Today we’d like to introduce you to Nija Okoro.
Hi Nija, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I’m the first in my family to pursue the arts professionally. But, truthfully, I come from a family full of drama. (The good kind mostly!) My family is a cast of colorful characters who tell stories and hold court unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. We’re from the Bronx and we are a loud and boisterous bunch. So I think I get my storytelling abilities pretty honestly.
I’m beginning to realize just how simple what I do is.: step inside the story, believe in what you’re saying and why not have a little fun while you’re at? My family definitely does this. And with ease. So it’s part of my inheritance!
My mother enrolled me in classes for the performing arts at the Harlem School of the Arts at the age of 3. I danced, sang (poorly) and eventually started doing plays there. That’s where the acting bug hit. I can still remember the smell of sawdust and too hot lights in that theatre. To me, there’s no yummier smell.
I was a bit of an overachiever as a kid so the challenge of acting was most welcome. It still is! I love stepping into new shoes and imagining other lives. The magical part is there is always some connective tissue. If not, I’d better dig a little deeper, you know?
That to me is one of the main gifts of being an actress. The practice of constantly walking in someone else’s shoes. You begin to emphasize more often. Even when you are not in the mood to. Haha!
It’s a beautiful life-affirming craft that demands you check in with your humanity. I think everyone should take at least one acting class in their lifetime. But I’m a bit biased.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It has felt, at times, that the struggles would never let up. I thought I’d never been able to quit waiting tables! There were so many big roles I have been up for. Always down to me and someone else. And I couldn’t help but get excited about the possibility of booking that “big job”. So not getting jobs I really wanted has definitely been a sore spot.
These days, however, I truly believe that what is meant for me will find me. And I have had the honor and immense thrill countless times of receiving unexpected phone calls about getting jobs that I had no idea I was even being considered for. Straight offers, no auditions involved. Although I now realize the audition is your body of work and reputation. I also love being rehired by the same team. It’s truly the best kind of compliment.
I’ve been a professional actress since I graduated Juilliard in 2008. And those first few years were extremely difficult for me. The economic crash and the writer’s strike happened soon after I finished grad school. It was not a warm climate for a newbie in this business. Seasoned, well-known actors were even scrambling for work. Because of the scarcity of work during that time film stars were taking television gigs for the first time.
I’d be at auditions and pray the floor would swallow me whole because so many recognizable actresses would be auditioning for the same roles as me. I’m talking about famous actresses who’s work I deeply admired. It was definitely discouraging. But I was too broke to focus on my feelings. I had eight hundred different day jobs to keep me busy. While I definitely grew during that time, I certainly do not miss those days! I remember sleeping on the floor for a year. I couldn’t afford a bed. My best friend eventually set me a blow up bed. When I received it, I felt like someone just handed me the keys to a brand new Porsche. Yeah, I was definitely on the struggle bus!
It’s been about five years since I’ve had to work at any other job but acting gigs. I am living the dream I set for myself: to earn a living as an actress. It’s definitely time for me to expand my vision. I’m working on that…
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I’m a true character actress. I love shape-shifting. I enjoy excavation and play. The process of unearthing what’s below the surface thrills me. I truly love what I do and can talk about it all day.
I’m extremely proud of the years of study I’ve put in. Beginning with the Harlem School of the Arts, then at LaGuardia High School (the “Fame” School) and finally at Juilliard where I received a merit-based full scholarship. My training definitely serves me. Without it, I’d be a hot mess just going off of my instincts. It definitely works for some people. But in many ways, my training helps me to trust and execute what my instincts are telling me to do. I highly recommend getting in a great program of study for anyone interested in this line of work.
We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you?
Hmm. The role of luck…This is an interesting one. I think you do often get a so-called lucky break. And it’s thrilling. IF you are prepared for it. So I think part of my job is to stay prepared so when Lady Luck knocks on my door, I can treat her like a guest I’ve been waiting for. Like “Come on in sis, dinner’s ready!”.