O-T Fagbenle (‘The First Lady’ and ‘WeCrashed’): ‘I have a lot of different characters in me and my job is to uncover them’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

O-T Fagbenle has two high-profile and very different roles on television this season. He stars as a pragmatic tycoon in “WeCrashed,” the Apple TV+ limited series about the rise and fall of a tech startup. The actor also plays former President Barack Obama in Showtime’s “The First Lady,” the Showtime anthology series about three different presidential wives. However the Emmy-nominated actor argues that his choice in projects is not about seeking out disparate characters to play. “I feel like my personal philosophy isn’t that I’m playing lots of different characters,” he claims. “It’s more like I have a lot of different characters in me and my job is to uncover them, so that the process of becoming other people is also a process of self-discovery and sharing of oneself.” Check out our exclusive video interview with Fagbenle above.

In “WeCrashed,” Fagbenle plays Cameron Lautner, a financier whose down-to-earth view of business puts him in conflict with the more headstrong and idiosyncratic CEO Adam Neumann (Jared Leto). Fagbenle modeled the role of Cameron on people that he went to school with, and sees the character as being pragmatic and realistic, even if it means squashing is employees’ idealism in the process.  “I guess one of the main drives within Cameron is a very paternal one, and not necessarily in the best way,” he argues.

Fagbenle delivers a powerful monologue in the final episode in which Cameron tells his employees that they are only concerned with making money rather than changing the world or doing what they love. The actor describes the challenges of performing what was essentially a cross between a motivational speech and wakeup call. “It’s challenging because in some ways, you’re telling a group of people that their dreams are dog doo,” he says. “And they should cheer at the end of that speech. It was quite challenging and I relished it.”

The actor faced a very different challenge in preparing to play Barack Obama. Fagbenle had previously turned down opportunities to play real life characters, but he says the opportunity to work with director Susanne Bier and star and executive producer Viola Davis, who also stars as Michelle Obama, was too good to pass up. “Obviously it’s intimidating,” says Fagbenle about playing the 44th President. “This one seemed like such a perfect opportunity to try out this challenge.”

In playing Obama, meeting that goal involved creating a character that went beyond the man’s public image. “He’s such an extraordinary character in so many ways,” he argues. “The fact that Michelle really didn’t want him to run for president, I thought that tension was really fascinating.” However the actor affirms that his goal is to make such an iconic public figure into a human being. “I’m trying to create an affinity and understanding and a physical, visceral empathy with the character,” he explains. “Which means I can try and exude my experience of Barack.”

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