Playing to win is par for the course in Hollywood, and with the steamy debut of BET’s newest series, Games People Play, Nigerian-American actress Karen Obilom has hit big.
Following the anticipated two-hour series finale of Being Mary Jane, the Texas native helped usher in a highly rated, juicy premiere alongside Lauren London, Sarunas Jackson, Jackie Long and Parker McKenna Posey. The show focuses on the sexy, mesmerizing high life of Los Angeles. At its center is Marques King, a newly traded L.A. baller and his wife Vanessa King, to whom Obilom’s Nia Bullock, an ambitious journalist hungry for exclusives, is a friend and soror.
Amid a storm of infidelity, murder and betrayal, all the players face difficult choices in this suspenseful drama, but Obilom’s semi-comedic portrayal brings about welcomed laughs throughout the thriller.
Shadow And Act sat down with the GPP star to discuss her new role, working with entertainment powerhouse Tracey Edmonds and the importance of Black Hollywood.
S&A: Now that the show is officially here, how do you feel?
KO: Honestly, the responses are similar to how people watch reality shows. Getting to interact with everybody who’s watching the show, how they perceive the characters and [their theories] is so fun. I’m having a great time.
S&A: What first attracted you to the role of Nia Bullock?
KO: Nia is very much like me. We do different things but we’re both hungry for the next thing. This has been a goal of mine for a very long time, and I find myself [striving for] what’s next. I’m trying to tell myself to take this in and really be grateful because it doesn’t happen to many people. She’s super down to earth. She’s smart. She’s savvy. She knows what she wants, and she’s funny. And I love comedy, love being a goofball. I have a very interesting sense of humor and I love bringing that to the character.
S&A: It definitely adds a lighter mood to the suspense of the show. When Nia immediately pulls her Spanx down after Vanessa cancels their dinner date in episode 1, that’s a big mood! Besides laughs, what else can fans expect from Nia’s arc on the show this season?
KO: There’s going to be a lot of conflict with the different parts of her life. Her different aspects in life are just kind of crashing into one another, so there will be a lot of conflicts as she tries to balance that out. With her career, with her love life, with her friendships, all of that. It’s just going to be a lot of tough decisions. She’s definitely going to try to stay out of the drama as best as she can while also trying to be a good friend.
S&A: The show is based on the book Games Divas Play. Have you read it?
KO: I haven’t read all of it yet. As soon as I booked the role, it was nonstop shooting all day, every day except for the weekends. I just knew that I would make Nia into what I wanted to make her. But I’m definitely going to read it because I’m curious as to how different the book is compared to the show.
S&A: Did you get to work with Angela Burt-Murray directly?
KO: Yeah, she was there a couple of days, including the first day. Very sweet, very nice. I’m just so happy she got this opportunity to show off this book.
S&A: How involved was Tracey Edmonds in the day-to-day development of the show?
KO: Tracey and Vanessa Middleton, the showrunner, were there pretty much every day. Tracey is the definition of a boss. Honestly, I watch her in awe. She always has a smile on her face and she’s just glowing all the time. Even when she’s stressed out you cannot tell. She gets things done, she takes care of things, she pulls strings. She is a boss and I am so honored to work alongside her. Just working with her has inspired me in my career.
S&A: Go back for a bit. How did you get your start into acting?
KO: In first grade, I played a man in some Christmas play. I didn’t like it because I [didn’t want to] play a guy. After that, I didn’t even think about acting until sixth grade. I saw my sister do a play and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, so I got into acting classes but I had the worst stage fright ever. To the point where I couldn’t even talk. It was just bad. Then, in high school, I still had stage fright but I worked up the courage to audition for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The audition was for a scene where the character was super nervous, so I just used [my stage fright to my advantage] and they thought it was the most hilarious thing. I got the lead and that was what really helped me start acting. I just kept doing plays and moved to L.A. My parents wanted me to go to college so I went to a fine arts college.
S&A: I know you’re born to Nigerian parents, and there’s typically this understanding that Nigerian parents are strict. Are they supportive of your creative career path?
KO: They are. I think I got lucky because I’m the youngest girl and my other sisters are a doctor and a pharmacist. My parents know about Nollywood, so they knew I was able to make money from [acting], they just were hoping I would [be successful]. Without their support, I wouldn’t be able to do this. And now they’re just so happy and super excited. My dad is sending me paragraphs now about how proud he is of me. It’s just so sweet. It’s the best feeling to make them happy and proud.
S&A: You mentioned Nollywood. I’ve seen a few Nollywood films and honestly, they produce some great comedy. Would you have any interest in that genre?
KO: Yeah, I could do the acting no problem. I don’t know all the slang or pidgin English too well, which is like Patois for Igbo, but I would totally be interested. They are really stepping their game up in the film industry. I was just watching Chief Daddy on Netflix and it was funny. I could tell that they were being professional. I’ve done movies with Nigerian directors and they didn’t go well, I’m not going to lie. So I just know there are Nigerian directors out there that are more professional. For instance, Children of Blood and Bone, it’s a movie based on a novel written by Tomi Adeyemi, and it’s like Black Panther but with magic that takes place in Nigeria. I’m so pumped to watch that movie and support. It’s nothing like we’ve ever seen before, so it’ll be huge.
S&A: To jump back to Games People Play, it’s one of the latest shows to be added to BET’s newest lineup of fresh series. What do you feel this show will bring to the network?
KO: This show is one-of-a-kind. I haven’t seen anything like this. It’s a soap opera and a thriller and a comedy. It’s just very dynamic. You think it’s a stereotypical show with stereotypical characters but you learn that it’s about breaking stereotypes and showing that these people are human too. It shows a different side of Black people who are in the spotlight, who have money and who have influence, and you don’t see a lot of shows like that period.
S&A: One of the things I love about this show is the chemistry that you all have onscreen. Did you all build that bond while on set?
KO: Definitely while on set. I met Lauren for the chemistry read, the table read and then straight to filming. We wanted to go to Nobu [restaurant] and stuff and chat but we didn’t have time, so we built [chemistry] on screen. But thankfully, they’re all professional and all fun and natural actors and we had a good time.
S&A: Black stories and talent are increasingly coming to the forefront of film and television. Do you feel the shift toward inclusiveness and diversity is authentic within the industry or that Blackness in Hollywood is just trending?
KO: It’s a little bit of both. Whether it’s authentic or not, Black people are going to use [these opportunities] and they’re going to succeed and bring other people up with them. If we find an open door, we’re going to go through it. We’re going to crowd that door. At the end of the day, Hollywood’s a business and they’re going to make money, and Black people have dollars and they’re going to spend their money. I’m very surprised it took Hollywood this long to realize that.
S&A: It literally took until Black Panther for them to realize the strength of our buying power.
KO: Yeah, so as long as they know that we’re going to make money and we’re going to keep the Black dollar rotating within the Black community, then I’m all good with it.
Games People Play airs on BET on Tuesdays.
Photo: Alex Harper