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Amaka Okafor

Creativity is in Amaka’s blood. Growing up surrounded by a musician father and films like Beverly Hills Cop and Back to the Future as influences, how could she not want to step a toe into the arts? Fast forward to today where she’s starring in Netflix’s Bodies playing a detective just like her hero Axel Foley but with a tantalizing twist.

The story of Bodies is an interesting one. The show takes place across four different time periods and connects four different detectives trying to solve the same murder.  Bodies is a refreshing take on the time travel trope, seeking to keep the audience on edge and constantly on the verge of piecing together the mystery only to be thrown another curve ball. It’s Back to the Future meets Sherlock Holmes packaged neatly into one hell of a ride. Just like a good whodunit, Bodies gives us more questions than it answers.

Enter Amaka playing DS Shahara Hasan. Though the story is told through four lenses, Shahara’s is the one we see through first. And Amaka showcases her acting abilities beautifully, giving us a solid lead to grasp onto through the whirlwind. The audience is brought along on this adventure alongside Hasan, sharing her confusion, and her desperate need to know more. Amaka’s portrayal leaves the watcher wanting; like a good book you can’t put down, Bodies is a show worth bingeing.  

In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe, Amaka discusses her love of music, how she discovered acting, and Bodies plus so much more.

When you first read through the script, what were your impressions? What grabbed you?

When I first read this script, I was hooked! I’m a really slow reader so it usually takes me a couple of sittings to read one episode, I’m sure my dyslexia doesn’t help on that front. With this first episode of Bodies, I rinsed it so quickly and honestly, just the mixture of characters and the jumping through all the different eras…I just found it so compelling. As soon as you switch to the next time zone, you feel a sense of sadness for the previous one but then are so quickly engrossed in the current time zone you’re in. I was just utterly hooked!

Do you have a favourite episode? Why?

I don’t have a favourite episode as I can’t distinguish between them. When I look back over it, I see it as one long episode, like a sort of film. I can’t tell you what happens in which episode, it’s about the long story. There are favourite moments I have, and those were probably most from when reading it for the first time. Of shock revelations and twists and turns, that were both exciting and jaw-dropping. There were things I really enjoyed doing while filming, I love driving and being able to drive really fast was fun. Also running, I love running and I got to do a lot of sprinting in this which I really enjoyed. But actually, I just enjoyed acting a meaty role. It was honestly a job of a lifetime! I really loved playing this character.

What are some qualities you and Shahara share?

Shahara and I are very alike. We are both single mums. We’re both very close with our dads. We are both mixed race- African and Asian. We both love our jobs and are very passionate about our work as well as very dedicated. We both find work-life balance tricky. We both go out on a limb when we probably shouldn’t, which is something I am trying to get better at. I think Shahara’s trying to get better at that too.

I love how the show bounces between past, present and future. Do you have a favourite television show or film that uses time travel? Or time as a way of connecting threads?

Yeah, I love that element of the show too, so much! Great question! The first show that came to mind was Quantum Leap. I used to watch that with my dad and there was something about that show that I really, really loved. If I remember correctly, the lead character is doing time. His way of working out his prison sentence is to bounce around through time trying to help people in key moments of decisions in their lives, to help them make a different one resulting in it working out for the better. He becomes a different person every episode and the joy of it was to see what he was going to look like. It was a completely different actor playing that character every episode, but we were supposed to believe that he was inside that person, do you know what I mean? Also, I know everyone probably says this but Back To The Future. The first Back To The Future is pretty much a perfect film. It’s really good from start to finish, it’s brilliant. It’s one of those films that when the credits role, you have to get out of your seat and sort of fist pump the air and be like ‘YES!’. So that’s great. I mean, there are loads.

Was being an actor always on the cards? How did you fall into acting?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be an actor. I watched Beverly Hills Cop, the first one, with my dad and I must have been quite young – about seven? Maybe 8? I remember watching it and thought Eddie Murphy was incredible! Whatever he was doing in that film, I wanted to do too. He plays the police detective, so I thought I wanted to be a policewoman, ha! I then realized it was acting I wanted to do. In that film, he was just so free and wild but also relaxed, cool and serious. It’s my favourite film of all time! So, from a really young age, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t know how I was going to manage it as I knew we didn’t have money for drama school but I just knew I’d find a way into it. My dad’s a musician, he’s a protest singer-songwriter and I grew up with him travelling on the road. For a lot of that time, we had very little money and so I didn’t have any false sense of ‘you become an actor and you get famous’. I knew it was probably going to be incredibly difficult, which it has been! It has also been brilliant and incredibly rewarding, too.

Taking a look back over your career, and how far you’ve come, what is some advice you’d give to your younger self?

Do your physio exercises, ha! That is a serious answer. I would also say try to not put too much worth in what other people think of you, which is incredibly difficult in this industry as so much of it hangs on what people think of you. You’re waiting for other people to say ‘yes’ to you to get work. You have to really try and drill into yourself your own self-worth and not let it lie in other people as they are on their own trajectory and path. It’s important to try and have a strong reservoir of self-worth so that other people’s opinions of you don’t affect you.

Other than acting, what are some other creative outlets that you have?

Music. Music, music, music! Obviously, because I was raised by a musician, I’m obsessed with music. Listening to it, playing it…I actually just taught myself how to play the piano. I can’t read music and I’m not very good, but I enjoy it. And I love to sing. I also like sewing and making clothes. Creative outlets are interesting actually, as I’ve mentioned, I’m a single parent and almost everything I do with my daughter feels creative. Being a parent, you have to think creatively all the time because you are constantly trying to read your child. Trying to figure out what they need, what they want versus what you think they need and trying to balance the two. That feels like a really creative activity.

What does a day off look like for you?

There are two kinds of days off; there’s a day when my daughter is at school and there’s a day off when it’s the two of us. When she’s at school, I’ll always drop her off in the morning and do some kind of exercise, and then often I’ll come home and watch a film or meet with a friend and have a bougie lunch. I love a little bougie lunch. A real treat would be getting a massage, I love that. A day off when it’s the two of us, I’ll still try and do some form of exercise in the morning and then we’ll do a trip somewhere. We went to Brighton for the day during half term. That was really fun and lovely. One day we took the Clipper on the Thames and went to Greenwich and then the Greenwich Market, that was great! So yeah, little things, fun things. I love the countryside so getting out into Epping Forest for the day is reachable from our flat, so if we can do that, we’ll do that.

What is your favourite thing about being an actor?

I think it’s about making an imaginary world as real as possible and trying to bring everybody along with you. I really, really enjoy it.

And lastly, what is something you’d like to manifest for yourself this year?

I would love a really great meaty film role…maybe something with Eddie Murphy, ha! And a lovely holiday away with my daughter and friends.

Interview Dana Reboe
Photography Joseph Sinclair
Styling Sarah-Rose Harrison
Hair Nicola Harrowell
Make-up Dominique Desveaux

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