Meet TIFF Rising Star Thomas Antony Olajide
Normally, when someone misses a scheduled call, it’s annoying. But it’s easy to forgive Vancouver-raised actor Thomas Antony Olajide. “Sorry, I was just in the middle of a TIFF Rising Star meeting,” he says when we do connect, which is, you know, more than fair.
That’s just the kind of fall Olajide — who is known for his theatre work — is having: He’s back at the Toronto International Film Festival as the lead of buzzy Canadian film, Tyrone Tommy’s Learn to Swim and, as mentioned, has been recognized as a TIFF Rising Star alongside his co-star Emma Ferreira. “It’s a great acknowledgement on an individual level for me,” he says. “But it also feels like a great acknowledgement of our collective effort to tell the story.”
That story is an intense romance between Olajide’s Dezi, a talented but closed off jazz musician, and Ferreira’s Selma, a confident, up-and-coming singer. Ahead of the film’s TIFF debut, we caught up with Olajide to talk about the movie, his career and juggling theatre and film.
You also worked with Learn to Swim director Thyrone Tommy on the short film Mariner. What makes your dynamic work?
Thyrone and Alona Metzer, the producer, and I were all at the Canadian Film Centre at the same time, which is where we did a short film version of Learn to Swim. So this [movie] is something that has grown slowly inside me. We communicate a lot, we’re very transparent with each other. When you spend that much time with someone, you develop a shorthand. There’s this unspoken thing between us.
How did you approach getting into character for Dezi?
I don’t build character. I think more about a particular scene, then I think about what it’s asking of me. It’s esoteric, it’s about me putting myself in the realities of different contexts — like a place, or how a person speaks and moves. Then it’s strung together and the audiences perceive the character.
You grew up in Vancouver. How did you come to acting?
During high school, it was an outlet for me. Acting became a place where I could express my feelings, ask questions, and not get into trouble. In our acting class, a friend wrote a monologue, and it was as if everyone understood him for the first time. I remember feeling like, “If that’s what can happen when a story is told, I want to be a part of it.” So I auditioned for the National Theatre School of Canada, luckily got in, and started my formal training.
Did you always want to do both theatre and on-screen work?
I never thought of theatre as a path before theatre school. At the time, I saw theatre as a training ground, where you learn the fundamentals of the craft. But I met people in the community and I realized you could make a living off it. Upon graduating, I didn’t feel ready for film and TV — it seemed like such a massive, highly scrutinizing industry. So I stayed in theatre to get to know myself better. Eventually, I started to feel ease in my craft, and felt like I might have the experience to step into film and TV.
What kind of stories do you want to tell?
My goal as an actor is to engage and work with people who engage. What I find most inspiring in a creative team is when that team works from a place of need, when we all gather around the same story that we feel needs to be told.
One thing is for sure: Learn to Swim is just the start for Olajide, who has firmly planted his place in Canada’s next wave of promising talent.