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Actor of the Month

Saidah Arrika Ekulona

Interviewed by:  Matthew Lessall, CSA

1)    Has there been a Casting Director that has encouraged and/or supported you in your career?

Absolutely! I've been so lucky to have encouragement and support from many Casting Directors. I served as a reader for auditions during my early years in New York, and I learned so much as an actor. Best part- as I got to know the Casting Directors, they got to know me and my work. Every actor should do it. 


I'll start with New York: Harriet BassTiffany Little Canfield and Will Cantler (Bernie Telsey-NY & LA), Dave CaparelliotisNancy PiccioneHeidi Griffiths and Jordan Thaler (Public Theatre) and the late, great Jerry Manning ( NYTW). In LA: Scott GenkingerLiz DeanAllison JonesMark TeschnerKen Miller and Nikki Valko, everyone at Bialy/Thomas.


Now the one Casting Director who has always had my back and has always had faith in me is Matthew Lessall. He is very dear to my heart.


2) What work are you most proud of?

I like having a creative and personal goal while working on a character, no matter if it's a play, movie, or tv show, and I'm really proud when I achieve them in my work. That said, I do have my favorites. Originating the role of Mama Nadi in the Pulitzer Award winning play RUINED is something I am very, very proud of. For television, playing Nardalee Uhlah in the "Witness" episode of LAW & ORDER: SVU was so rewarding because it brought important awareness to the horrific sexual assaults of women in the Congo, and working with Mariska HargitayChris MeloniStephanie March and director David Platt was just terrific. Mike Flanagan's HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE was so frightening, yet I had so much fun playing Mrs. Walker. That monologue was no joke. And I'm really proud of Bob Hearts Abishola because I'm working with great people, having a blast, and I get to show my comedic and dialect skills... also, I just love making Gina Yashere laugh!


3) What or who inspired you to pursue acting as a career?

I'd been acting in plays in elementary school through high school; at Arena Playhouse (an African-American community theatre in Baltimore) and in some industrial films that my father directed. It wasn't until I attended Albright College where I met my mentor Dr. Lynn Morrow that I seriously considered doing this professionally. She taught my very first college class "Who's Afraid of Edward Albee"  and that class inspired me to audition for Albee's play THE MAN WHO HAD THREE ARMS that Lynn was directing for the Albee Festival that she had created (and Albee attended). I booked the role, and from that moment on, it was serendipitous. After working together, Lynn asked me to be a part of the Theatre program she was creating at Albright, and that was it-I said yes and we took off running. We were a phenomenal team and grew from a student-teacher relationship to one of colleagues. I learned so much from her and cherish our time together.


4) What was your first IMDBPro credit and how did you feel when you saw it?

Sex and The City is my first credit and it was so exciting seeing it! It was a bit mind boggling at the time because no one thought such a thing like IMDbPro could exist! It felt official, seeing my name there. Anyone and everyone could look me up on the website and see it. I'd arrived!


5) How has IMDBPro helped you market yourself to filmmakers?

Well, it helps that I'm the first Saidah you see listed when you type in my first name.  Posting a variety of headshots that show different looks and clips from different shows has helped filmmakers see me and my work. I've been in auditions where a director has asked me about a different project because they've obviously checked my page, and that made me feel great!


6) Any funny casting room stories?

Okay, so this took place on a two-audition day. I finished the first one, great, no problem. I was taking the subway to Queens to audition for one of my all-time favorite shows, NURSE JACKIE, and suddenly, the train stopped at a station midway...and didn't move. My audition was in 30 minutes. I jump off the subway, get out of the station and run 6 blocks to another subway that will drop me off 10 blocks from the audition. Got to Queens, audition is in 5 minutes, couldn't get a cab to save my life. So I ran the 10 blocks to the audition, I'm now 25 minutes late (I’m not a runner). When I finally get there, the Casting Director looks at me and says, "We're done for the day, everyone's left." I start to lose it- I'm out of breath, I'm telling myself that I blew my chance, and he says, "Wait, I think the director's still here." Luckily, the director, the fabulous Randall Einhorn, was still there, and they invited me in. The character I auditioned for was stressed out after taking care of her elderly father, and I was totally stressed out in my audition! Life imitates art! It was kismet, and I booked it!


7) Tell us a fun fact about you outside of acting:

New Year's Eve 2011, I went tandem skydiving because a Groupon I'd purchased was going to expire that day. I went alone, and my instructor/tandem partner was this handsome, confident, French version of Indiana Jones, so I felt comfortable...until 2 seconds before we jumped out of the plane! I screamed so loud while we were tumbling in the air. But when that parachute opened and I saw the Pacific Ocean and the gorgeous golden topped mountains, it was all worth it. Exhilarated, I called my mother after I landed (I hadn't told anyone I was going), and I blurted out "Hi! I just jumped out of a plane! Call me later!" and hung up. Had a BLAST! Guess I'm a bit of a daredevil..


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