Interview by Carol Wright | Photos Courtesy of Thomas Antony Olajide
We got to chat with actor Thomas Antony Olajide about his lead role in Learn to Swim and his advice for aspiring actors.
Was acting a passion of yours from an early age?
I started acting near my late to mid-teens actually. Is that an early age? I’m not sure… At an early age, I think I wanted to be a bus driver. A public transit bus driver. I thought it was the greatest profession in the world. Still do. As a boy, if I saw a broken down bus at the side of the road I would bawl. I would feel so bad for it. Ha!
Tell our readers about Learn to Swim. What about the film interested you?
Learn to Swim is a surrealist drama about a young Black man, Dezi Williams, who is unable to face his grief. He attempts to escape his regret-ridden past through avoiding his friends, colleagues, and musical talents in his present-day life. The more he tries to outrun his past, the more it catches up to him, literally. The more his past revisits him in his present-day life, the more he is forced to confront his inadequacies.
How did you go about getting into character/stepping into Dezi’s shoes?
I’ve never practically understood what a character is. It was taught to play one in every acting institution I’ve been in, but I’ve never known how to put that concept into practice really. That, and “character objectives” are both mysteries to me. I find studying the scene more creatively stimulating than studying the character.
Music plays a large role in the film. Did you have previous experience playing the saxophone or did you learn how to play for the film?
I had some previous experience when I played the saxophone in elementary and half of secondary school. I soon dropped it the moment the curriculum allowed me. For this film, I was helped greatly by an incredible saxophonist by the name of Yves Charuest. He taught me the fundamentals of the instrument. He also gave me insight into the life of a musician. Yves was an amazing resource.
What did you and your co-star Emma Ferreira do off-screen to create a chemistry that translated on screen?
Over the course of the film, Emma and I were able to build a wonderful working dynamic built on honest, consistent communication. She is my dear friend. Having a good friendship with a co-star though doesn’t necessarily mean you will have good on-screen chemistry. To me, my job is simply to play the scene. Chemistry is beyond my job description as an actor.
What advice do you have for aspiring actors?
Hm.. It’s funny, I think it’s rare that people really need advice. Maybe I’m off but from my experience, most people looking for advice are actually looking for permission. They already know what they want. They are just wondering if it is okay to want it, and pursue it. They are hoping someone will say yes to them in ways they can’t yet say yes to themselves. That’s why I think the act of giving advice is ultimately redundant, and especially when it is unsolicited.