Exclusive Interview with Independence Day: Resurgence’s Deobia Oparei

Photo Credit: Claudette Barius
Photo Credit: Claudette Barius

June 24th marks the return of the Independence Day saga, a science fiction juggernaut that has fans anticipating a bigger and better story than its predecessor. We spoke with Deobia Oparei, who is taking on a new character within the huge ensemble cast in Independence Day: Resurgence and has had previous roles in acclaimed sci-fi films and more recently, the massively popular cable drama Game of Thrones.

Read more to find out about his integral role in ID:R, a bit about his untimely departure from Game of Thrones, and his dedication to the craft of acting.

The newest installment to the Independence Day epic, Resurgence has already boasted itself as being bigger than the original! Can you tell us about your character, Dikembe’s role in the grand scheme of this new invasion?

Dikembe is an Oxford-educated African warlord and leader of the Democratic Republic of D’Umbutu, where a small group of Alien survivors from 1996 have waged a decade-long war against the African nation. As a result of Dikembe’s close encounters with the Aliens, he and his people have developed a syndrome called the Alien Residual Condition. Helping him to deal with the ARC is Dr. Catherine Marceaux, played by, Charlotte Gainsbourg (star of Nymphomaniac and Melancholia). 

Along with Dr. Marceaux, Dikembe enlists the help of David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). All three find their way into Jake’s (Liam Hemsworth) spaceship and venture into space. A ragtag group, with Dikembe on a mission to free his people and avenge the death of his twin brother, killed in D’Umbutu’s decade-long war against the Aliens.  

Along with the amazing effects shown in the ID:R trailers so far, can fans look forward to a character-driven plotline as well?

Definitely.  Many characters from the first film are returning, with new ones, like myself, being added. All have a dynamic character arc throughout the movie where wills are tested, old wounds resurface and new wounds threaten to tear loved ones apart. And bring about the destruction of the planet. Only unity and coming together can save humanity from distinction. It’s against this high stakes drama that a character driven plot line unfolds that takes us on another brilliantly entertaining journey filled with love, loss, humor and a poignancy in this film that is really going to touch audiences.  

With roles in Dredd, Doom, and even Alien 3, you’re no rookie to the science fiction genre but was there anything unique in ID:R that you can recollect not having encountered in previous  science fiction performances?

I think working with Roland Emmerich was a unique experience. This was the first sci-fi movie where I felt the character I played was given gravitas, real depth.  This was down to Roland’s vision and his writing a character that was a real human being, not a stock Hollywood African warlord stereotype.  It’s great playing a badass, whether it’s Destroyer, in DOOM or Areo Hotah in Game Of Thrones. It’s even better when the badass has an Achilles heel or a palpable vulnerability or weakness that can be juxtaposed against his major strengths. As an actor, I relish in playing characters that are messy, volatile and unpredictable. 

Recently we saw the departure of your character Areo Hotah in the Game of Thrones’ season six premiere, to the dismay of many fans. Were you privy at the start that Areo would have a shorter time on-screen than in the novels?

I had no idea. Until a few months before shooting of Season 6 began.  I think they felt the Dorne storyline didn’t work and Areo Hotah was collateral damage to that. Albeit brief, I had a wonderful time on the show. David Benioff and Dan B. Weiss, are a joy to work with. And the exposure has been great, for me. 

How was joining in on such a major production like Game of Thrones five seasons in? Was it challenging to become acclimated with everything that he transpired up until your debut?

The show was broken in and well into its ascendancy when Areo Hotah and the Dornish arrived. So, introducing a new ruling family, a new clan and new lands to rival Westeros and the Lannisters, in Season 5, proved to be too difficult a feat for the storytellers. As an actor reading the books I was initially excited to play such a taciturn and quietly intense character, in Areo. And it was and still is, exciting to be an integral part of the most successful show on television.

It’s fitting that you have been called a ‘chameleon’ because your filmography includes many different characters- displaying a huge amount of range! What general characteristics do you look for when considering a script?

I began my professional acting career in British theatre. My first play was with a Scottish theater company for the Edinburgh Festival. I had to portray 7 different characters in this play. It was my first job and I was 18 and petrified. I was sure I’d be found out as a talentless thespian and fired. So, I worked assiduously to make sure each character had a different accent, a distinguishable walk, different body language and vocal register. It never occurred to me to just play myself or be an approximation of, DeObia Oparei. 

