For his first regular screen role, Niyi Akin plays Evan in Rebel Cheer Squad – A Get Even Series, which can currently be seen on BBC iPlayer and will be released internationally when the series premieres on Netflix July 29th. Niyi attended LAMDA, having graduated during the pandemic, and whilst training, he was in the cast of short film Wake Up. Alongside acting, Niyi releases music, with his latest single being Spend Time, and he is planning on releasing an EP next year. We found out from Niyi about playing Evan in Rebel Cheer Squad – A Get Even Series, having the series released internationally on Netflix this month and releasing music.
How did you feel booking your first regular screen character of Evan in Rebel Cheer Squad – A Get Even Series?
Honestly, I was ecstatic and so grateful to God for this opportunity. It made me grateful for the blessing of my family and friends who have supported me. I was weeks from graduating from drama school, so it was so exciting to know that I was going to be on a set developing as an actor and being a part of a series that has done so well.
What was it like reading the script for the first time and meeting the rest of the cast?
Overwhelming and exciting. Everything happened so fast, I learnt I was going to spend two months with people I had never met before. But doing the first read on Zoom, I got to see people do their thing and it was something special. And to top it off, meeting the cast was amazing because it felt like everyone was rooting for each other to do well.
Can you tell us about Evan and what was the character like to play?
Well, Evan is 15 years old and is a people person but also enjoys his own company. He’s perceived as a rugby jock, as he’s the captain of the school rugby team. But he’s a nerd at heart and loves to write fanfic. He ends up falling for one of the female leads during the series.
He’s also just really goofy and I could definitely relate to that as we both don’t take life too seriously. A lot of times on set I had the creative licence to be as silly as I wanted to be, which was great and took the pressure off. I was very sporty at school and played rugby… so it’s fun to relive that through a different lens that is not my own.
What did you enjoy most about being part of the new Get Even spin-off?
Being able to get to know the cast and share this new experience with them outside of filming. Getting to learn from them and bounce off their individual playful energy.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from filming?
It’s got to be the rugby final episode. I played rugby at school, so it definitely brought those rough yet hilarious memories! Sports matches are always so full of ups and downs and I’ve always wanted to be in that chaos in a drama. Like I used to watch all kinds of sports films like Coach Carter and The Mighty Ducks, they made me want to do something related to sports, so I couldn’t have asked for anything more really. And I was so grateful that me and Aaron Garland, who plays Reece (member of the team), got on so well because it made it even more exciting to test how far we can go on the task of really bringing the sporting experience to life.
The series is currently available on BBC iPlayer, what is it like knowing Rebel Cheer Squad will be released on Netflix later this month and who do you think the series will appeal to?
It honestly hasn’t sunk in because it’s not on there yet. It is nuts for a first job to be shown on such a massive platform like Netflix. I just feel blessed to be a part of this story with such talented creatives. I feel like it will appeal to a younger and older audience, because you see not only the relationship between the teenagers at school but also the relationship between them and their parents.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
My mother studied performing arts at uni where she studied acting, so it most probably came from her. She told me I could never sit down (as a baby) but anytime a film came on I could watch it over 10 times and still want to watch it more, haha. I always loved doing impressions of characters and people as a kid and acting out random make-believe things.
I started acting in church at age nine. Then at 13 I started doing monologues for LAMDA exams and caught the bug, because it was just so exciting putting myself in someone else’s shoes.
My teacher then encouraged me to audition for The National Youth Theatre summer course and The Brit School. Fortunately, I was accepted by both on the summer course and the school, but I enjoyed the audition process so much that even if I didn’t get in, I knew it was what I wanted to do because I was having so much fun creating and pretending to be people.
We understand you trained at LAMDA, was there anything that encouraged you to attend and how was your time there?
