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Exclusive Interview: Karen Obilom on Her Life, Career, and Plans for 2023

Photography by Ted Labissiere | Caravan Film Crews

You may recognize this talented actress from TV series’ like BET’s Games People Play and Doom Patrol on HBO Max. Most recently, she can be found on the big screen in the highly anticipated House Party reboot. We were ecstatic to have had the opportunity to interview her as she gave us a glimpse into her life and career as an actor, producer and director. Check out our interview with Karen Obilom.

SFND MAG: First and foremost, thank you for interviewing with So FN Dope Magazine. We have heard so many great things about you and we are honored to have you. How are you? How did the year 2022 treat you?

KAREN OBILOM: It was a great year. I’m not going to lie. I think it was a really great year personally and career wise. I can't really complain too much. I mean I could, but I won’t complain. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family, so that part has been really important to me. I’ve also met so many amazing people through work and I’m just really blessed.

SFND MAG: For the sake of our readers, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?

KAREN OBILOM: I’m from Austin, Texas. I was born and raised here. I went to L.A. at 18 years old to pursue acting and to fulfill my parent's dream of me going to college. I did both, but I really went there to go act.

SFND MAG: So at the age of 18, is it safe to say that this was the point in your life where you decided that you officially wanted to be an actor or did it start before that?

KAREN OBILOM: Well, it really started when I was in the sixth grade. I saw my sister do this play called The Colored Museum. I saw how everyone enjoyed themselves. That was the first time I was like ”Ooooh this is really cool. I would love to do that”. I wasn’t thinking about doing it professionally, but I just thought the theatre kids were really cool, which is funny because in the movies and on TV they are portrayed as the geeks, but really they have the most fun. I always saw that and knew that this was where I wanted to be. I took classes after the sixth grade, but they weren't actually fun and they just tried to get my money, so it felt very disingenuous. When I got to high school, my freshman year, I wasn’t bold enough to go audition, however my sophomore year I saw that they had auditions for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Technically I was taking theatre as an elective, but that is not the same as being in theatre. I was nervous because everyone knew about all the musicals and I didn't know any, so I felt like a fish out of water, but I auditioned anyway. I auditioned for the lead roles. I don’t know if you’ve seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream but, she wakes up with a donkey and she is terrified and so was I; not because of the donkey, but because this (acting) was crazy scary. So I just used it. That was the first time I used the substitution technique. They loved it and I was cast as the lead and it forced me out of my really horrid stage fright. I had such terrible stage fright to the point where I could not speak if people were in front of me. Getting that lead role helped a lot with my stage fright, but It did not cure it. That took practice.

SFND MAG: Wow, that is interesting to know. So you’ve been in several films and television series throughout your career. You've been in Games People Play on BET, Netflix’s Resort To Love, Doom Patrol on HBO Max and most recently Send Help on AllBLK just to name a few. Of all the roles you’ve played, which one was the most exciting to you, and which one was the most challenging?

KAREN OBILOM: Well, the most exciting in general, not even just character-wise, was Resort to Love because it was exciting to be in a new country. We filmed that in a country called Mauritius which is off the coast of Madagascar. So it was a small island. I had never heard of it until the audition and that was just so exciting because we had never been there. We all just became like a little family which was really fun. The staff and everyone was so incredible. That was the most exciting role I’ve had filming. The most exotic character I’ve had was Roni from Doom Patrol because she has superpowers so… That's pretty cool. She was also really challenging at times. I think every character has its challenges. You know sometimes it's fine to play them but they all have their moments where you are like. “OK, I’ve got to dig deep to get to wherever she is right now”. She just had more of those moments. I think Ashley in Send Help had those moments. Well, I personally had those moments, not with my character but with the character I was playing against, Jean’s character, because we both lost our brothers. This show was about him losing his brother so that was really challenging to get to that point because I saw him kind of struggle with it. It was pretty triggering, but also really beautiful for us to have shared that moment together. So, every character has their challenges.

SFND MAG: I never really thought of it that way. Sometimes you may have to play a character that triggers something in real life. You can either pull from that experience or it may bring back all of those emotions.

KAREN OBILOM: Yeah, that definitely happens.

SFND MAG: You mentioned earlier in the interview that you used to get really nervous. Is that something that you still struggle with at times when you are auditioning for roles or has it become a lot easier for you to work through?

KAREN OBILOM: It definitely is something that happens, because that means you’re just excited. It means you care about it. You're always going to get a little nervous. It depends on how you play through the nerves and I was never able to play through the nerves beforehand. Now I understand you have to practice to play through it. So yeah I do get nervous especially for producer sessions and director sessions because everyone is just there watching you, but you have to remind yourself that they actually want you to do great. They are not here to judge you or make fun of you or laugh at you. They are here to hope that you can solve their problem by being the person that they need. So when they find that perfect person, they are going to be happy. So that is the goal, to be that person.

