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Sallieu Sesay

25th March 2024

Photographer: Nogen Beck

Stylist: Jesse J

Interview: Amy Bell

Sallieu Sesay is the one to watch where he's starred in shows such as John Trengove’s nihilistic thriller Manodrome alongside Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody. Sesay won Best Supporting Actor at the Queen Palms Film Festival for his portrayal of Snapper in Bloodhound Disciple.

Sesay talks to us about Manodrome and being a father of two while juggling his hectic schedule.

Hi Sallieu! Thank you for speaking with ReVamp, how did you get into acting, and what was your life growing up like?

Thank you for taking the time to interview me, it’s nice to sit down with ReVamp. I got into acting during my college years. I went to college undecided actually. I took an elective. In this elective we would read plays and watch films and then discuss them in class. I was actually surprised at myself because I had so much of an outlook and opinion during those discussions. Then I auditioned for the Laramie Project and booked several roles. I remember being the only Freshman in a cast of Juniors and Seniors. Intuitively I knew that I was on to something. I felt that this was what I was meant to do. Prior to this I was a good student up until high school. Alot changed. I remember bringing home a report card with a 3.97 GPA. My mother told me not to post my grades on the refrigerator, for fear that someone may come over and see it and wish ill on me. My adolescent mind misinterpreted this, and school became less of an interest, and I got more into girls. Hahaha. Any way in High school, I was even more into girls. I remember taking a theatre class which I liked. I also remember running with the wrong crowd, RNC (rolling 90’s crips, Hoovers and 60's). I remember almost being stabbed in elementary school. A jealous friend came to my house to stab me. My mother saved my life then because she questioned my friend from the window and didn't like the answers he gave, plus he showed up with a group of kids and intuitively didn't like the ambience they set. They refused to leave after being asked and my mother called the police, they found the weapon on him. I also remember being jumped and almost shot a the Puyallup fair all over being gang affiliated although I was never “jumped" into the gang. 

My parents bought their first home when I was in elementary school. I remember my favourite teacher at Brigadoon Elementary, her name was Mrs. Turnbull. That was the first person who ever made me feel seen. She made me feel like a whole human being. I remember that feeling and when I father my kids now, it’s the energy I hope to inject into them. That sense of you belong and you are special. Mrs. Turnbull was special. My Dad loved women and although married was involved with many along the way. It caused a lot of discourse in the home and violent arguments between them. I remember being so angry and hurt; once I even kicked a whole in their bedroom door and slammed my room door. I’m not sure where my brother Abdul was at during all this, he’s two years younger, but I could imagine he felt the confusion of it all. 

My parents ran a Janitorial business, and I spent summers cleaning with them. They would clean during the night hours. The contracts they had were for big commercial restaurants. Red Robin & Fx McCorys in Down town Seattle. Working with my parents all those summers, from about 11 to 15, taught me some tough lessons in hard work. New year's cleaning was always the most memorable. I remember walking into a restroom once and there was vomit everywhere. All of the floors, urinals, the sink. I walked into the bathroom stall and saw even more vomit. My Dad had walked in behind me, and I called him into the stall and there was a used condom, heroin syringe and more vomit. He just said in his deep African Accent, “just be careful”. 

Despite the difficulties in their marriage, my parents worked hard and they gave us a lot growing up. During the good years we opened up gifts on Christmas Day and played video games all day. My parents talked in the kitchen while my mother cooked. The home was warm not just in temperature but also with love and the smell of my mother’s sweet cooking. My brother Abdul and I had our own rooms, queen sized beds, all that a kid could want. So that was growing up. 

Who was your inspiration growing up when you were watching films/shows? 

I grew up watching a lot of action movies. I remember watching Delta Force with my mom. I remember Chuck Norris being the guy. Also, Jean Claude Van Dam films. I had an uncle later in my young childhood who would let me watch films that were what I would consider Art House. They were weird films, but they were cool. I watched weekend at Bernies and loved it. Also, Death Becomes her. My favorite film was Shaka Zulu. My brother and I would watch this epic tale over and over again. We never grew tired of it. It had the same elements of Game of Thrones - which is my favourite show!

I also grew up listening to a lot of music, 80s soft rock specifically. A lot of love songs, because that's what my mother liked and her and I have always been very close. Some of those classics are age old because they are very relatable and those musicians' told stories through their music. Sir Elton John, George Michael, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Hall and Oates, Micael Jackson, Bob Dylan, REO Speedwagon, Billy Joel, ABBA, The Beatles, Whitney Houston, David Bowie, Lionel Ritchie, I mean I could go on. This sort of music was my foundation. Plus, African records and West Coast and East Coast hip hop. So, a very eclectic pallet I would say. 

You are currently starring in John Trengove’s nihilistic thriller Manodrome alongside Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody, how is this different from any other parts you have played in?

