David Ajala speaks down with ATM and talks about his life as an actor and relates it to his latest shows CW’s Supergirl and Syfy’s Nightflyers.
ATM: The main character in Supergirl has to balance with having new responsibilities and balancing her own human relationships. How do you balance these two in your real life?
DA: This is a very good question. Perspective is important. I have always practiced gratitude. Someone told me this and I thought it was a pretty simple way to keep one’s self in check. A lot of us are always looking after our physical health but is also important to look after your mental and spiritual health. I try to practice gratitude. I try to be kind without necessarily wanting to receive anything back. These are very important things to me.
ATM: What is the view of an actor that does not take the advice you just gave?
DA: Even more so for actors, it is so important to try and embrace this way of thinking. In the acting industry, I hear this figure of 95% of actors are always out of work. This just shows the competitive nature of the industry. Certainly, for myself, when I have gone into the audition room for really cool projects, I have eventually heard ‘no’ many times. This can be tough. It could be tough to be told, “No you are not good enough. No, you are not tall enough. No, you are not sexy enough etc.” Protect your passion and practice gratitude. Essential.
ATM: How do you protect your passion?
DA: I protect myself even when life is really challenging Gabrielle, and there are sometimes where it is hard to see it working out because you have something you can offer, and you are just waiting for someone to take a chance on you. I protect my passion by reminding myself of the reason why I am willing to believe I could make it work. It is my love of storytelling and my love of theatre. As much as possible, I am very grateful for my friends and family. My peace. My balance. I recommend this to many people, especially actors. Have hobbies and interests outside of your passion.
ATM: What are hobbies outside of your passion?
DA: Oh, I love music. I love listening to different songs. I love dancing. I used to dance professionally back in the day. I would do back up dancing at concerts and at dance competitions. Now the dancing I like to do is more therapeutic. This is the kind of dancing that does not require you to look any specific way or execute moves in any specific way. It is very expressive. I also love playing the drums.
ATM: What are your key points in how you approach your character, Manchester Black?
DA: I was not familiar with the character. I had to do a lot of research to understand his background and where he came from. The things in his life that shaped who he is today. These help me to keep him grounded and to create something that feels very real to me. Manchester Black is a character that has certain special abilities. When you strip these abilities away, he is a human being and I wanted to start there. He is from Manchester in England. I had to learn the Manchester accent and familiarize myself with it. I was listening to different people. I was listening to Black guys, Asian guys, and White guys from Manchester. There are different voices because accents are really fluid. The sound is fluid from where you are from, education, and the languages you speak. I just wanted to immerse myself into many different dialects in Manchester.
ATM: What were the differences and similarities you saw with your own British culture?
DA: Quite a few. I grew up in Hackney, East London. There is something really special about Hackney. For a lot of other people who are looking from the outside in, it was not the most desirable place to live. I grew up with some of my best friends in Hackney. A few years ago, Hackney started to become gentrified. You have a lot of people moving in and a lot of people, unfortunately, have had to move out from Hackney because they were priced out. This is something that is happening in England and many other parts of the world. People are being priced out and forced to relocate.
Manchester Black is someone who operates outside of the social norm of society. One could say he is a bit of an outcast. He might be an outcast and ostracized by society, but at heart, he is a good guy who wants to make a contribution towards making the world a better place. Even if he has very unorthodox ways of doing it. Like I said before, this season is going to be very provocative. Of course, it is going to have politics in it because this is the nature of the world. It is going to be done in a very courageous way and it is going to flip the mirror around so we can look at ourselves . . . a little deeper.
ATM: Do you believe that if you go outside of the social norms that you are seen as insubordinate or taking a new view on life?
DA: It is all subjective. When you have people who start to challenge society, seeking a change that does not fit the social norm, it immediately becomes a threat. When I think about people like Tupac Shakur who was an amazing lyricist and poet, he spoke about a lot of things that were happening in society across the board. Because he was so articulate in the way he shared these ideas. A lot of the times his ideas were dismissed because “Oh, he was just a rapper. So what does he know.” This is what I find happens in society sometimes when people go to challenge the establishment to force us to think a little deeper and not always accept everything that is being fed to us. This becomes a threat. It is important like characters such as a Manchester Black to have a voice in society.