I was a big fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Iwan Rheon’s work. The nuisance they bring to characters was incredible to me and I wanted to experience the training they received. I enjoyed the work of LAMDA. It increased my curiosity as an artist, and because I was doing it every day it made me discover things about myself and how I work. There are lots of things in the industry that can take you away from the work, but I was glad I had three years that grounded me and made me focus on what’s really important.
Can you tell us about some of the shows you appeared in whilst training?
I auditioned for a short film called Wake Up at the end my first year, it was funded by the Mayor of London and was written by eight young men in an HMYOI (Young Offenders Institution). It was truly an honour to be part of this project because they all felt their voices were heard through this story; it was a compilation of dialogue and spoken word.
It’s a story about what it means to be a young man in prison in this day and age; and how it is to live in a city where there’s not much support and a lot of temptation which can drag you into incredibly sticky situations. It forces the audience to think about what they would do if they were in the same situation.
A year-and-a-half after, it was released on Amazon Prime. Everyone in the team was amazing and encouraging all throughout the shoot and I feel blessed to have been a part of it.
How was it training and graduating during the pandemic?
It wasn’t easy but I had to remind myself why I love acting, so I decided to keep myself busy by drowning myself in films and series. It kept me going and I felt grateful to at least have something to do. In terms of performance, of course there were a lot of setbacks because people were catching corona left, right and centre. But when I was performing, it made me appreciate every moment of it. So, in conclusion, yes, the pandemic came with a lot of obstacles like it did for everyone, but it just made me appreciate what I do more.
Can you say about releasing music and your latest single Spend Time?
It’s something I started doing in drama school because I’m an actor but I’m also creative by nature. I released Spend Time as an introduction to what I’m working on at the moment.
How did your music career come about and what is it like seeing listeners response to your releases?
I used to participate in talent shows from the age of 10. Performing at celebrations like conferences, weddings etc. It’s something that’s always been a part of my life. I realised more than ever at drama school that I love telling stories but not just through acting, and music fed that passion for me. Because acting isn’t the sort of thing that you can do in a room on your own, for hours on end. With acting, you’re always working towards something. But you can do that with music, where you can simply make a song for it to go nowhere.
But honestly, this has been my first proper year actually investing in my music career because I have not had much time to do so because of drama school. However, the responses have been truly fulfilling. Knowing people workout to my songs, party to my songs or that I’m on the most listened to song on their Spotify is lovely.
Do you have any upcoming music plans you can tell us about?
I plan to release an EP next year that I’m really excited about. I feel that I’m really expressing myself in it. It will be a mixture of music but it will mainly derive from Africa in terms of its sound.
What are some of your favourite TV shows and films to watch and music artists to listen to?
In terms of films: Inception, Limitless, Get Out, Good Will Hunting and Spider-Man 1 to 3. Inception is the stand-out for me. That is just a mad film.
Series: Breaking Bad, BMF, New Edition, Stranger Things, You, Squid Game and The Boys. Each of these series has a unique world of their own that I’m drawn to.
Musically, I’ve always been drawn to people like Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Drake, Frank Ocean, J Hus, Wizkid, Burna Boy, WSTRN and Fireboy DML. They have all inspired me in different ways to play and fill my music with passion.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting and music?
I love watching Japanese anime. It’s always brought me so much joy from when I was a kid, especially playing the video games of them. It’s something I can watch for hours to this day, and I really geek out over it, haha. I recommend for anyone that’s never tried, to watch Attack on Titan, honestly, you won’t regret it. I just love storytelling and it’s so refreshing to watch heartfelt action-packed shows that are just cartoons. It’s a joyful escapism.
I enjoy spending time with friends and family a lot as well. Weddings, parties, chilling, any get together you can think of, I revel in it, because it keeps me in the real world and grounds me. Thinking about the industry all the time isn’t good, it can mess with your mind and it can be obsessive. But being with the people you love especially outside of all that allows me to enjoy the gift of every day and not just every industry achievement.
What are you hoping the rest of 2022 brings for your career?
I’m hoping it brings me joy, growth and a body of work that I’m proud of.
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