt leaving a worldwide TV series such as the “The Adventures of Sinbad” when it ended, to go on to do small bit parts with no substance would be an absolute waste of time. So I pushed to go higher in my choice of roles, and to be the actor that any director, producer and investor would trust. The additional challenge is making sure that the movie I star in as the leading man go on to win awards and is acclaimed by every one. And so far, all those boxes, I can thankfully say, have been ticked.
At the 12th Africa Movie Academy Awards, “The Cursed Ones” was nominated for 13 awards and won three including for Best Director. It was also the first time I was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. This film provided me my first award – “Favourite Male Screen Personality” by the Screen Nation Film & TV Awards, a platform to raise the profile of black British and international film and television talent of African heritage.
“Redcon-1” gave me my second award – Best Actor, at the HBO Urban Action and Showcase Expo Festival. Award winning “Road to Yesterday” made it to Netflix! I am incredibly grateful to Genevieve Nnaji, who wrote, starred and produced the film, for not only bringing me on board but also for introducing me to millions of her fans in Africa and elsewhere. The success of these films has put me in a great position to choose my next project carefully, and align myself with the right team of people to safeguard my progress and development as a serious actor and ensure enduring success in all my future projects.
DNAcheampong – Tell Us About Working With Filmmaker Nana Obiri Yeboah On “The Cursed Ones” Which Was Shot In Ghana And The Experience On The Set As Compared To Shooting In Other Climate?
Oris Erhuero – It was a profound experience, and I am very proud of being part of it. Ikena Obi a friend and amazing actor recommended me to Nana and the producers in the early stages. They were still casting for actors and Ikena thought I would be absolutely right for the part and the one to carry this film. I had never met Nana before, so to Ikena’s surprise, Nana told him that he had followed my career since he was little, running home from school in Ghana to watch me on “The Adventures of Sinbad ” on TV.
So from the start of meeting Nana to shooting the film we were like brothers, finishing off each other’s sentences and working as if we have been working together forever. Nana worked and prepared with me night and day as to what he would like from my performance, in every aspect right down to my weight and mannerisms of my character. He is a passionate director of the first rank who would give his all to follow the blue print every director must follow to make sure the story is intact. His dedication is such that he recently returned to university to get his MA in Films studies Directing and production. Here is an award winning director saying he still feels he has a lot more to learn and it is a measure of his dedication to his metier that he is constantly honing his skills. He is one director I would love to work with again.
Our respect and fondness for each other which was borne from “The Cursed Ones” has lead me to fall in love with Ghana, and its people in every way. Till this day I consider Ghana my second home in Africa. I am so looking forward to getting back there again, and together with Nana embark on the next mind blowing adventure.
DNAcheampong – You Starred Alongside Nollywood’s Leading Lady Genevieve Nnaji In “Road To Yesterday”. How Did You Land That Role And The Experience Working With Genevieve And The Director Of The Film Ishaya Bako?
Oris Erhuero – To be honest I wasn’t the person in mind to star alongside side Genevieve for “Road To Yesterday “. But as the universe would have it, and especially in the film world, we just never know what surprise each film has in store for us and the audience. One can have a particular team and actor in mind for many years and boom! All that can be turned on its head. I thank Genevieve for the opportunity and the final call she made in bringing me on board.
She was a joy to work with and be around, from the moment we met in Lagos. I had not been back to my homeland in almost 27 years since I left aged 13. So upon my arrival Genevieve and Ishaya just took me under their wing, and smothered me with nothing but absolute love. The everyday challenges and vitality of Lagos combined with the energy and enthusiasm of Genevieve, Ishaya and crew gave us a remarkable film which got the whole world talking. Their vision is why “Road to Yesterday” has gone on to become the success it is on Netflix. You don’t need me to list out her string of successes since then!
DNAcheampong – With The Catalogue Of Films And TV Series Under Your Belt, Which Would You Say Is Your Most Challenging Role And Also Your Tell Us About Your Favourite Role If Any And Why?
Oris Erhuero – The most challenging role for me has to be by far “Sometimes in April “. Psychologically it was heavy on the heart as I was in the country itself, up close and in the midst of people who all lost family and friends. You see men wearing two wedding bands. They had lost their significant other during the genocide, so it was in respect to them these widowers did not replace their rings after they remarried.
I spoke to individuals who were forced to kill loved ones or be killed themselves. They were given a choice of inflicting death by machete or by bullet. Although they related their stories to me without emotion, you can feel the pain and see it in their eyes.
I remember at one point during filming of the road block scene where my character had tried to take his brother’s family out the country. His press pass provided some guarantee to safety, only to be stopped at one road block where that privilege was taken from him.
The soldiers manning the road block made a phone call to a General who could have easily let him and his brother’s family cross the border freely, but instead gave the order to kill. My character pleaded and begged for their lives but had to watch helplessly as each one was killed. I remember just collapsing in tears; I was so overwhelmed by the scene that the women extras in the background rushed to my aid. Even a physically large man like myself cannot but be overcome by the devastation, suffering and loss. Till this day I still haven’t watched the film from start to finish, it’s always people telling me about the film. That movie has opened doors to pretty much anywhere in the film production world. I was always being recommended by people I worked with. They would ask producers and directors to watch “Sometimes in April”, many times this has saved me from having to audition! So many thanks to Raoul Peck and HBO.
My favourite role has to be Ronger the character I played on the “ADVENTURES OF SINBAD”. I never spoke, but was challenged to speak with all of my physical being. It was a beautiful journey where I got to travel and grow from one episodic story to another every week. It was the beginning of my journey as an actor and my school and university all in one while getting paid for it. I always go back there mentally when I prepare for my future roles.
