You’ve probably seen her as a series regular on Flashpoint as the fierce Leah Kerns, decked out in swat police gear. Or maybe you recognize her from the horror movie Saw 3D, or possibly the Toronto based series The Listener.
Currently preparing for her role as Lady Macbeth in the upcoming Sterling Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare's MacBeth, Olunike Adeliyi is living every thespian’s dream; a major role in a Shakespeare production.
The acting bug hit Oluniké early. “Looking back at my diaries from Grade 5, I was interested in acting from then”. But it was the movie “Boyz n the Hood” that motivated her to take the craft seriously.
Growing up in Toronto, and rural Jamaica, she had never been exposed firsthand to African American culture. Seeing the depiction of the American Black experience played out in the film, she was immediately connected to it. “More than anything, I thought the culture was cool. Not the violence, but the lifestyle”.
Oluniké got her first taste of acting in middle school, landing the role of the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist. She studied acting at The Canadian Academy of Method Acting, and continued her studies at the Professional Actors Lab where she worked with one of Canada's well-known artistic directors, David Rotenberg. Oluniké currently studies at Lyric East in Toronto, and is also a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.
There are several Canadian actors that have worked in Hollywood, but not many Black female ones. The biggest challenge for Oluniké has been access to roles in Hollywood. “I would love to be exposed to more American content, and have more access to international markets, especially being African Canadian”.
She counts her mother and grandmother as huge influences in her life. “My daughter Alesha is my young mentor,” she laughs. “She is very intuitive and gives me very honest feedback. When I look at how she turned out, I feel like I did a good job raising her. She motivates me”. “My cousin Andre Newell, who I grew up with in Jamaica, is also my business partner for the Toronto Monologue Slam Competition; really inspired me to be an actor. We’re very close, he’s like my brother.”
“We started the Toronto Monologue Slam Competition for people to perform and practice on stage in front of a supportive audience, and be judged by a panel of industry professionals”. Performers get an opportunity to network directly with industry insiders like Trey Anthony, and Weyni Mengesha. The panel includes a cast of Writers, Agents, Casting Directors, and Acting Coaches.
The Toronto Monologue Slam Competition started in December 2011, benefitting several actors, namely February 2013 winner Jarrett Wright, who landed himself a role on Orphan Black.
Reflecting on actors she would want to work with, Oluniké quickly names: “Denzel Washington. Viola Davis. Meryl Streep”. But she also admired her MacBeth co-star Bill McDonald’s work for a long time and always wanted to work with him. “You could say I’m living out my dream of acting with him in a production”.
Admittedly she felt scared when she found out she got the role, because she had never done a Shakespeare play before.
“I watched every Macbeth movie and materials available online. I have 3 books on the play, the actual script for the play, and an audiobook. I’m constantly reading and watching. I would not have been able to play this role without the amazing cast. They are all seasoned in Shakespeare, that made it easier for me. I’m the new kid on the block,” she laughs.
“Study, study, study”.
That's the advice she gives to all aspiring actors. “Anyone starting out in the business has to study and work on honing your craft. You have to continuously educate yourself,” she says.“If you’re fortunate to get work and be paid, take some of that money and go back to class! I study all over the world, whether I’m working in Montreal, Toronto, LA or New York, I’ll go seek out acting workshops. Mastery takes forever. There is no easy route.”
When she’s not working she spends her time, “Watching movies, laying in my bed with goldfish crackers, especially with my daughter. After a rigorous production schedule, it’s good to have the downtime and do nothing.” Some of her favorite series include The Wire and True Detective. “But I do love me some Scandal, and because I love Viola Davis so much, I have been watching “How To Get Away With Murder”.