For me, the notion that actors are extrovert is a misnomer. There’s nothing more introvert than disappearing behind a ‘character’ and losing oneself in the life, mannerisms and behavior of a made-up person plucked from the lines of a script. 

I started acting, when still a child, in London, in youth theater. I would go, daily, after school, and many times I’d skip school to attend the local youth theater. Which was situated in the crypt of a church in a low-income neighborhood in southeast London. The youth theater was run, by left wing – creative – radicals who fed us, from pre-teenage years on. On a steady diet of the works of playwrights, Chekhov, and Brecht, and theater directors, Stanislavsky, and Grotowski. So coming up as a young actor it never occurred to me that there were roles or character’s that I could not learn or study to play. 

I look for and love to play roles that go against type. Till now, on film, I’ve played pretty much to my physical attributes and characteristics. With the exception of Le Chocolat, Moulin Rouge and some of my earlier tv stuff in the UK and Australia. I look forward, as my career progresses, to playing against type in roles, like Dikembe, who are men of strong will, with powerful exteriors whose real vulnerabilities lie just beneath the surface. Ready to explode. 

Having worked with some critically acclaimed directors such as David Fincher, Baz Luhrmann, and of course, Roland Emmerich in the upcoming Independence Day sequel, has their direction changed your approach when acting?

Alien III, was my first film, and, I think, David Fincher’s first movie too. It was Sigourney Weaver’s first time as a producer, as well as returning in her starring role. So it was a set rife with tensions. As a young 21-year-old actor, I primarily remember just trying to keep out of everybody’s way while soaking up, like litmus paper, what these strange creative Americans, were doing at Pinewood Studios.

Working with Baz Luhrmann, was like working with a wildly creatively uninhibited, great, Opera director. I’d broken my contract  at the UK’s, The Royal National Theatre, where I played Hector, in Trevor Nunn’s groundbreaking production of Shakespeare’s, Troilus and Cressida to travel to Sydney, Australia and join the cast of Moulin Rouge. On the page, Le Chocolat was so much more than in the final edit. However, working with Baz was a great lesson in filmmaking with passion from start to finish. His attention to detail is legendary. From flying in swathes of cloth from Mumbai because they contained the right dye and color that matched his vision. To empowering background actors to the supporting cast to bring their A-Game and then some, each day, on set.  Baz Luhrmann’s motto is ‘A life lived in fear is a life half-lived’ and he would personally inspire me, then and now, to live my best creative life. 

Working with Roland Emmerich was like working with a Master painter. He’s excellent at communicating the vision he holds in his head while trusting the actor to find it as well as coming up with inventive ways to coax that performance out of you. I’ve worked with some of the best theater and film directors of our time. By far. working with Roland has been the highlight, thus far.  I don’t think any one director has altered my approach to the craft. I do think, my approach to acting alters, shifts and transforms through each creative project. I have a baseline of work that I always carry out, in the beginning. Lots of reading, research and utilizing of other art forms to inspire the architecture and building of the character and entering into the new world of the script. Yet, my approach remains organic and fluid able to adapt to the differing creative circumstances that each new project will bring.

Being such a versatile talent, what might fans look forward to in your future efforts – perhaps a reprisal of your role as a playwright or even trying out directing?

My hero’s and heroines growing up were writers not pop stars or sports stars. I started reading James Baldwin, Charles Bukowski, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker well before I was fourteen. So, the dynamic development of the world behind my eyes held far more fascination than the world in front of my eyes. Writing became, a tool to express all of that. My first play was an intensely exciting affair, months spent wrangling with the page as my writing deadline loomed. When the Royal Court Theater, in London, staged and produced my play, I was in shock for about a year. It took me that long to take myself seriously as a playwright. I’d like to write another play as mainstream theater is a powerful animal that allows the writer to be creatively unencumbered and not beholden to a studio or overzealous producers. I have many stories I’d like to tell. I’m also going to tackle a screenplay. 

Since our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us, is there anything that you nerd out about?

I seriously nerd out about astrophysics. I can sit for hours on YouTube watching lectures from renowned astrophysicists, Stephen Hawking to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and ponder, like the rest of us, such eternal questions, as: “Are we really all alone in this amazing, ever-expanding, universe.”


You can follow Deobia on Twitter, as well as check out the Independence Day: Resurgence Twitter as well for updates until the film’s release this summer!


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