O-T Fagbenle Talks The Handmaid's Tale, Writing A Hit Song For Tyga And Being Mistaken For Craig David

The multi-talented Brit is taking the leap into comedy, too

MOST POPULAR

Olatunde Olateju Olaolorun Fagbenle, or O-T to you and me, is the kind of guy who leaves considered, pregnant pauses when you ask him a question.

I think it's called thinking before you speak.

He's also the kind of guy to email you after your phone call to clarify his thoughts, which is all kinds of adorable.

You get the sense this caution might come from being part of one of the most politically-charged (and almost universally acclaimed) TV shows around, The Handmaid's Tale, which has clearly provided plenty of opportunity to engage in tricky yet important conversations about gender equality.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Still, Fagbenle is handling it like a pro. When you consider he's been doing this for 20 years, though, it should come as no surprise. Now 36, he began acting aged 16 and has all manner of 'serious' parts under his belt (RADA, Shakespeare, HBO, the lot).

Prior to the Margaret Atwood dramatisation, we would likely recognise Fagbenle from the BBC adaptation of Zadie Smith's NW. In the US, however, he was best known for his role as Frank in the TV series Looking.

ELLE spoke to the Anglo-Nigerian actor about feminism, writing hit songs for a certain Kylie Jenner-affiliated rapper, being mistaken for comeback king Craig David and following in the footsteps of the British comedic greats.

Congratulations on the success of 'The Handmaid's Tale'. The show is both incredibly timely whilst being, evidently, timeless, why do you think that is?

I think, unfortunately, we've always lived in a world of massive inequality.

Inequality between the haves and the have-nots, inequality between men and women that not only exists temporally but geographically as well.

Across the world there are lots of examples. It's interesting that different people from different cultures are relating to this show because of varying issues occurring in their own countries.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Would you call yourself a feminist?

I try to encourage myself to act in a way that supports gender equality, and I call that feminist. Whatever word people want to use to call that, I'm not really attached to a label.

But, I guess, the short answer is yes.

You've worked with some incredible women lately. How was that?

[Kill Your Darlings director] Reed Morano is an amazing woman, and one of the most extraordinary people I've had the chance to work with. Elizabeth Moss may very well be one of the best actresses I've had the privilege of standing opposite and sharing lines with.

A lot of actors and screenwriters have pointed out that TV has emerged as a better medium than film for diversity - would you agree?

We should spend very little time patting ourselves on the back, especially if you look behind the scenes at the representation of directors.

How many Oscar nominated directors were women? How many British writers are from ethnic minorities? How many disabled people do we have in lead roles on television?

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

There's still so much work to be done.

How do you see this changing?

I'm not against quotas. I think we have shown ourselves to have a real inability to think outside our own bubble, and sometimes we have to put in artificial constructs to force ourselves out of that bubble.

And we do see the benefits of that. For example, former President Obama's education was assisted by those kinds of systems.

O-T Fagbenle

But what I advocate most is at the very least giving those female writers and directors an interview. So often they don't even get into the room to pitch their ideas.

You're taking the leap with your own writing, too.

Yeah! Maxx is a TV show I've made that should be released online soon. It's an opportunity to make a real idiot of myself and it should be a lot of fun.

What inspired the show?

My memories of an unnecessarily long heartbreak.

I was young and a mess and I thought 'I know a healthy way to raise my self-esteem, I'll focus on my career!' and then that wasn't going too well either.

So Maxx was inspired by that emotional car crash. I read this book by [psychiatrist Victor] Frankl recently where he said: 'To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in that suffering'. Retrospectively I've realised that's what Maxx is about, how people search for meaning in their suffering. Well that and watching a man fall on his face.

Part of the show riffs off the idea that your character gets mistaken for Craig David. Does that happen a lot to you in real life?

When Craig David first came out it was really quite oppressive.

In 2001/2002, people were stopping me like 20 times a day. I think that's why I grew my afro out, to look less like him, but then the whole thing died down a little bit.

In the meantime he's got a lot more muscly and I've established myself a little bit more so it's easier to tell us apart now.

But the similarities also extend to your own musical abilities...

Yeah, and I get to express some of that in Maxx. I play a popstar trying to make a comeback, so I get to bring out some of my shaky musical abilities.

Well, not so shaky. You wrote at least one of the songs on rapper Tyga's album, right?

Yeah I wrote an album which we never released with my best friend Stephano Moses, and we used a lot of those songs on this TV show I did in America called Quarter Line.

But anyway Stephano was working with Tyga, and he wanted to work on this song, so he came to me, we worked on it together and Tyga released it. It was a really fun experience.

Youtube fans comment saying it's their favourite song of his. Life goals, O-T.

Ha. Well hopefully there's a lot more to come.

More from ELLE UK: