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Arts & Culture

Nnamdi Asomugha: From The Silver & Black To The Silver Screen

Actor Nnamdi Asomugha.
Actor Nnamdi Asomugha.

Usually, when guests come on NPR's comedy quiz show Ask Me Another, Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton ask them the questions. Nnamdi Asomugha flipped the script: He interviewed Ophira and Jonathan right back, asked them to make his game tougher, and even made up a trivia question for them to answer.

An actor and former professional football player, Asomugha isn't afraid of a challenge. He played defense with the Oakland Raiders as a shutdown cornerback, which he described as "one of the most difficult positions in all of sports to play."

When he retired and began a career in show business, he knew he was coming in with less experience than his peers, so he made his way by producing projects he could also cut his teeth by acting in.

Although Asomugha made his name in football and as the star of Crown Heights and A Soldier's Play, his first love was basketball. His older brother, however, talked him into joining the football team in high school, and that sent him on a track that led him straight to the Oakland Raiders. He spent the bulk of his career with the team, and The Bleacher Report called him "one of the most coveted free agents" when his contract ran up in 2011. And even after signing with the Philadelphia Eagles, and later the San Francisco 49ers, he returned to Oakland for one day, just so he could officially retire as a Raider.

When he left the game at the age of 32, he knew what his next passion was: acting. Previously, he'd made a cameo on Friday Night Lightsand been in a few commercials, and heard good feedback about his screen presence from directors. He began producing and acting in projects like Crown Heights and Sylvie's Love, and he made his Broadway debut this year in A Soldier's Play, which unfortunately shuttered at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He explains to host Ophira Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton how he made the transition from field to stage and what makes a great shutdown corner. A self-professed fan of Christmas movies, Eisenberg and Coulton challenge him to a game about obscure sequels to holiday classics.

Interview Highlights:

On growing up with a Nigerian name and why he has four middle names:

In our family, the ancestors, they'd just give a bunch of names to kids. So I have like four middle names. And I was cool with all of them, and none of them will make sense to you, they'll all sound strange. But I was always fine with it, actually. The main ones that I use are Ezenwa and I use Onyekachi. I said four, but they are, I mean, we'd be here all day. And the crazy thing is, if you're around them, you have to know that that's your name, so you have to answer to it, even though you've never heard it before. They refer to you by the name of their household that they've given you. So if I'm around a group and they say, "Ezenwa," I have to turn and be like, "Hey! How's it going?" Even though I've never used that name, you know? Or we have Ja'chima or Tochi, you know, all these names, you just have to know them.

On learning to play saxophone for his roleSylvie's Love:

I wasn't familiar, but I trained for the saxophone for over a year for this part. Just to get it down and get down the music. I would love to keep playing, but once we finished shooting, I sort of put it down. My entire family was sort of tired of me playing at all hours.

On his love of Christmas movies:

It starts probably that week of Christmas, and then it's non-stop in the house. But it's a rotation of like the same few movies. It's on a little bit of a loop, but it's fun, it's great. I mean, I think we know the words to every one of those three movies. So it's basically Home Alone, It's a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Story.

Heard on: Richard Kind & Nnamdi Asomugha: Seriously, Ask Me Another

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