Well the obvious answer is that I’m playing opposite an Oscar Nominated Actor (Jesse Eisenberg) and there is an Oscar Winning Actor (Adrien Brody) in the film. As I mentioned earlier, I started on stage. I love feature films, second only to stage work, because I always enjoy the characters arc. In this film in particular, Jesse's character is battling with his sexual identity and my character (Ahmet) is the catalyst that evokes the evolution in what Ralphie reveals. This role is different from roles in the past because it's an LGBTQ+ role. It required me to do a lot of investigating and researching in order for me to truthfully play the role of Ahmet and honor him along with the community he is a part of. I had to sit down with friends over dinner and interview them. The discussions we had were very informative and intimate. I learned lots of terminology, gained insight from several folks' backgrounds, watched and read several documentaries and autobiographies to gain even more insight. 

How did the role come up and what made you want to audition for this role?

To actors, let me preface by saying - treat each audition with the same excitement of the first one you ever had. We pray for these checkpoints in our career and once they’re occurring regularly we can forget about the times we used to long for the present moment. 
So with that said, this audition was the third one of the day, and I shot it with the same level of passion and interest. I made it my own. I played music, which they say not to do. I danced topless. I was dangerous and threatening. I was charming and sexy. I was Ahmet and as soon as they saw the tape they knew it. When I watched myself on playback, I laughed at his charm, bravado, manipulative tactic and nuances. I remember recalling a sort of a “Schoo-schoo” sound when I went to hold my friends back from attacking Jesse Eisenberg’s character. That was the same sound that the kids in the crip gang that I went to school with would make. I just loved that the impulse suddenly came up and I allowed space for it. 

The feedback from Gina Gammel once I got to set, and from Jesse Eisenberg on our first meeting, John Trengove the director as well spoke volumes and was a testament to my craft. You could call it destiny; you could call it luck. I’m sure it’s a culmination of those things as well as hard work, perseverance and faith. So, never give up. Pivot as much as you’d like to but don’t ever set it down.

You are a very committed father, who wants to be a role model for other fathers, which is amazing, what would you say influences your work, when it comes to being a committed father?

There’s an element of fear. I fear my children suffering the things I suffered growing up. Unless you’ve experienced growing up in fatherless household one can never fully grasp that sort of pain. I never want my children to feel that pain. The pain caused by an absent father. Or the pain suffered by a completely single woman forced to raise children on her own.  
As a father I work diligently to provide them with self-belief. I’ve always kneeled down or sat down at eye level and connected with them, spirit to spirt, just meeting them where they’re at. If I speak to them because of my disappointment often times I speak slowly, choosing my words as carefully as I can, most times actually holding back my emotion. But my intention to convey my disproval or even my praise for something they’ve done always comes across. My daughter and son are both reminded how beautiful, smart and capable I think they are. I also teach them to self-reflect and evaluate. Often times we'll journal in the morning and late in the evening. I want to develop the ability for them to evaluate where they're at in their lives and come up with ways they can take initiative in making a personal change. 

How do you stay present in your children’s lives when you have a hectic schedule? 

I stay present through the use of our modern-day technology on an almost daily basis. Through FaceTime, text, pictures and memes actually. I fly to see them every 3-4 weeks unless I’m overseas, as I am currently London, shooting a feature film Odyssey by Gerard Johnson. Also, we have amazing summers filled with lots of travel and activities, like camping at Joshua Tree and in Malibu. This past summer they saw their first Broadway show, The Lion King. Bike rides and runs, road trips, hikes, arcade, Disney land, birthday parties. I just set my faith first, children second and my craft third. I rotate constantly between those three to keep me grounded and keep me growing artistically.

You were recently also selected for the pool of ‘Ones to Watch’ talent by WeAudition and attended the 76th annual Cannes Film Festival with them last year, how does that make you feel knowing you are being recognised for your work?

For me certain forms of recognition surprise me and feel surreal. At times one can even feel a sense of imposter syndrome if I can put on my vulnerability hat here for a second and speak frankly; in this business you go for so many years just doing the work, and nothing really happens. Nothing you can see at least. But on an incremental level things are changing and improving. I’ve been growing for 9 years, developing not only my craft but my business acumen. I’ve changed some ideas on life, developed and evolved. So, recognition comes from the work being done. The work comes from changing paradigms, internal beliefs and from an increase in confidence based on what you’ve shown yourself capable of accomplishing. 

Once finally at Cannes I knew that this was always where I was meant to be. I met 9 other actors who I’ve developed a very close bond with including Darren Darnborough and Richard Cambridge, the founders of WeAudition. Darren and I spent thanksgiving at his flat with a small intimate group of equally minded and successful thespians several months back. Again, I knew I belonged there as well. This business of ours can at times be very lonely. You're with other artists, for example, during acting class, or during a play rehearsal and run and even on set, but there are those times where you’re studying alone and going inwardly to connect yourself with the character you’re playing. 

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