Ms. Enuka Okuma is an amazing talent, and already something of an entertainment industry veteran, with eight film roles and eleven lead television roles over two decades. Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with her one-on-one, and as we took turns laughing and “talking shop”, I realized: Enuka is just getting started!
After hearing about her career, and everything she's been up to lately, I think you'll agree that she's an artist we want to keep an eye on! In fact, I hereby declare that we are in the midst of "The Summer of Enuka."
Ms. Okuma's career began at a very young age, in the same, magical way many young actors dream of.
“I love to tell that story!” she said.
Believe it or not, Enuka was performing in a school play, when she was discovered by a stranger with an eye for talent--“and it's been non stop from there.” The venerable Ms. Carole Tarlington took Enuka under her wing. Tarlington's Vancouver Youth Theater is a non-profit society dedicated to the inspiration and education of young actors ages five to 18.
“She's wonderful. She's helped so many young people from all over—she's asked me to come back and talk about my experience and I was glad to do it.”
In 1993, Enuka landed the role of Sheri in the Canadian teen drama, MADISON. She agreed it was like being in a soap opera: “It was pretty soapy. I made a lot of friends, it was six years, and we were all growing up.” Another big role came with the crime drama SUE THOMAS, F. B. EYE, where she played Lucy Dotson for 56 episodes in the mid 2000s.
Meanwhile, she was accumulating dozens of other TV and Film credits, including a memorable lead in 2003's House of the Dead.
“It was fun! It was very... low budget,” she laughed. “We filmed almost entirely at night, in the middle of the woods, in summer, which was unusual. I got to run around a lot and shoot zombies!”
Enuka confided that she believes her most challenging role is one she has yet to perform. But so far, she singles out her experience on Fox's huge drama, 24, as the occasion on which she pushed herself the most. She appeared in 2009 as Marika Donoso:
“I was in a four-episode narrative arc—with Keifer Sutherland, who was also the producer. It was an emotional role, and Kiefer took me aside and worked with me. I got to a place where I was able to give myself permission to go further.”
Today, TV audiences know Enuka as Traci Nash, one of the the title characters in ABC's ROOKIE BLUE. Interestingly, she confessed that it wasn't an automatic fit.
“At first I found I was going to judge the character, which you should never do. A single mother, how could she pursue such a dangerous career? I came to realize, Tracy wants to show her son that if you work hard enough, if you're strong enough, you can do anything.”
I asked her what she thought was the biggest difference between herself and Traci Nash, and she was quick to answer, “Traci has a son, and I don't.” I pointed out that that could change, and she agreed that it could!
Regardless, Enuka will continue to be very busy in the months to come.
First of all, it's official: ROOKIE BLUE is returning to ABC next summer. “We got word last week that we were picked up for a third season,” she confirmed. “I think Traci is going to get to the point where she wants more from the job, more than being a rookie.” An estimated seven million viewers will be watching her every week.
Second, her feature film Larry Crowne is currently in theaters. In the film, Enuka shares the screen with the likes of Tom Hanks and Cedric the Entertainer. “I was there when Cedric learned how to use Twitter. It was hilarious!”
What she values most about her experience on set is perhaps the opportunity she had to witness Tom Hanks in action. “Tom wrote it, he directed, he was a producer, and he was the star. I learned so much.”
Finally, her short film Cookie is also currently in theaters. Cookie may be the project that is closest to her heart. She wrote, directed, and acted in the film, in which “a woman is let go from her job, and she is forced to spend time with her stay-at-home husband. She soon discovers he is not the man she she thought he was.”
Starring Jennifer Finnigan (Bridget Forrester, THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL) and Jonathan Silverman (Weekend at Bernie's), Cookie premiered at the 2011 Newport Film Festival and will continue on the festival circuit this summer.
For now, Enuka said, she still sees herself as primarily an actor. However, she does enjoy writing and directing. “Telling everyone what to do is fun,” she laughed. “It's a bit like playing god!”
In fact, Enuka promises we'll see much more of her work in the future—and not just in front of the camera. She admitted that she has not one, but two projects in development. “Right now, I can't say much more!” she teased.
And can you believe that with all this going on, Enuka also just got married—and she planned the wedding herself!
“We didn't have a planner! So just to be done with all the wedding plans is a little like a vacation,” she confided. “But we were lucky because we have a graphic designer in the family, we have a florist in the family, everyone helped.”
I was wondering, at this point, if she ever had a chance to relax? I asked her one of our favorite questions here at WLS: Does she have any guilty-pleasure TV shows that she really enjoys?
“You may not like this, Kevin, because it's a reality show,” she warned. “WIFE SWAP! It's outrageous!” she laughed. “And in the end, what always amazes me, what I love, is that the women always grow, and they always say they learned something about themselves.”
Finally, I asked this remarkable woman what advice she has for those young people starting off in the industry.
“Pace yourself,” she said. “It's going to be harder than you think, and go on for a long time, and you have to be strong.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: ROOKIE BLUE airs Thursdays at 10/9c on ABC and on Global in Canada. For information on screenings of Cookie at a festival near you, visit www.enukaokuma.com.
PHOTO CREDIT: Gary Fitzpatrick (non ROOKIE BLUE photos)
Kevin Mulcahy Jr. is a Harvard alum who is currently working as a staff contributor at welovesoaps.com writing theater and web series reviews as well as other in-depth features. Read all his Web Series reviews here. To contact Kevin, email firstname.lastname@example.org.