Fans of Tyler Perry’s BET hit comedy-drama Sistas will recognise actor Chido Nwokocha from his series regular role as ‘Gary’, a married man who starts a relationship with Andrea ‘Andi’ Barnes (played by KJ Smith), the show’s protagonist.
Prior to landing this part, Chido appeared in a number of other television series, including Hawaii Five-O, The Night Shift, Murder In The First and The Rookie, as well as soap opera Days of Our Lives and video game Mafia III.
In this Exclusive Interview, Chido discusses the process of landing the role of Gary, working alongside Tyler Perry and what he would do as a career if not an actor, among other topics.
Welcome, and thank you for taking the time to do this.
Chido Nwokocha (CN): Thanks for having me, absolutely.
How have you been finding life professionally as an actor in the pandemic?
CN: It’s definitely different. Again, obviously a lot of the protocols for safety are in place. There’s not a lot of, I’d say, day-to-day activities or errands to do. You have to definitely be safe in quarantine, be cautious of what areas you’re going around. Trying not to be in public spaces too much, getting things in and out.
Even now, your days off from working, you may want to do sightseeing or something like that but you’ve got to be cautious and say: “Where am I going?” It’s very serious, I don’t want to put people in danger. I try to limit everything as possible to basic necessities – food to eat, getting a workout. Then with social distancing as well, finding other things to do by myself. In the hotel reading, watching TV. That’s definitely been a different challenge.
You’re currently playing the role of ‘Gary’ on Sistas – a show created, written and directed by Tyler Perry. How was the process of landing the role?
CN: It was a crazy process. I actually went out for one of his other shows and it didn’t work out. I remember just coming home, a little bit of time passed. I started this new job – a bartending job. The very day I started, I get a call from my manager that they wanted to see me for the show Sistas. I was like: “Okay, cool.” I thought it was an audition here in LA and they were like: “No, we’re going fly you out.” I just started this new job… that little process as an actor of chasing your dreams. Trying to support yourself at the same time so you can stay out here to chase that dream, if that makes sense.
You just take that leap of faith. I flew out to Atlanta, tested for the role, lost that bartending job… that following week, I get a call saying I got the role. Obviously, I was so excited – calling my people, friends and family. That was definitely an interesting week and a half, for sure.
Although Sistas is a comedy-drama, do you have a preferred genre to work in?
CN: Our show definitely has some comedic-elements to it. I definitely enjoy dramas. I enjoy more… I gravitate more to drama. All the shows I generally watch, there are a few comedies in there to sprinkle in, I definitely gravitate to drama, mystery, things that have to make me follow along to find out what’s going to happens in the end.
In that vein, do you have a favourite show that you’re watching?
CN: Right now, I’m currently watching Lovecraft Country. I’m really enjoying that right now, actually got to catch up on that episode before I get back to work. I loved How To Get Away With Murder, that was one of my nice little mystery shows that I enjoyed watching. After I finish up Lovecraft, it’s on to find another show.
I think during this pandemic, I’ve watched so much, caught up on things I hadn’t watched before. I’m getting to the point where I’m running out of things to watch.
Initially, who or what inspired you to become an actor?
CN: To be honest, there’s definitely figures that I’ve watched. You see Will Smith, Denzel [Washington], Idris [Elba]. It was always… I watched them and I was like: “That’s what I want to do.” I’ve just taken bits and pieces from a lot of people. It was a desire burning from within to get out, perform and tell stories.
I enjoy following guys around my demographic – John Boyega, the late great Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Mahershala Ali – watching them do their work is incredible. They’re around my demographic, you’re just watching those guys and you’re like: “Okay, I got work to do. It’s something that’s possible and I can do it.”
As acting can be a precarious and not always reliable profession, was there anything else you wanted to do career-wise?
