When meeting a model, the first thing you expect to notice is how skinny, tall and beautiful she is. The first thing I notice about Esosa Edosomwan, however, is that she is determined. I know this, not because of any subtle squaring of her shoulders, slight raising of her chin or other cliched body motion that Hollywood and lazy writers would have us believe conveys determination, but rather, because of her limp.
I meet Esosa at a reading for the Naked Angels theatre company in mid-town Manhattan. "You can't miss me," she tells me over the phone, "I'll be the only black girl there." It turns out that she'll be reading the stage directions - a 'role' most actors are obviously not dying to play - because it is an opportunity to get to know the company. That she woke up the morning of the reading with a sprained ankle did not deter her. She still dragged herself out of bed, not for $10,000 a day - as a 90's supermodel famously quipped - but for an opportunity.
This young woman has, for starters, graced catwalks, worked with an up-and-coming designer, shot two short films that have been received at several film festivals across the country, is staring in a hit play, "Platanos and Collard Greens," was featured on an mtvU series and will soon be interning with Joel Schumacher, acclaimed director of films such as Batman Forever, Batman & robin, and A Time to Kill. That she has the humility and presence of mind to continue to expand her horizons is beyond impressive. Oh, and did I mention the American born daughter of Nigerian parents graduated a mere 3 years ago, from Cornell University, and is currently pursuing a graduate degree at Columbia University?
After the reading, I had the opportunity to talk to Esosa about her various projects and why she feels it is imperative for artists, particularly people of color, to create and manage their own careers. I immediately see why Ross Martin, SVP and head of programming for mtvU, where Esosa was selected as an up-and-coming film-maker for their show, "Meet or Delete" and won an internship with Joel Schumacher, raves about her. "Part of what I think attracted us and ultimately, Joel, to Esosa, is that she is a great character who immediately draws you in and makes you want to know more about who she is," he says. "The episode shows how bright, passionate and devoted to her art Esosa is. She won't let anything stand in her way."
It turns out I will end up envying this model not for her cheekbones - chiseled though they are - but rather, for her determination and commitment to defining herself as an artist.
You're involved in a lot, from fashion-- modeling, styling, and designing-- to film: acting, directing, producing and costume design. How do these all fit together?
I don't see any of those things as being mutually exclusive. It's really easy to do [just one thing], but the reality is that actors end up being on the cover of things, so you end up being a model anyway. Tons of people right now, entertainment moguls, have their fashion line, are actors. They're doing all these things, are multi-faceted. I am prepared to do all of those things, and actually do them well. And I'm fine with that, because that's when I feel most productive (laughs).
How did you get involved with "Platanos and Collard Greens"?
Five years ago, I went to a Black film event, was looking at some art on the wall, and the director came up to me and started talking to me about the show. Once I told him I was getting into acting, he asked if I'd be interested in auditioning and that was that. Actually I didn't even audition, he gave me the part. I just showed up and thank God I could act (she laughs). I've been involved with them ever since.
Tell me about the play, your role in it and why you continue to be involved.
I really appreciate how smart David [Lamb], the writer, is, how much history he tied in - information people may not know about -- and also how fun it is. It's not over your head, it's entertaining. I play Malady, the only Black girl in the play, who has a crush on the lead male character, Freeman. He starts dating a Latina girl and [Malady] gets upset about. She says it's because Black guys always go after light skinned women but it also has something to do with the fact that she has a crush on him.
I've known this character for so long. I still have a great deal of fun doing it and that's why I'm still doing it. I was gone for about a year, on hiatus. Growing with this character has been a really interesting and rewarding experience. To see where I've come to as an actor from then till now because at each interval of going back [to the play] I've had more and more training.
Tell me about the short film you just completed.
I wanted to work so I wrote something. It's called "50 Bucks in Argentina." It's about a street musician and a socialite who meet in Argentina and fall in love while taking Tango classes. I wanted to take a Tango class, started to do some research and found out that Tango has its roots in Africa, actually most probably Nigeria. So, I also got very interested in doing a short piece about a Black love story in the context of Tango.
It was fun to make, but I was actually really afraid to make it. It was my first time officially directing.
I thought you'd directed a piece in college, "As Simple as Black and White"?
I co-directed. It was a piece I did with a film-maker whose work I was in before as an actress. It was called, "As simple as Black and White," and is about an interracial relationship between a young Black woman and White guy. [Again] I wrote a script because I was tired of getting all these horrible scripts... and I decided to write something substantial for me to play. That's why I made the first one, but it wasn't completely mine.
Directing, writing, producing comes out of being an actress of color who wants to act on a regular basis. I'm going to create projects and partnerships with people so that I will be working no matter what happens. I will not be disposable because, I will be behind the scenes [writing, directing or producing scripts that I'll be in]. I think that's the model that more people need to use.
Tell me about the process of applying for Meet or Delete.
I didn't even seek it out. [MTV] saw my page on Facebook. I think it might have said that I had just completed a film, but not anything about my film. They asked if I would like to be considered to be Joel Schumacher's mentee... I filled out the application and I had to submit [both my films]. Originally, the executive producers seemed a bit concerned that I was doing a lot of other things, modeling, acting, etc, when the episode was focusing primarily on film-making. I told them that, for me, film-making encompasses so many artistic disciplines. The more versatile you are as an artist, the more of a director you can be. You have more of a command over different areas. Anyway, that was my argument and they bought it!
I ended up being one of the contestants on the show, [with] two other people. The whole show was that Joel Schumacher had access to our computers. He went through and picked based on things that were on our computers, based on our films.
That must have been intense...
It was pretty nerve-wracking... He is on your computer, he sees your film, he talks to you on IM a bit, and that's your interview. But it's a good opportunity, and it came to me, so (She laughs) I don't fight it.
Tell me about the difference between something like that, that sort of landed in your lap -- although I'm sure you still had to work for it -- and the things that you still feel like you still have to fight to work for.
Until you and stretch yourself and go to the places where you're afraid, you can never really know what you're capable of [but] I don't really believe in fighting for things anymore. Just like I told you about the play, where the director ran into me, people can say it's luck, or whatever, but I really believe when you want to do something, you prepare yourself for it and its possible for your consciousness to be at the level where you attract the opportunities that are right for you, that take you on the right path. You do have to do work, it's not like I have been sitting on my ass or anything (she laughs), but I've been grateful and blessed enough that opportunities have come from the work that I've done.
There are so many talented actresses that I think are outstanding but that you didn't get to see as much as you would have liked. You have to take the initiative to create your career and keep yourself moving. I believe the universe will give, once you start moving. For example I was scared to make [50 Bucks in Argentina] but as soon as I did, this whole other world of opportunities opened itself up me and I feel so much better because of it. Now I know that I can direct a film. Who knew?? I didn't know!
For more on Esosa's projects, check out her website: www.sosae.com.
To see her "Meet or Delete" episode, check out http://www.mtvu.com/video
To see her on stage: http://www.platanosandcollardgreens.com/
To see her films: www.bestfilmoncampus.com/
Photo credit: Barron Claiborne :: www.barronclaiborne.com