A Conversation with Deborah Ayorinde of True Detective
Photography: Jaamal Jennings
If you’re like us, you’ve been enthralled by HBO’s True Detective, tuning in each week to see what will unfold next. We were delighted to see the gorgeous face of Deborah Ayorinde, who plays Vietnam vet Wayne Hays’ (Mahershala Ali) daughter. You may have also caught her in Luke Cage — or as the side chick/villain in Girls Trip 😂 — and you’ll see her alongside Cynthia Erivo, Vanessa Bell Calloway and more this fall in the highly-anticipated Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet. We were eager to catch up with the Howard alum to learn more about her career and what we can expect to see from her next!
You've been acting since you were seven years old. Was there a particular moment when you realized this would be more than a hobby and an actual career path? Did you get any pushback along the way from family, etc.?
I pretty much always knew that I would be a professional artist. Nothing else made sense. My parents were, and still are, very supportive. Their concern for me was more about me going through the “starving artist” phase that most artists go through. But once I proved that I was willing to work hard to support myself while going for my dreams, they relaxed.
You're Nigerian-British — tell us a bit about your upbringing and how it informs your perspective on identity and your approach to choosing roles.
My upbringing has blessed me with a very open-minded view of the world and people. It has made me appreciate the differences we as people have and also how similar we as people are. It helps me with acting because as an actor, at least the way I approach it, you have to have a certain level of empathy in order to play characters who on the surface, you may not think you can relate to.
Given your upbringing, was going to Howard a culture shock at all?
No. To be honest, when I got to Howard, for the first time since I left London, I felt at home. There were students and faculty at Howard from everywhere and from so many different walks of life. So at Howard, I felt I could be my complete self as long as I did it boldly and unapologetically.
In True Detective, you play Mahershala Ali’s daughter; after having worked with him in the past on Luke Cage. Tell us about the role and what it's like working with him.
My character Rebecca ‘Becca’ Hays is a free spirit. She is truly her mother’s daughter and the apple of her father’s eye. She’s an explorer and she’s always been that way. Which for obvious reasons terrifies her father. It was amazing to play her because I feel like I could really relate. Working with Mahershala was as much of a blessing the first time as it was the second. He is not only an incredible and giving actor but an awesome person. He treated everyone on set with respect and kindness and you could tell that everyone was truly enjoying working with him. It wasn’t an easy job. Many were away from home for a significant amount of time to film the season but I feel like working with actors, like him, who have such great, positive energy make experiences like that so much easier.
What can viewers expect to see in this role, and in your future work?
They can expect to see range. I made up my mind early on that I wasn’t going to allow myself to be placed in a box and I feel like my work thus far reflects that. I don’t want to be known as an actor who can only play one type of role. There’s no fun in that for me.
What has been your most fun or interesting role to date?
I would say my role in Harriet has been the most fulfilling so far. I say that because it challenged me in a way that I hadn’t been challenged in previous roles I’ve played. I often got back to my hotel from set feeling tired and like I needed to decompress from the day which was amazing because to me that meant I was stretched and gave it all I had.
What are your go-to hair and beauty products when you're busy on set?
My go-to skin product is a rose water facial spray from Mario Badescu. It is absolutely amazing. I also like to keep my hair moisturized and nourished whether I’m wearing it out for a project or wearing a wig so for me organic castor oil goes a long way. Those are two products that I can depend on.
You're also a DJ. What song do you personally have on repeat right now?
I don’t have a particular song on repeat but lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Kaytranada and Robert Glasper. I’ve been a fan of them for a while. I love their styles. I love the flavor they put on any song they touch.
Anything else on your mind?
Make sure you tune into the last two episodes of True Detective on HBO — Sundays at 9pm!