ATM: Would it be interesting in a pleasant way that if all the answers to the world’s problems could be solved by actually go on the other side of the social norms. Sometimes when you go backwards it is sometimes the right way.
DA: Right. You hit the nail on the head. A very interesting thing has happened recently, which is social media. There are various platforms to social media where people can share their thoughts and ideas. Twitter and Instagram, but mainly Twitter. The power of information and knowledge is not in the hands of the media, it is in the hands of the people. People become edified and start sharing and becoming vocal about certain issues. They are calling public figures out for bad behaviour, and their irresponsibilities. This is important. When we get the power back in the hands of the people, people are going to make decisions that better everyone. When looking at governmental figures in America or in the U.K, we are always trying to work towards an effective democracy and trying to level the plane fields with equality. The main issues I find with the political figures in power is that they have been elected based upon who they know, connections etc. Class and economical background plays a big part.
DA; This is the wrong way to do it. It should be done on merit. Meritocracy is a group of people who are brought to run and lead the country for the people based on merits. Nothing to do with their social power or political power or economical power. It should be based on merits and these merits should come from serving the people. This is very important. This has gotten very political. Supergirl is going to have a lot of surprising elements than what you expect from a superhero television series.
ATM: How does your other show Nightflyers fit into all of this?
DA: Yes, it does. I recently came back from New York Comic Con and it was an amazing experience. We were doing panels for NightFlyers. It was well received just in terms of people who got to see it at New York Comic Con. I am very aware that it is highly anticipated because it is George R.R. Martin’s creation. It was a joy to be apart of this show and to promote Nightlfyers and Supergirl at the same time. These are very different shows and very different projects. This is what excited me to play Manchester Black because they are so different.
ATM: What does the title Nightflyers mean NOT very much the show?
DA: Guys who are operating in the night flying into space. It is funny because I have never actually thought about this. If we look at maybe some synonyms of the word “night” or what “night” might evoke if we are talking about word association, then it is dark, mysterious, and it is unknown. To these guys as they blast from the earth’s orbit into outer space, everything is unknown. The journey that they are going on is unknown. They have an idea of what to receive but it is not guaranteed. Little do they know that they are going to be stopped in a very claustrophobic nightmare on this ship. The threat is not what they are aiming towards or what they are trying to discover, but the threat is on this ship.
ATM: So do you feel nightmares are real?
DA: There is definitely a difference between nightmares and dreams. One thing I would say is that you can certainly learn from both. It is important to pay attention to dreams and nightmares.
ATM: How so?
DA: Let me tell you something. Here is a dream that I have had before:
I had a dream that I am doing a play in England. In this dream, I literally run on stage because I am rushing. I am on stage and doing this scene. I have been doing this play for maybe a month. I am doing this scene and I cannot remember my lines in this scene. It is the dread and the panic of being on stage in front of an audience that I cannot remember my lines. I wake up in the morning, and I am feeling anxious about something. I may not be doing a play at all or doing a T.V or film gig, I could be on a holiday. It would inform me that I am anxious about something. Because I am in tune with this experience in my dream, when I wake up I am able to meditate, breath, or stretch. This is why it is important to pay attention to your dreams. What do you think? Don’t you think so?
ATM: Yes, I do think it is important. They are unconsciously warnings for our life. Do you think for us humans to be granted the chance to go to sleep and have pictures or another imaginative lifestyle in our brain is interesting?
ATM: This is really interesting. It is like you are living two lives with one heartbeat.
DA: Yes, if we are talking about lucid dreaming, which is mind blowing. I played on this show called Falling Water a couple of years ago. It was all about people having awareness about the power of their dreams. And how they could use lucid dreaming as a superpower. I need to research more into this. If you can control your dreams and be aware of the effects of engaging in lucid dreaming, then there are some very amazing things you can do. A friend of mine has been learning how to play the piano. When he gets a chance to in his lucid dreaming, I kid you NOT, he has extra piano practice. Imagine if you are able to utilize an extra 2-3 hours of sleep a day to work toward something you are doing. To be a guitar player or drummer. You can use lucid dreaming to speed up the process of learning something. Isn’t this amazing?
ATM: David, this is crazy in an interesting way.
DA: Isn’t it?
ATM: This is like pushing the humanistic boundaries of abilities and capabilities.
