Q&A with Dayo Okeniyi at GMX, interviewed by Janine K. Spendlove

October 27, 2012 Q&A with Dayo Okeniyi, interviewed by Janine K. Spendlove, at Geek Media Expo, in Nashville, TN

Full story below.

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First off it’s “Dye – oh” not “Day – oh.” Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s talk about this great guy who can do a hilarious President Obama impersonation and breathed life (and then death) into Thresh, the all-important tribute from District 11 in this summer’s blockbuster “The Hunger Games.”

All-important, you ask? Well yes, if not for Thresh, Katniss would have died, and there you go, no more story.

When I was first approached to do the Q&A with Dayo at Nashville’s annual Geek Media Expo, I think I was asked because I was the only YA lit author guest scheduled to attend. It went down something like this:

“Hey, Janine, do you like the Hunger Games?”

“Yeah, they’re great books – love ‘em!”

“Oh, would you be willing to lead a Q&A with the guy who played Thresh in the film?”

*Me jumping around on the other end of the phone totally excited* be cool, be cool, be cool! “OH MY GOSH SERIOUSLY??? OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH!” Way to be cool, Self.

“Yes, seriously! Okay, so we’ll put you down for the Q&A.”

Just wait until I tell my kids – they’ll actually think I’m cool for once!

Anyways, that’s pretty much how it went down, and in case you didn’t pick up on it from the above passage, I’m a pretty big fan of the series – well, my entire family is – so yeah, I was excited.

My youngest posing with Dayo at his request.

My 12 year old actually met Dayo before I did – he was giving archery lessons at GMX, so she went with a friend of mine (I was in a panel), and as soon as he saw her (decked out in her Rue costume, no less), he was thrilled, called her over and asked for a photo with her. She was on cloud nine for the rest of the day. “Mom, he wanted a picture with me!”

I later ran into Dayo up in the green room (can I just say that GMX takes the BEST care of their guests! Seriously, they spoil us) and introduced myself, letting him know that I’d be running the Q&A later with him that day. He was super nice and, more importantly, had on a Beatles t-shirt. I immediately approved of him.

Later that day at the Q&A, he was prompt and the room was packed with fellow HG fans. I’d done some research on Dayo, written out a few questions I thought everyone would want to know the answers to, and planned to leave at least half the panel to fans to ask questions. That plan got derailed a bit when after consulting with Dayo, we decided to cut the Q&A short by 15 minutes to afford everyone who wanted to a chance to take a picture with him. Can we say classy gentleman?

Now, I don’t have a transcript of the Q&A below – if you want that hopefully someone recorded it and put it on youtube – but I do have my questions and some notes that I’ll share with you. The Q&A itself was a lot of fun; Dayo is easy to talk to. He put everyone at ease, and I honestly felt like I was just chatting with friend. Well, a large room full of friends, for that matter.

We started out with the proper pronunciation of his name (see above), and he told us a bit about being from Lagos, Nigeria, and then moving to the states in 2003 and eventually going to college and getting a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Communication.

Having acted since elementary school he decided to quit his post university job, move to LA, and try to break into acting. Of course all of us are glad he did! He was in LA for two years, and, as he put it, living in an unfurnished apartment with mattress on the floor.

The story of how he got his big break was really great – essentially he went in for a different reading, caught the eye of someone who’s name escapes me (I should have taken better notes!), and he was floored when he asked Dayo who his agent was, and Dayo said “I don’t have one.” “Well that will change soon…” Dayo thought he was just saying that because that’s what everyone says in Hollywood, but within three days Dayo had a phone call from a managing firm who said they’d like to meet with him soon if that was okay.

As Dayo jokingly quipped with us, “I was like, uh… how soon? I can be there right now if you want.”

Suffice it to say they became his mangers and shortly thereafter called him about new project. He knew something was up when they were being cagey on the phone with him & had him come down to the office right then & sign a non-disclosure agreement before they gave him the lines he would be reading.

He would be auditioning for The Hunger Games, specifically for the role of Thresh. He had a couple days to learn the lines and to impress the woman he would be auditioning for. Oh, and he could not tell ANYONE, not even his mom. So, even though they told him he wouldn’t get the part, that this was just to get him some practice auditioning, he holed up in his apartment, went to the audition, and we all know how it ended up going for him.

