DDW sits with actor, musician, creative Akemnji ‘AK’ Ndifornyen to disseminate how he went from featuring in his school newspaper to winning his very own BAFTA.
The first thing I notice when Akemnji ‘AK’ Ndifornyen hops on our call is the huge microphone beside him. It’s large and professional-looking, the kind you see YouTubers use for their fancy livestreams. The second thing I notice is the myriad of coats around him, a mystery Ndifornyen is quick to resolve for me; he’s inside his wardrobe. The idea is that the clothes help flatten the sound, a makeshift recording studio with coincidentally free soundproofing sponsored by the likes of Benetton or ASOS coats. Ndifornyen picks up his favorite to show me, an oversized number he got a while back. “I’m known as jacket man,” he chuckles.
Image courtesy of Barley Nimmo | Stylist Freya Monro Morrison
While Jacket Man is how he might be known at home, we know Ndifornyen by a bunch of different names by now. Mr. Fergusson in The Queen’s Gambit. His BAFTA-winning role in the British sketch show Famalam. And as of more recently, his role as Tevin on Black Ops, the hilarious BBC One comedy in which AK not only stars but has also co-written.
Black Ops, which came out early last May, has been receiving raving reviews. It follows Dom and Kay, who venture into the ranks of the Met Police with the noble intention of revitalizing their community. However, their aspirations take an unexpected turn as they find themselves unknowingly entangled in the shadowy realm of deep cover infiltration, becoming integral members of a formidable criminal organization. Comedic but rooted in important topics, AK tries to rationalize the success of the show, which received a glorious 5-star review from The Guardian.
“One of the reasons I think these characters have resonated with people is because everyone, at some point, interacts with the police. Whether that be through just seeing them on the street, or you might need them… God forbid you actually need them, no one ever wants to make that call,” he says. “But, you know, there’s a myriad of conversations about policing and stuff like that, and our job, ostensibly, is to make people laugh. So what we’re doing is we’re finding characters that we see in everyday life and whatever the preconceptions of them are, we are humanizing them.”
It’s interesting to hear Ndifornyen’s perspective – it is not often that an actor is involved in both the writing and performing sides of things. In AK’s case, it was a happy accident. “We hadn’t actually cast the role, and I actually didn’t have an acting job,” he laughs. And so the opportunity arose, and AK embarked on the journey of playing Tevin, a much darker character than those he has played before.
While Tevin is a dark villain, AK is quite the opposite, and I find myself laughing throughout our chat, which I guess as a comedian is reassurance that he doing his job pretty darn well. But acting and being spectacularly talented at comedy isn’t the only thing AK’s good at; when it comes to creative pursuits he’s a jack of all trades… and a master of them all too. His next venture he would like to focus on, however? Releasing his own music.
“I just enjoy all the different aspects of creativity, but I get bored really easily. Like, if I’m really honest, I get bored really, really quickly. Maybe that’s not the thing you’re supposed to say,” he admits, “but my attention goes to things, you know, really quickly. So if I make music, I’ll make a song that day and that’s it, it’s the greatest song I ever wrote for that day.”
Image courtesy of Image courtesy of Barley Nimmo | Stylist Freya Monro Morrison
It is when we delve into Ndifornyen’s childhood that I quickly realise how just driven the actor is. Back in the day, he would be doing his GCSEs while balancing his acting gigs on the side, something which, amidst being a teenager, must have been quite the challenge. And yet, despite being driven to auditions left right and centre, AK kept quiet about it in school. “I didn’t really tell people, just because my mom kind of instilled a sort of humility about stuff,” he speaks. “My dad, on the flip side, is very, um, loud. So I’ve got to equal measure those two attributes.”
Quiet or loud, AK tells me his parents always encouraged both his acting and his music, and I soon get the impression that the latter plays a starring role in AK’s life (double pun intended). When he tells me he used to be in the school choir when he was younger, I’m not one bit surprised. What surprises me, however, is that he performed a song with his guitar in his year 6 assembly which made it to the school’s newspaper, a clipping of which he still owns. Perks of being inside a wardrobe, he happens to have it at arm’s length, and holds it up to the camera for me to see.
“This is gonna seem so, um, staged. But yeah, it’s here.” I notice that, for a split second, Ndifornyen looks coy. “Things like that and moments like that, especially to an African parent, are encouraging because they’re actually just confirmations from someone like a headmaster saying, ‘Oh, this child’s talented, or they’re great.'”
Image courtesy of Barley Nimmo | Stylist Freya Monro Morrison
One thing that strikes me quite early on is just how much of a Londoner AK actually is, and the fact that we end up having an entire discussion about English breakfasts and Sunday roasts (which AK is a self-proclaimed snob of, by the way), proves me right. In case you were wondering, his stance is clear: beans should always come from a tin, and homemade baked versions are an absolute no-go. But if discussing the legitimacy of beans doesn’t quite tick the box of Britishness, there’s a fun fact about Ndifornyen that hits the nail on the head. Had you taken a London sightseeing bus in the early 2000s, you would have heard yours truly narrating the kids commentary, something that (perhaps?) paved the way for the actor’s involvement in the popular CCBC Horrible History series.
As the conversation draws to an end, I am left with one final thing to ask AK, and given the humorous nature of the conversation we’ve had, I expect him to come up with something comedic. Instead, when asked what he would not want to die wondering about, the actor goes deep.
“I don’t wanna die wondering where I’ve lived the fullest life because we only get one of these, and it’s not the rehearsal for something else. It’s not a dress rehearsal. This is the show. So as best we can, we have to quiet the noise and just go and live and do the thing. And I need to take my advice more in this myself despite even my relative success. I need to live that, live by that man.”