In the dynamic world of film and theatre, few actors captivate the audience with as much depth and authenticity as Sallieu Sesay.
From his early days discovering a profound connection to the stage in college to his impactful performances alongside industry giants, Sesay’s journey is a testament to the power of passion and perseverance.
In this exclusive interview with Salon Privé Magazine, we delve into the multifaceted life of Sallieu Sesay, exploring his Sierra Leonean roots, his transformative experiences in acting, and his aspirations that extend beyond the screen.
Sesay’s story is not just about his ascent in the acting world; it’s a narrative rich with cultural nuances, personal growth, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.
As he shares his experiences, from embracing his heritage in his roles to preparing for challenging characters in films like “Manodrome,” we gain insights into the mind of an actor who is as introspective as he is talented.
Join us as we uncover the layers behind Sallieu Sesay’s compelling career, his profound love for theatre and film, and his vision for the future that is as inspiring as his journey.
Up Close & Personal With Sallieu Sesay
Journey to Acting: You discovered your passion for acting in college — can you share more about that pivotal moment and how it influenced your career path?
I discovered my passion in college yes. The discovery of Theatre and stage acting was a pivotal moment for me. I remember at first being undecided and then taking a script analysis course in college.
I enjoyed that course very much because it was about interpretation which is a critical element in learning about your character’s world and simultaneously correlating it with your own world. I later declared my major in theatre and joined the theatre department.
I loved the fact that many instructors saw something in me, raw talent, that just needed proper technique. I was also part of a theatre troop run by a friend of mine Scott Yingling.
He was like a big brother and took me shooting for the first time with his older brothers. He told me he loved me and I thought it was odd since growing up we never told each other that in my household.
This would later change and become a norm. Scott encouraged me to go home and tell my parents. I started doing that and now those words are customary. I loved the rehearsal project and in fact, my very first feature film was written by Delondra Williams, an actress who I was in the Laramie project with.
She had moved to LA years before me, acted and made the transition into a film writer. I remember when I auditioned for the Laramie Project the story about Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was left to die in the cold tied to a fence.
The audition experience itself was a sort of an out-of-body experience. It was visceral, vivid and I felt fully transformed and knew during that process that I was deeply empathetic.
Growing up I always empathized with my mother during some of her most depressing moments and the craft of acting has taught me how cathartic it can be when you present with someone in a moment in time sharing and holding space. A career in film and TV has led me to so much self-discovery.
I’ve grown intrigued with the human psyche, with human behaviour. The books I read are vast and range from Auto biographies to books in shadow work and inner child work, psycho cybernetics, epigenetics, quantum physics, human evolution and human development, and so much more.
Cultural Heritage: How do your Sierra Leonean roots and early experiences as an immigrant shape your approach to your roles and your perspective on the industry?
Being a Sierra Leonean and first generation in America comes with some real blessings as well as some challenges. I remember growing up I used to be made fun of for my complexion – I was too dark.
Kids would call me “Tar Baby”. I wanted my skin to be lighter because I thought it would make me more attractive and more appealing, especially to the particular girl who once called me a tar baby.
Then as I grew older, I learned through Artists like Tupac for example who had a lyric which said, “The Darker The Berry The Sweeter Juice, I Say The Darker The Flesh Then the Deeper The Roots”.
He made me realize that wait a minute it’s okay to be dark skinned. It means my roots are deeper. Tupac I have to say has a rather huge significance to me for several reasons.
One major realization that I was able to make was the fact that before my Dad permanently moved back to Africa he reluctantly bought me his double disc album All Eyes On Me which was actually my very first CD album.
Fortunately, my parents kept my brother, sister and myself aware of our culture by having many customary celebrations take place in our homes. Africans from Sierra Leone really have that belief that it takes a village.
So aunts and uncles were able to step into the gap after my father left when I was 15. One thing I’ve learned is that if you judge the characters you play, you’ll never do them justice because their lifestyle, their actions, etc are all justified.
It’s my job to find the correlation between what they think, believe and how they act can match up with my sensibility.
Role Preparation: For your role in “Manodrome,” how did you prepare to star alongside seasoned actors like Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody?
Without giving too much of the story or plot away I’ll say that I really took a deep dive into a culture and world that I’m not familiar with. This is a film with themes surrounding male misogyny, homosexuality, power and other themes.
The film, to me, is a culmination of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Fight Club and Brokeback Mountain. John Trengove does a masterful job in showing the audience the unravelling of Ralphie’s life, Ahmet who I play just happens to be the catalyst.
Theatre vs. Screen: With your early love for theatre, how do you compare the experience of live performance with working in television and film?
I will always have a very deep and profound love for the theatre and would Ideally like to go between the two for all the days of my life. It’s been said that TV gets you money, Film gets you fame and Theatre gets you the prestige amongst colleagues.
