July 2, 2018 Interview – Rotimi Paul Talks The First Purge & More
In the world of Hollywood, a decade is barely a speck in the hourglass of time. For those living it, a decade is enough time to start to build an impressive career in film and television, and beyond. Rotimi Paul is someone who is living the dream: acting in the New York theatre scene has led him to roles in series such as Blue Bloods, Bull, and Sleepy Hollow, as well as roles in films such as the 2014 short Ship of Fools and 2015’s feature-length Dutch Kills. The culmination of his work, to date, is his major debut in the upcoming Purge prequel, The First Purge, which arrives to US theaters on July 4, 2018.
Accomplished and eclectic, with a self-proclaimed vivid imagination and love of photography, Paul is definitely an actor whose name should be on your radar. Taking a moment from his busy schedule to sit down to talk candidly of his beginnings, he also spoke of the differences between film and television, fantastical roles, photography, the Documentary Surviving Jonestown, and, of course, The First Purge.
CrypticRock.com – In the timeline of Hollywood, you are relatively new to acting with a career that is coming up on a decade. What initially drew you to acting as a career, and did you always want to be an entertainer?
Rotimi Paul – I wouldn’t say that I always wanted to be an ‘entertainer,’ but I instead always wanted to find a way to honestly express emotions that I would hold close to the vest when I was younger. When I found out that working on characters allowed me that ability to be expressive, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
CrypticRock.com – Acting as catharsis is an intriguing approach, no doubt. What have been some highs and lows of your past eight years in the industry?
Rotimi Paul – The first high that jumps out at me is the experience of creating the short film Ship of Fools a few years ago with a group of friends and going to festivals with it. It was incredibly empowering to know that as actors we didn’t need permission to do this work. Another moment that felt great was when I was vacationing in Iceland and got an audition that I had to put on tape. I was with my aunt who, though she’s not an actor, supports me greatly and was my reader. It’s special for us because it’s how I got my first guest star role on a TV show.
As for lows, I try not to get too low, and understand that disappointments are a part of the process. I really only feel bad when I honestly feel like I could have better prepared for something. Nothing bothers me more than the feeling that I left something on the table.
CrypticRock.com – It’s wonderful to stay positive and important, especially in the acting field today. Previously, you worked in the New York Theater scene. How did that prepare you for acting in film and television?
Rotimi Paul – I think that what being around the theater scene in New York does is put you in close proximity to craft, and actors who are seeking truth in their work. Being around those artists inspired me to do the same in my own work, which I believe is transferable as I grow in film and television.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very poetic way of looking at it. Now, you recently wrapped up work on The First Purge, which is a prequel to the hugely-popular Purge franchise. What was it like to work on such a film, and is there extra pressure when you’re stepping into a franchise that is already so well-known?
Rotimi Paul – It’s humbling! It’s my first time in a studio film, so in many ways this moment represents my introduction to Hollywood. I was very aware of what an amazing opportunity it was to film it, but I never felt any pressure. Maybe that’s because, as you alluded to, The First Purge is a prequel, so our film has a degree of freedom to not worry about building on a story. Instead, we had a unique opportunity to add something new altogether, or maybe it’s because our director, Gerard, did a great job of keeping us on track to tell ‘our’ story. He trusted the work I was bringing to the table and I trusted his guidance, so there wasn’t much room left to feel pressure.
CrypticRock.com – That’s wonderful to have such a great working relationship on your first major film. To speak a little further of your role, your character is dubbed “Skeletor.” Are there any He-Man correlations there or is this name merely related to the mask you don?
Rotimi Paul – Great question, but I’m going to simply say neither.
CrypticRock.com – Okay, we will just have to wait and judge for ourselves on July 4th, but for now, what should fans expect?
Rotimi Paul – We’re definitely getting close to the release date, but until it’s in theaters fans can get excited about finally seeing how our society could have gotten to the point where an annual occurrence like Purge Night is commonplace. They get to see the origin story told through an awesome script by James DeMonaco with the Thriller and Horror elements that they have grown to love and expect from the franchise. There are also just really cool characters in this one, like real, real bad asses. With that being said, it’s good that they have some time; they’ll need it to get ready for Skeletor. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Oh, you are bad! (Laughs) To cycle back to some of the other facets of your career, you’ve had quite a wide array of roles in film and TV. Do you have a particular favorite role that you have portrayed? Do you prefer a role that allows you to lend something of yourself to the character, or a role that is completely outside-the-box where you have zero point of reference?
