The lead in a romance might seem to be a prize for many actors, however the star of the brand new drama “Sylvie’s Love” had reservations.
“There was no manner that I used to be going to do a romantic movie till I learn the script and noticed that there have been Black folks falling in love within the ’50s and ’60s,” Nnamdi Asomugha, 39, mentioned. “After which instantly I used to be like, OK, I believe folks have to see this movie.”
“Sylvie’s Love,” which made its Amazon premiere on Dec. 23, is ready largely in midcentury New York and explores the ebbs and flows of the connection between Robert (Asomugha), a charismatic jazz saxophonist, and Sylvie (Tessa Thompson), a decided tv producer.
Asomugha is taken into account a rising star in Hollywood: In 2017, his breakout efficiency within the drama “Crown Heights” earned Indie Spirit and NAACP Picture Award nominations. Earlier this 12 months, he made what the Hollywood Reporter referred to as “a promising Broadway debut” in a brand new staging of “A Soldier’s Play” by Charles Fuller. Behind the scenes, he has helped produce tasks by way of his manufacturing firm, iAm21 Leisure, together with “Sylvie’s Love,” “Crown Heights” and “Harriet,” in addition to the Broadway play “American Son” (2018), which starred his spouse, the actress Kerry Washington.
However earlier than performing and producing, Asomugha was thought-about top-of-the-line cornerbacks within the Nationwide Soccer League, taking part in 11 seasons for the Oakland Raiders and different groups earlier than retiring in 2013.
It’s “mind-boggling that I might even need to go from one profession the place you’re below such a microscope in an excessive solution to one other profession the place the microscope may even be larger,” Asomugha mentioned. “You’ll be able to’t assist what you fall in love with, and I fell in love with performing.”
He spoke just lately through video about making the transition from soccer to performing, making ready for “Sylvie’s Love” (directed by Eugene Ashe) and the surprising expertise of showing on Broadway. These are edited excerpts from the dialog.
You’ve gone from a profitable N.F.L. profession to an performing profession. What was the timeline for you?
I used to be simply obsessive about films and tv rising up. After I completed taking part in, the recommendation I stored getting from former gamers was discover one thing to do that you’re completely in love with. As a result of the love you have got for it’s what is going to maintain and lead you. And I knew that this was an avenue. I didn’t know that it was essentially going to be producing, however I knew I needed to enter performing.
Had been you continue to an N.F.L. participant if you received bit by that bug, or was this after your profession?
Whereas I used to be nonetheless within the N.F.L., however I didn’t make the choice till most likely a 12 months after [retiring]. You undergo this era of soul-searching if you end doing one thing that you simply’ve accomplished for the final 20-something years of your life. It’s an id disaster, like, do I’ve any extra issues to stay up for in life? All of the traumatic stuff you inform your self.
On prime of that, I knew that I wasn’t 20. I wasn’t simply popping out of Yale or Juilliard. The window felt a lot shorter to me. So I didn’t need to wait. I needed to only begin creating the tasks so folks can say, oh, OK, he does know what he’s doing.
Do you usually take classes and expertise out of your soccer profession and apply them to your performing profession?
I counsel folks on a regular basis, get your youngsters into sports activities as a result of sports activities formed my life — from self-discipline and endurance and arduous work and falling down and needing to get again up and never complaining. However the No. 1 factor I believe is the preparation. The identical preparation I have to prepare for a soccer sport or soccer season, I’ve introduced that to performing.
When did you begin taking part in soccer?
I used to be 12. The primary 12 months I performed soccer was the final 12 months I performed the piano. In the future, I used to be late for apply and my coach mentioned, the place had been you? I mentioned I’m sorry, I had a recital. And he laughed so arduous. It was this huge factor and I needed to run laps. That was the final time I ever performed the piano. And that was the beginning of my soccer profession. It was each devastating and in addition affirming. Like, OK, I have to give attention to this. That is going to be what I do now.
You discovered your manner again to an instrument.
Did it’s important to discover ways to play the tenor saxophone for “Sylvie’s Love”?
I didn’t should, however I selected to as a result of I really like preparation. I really like the method greater than something, typically much more than the precise second. I received a saxophone coach who was additionally within the movie and we performed for simply over a 12 months. And I realized that I used to be actually good at taking part in the saxophone. I say “was” as a result of I haven’t performed it shortly, so I’ve misplaced lots of that. However I needed it to look genuine.
The movie is ready in the course of the civil rights motion in America. However with these two Black characters and an virtually completely Black solid, the backdrop isn’t politics, it’s jazz. We see a few of these components play out however that wasn’t the main focus. Are you able to clarify the intent behind that?
It was essential for us to make these components nuanced and never in your face. We needed to give attention to the love. We’ve been so outlined by that interval as Black folks. We learn about marches and protests and water hoses and canine and battle. However we had been additionally falling in love. We had been having households, getting married, going to the dance. My father-in-law says we used to go to “the dance,” we didn’t name it the membership. We had that as part of our tradition of Black folks and to not rejoice that could be a crime. It robs us of our humanity and simply a whole side of our lives that actually helped us get by way of these tough moments. So for us, the thought was, why not present that? Why not illuminate the love that we had for one another throughout this time interval?
And it additionally was a motive some folks handed on making the movie as a result of they felt prefer it ought to have been rooted within the civil rights motion. However that wasn’t the movie we needed to make. We felt that there was an viewers for not simply Black love, however love generally.
What are some moments from the movie you hope resonate with viewers?
I believe it was actually essential for us to point out a stage of vulnerability in males, particularly Black males.
I hope that it’ll additional the dialog of it being OK for males to be expressive, to inform how they really feel. The essential factor for us was displaying males doing that in entrance of their ladies.
You’ve produced a couple of movies, a few of which you starred in. Why did you go the producer route?
The tasks that I used to be seeing, not solely did they not curiosity me, I wasn’t getting them. It’s not just like the tasks are there they usually had been like, “Right here’s your job!”
I used to be so critical about this that I didn’t need to use soccer to get within the door. So it meant having to face up [in classes] in entrance of a bunch of those that know who you’re as a result of they know soccer and it’s important to be doing a scene in entrance of them.
It’s simply to say that there was a stage of self-discipline that I needed to have as a result of I do need it to be one thing that’s sustaining.
How do you and Kerry Washington help one another as actors? Are there plans to collaborate with one another in a movie?
I produced “American Son,” however as actors, there’s no plan as of now for that collaboration. We’re very supportive of one another’s journeys, however we’ve all the time been that manner. We all the time need the perfect for one another in no matter we’re doing. And so it’s not within the element of particular issues; It’s simply an total appreciation for the arduous work.
Do you hope to do extra performs on Broadway?
I had no dream or aspiration of being on Broadway. I didn’t know that doing performs was going to be in my playing cards in any respect till I did an Off Broadway play and I fell in love with being on the stage. After which the subsequent 12 months, for me to be on Broadway in “A Soldier’s Play” and to be in a task originated by Denzel — I used to be identical to, what is going on?