SFND MAG: We hear that you're doing some producing and directing of your own. Do you find it easier to direct and produce as opposed to acting or is it the other way around?

KAREN OBILOM: I guess it depends. Directing can be challenging, because you don’t know the type of person you're going to be working with. I’ve been blessed to work with my friends so it hasn’t been hard. There have been moments when they are not getting what I want them to do, but also it's fine if they do it in their own way. I think they are just two completely different things. With acting, you read what is on the script. If you want to improv then that’s cool. It's pretty straight forward. It is obviously challenging depending on the character, but for the most part there is a box. You can do whatever you want to do within that box, but there is ultimately a box when it comes to film acting. Theatre acting is a bit different, but with directing you never know what you are going to get and that is why prep work is so important. As long as the prep work is done and as long as the pre-production is done correctly, I think you can focus more on whatever type of personality you may get. If your prep work and pre-production is not complete then you’re trying to balance them and balance the shots. It won’t work. That is why the pre-production is so important to kind of take the pressure off the director when the day comes to shoot.

SFND MAG: 2023 is now here and we foresee this year to be a big year. You were cast for the new House Party film alongside Jacob Latimore, Tosin Cole, D.C. Young Fly, and a host of others. We all knew this was going to be a huge movie. We grew up on the original House Party movie as kids, and it carried over into our teens and we still watch it today when it comes on TV. How did you feel the moment you found out that you were selected for that role?

KAREN OBILOM: I auditioned for that role like a year ago. So I had completely forgotten that I had auditioned for it. You know the pandemic happened so we weren't even thinking about that. They called and said that they wanted to have a director session, which was pretty much a director and producer session in that case. The director, Calmatic, actually DM’ed me and said that he was going to call me because he really wants me for the role. It’s not only about the director wanting me, which is a big part, but it’s also about the producers and executives and all those people so he needed me to convince them that I was the perfect person for the job. He gave me some pointers and all that good stuff. I was feeling good going into the audition, but I still had reservations because I’m not the typical, big blockbuster, big movie queen. I had this preconceived notion of why maybe I wouldn’t be selected as their top choice because I don’t look like everyone else in the big movies or the big romantic leads unless it is a black film. So I was like “ Whatever happens, happens, I’m going to do my best. I’m going to play Venus the best way I can and that’s it.” So I did it. I always say “It doesn’t matter how it goes as long as I feel good about my performance.” And so I felt good about my performance. They called me maybe like two days later and I was like "I know I did not just book freaking House Party!” [LAUGHS] This is just insane. I was thinking about the impact that it’s had on the culture. It is its own phenomenon, obviously because there are so many movies about it. So many continuations and sequels and all that good stuff. It is just one of those films that I appreciate because it has such a simple premise but it is so popular because of the culture and because of the people in it. It’s because of the way they dress and the way they walk and talk and the way they dance. That also puts a lot of pressure on the rest of us because it is not about the story but it is about the characters and who we are as those characters. So these are big things to carry on our shoulders and I’m so ready to carry it.

Photography by Ted Labissiere | Caravan Film Crews

SFND MAG: I’m so glad you brought this up because you actually kind of answered my next question about whether or not you felt any pressure from carrying the torch of such a classic black film?

KAREN OBILOM: Absolutely, and people will let you know. They let you know not to mess up. They are not quiet about their beloved movies. My thing is… You know I love my black people, but I’m like, we are also people that are artists and we are going to make our own thing whether it’s the original or whether it is not the original, I just want everyone to gather around and support everyone and the art that they do. There’s like a thousand Top Gun movies and so if you can watch that you can watch House Party too! But it is OK, I get how skeptical some people are. I understand. It’s funny watching them see the trailer and seeing their perspective changing. All they have to do is give it a chance and they will see that this is a really funny and cool movie. But I also appreciate the fact that they admitted that maybe they spoke too soon and that it actually looks really good. So yeah I definitely know that there is a lot of pressure. This is something that we have to hold to a higher regard. I’m ready for anything. I feel like I can do anything and I would love the support of my culture and my people around me. That’s all I really want. I also got cast for The Wood.

SFND MAG: Whaaaaaaaat!!!!

KAREN OBILOM: Yeah, well, the show version of The Wood.

SFND MAG: That’s another classic black film. Another classic spin-off! These are the films our culture wants to see. These are the stories that need to be told over and over again so that is awesome. Congratulations!