Rotimi Paul – I think Skeletor would be my favorite to date, because of the freedom I had to create him to be what I wanted. Before him, I would have probably said Clay from a play called “Dutchman” by Amiri Baraka, that I did back in New York. Your second question is a bit of a trick question for me because I think that part of my work as an actor is to connect (on some level), so inevitably any character I play will have some part of me lent to it. I wouldn’t know how to play a character whom I had no point of reference for.
CrypticRock.com – That’s a very fair answer, though; we all place a piece of ourselves into our art. Of course, throughout your career in acting, as stated earlier, you have worked on an eclectic array of TV series, from Blue Bloods and Bull to Sleepy Hollow. How is acting for TV different from film and do you prefer one over the other?
Rotimi Paul – The major difference that I’ve noticed is time; just the amount of time that is spent on one scene. Though my preparation and character work are the same for either medium, film gives you more time to try things before you move on to the next shot. As for preference, I’m just happy to get to create and do so with talented folks who are great craftspeople in their respective fields; I’m not hung up on what medium it happens in.
CrypticRock.com – It is wonderful to be appreciative. Truthfully, Blue Bloods and Sleepy Hollow are two entirely different animals, one is a Crime-Drama while the other incorporates elements of Fantasy and Horror. Is there more of a challenge in portraying a character who is based in reality or is it in fact more challenging to portray a character who is fantastical?
Rotimi Paul – I think that fantastical characters provide me with an outlet for my vivid imagination and allow me a sense of play, a sense of freedom that I relish because stepping outside of myself is one of the reasons I got into acting to begin with. Those types of characters are also probably more challenging because you have to be fantastical, yet also grounded enough for the audience to join you on the ride.
CrypticRock.com – Having a vivid imagination no doubt gives you a boost in your portrayal of these fantastical characters, as well. Stepping away from Fantasy for a moment, you are currently working on a feature Documentary, entitled Surviving Jonestown. What can you tell us about the project?
Rotimi Paul – That’s a project that is near and dear to me, because I started working on it to tell my father’s story. He was on the tarmac that day, as a pilot, when the shooting started. So him barely escaping with his life and his story of survival is something that has always fascinated me, and has also never been told, never been truly woven into the larger narrative of what happened in Guyana on November 18th, 1978. Once I started researching and speaking with historians and former members of that movement, I got a more finely-tuned sense of the scale of the story that I was telling and what I need to tell it correctly and do justice to the memory of the lives lost.
CrypticRock.com – So, this is a story that hits very close to your heart, and no doubt, you will do it justice. To lighten the mood a bit, in your spare-time, your biography notes that you enjoy photography. If fans were to discover you roaming the city streets, what might they find inspiring your photography? Do you have any favorite photographers whose works inspire you?
Rotimi Paul – I do love photography. I love portraiture and the stories individuals can tell in a single moment, in one frame. There’s any honesty that I appreciate about it. I’m inspired by Annie Leibovitz: I think her work is both beautiful and strong. I’d love to work with her, in any capacity, one day.
CrypticRock.com – She is truly an awe-inspiring talent, a modern legend for sure. Now, last question. CrypticRock.com covers music as well as films, particularly Horror and Science Fiction. Are you a fan of either of these genres and, if so, do you have any favorite Horror and/or Sci-Fi films?
Rotimi Paul – I’m big fan of both genres actually. I remember being gripped by The Abyss (1989) as a kid; Sci-Fi always had a way of capturing my imagination. In recent memory, I thought Inception (2010) was great. District 9 (2009) did an amazing job of infusing the genre with a relevant socio-political angle. Her (2013) was beautiful and felt unnervingly close to today’s times. Oh, and Jurassic Park (1993), when I saw that as a kid, it was everything!
On the Horror side, though, I would always insert myself into the worlds of the films and be terrified, my cousins got me into the Friday the 13th franchise. Tony Todd’s portrayal in Candyman (1992) also stands out because it did two things: 1) Give me and my friends the ultimate dare of who would be willing to lock themselves in a dark room and call his name 5 times, and 2) It marked the first time I remember the villain or antihero in a Horror film being a black character.
For more on The First Purge: www.thefirstpurge.com | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram