Gbenga Akinnagbe has, shall we say, a quality. As a gang enforcer in “The Wire,” the actor irradiated the screen with a glowering menace; as a charming nursing-home aide who changes a family’s life in “The Savages,” he lit it up with a beatific glow.
Is it the eyes? The cheekbones? Whatever: Gbenga — why hide your light behind the camera?!?
“As a producer, you’re there from the ground floor,” the Maryland native, 34, told us at a local screening of “Newlyweeds,” an indie film he co-produced with fellow D.C. guys Michael Matthews (son of Kathleen and Chris Matthews) and Jim Wareck, plus writer/director Shaka King. “It’s like a building you’re putting together — where are the studs going to go, are we going to go with plaster or drywall?”
It’s the latest chapter in a fast-moving life. Raised by Nigerian immigrants in the projects of Montgomery County, he struggled in school before channeling his energies into wrestling at Magruder High School, then a scholarship to Bucknell.
He started off on the federal bureaucrat track at the Corporation for National Service until the day he heard a co-worker mention an actress pal (“I hadn’t realized it was a profession!”) and threw himself onto the audition circuit. His extra work on “The Wire” turned into the key role of Chris Partlow, which turned into a busy acting career (“The Good Wife,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Graceland,” plus stage roles, including the lead in a recent San Diego production of “The Rainmaker”).
For “Newlyweeds” — a low-budget stoner dramedy/romance set in Brooklyn, which was made for less than $500,000 and won praise at Sundance — Akinnagbe was tasked with recruiting stars “who wouldn’t have looked at it otherwise.” (Among them: Tony winner Tonya Pinkins, fellow “Wire” supporting actors Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Hassan Johnson.)
Though it might have helped attract financing, he had one rule: Serious actors, and “no rappers.” Even though, he notes, “my cousin” — D.C.’s own Wale — “is one.”
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