GAME Of Thrones actor DeObia Oparei says there aren’t enough diverse parts for actors of colour in Australia.
The British actor, who trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company, plays Areo Hotah, the bodyguard of Prince Doran Martell, in the enormously popular show.
While on holiday in Sydney, he revealed he had some authority on the Australian acting scene, having lived and worked here for six years in the 1990s.
Oparei first visited on a tour with theatre company, Theatre de Complicite, appearing in A Winter’s Tale and said fell in love with the country. On his return to London, he landed a role in the play Six Degrees of Separation alongside Australian actors Wayne Harrison and Jacki Weaver, which brought him back for a six-month stint.
During his time with the Sydney Theatre Company he took classes in the Sydney Dance Company and, by the end of his run, had formed an avant garde theatre company with two of the dancers.
“We started writing and performing our own shows,” he told AAP in Sydney.
The six months inevitably turned into six years, during which Oparei found his voice as a writer.
“There was a connection I felt here that made me stay,” he said.
But connection wasn’t enough.
“In Australia there just weren’t strong roles for actors of colour,” he said.
“I was often being asked to turn up for commercials with a ghetto blaster on my shoulder. I thought: Are we in the ‘60s?”
He no longer dances but still uses his training for Areo’s choreographed fight scenes in Game Of Thrones.
In 2001, he was lured back to Australia to take on the role of Le Chocolat in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.
“It was really exciting, to work with him, but it wasn’t for me what I thought it would be,” he said.
Oparei gave up a plum theatre role in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida in London for Luhrmann’s part, but was disappointed when his role was cut down.
“He (Luhrmann) gave me the chance of going back to London but I couldn’t go back with my tail between my legs so I stayed,” he said.
The time here re-established Oparei’s relationship with Australia and two years ago he returned to work with Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre.
Now Oparei is keen to promote diversity in theatre across Australia.
“I love this country but it’s a country that lacks diversity in the mainstream,” he said.
“I believe I’m an asset to this country as a successful actor, as an actor of colour ... and I’ve always been like ‘really Australia, you’re not using me? Come on’,” he said.
He thinks the country is ready to change, taking the lead from cable and streaming TV shows which he says show more of a “pot pourri” of ethnicities in one show.
“It’s becoming exciting and I think Australia wants to be a part of that.”
Oparei is inspired by the American dancer Misty Copeland — the first African American ballerina to be promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, in New York.
Oparei wants to emulate the company’s Project Plie program where Copeland, and the dance company, reach out to underprivileged areas to get people involved in ballet.
“I’d love to be a part of that here,” he said.
“I came from a very poor background, I came from children’s homes, I came from a violent family and against all the odds I succeeded,” he said.
He said Belvoir St was keen for him to share his story and he said he would love to have a role as a creative artist and an agent of change.
“It’s a great place to work here, but it’s a very closed show. I’d like to find a place here where I can be utilised to bring in a section of the audience which is what Misty Copeland is doing in New York,” he said.
“Now you’ve got all these people going to the ballet who would never go. I would love to create that here in terms of the Sydney Theatre Company, in terms of television and film.”