DA: Completely. We have geniuses within us. Sometimes people do not use it to maximize the potential in our brains. This is an avenue to lucid dreaming and to put in some work into extracurricular activities.
ATM: What a way to live.
DA: Right. (Laughs). For the opening question about Supergirl. I worked on Nightflyers earlier this year, January-June. I wanted to take a little bit time to chill and do simple things like catch up with friends. When you are in the acting industry, you are filming away from home, you are spending large amounts of time from friends and family. It could be a bit tricky from time. I told my management team, I was taking time off to chill. This was in June. I got a call in the middle of June from DC and Warner Brothers. They contacted my management team saying they had this really cool role and wanted to see if I was interested. They would love to speak to me about it because it would be cool for me. My management spoke to me and said they really wanted to speak to me. I kind of came out of semi retirement to play the role, Manchester Black. It was such a gift of a role. I loved how they used this character and other characters to elevate the storytelling for this season. I had to do a lot of physical training.
ATM: As an actor, when you are away from your friends and family, how do you re-harness these relationships?
DA: This is really really good question. I try to do the best I can as I am doing it. I love being in the company of my friends and family. Whenever I am in town, I reach out to my friends to say, “Yo, let’s go see this play. Let’s watch this movie. Let’s go get some good food.” It is great to speak on the phone, but I am more of a face to face kind of guy. Whenever I have time off I am literally with friends and family or in the theatre watching plays. This is me literally.
ATM: Do they see you as still “little David” or as a professional actor?
DA: I think it is both. It is still “little David.” I have 4 brothers and 1 sister. It is six of us. Older brother, older brother, older brother, me, younger brother, and a sister. When the baby girl came along, which is my baby sister. Mom and dad retired, because they got their girl. I am still “Little David,” but at the same time my family has been very supportive in what I do. Especially my parents, I literally owe them my career for the sacrifices they made and support they have shown.
ATM: Do you have it in you to make these same sacrifices with your own children?
DA: Yes, but different sacrifices for different people. I will never forget when my first son was born while waiting for him to arrive. I had not worked for a few months. I had auditioned and got offered this film. It was really cool. I met with the director and he wanted to offer me to play the lead in this movie. Prior to this, I had not worked for 6 months. It was so bittersweet because it would have been great to do this gig, but at the same time, I did not want to miss the birth of my son. Because it clashed. It would have had to fly out like 10 days before the due date of my son. I remember feeling that I really wanted to do it and my wife was super supportive. She was like, “Babe, I get it. If you need to do it, then go and do it. You deserve it. I will be fine.” When she said this, because she said it so genuinely, I remember an hour later getting on the phone and calling my team.
I told them, “Guys I know I have not worked for 6 months and this is an amazing opportunity. Can you tell the guys I am so grateful they considered me? I have to turn this role down because I cannot miss the birth of my first born son.” It was tough. But I tell you what, I turned this gig down and my son came earlier than the due date. This means I could have done the film and been there for the birth of my son. What is for you will never pass you by. It was tough because I had a baby, a house, and a mortgage. Throughout the year I was doing a few jobs here and there because I did not want to say yes to anything. A year later on my son’s first birthday, I was gifted my first American television series. It changed the game for me.
ATM: From a father’s perspective, what was this moment like when your first baby boy came into this earth?
DA: Oh lord. It was so surreal and so special. I felt so proud and blessed to be given a great bundle of joy. It was immensely proud of my wife for being so awesome, so strong, and so courageous. I was completely humbled because I thought wow my mother has done this 6 times. I was there through the labor. My appreciation for mothers in the world has gone sky high. Mothers are the unsung heroes for society as far as I am concerned.
ATM: How would you describe what you have witnessed about a women’s strength?
DA: I posted something on my Instagram and it said, “You cannot break down the pedal stool of women if she was the one that built that pedal stool in the first place.” I really loved this quote. When I think about strong women, I think about my mum, my wife, my sister, and some of the women I really admire in the world, Serena Williams. She is one of my heroes. Not only is she an incredible athlete, I think she is a courageous woman. What impresses me about Serena Williams is despite what the naysayers have said, challenges she has faced, she has always continued to gracefully transcend it all by focusing on her craft and doing the best she can do. For me, this is the stuff of champions. A lot of the heroes in my life happen to be women. I am very happy with this.
ATM: We would not be here without them.