When I asked him if he’d been familiar with The Hunger Games prior to his audition he said he knew about the project just like every other young actor in LA. –it was a project they all wanted to be a part of. Then, as soon as he got the casting call, he went out and bought all three books & tore through them in about 2 days.

I asked if he realized just how important Thresh’s character was in the overall story arc, and he said it didn’t actually dawn on him until he watched the film.

We then moved onto the subject of the actually filming. He said it was an absolutely amazing experience and that he loved everyone he worked with. They all became fast friends and still keep in contact. Everyone was so laid back and unpretentious that the entire experience had the intimate feel of a small indie film project or high school play that just happened to be directed by Gary Ross.

Upon landing in North Carolina he was riding in the car with Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove) and she shook his hand and said “Hi, I’m Isabelle and you’ll be killing me.” In fact, the very first scene he worked on was the cornucopia scene with Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss) and Isabelle. They rehearsed it over and over and over again. Originally there was an elaborately choreographed knife fight between Isabelle and Dayo (though he reminded Gary Ross that people really really wanted the rock), which, as he described it, was very “crouching tiger.”

After weeks of rehearsing, the day came to film the scene and Gary said “Nah, no fight, no rock. This is a very passionate moment. So just kill her.”

Dayo said, “What?”

“Just kill her. Pick her up and kill her like you would kill someone. You know, break her neck.”

So, they went from bashing her head in with a rock (book) to a super choreographed knife fight (rehearsal) to what we got in the film which was a very passionate, in the moment “kill.”

At the end of the panel, everyone, including both my daughters (dressed as Katniss and Rue) were able to get pictures with Dayo.

Dayo then proceeded to do a hilarious impersonation of his mother from when she saw the film. “Dayo, why did you kill that poor little girl?”

“It’s just a movie mom. I didn’t really kill her.”

“Yes but, that is not you – why did you kill her?”

We then moved onto discuss the training regimen they went through for the film – as you’ve guessed, it was a very physical film. Their trainers were former military and put them on a very strict diet. No carbs, no condiments, just protein and veges. 2 hours of training every day as well. Apparently the plan was for them to all look thin and emaciated at first, but then they decided to go with what was seen in the film.

In addition to filming a longer seen with Isabelle, they also had a seen with Cato and Thresh fighting. The plan was to have them duking it out, and then just as (hopefully!) Thresh was about to win the muttations would get him, allowing Cato to flee. But it was determined that there was not enough time in the film for the scene, so it was cut. Though, as Dayo put it “And you know Thresh could have taken out Cato!”

I asked, “But what about Katniss?”

He gave a wink and said “Oh, please.”

One thing he made sure to point out was the DVD – if you haven’t bought the DVD do so, because there are loads of fabulous extras on them, one of them being The Tribute Diaries. It was actually their (the Tributes) idea to do these, so that you could get the experience of what it was like to film The Hunger Games.

My favorite picture of Dayo, but then, I’m probably biased.

We talked about some of his upcoming projects (The Spectacular View, and Runner Runner with Justin Timberlake), both of which sound like they’ll be great, so be sure to add them to your watch list.

We then turned the panel over to audience questions, and there were some great ones, and he told some great stories (which is how we got the previously mentioned President Obama impersonation), and on the whole it was a fantastic panel.

And of course, I couldn’t help myself from ending the Q&A with this: “I was going to ask ‘Team Peeta or Team Gale’ but I think in this case the answer is obvious – TEAM THRESH all the way!”

He laughed and shouted, “May the odds be ever in your favor!”

The crowed cheered and gave him a 3-fingered salute, and Dayo, as promised took a picture with every single fan in the room. Later I linked back up with him to pick up some signed photos for my daughters and found out that all the proceeds made from his photos were going to charity, and not in his pocket.

Like I said, classy guy.

Dayo Okeniyi, don’t ever change – you’re awesome, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

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Janine K. Spendlove is a KC-130 pilot in the United States Marine Corps. Her bestselling first novel, War of the Seasons, Book One: The Human, was published in June 2011 and her next novel, War of the Seasons, Book Two: The Half-blood, was released in June 2012. She’s also had several short stories published in various anthologies. A graduate from Brigham Young University in 1999 with a BA in History Teaching, she is an avid runner, enjoys knitting, playing Beatles tunes on her guitar, and spending time with her family. She resides with her husband and daughter in Washington, DC. She is currently at work on her next novel. Find out more at WarOfTheSeasons.com.

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