As Terminator Genisys delivers sci-fi excellence in theaters nationwide today (July 1), an emerging actor who plays tech genius Danny Dyson in the film is already plotting his takeover. Nigerian-bred actor, Dayo Okeniyi, launched an impressive big screen debut as Thresh in the 2012 Hunger Games flick. Now, with his Terminator role alongside action star legend, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Okeniyi throws out the bow and arrow for a business suit and whips up the world’s first artificial intelligence operating system, Genisys.
The fifth installment of the beloved Arnie franchise shows director Alan Taylor living up to the hype. The Golden Globe winner-turned-state-governor commands the big screen as an older, heartier T-800 cyborg for an explosive, power-driven plot that produces a toiling tech machine war on humanity. Dyson steps in as CEO of Cyberdyne Systems, creating a computerized threat to mankind in the form of Genisys.
After tapping away into the tech-savvy world of Terminator, Dayo Okeniyi revealed his inner nerd to VIBE and discusses how he’s flourishing in Hollywood alongside Arnie, J.Lo and more.—Diamond Hillyer
VIBE: You went from ruthless protector in Hunger Games to the easygoing boyfriend in The Spectacular Now to tech genius in Terminator Genisys. Did it take more patience in learning the character this go-round?
Dayo Okeniyi: Not at all. This character is the most like me than any of the characters I’ve played. I realized that as soon as I started talking to the producers about what they wanted to do with this character—he’s me in another life. He’s a very brilliant kid. He loves technology, and he uses it as a key to human survival. It’s the wheel that genetically furthers the ideals that have made us great. We’re chasing the next frontier. What’s the next one? Artificial intelligence. It’s a way for us to police ourselves without error. I’m kind of the same way. I don’t want to go create artificial intelligence, but I love science. I love Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and how he sees science as a way for humanity to protect itself. Science is the only way to become aware of our place in this universe, and that’s something I definitely subscribe to. That’s the mindset of Danny Dyson, and it was just something I immediately could relate to. The relationship with his father in the movie, Miles Dyson, is also something I could relate to as well. My father is a larger-than-life figure of me. So, like me, Danny is in the process of filling his father’s shoes. It’s a passing of the torch, where Danny becomes CEO of Cyberdyne Systems. There’s a lot of parallels to my life.
How has that character development been different for the Danny Dyson character as opposed to Thresh for Hunger Games?
You really just have to know what you’re talking about. In this movie, Danny is creating from very incredible technology and highlighting the ideas of how they can better humanity. It’s just knowing the world. You might have to pick up the phone and call some of these Silicon Valley guys and get an idea of what new technology is out there. What’s this unicorn they’re chasing? If it’s artificial intelligence, how are they going about it? How do they plan on controlling it and using it? For the green people out there, how do you plan on monetizing it? I had to play into all the different things that Danny would be thinking about. All of the stuff from the heart is never a problem because you can pull from your personal experiences. Everybody can relate to an emotional relationship with their father, whether it’s good or bad. But what’s it like to run a billion, trillion dollar corporation like Cyberdyne Systems? I had no clue so you have to look to other people.
What was it like working with big names like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Alan Taylor?
Most of my work is with Jason Clarke and Courtney Vance. It’s tough because people speculate as to why these two characters are together. I’d say it’s been a very great experience. These guys are at the top of their game and Jason Clarke is someone I’ve looked up to for a very long time. Just the little things he’d give me advice on such as career choices and things like that is priceless. Courtney Vance—priceless stuff. They’ve given me things I will carry with me for the rest of my career.
What role would you say was the most challenging for you?
They all have their different challenges. With The Hunger Games, it was just the physicality of it: getting in shape, eating nothing except protein and staying in the gym twice a day. That stuff is hard, especially for people who like fruit such as myself.
I did this movie last year that’s going to come out soon called Good Kids, and the character I play, Conch, is everything I’m not. He’s carefree. He’s careless. He doesn’t care about consequences and does whatever he wants to do. Kind of like the class clown/ football super star. He’s just this guy that everyone wanted to be in high school. I really had a tough time being that way because I care about my life and my future. I had to be forced to say ‘No, he wouldn’t care about that’ or ‘He wouldn’t do that.’ That was a very tough character because you have to come back every day and be that way for, maybe, four weeks.
Even now, I’m filming Shades of Blue with Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta, and I play this detective that’s almost too far on the other spectrum. He’s someone who overthinks everything, is very insecure and is constantly guilt-ridden from every little mistake he makes. I find myself somewhere in the middle. So those are two extremes of two different characters that I’ve had to play. They have to stretch me too much one way, and then the other.
You mentioned Shades of Blue and working with J.Lo. What surprised you most about working with her on-set?
[She was] prepared. I was like, ‘What?!’ She showed up, hit the mark, hit her line and [made] adjustments on the dime. She is a pro-fess-ion-al. I was blown away. I remember after the first table-read, I said to one of my co-stars, ‘Yo, this is going to be a good show!’ Jen is really the lead and center of the show. We’re on her shoulders throughout this whole thing. And, my God, she is so ready for it! I was like, ‘You should have come back to TV or film way earlier.’ But when people see what she’s doing with this, they’re going to be blown away. I was so shocked at how prepared she was, and she knows her stuff. Incredible.
Describe the process of preparing for a role.
I’m a maniac. Fear is a great motivator. It’s research, research, research, research. Researching everything I need to know about what it means to be a detective. I don’t want to be out there looking stupid because there are real detectives who will watch the show. I don’t want them to watch us and go ‘they got that completely wrong.’ So, it’s about getting the minutia and little details right. Practice. Practice until you’re tired, exhausted and the words don’t feel like words anymore. Then, you practice some more. You want to try and get it to a point where you want the audience to feel like they’re watching people just living their lives. I’m insane when it comes to that kind of stuff. You have to be.