DNAcheampong – You Have Received Awards And Been Honoured For Your Body Of Work. How Is The Feeling Always Like When Being Endorsed For Your Hard Work?
Oris Erhuero – I am blessed and am incredibly grateful, but there is nothing greater than a stranger in any part of the world walking up to you and saying thank you or telling you they really enjoyed watching your films. That’s the greatest reward any actor or actress can get in life. Or when they say, “I used to run home from school to watch your TV series. That melts my heart, and it makes me look forward to giving them more in return in my next projects. You could say my fans fuel my passion and performance! So many thanks to them!
DNAcheampong – Tell Us About Your Character/Role In Your Recent Film Europa Which Premiered At IDFA?
Oris Erhuero – Well. It’s based on a true story, told from a movie shot within a movie. The inside movie tells a fictional murder story, a drama and love triangle. And the «outside» movie above all is a razor sharp analysis of contemporary life in Europe by the award winning Rwandan director Kivu Ruhorahoza (Grey Matter, Things of the Aimless Wanderer). I play a mysterious foreigner, who returns to London to make amends with Anna, his mixed-race lover (Lisa Moorish) and Bruce, Anna’s white ex-husband (Matt Ray Brown).
This love triangle mirrors the increasing social and racial tensions in Great Britain, and Europe right now. All this plays out in parallel to Ruhorahoza’s narrative fiction, “the Kivu documents”. A series of rallies filmed in the streets of London provides the backdrop and tension in the film.
Inevitably, the ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy of the ruling Conservative Party comes back to haunt the reunited lovers and to disrupt Ruhorahoza’s film making effort. Sensing that his London stay is coming to a forced end, he attends a far right protest to try and understand the rising xenophobia of the Brits and of his character Bruce. My character shows the side of the many foreigners leaving the world they come from with hope to attain a better life somewhere else only to have it all taken from them. As they say the grass is not always greener on the other side.
DNAcheampong – Do You Still Dabble With Music?
Oris Erhuero – Music has always been part of my life. I am always experimenting with it, more so these days on the production side. I am currently producing an album with my music partner Elijah Tolex out of London, due to be out by the end of year. And we also have two songs already making the sound track of an upcoming film called “Fault Lines Across Water” which will be released towards the end of 2020. You could say they transcend rap.
DNAcheampong – You Own A Film Production. Any Productions Under Your Outfit? Oris Erhuero – Yes we have several productions in the works. A pilot which we have just wrapped up, and a TV series we are penning at this time.
DNAcheampong – You Are The Head Designer Of Bespoke Jewellery, Tell Us About It?
Oris Erhuero – It’s something I got into as a part time passion project, almost 17 years ago to make extra money. I was commissioned by a friend to make a bespoke piece for his girlfriend. She liked it and next thing I know, by word of mouth, I am being commissioned by people from around the world. My new found customers were so pleased with the work it lead me to heading my own team of designers to start our company, Oresiri Limited. You can find us on www.oresiri.com. We are now also venturing into fashion, sports and leisure wear.
DNAcheampong – How Do You Feel About All The Americans Got Back To Ghana?
Oris Erhuero – It’s the most incredible thing in the history of humankind. Ghana was the country, through which many Africans were forcefully taken as slaves and sold off to the highest bidder like cattle. And today centuries later anyone can finally return back to where their ancestors had left, never to return. The Ghanaian government and its people have given the black American a place they can truly call home, and I am hoping Nigeria and the rest of West Africa will follow suit as soon as possible.
DNAcheampong – Could You Share One Piece Of Advice With Our Young Readers Wanting To Start A Career As A Model/Actor?
Oris Erhuero – Yes and I would like to share with you some encouragement from my mentor, Daisaku Ikeda: “The worst mistake you can make is to give up on yourself, and stop challenging yourself for fear of failure. Keep moving forward with a firm eye on the future, telling yourself, I’ll start from today! I’ll start afresh from now, from this very moment.” I always hold on to this tight in my heart.
To Conclude; Here Are Some Rapid Fire Questions.
Worst habit on set… Never wanting to eat or take a break
Your Role Model… My grandmother
Dying To Work With… Anyone with great work ethics.
If I Wasn’t An Actor…, I’d be a Soldier.
You’re All Time Favourite African Movie… Shaka Zulu
Advice I wish someone had given me when i was starting out…To be honest I was surrounded by the best people, who gave me the best of advice leading me to where I am today.
True African Story I’d Love To See Made into A Movie… The Ashanti Empire
What Do You Think (Africa) We Are Missing As An Industry? We need major deep financial support from our government institutions in Africa. I feel some of the proceeds from the continent’s vast natural resources that we are selling to the rest of the world, can really help Africa’s Arts and Film Industry reach a level beyond anything we have ever seen.
DNAcheampong – Thanks Oris, really appreaciate your time!
In the world of film, Acheampong Magazine was established as part of Acheampong Studios to collaborate with Africa’s best Creatives in empowering Black filmmakers and engaging film lovers in both digital and print. Acheampong Magazine in 2018 began to award and celebrate outstanding filmmakers with African Content through its “AREEL”; An Annual Cinema Awards.
Acheampong Studios Ltd is an independent talent driven studio of Motion Pictures and Arts, based in Kumasi-Ghana and founded by Dennis Nana Acheampong. The company currently operates a trio of branded entities: Management, Creative Team and Production Crew.