CN: Before that, I was a ball player. I played football, my team was in the National Football League. I was one of those guys that was very clear very early on about what I wanted to do with my life. In that beginning phase, I was a ball player, that was my identity, what got me going. I loved working out, loved competing, pushing my body to the max. I wanted to get to the highest level of football.
I was fortunate enough to play collegiately and pursue other professional football leagues. My career got cut short with a few injuries and just not making it. I was like: “It’s time to move on. How long do I want to keep chasing it?” Some others, they keep going. This time, I’ve exacerbated all opportunities and I think it’s time to move on to this next chapter. I enrolled in some classes and started that process.
Besides Gary, did you audition for any other roles on Sistas?
CN: No, I went out for Gary. I went out for the show, I guess they brought it to my team’s attention: “Chido would be a great fit for another role on the show.” Obviously, it was Gary and I read for it. It worked out. When a door closes, another door opens. I’m glad they had an eye for me, for something else.
Aside from Sistas, you’ve appeared in other series including Scorpion, Murder In The First and Shooter. How different is being a series regular compared to a guest star and how have those early experiences shaped your career today?
CN: Guest-stars, I just think are very pivotal. Especially as an actor going in your career, you get something like that 1) push the story along and 2) just have a pivotal part in the story, on a show. It just let me know, when I booked my first few, I can really take that next step and be a series regular on a show.
I think the difference is, you get to sit in a character for a long time. They’re seeing you more on the show and you get to develop a longer story. Different guest stars range with one-offs or maybe multiple episodes. Maybe it will eventually roll into a series regular. You know, series regular is a major accomplishment, something that you’re really striving for as you’re starting out, especially in television.
Despite being married, Gary has a relationship with KJ Smith’s character, Andi. As the actor playing the role, how would you defend or not defend your character over this choice?
CN: [Laughs] You’re not going to get me to defend him. Gary’s a very complex character. It’s one that I really gravitated to because he’s so far from me. You know, as an actor, you just get to enjoy playing someone who the audience really can’t figure out.
It gives you more room to play and do different things to keep the audience on edge, about how they feel about him. If you can get the audience to feel, you’re doing something. Most of the time, he’s not really a favourite and other times where you’re sitting there saying: “Maybe this guy’s telling the truth, I think I like him.” Or, “I don’t know how I feel.” I think that’s a fun place to keep the audience in and it’s a fun thing for the actor to bring to the table.
You’ve also worked on a video game, Mafia III. How different is working in that industry compared to Film and TV?
CN: That was extremely different. Getting work on some video games, geared up and putting those head pieces on. Mo-Cap [Motion Capture] and all that. I don’t really know how to explain it. It was a great learning tool, how they translate what you’re doing digitally, on the Mo-Cap side of it.
It almost felt like a different form of acting. Very different trying to translate, doing that stuff but something I’m looking forward to doing again. Maybe some voiceover work as well, it would be a lot of fun.
Aside from Sistas, is there anything else coming up that you want to mention?
CN: Right now, I have a guest spot on The Resident on FOX, which I’m excited about. I have Top Gun coming out, a role on Top Gun. Whenever that’s coming out, I know it got pushed back until I think December, if I’m not mistaken. When it does come out, I have that. So, that’s what I have coming up.
Also, our show just premiered last week. Amazing ratings, high views, people were tuned it. That’s what we having coming up in these next few weeks. Wednesday nights, BET at 9/8 Central.
With the world going through a tough time, what advice would you offer to fans of your work, or you personally?
CN: It’s a crazy time because all of us are dealing with a multitude of different things. Whether it’s finances, family. Just peace of mind, most importantly. I think for myself, it was definitely an adjustment because my industry got hit as well. You’re not really knowing what’s going to happen, when you’re getting back to work, anything like that.
I had to have a lot of faith, exercise, form of patience and just optimism, hoping everything is just going to work out. But in that time, just trying to keep myself busy, taking care of myself physically, working on my mental. Just trusting that everything’s going to work out for the better in the long run.
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