Q&A: Meet 'Mike & Molly' Star Nyambi Nyambi
February 27th, 2012 11:00am EST
On the CBS sitcom Mike & Molly, he's the sharp-witted Samuel...but don't let the fact that he plays a waiter fool you. Actor Nyambi Nyambi has a lot to say.
"The way I like to say it is I've been an actor all my life, but I never called it acting," the Oklahoma native tells me. "I was always cutting up. I'd make fun of our relatives that would come over. I was always doing the loud Nigerian, the quiet Nigerian. Doing skits from In Living Color [and] random impressions. That was how I liked to be around my family."
It wasn't until his senior year at Bucknell University, when he was giving a speech at a Martin Luther King Jr. gala, that someone pointed out to him his natural talent. "When the night came to do the speech, it was like this light hit me and I realized it was the spotlight. It was like something came over me," he explains. "I got a standing ovation and afterwards, one of my professors said to me 'Nyambi, you're an actor.' It was the first time someone had put a name to what I love to do."
With that in his mind, Nyambi graduated from Bucknell and left behind a successful college basketball career to enroll in NYU's Graduate Acting program. There, he met Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Danny Pino, who became a significant influence for him. "At NYU we all get mentors, and [Danny] was the one who was assigned to me," he says. "He's just one of those guys that you talk to him, he's so cool."
When Nyambi flew to Los Angeles for an acting showcase, Pino gave him an opportunity that would help him not just then, but later on in his career. "Danny was like, 'Why don't you come out to Warner Brothers?' I met him, we met the cast of Cold Case, did a little tour, and we had a little talk. It was great. Then fast-forward, when I got the call to test for Mike & Molly, I get to Gate 7 and I'm like, 'Wait a minute, I know all this.' I go to the building and I'm like, 'This is the same building Danny and I were having this talk [in].' It took away any nerves that I had about going to a major studio because I'd already done it thanks to Danny."
Ironically, Nyambi's first major role after leaving NYU was on the original Law & Order. He guest-starred in an episode ("Four Cops Shot") of what would prove to be the venerable show's final season. "I had just graduated from NYU and it was my first on-camera job that I'd gotten," he tells me. "I was blessed that they even wanted me to be a part of the episode. That experience was an important experience because being on set with Anthony Anderson and Jeremy Sisto, S. Epatha Merkerson, they were so nice and so open and really cool. I was sitting in my trailer thinking, 'Man, I'm ready for this.' Literally a week later I got the call that they wanted to test me for Mike & Molly."
Playing a character in a sitcom requires a different approach, one that he embraces. "For me, comedy is hard. It is subjective, but at the end of the day, I've got to slant it with my own point of view, as far as what I find interesting and funny," he explains when I ask how he approaches the role of Samuel. "That's what I did when I got the job. It was all about celebrating what I found funny. If you bring your own originality, that's all you can control, and I think people will recognize that."
The grind of television work can be grueling for some, but not so for Nyambi, who comes from a heavy theater background. He tells me that his average schedule on Broadway was heavier than the one he currently has for Mike & Molly. What does he love about the stage, and how does it compare to TV?
"The process of developing a character from the ground up in theater is awesome. You get a couple months rehearsal with it and then you're in front of a live audience. What's amazing is that every audience is different and every show you do is different," he says. "Doing a sitcom, especially a multi-camera sitcom, we tape in front of a live audience, so there's that thrill. The only thing with television is that you can start and stop."
He goes on to tell me, "My favorite playwright is August Wilson, and my favorite play is Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and I got the opportunity to be a part of the Broadway production of that. I understudied two characters in that, and it so happened that the lead guy, three days before we closed, he lost his voice halfway through the show. I had to go on and do the second act. It was one of the most scary, thrilling, amazing experiences I've ever had."
It's no surprise, then, that his dream roles have stage roots. "I'm a big Shakespeare guy. I'd love to play Leontes in A Winter's Tale in a film. And anything August Wilson," he says when I ask him what his future ambitions are. "I do want to eventually run a production company, that's for sure, and then be able to do things globally, as far as charity work and artistic work."
Nyambi has another quality that's important for anyone in the entertainment industry: yes, he's an actor but he's also still a fan. Last year, motivated by a Netflix rental that had sat on top of his TV, he watched 365 movies in 365 days. So naturally, he has plenty of recommendations to give out.
"There's a movie that I love from 1981 called Diner. The Lives of Others is another movie I love," he offers. "I watch all the CBS shows, of course, on Monday. I love Big Bang Theory. I've watched every episode of The Office, even the British version. Fawlty Towers, I love that show. I also like all the singing competition shows. I like American Idol, I like The Voice, then ESPN First Take."
In addition to his diverse viewing preferences, Nyambi has also tuned in to the one thing some actors can't watch: his own work.
"I just have to suck it up. It's how you improve," he says with a chuckle. "I love when I can get to the point where I'm not watching myself, I'm watching the show, and I feel like I've gotten to that point. I'm just enjoying the show."
And no doubt, Mike & Molly fans are enjoying having him as part of it.
My thanks to Nyambi Nyambi for this interview! To find out more about him, follow him on Twitter or visit him on Facebook, and watch him tonight in Mike & Molly at 9:30 PM ET/PT on CBS.
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.
Related: Anthony Anderson, Cold Case, Danny Pino, Jeremy Sisto, Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Mike & Molly, S. Epatha Merkerson, Starpulse Exclusives, Interviews, Television, Comedy, Interviews, CBS
Photo Credits: PR Photos