I value and respect all three mediums. I do find myself to really enjoy independent filmmaking. I love the process of taking a deep dive into the life of my character.
You can do that on TV as well although the cheater arch can be slower depending on the half-life of the character you’re playing ie. How many seasons they will be on the show etc?
I did a role in a show called Broken Seeds that I rather love very much. I play a father who grows ill from ALS and is dealing with his own personal decline, along with his family falling apart.
I loved the psychological challenges this role posed, the physical transformation I had to undergo and most importantly how it grew my artistic chops. Theatre was where I was when I knew that this was what I was meant to do with my life.
In theatre, you’re getting real-time feedback from the audience and it’s an experience that you get to have in the moment. There is a beautiful unspoken sort of dance where you have to pause for laughs or you can even hear the audience sniffling while being emotionally touched by what’s happening on the stage.
All of it is just beautiful.
Acting Highlights: Winning Best Supporting Actor at the Queen Palms Film Festival must have been a milestone. What did that recognition mean to you personally and professionally?
That recognition was one more building block needed to help elevate my craft and my career. One of my favoured acting instructors Frantz Turner told me, “Man, Sallieu when you can impress your self your on to something”.
So, although the recognition is nice, being able to outdo myself is always what provides me with the greatest sense of pride.
I understand that it’s not about perfection but it’s about growth and improvement. The worst thing I can ever be is in the same place this time next year. I have to be moving upward and onward.
Professional Evolution: You’ve transitioned through various roles on television and film. How have these experiences influenced your growth as an actor?
I remember when I was taking off from LA to NY to film Manodrome. I had just got an email from the producers and they had added an entire scene to the film.
I had already worked with my acting Coach Ivana Chubbuck and we had done all of this inner work (Overall objective, Scene objective, Obstacles, sousbition, beats, actions, inner monologue, inner objects, etc).
So, when I landed things it really hit me and I called one of my mentors and friend Ron Ray who’s also a producer. I was in this panic and quite emotional.
I remember being on the phone with him and I was crying just basically saying that I didn’t want to fail at this and that I was already prepared and coached on these several scenes and now knew that an entirely new scene was added that I had not worked on.
My friend basically talked me off the cliff. You have to have someone or several people that you can be vulnerable with on this journey and any journey for that matter.
Personal Passions: Outside of acting, you have a passion for reading and philanthropy. Could you share a book that has profoundly impacted you and a cause you’re passionate about?
I have a gigantic passion for reading this is true. I’m a business owner and provide short-term luxury lease options in the homes I own throughout the US and I always tell people that it’s not the homes or TVs or any other materialistic Item I truly value.
What I value most are the books I own. I love showing like-minded people my bookshelf. It’s cool when someone can look through and say, “Oh I got that book”. I also like gift-giving books to people.
One of my favourite books is Dr Joe Dispenza’s book called Becoming Supernatural. I picked this book up during a very low point in 2020 and it really got me through.
Fatherhood: As a father who places great importance on being present despite distance, what advice would you give to other parents in similar situations?
I want to speak to fathers directly and say please, please be present. No matter what the circumstances are because kids don’t interpret excuses. There will always be obstacles in the way of things that matter most in life.
I absolutely love being a father. I love what I give to my children intrinsically. I am very intentional in the way I talk to them, in the way I provide their nutrition (foods and hydration), and in the habits I have them forming (exercise, journaling, affirmations, prayers).
I have already equipped them with far more than I had at their age. I work to instill the fact that they are the masters of their destiny captain of their fates. Most importantly they know that the love I have for them surpasses anything else in this world.
Life in LA: Los Angeles is a hub for the entertainment industry. How has living in LA shaped your career, and what do you enjoy most about the city?
I love LA. I love that there are hundreds of things that you can do on a given day. So it’s very important for someone to have self-discipline and decrement. If a person is not careful and I’ve seen it, they can lose it all here and end up back where they came from.
This November 17th 2023 marks my 9th year in Los Angeles. I’ve had many ups and downs in that time, but regardless of what’s gone on I’ve remained with my eyes fixed not the prize.
I’ve gone through divorce, and job losses, I’ve fallen behind on my mortgages, so much has happened but I’ve remained in acting class, continued to book jobs and grow each year.
Future Aspirations: With your career on a promising trajectory, what are your aspirations for the future, both in your acting career and your philanthropic endeavours?
So when Manodrome had its world premiere in Berlin this past February I ran into Ava DuVernay and Paul Garnes. Ava was extremely sweet and we connected on social media. She’s someone who I would love to work with in the near future. I want to work with Nicholas Winding Refn and Sam Levinson.
In theatre, I would like to do the plays by August Wilson, Katori Hall, and Terrell Alvin McCraney. As far as business I want to keep scaling up my homes, providing the sort of aesthetics and amenities that make them want to rent, book and stay.