Nnamdi Aso­mugha, from NFL to Hol­ly­wood power plays


Nnamdi Aso­mugha never thought he’d ac­tu­ally be­come an ac­tor. Sure, like many young black boys grow­ing up, there were two ca­reers that cap­tured his idea of suc­cess: on the field or court as a pro­fes­sional ath­lete or on stages and screens as a top-billed en­ter­tainer.

But he was also the son of Nige­rian par­ents who mi­grated to the U.S. in the 1970s. They had two very dif­fer­ent ca­reer paths in mind: doc­tor or lawyer. “And ac­tu­ally, those are the only two pro­fes­sions on the planet,” he said with a laugh, re­peat­ing his par­ents’ early ad­mo­ni­tion.

Now, af­ter a decade of a pro­fes­sional foot­ball ca­reer be­fore re­tir­ing in 2013, Aso­mugha is mak­ing moves to es­tab­lish him­self as a Hol­ly­wood power player in front of and be­hind the cam­era. As a star and pro­ducer of “Crown Heights,” the for­mer player for the Oak­land Raiders, Philadel­phia Ea­gles and San Fran­cisco 49ers is fol­low­ing a long line of ath­letes ex­tend­ing their ca­reers far be­yond the 50-yard line.

“Crown Heights,” which won the au­di­ence award at this year’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val and was ac­quired by Ama­zon Stu­dios, chron­i­cles the true story of Colin Warner (“Get Out” and “At­lanta” costar Lakeith Stan­field), who was wrong­fully con­victed of mur­der in 1980 and sen­tenced to a min­i­mum of 15 years in jail. His best friend, Carl King, played by Aso­mugha, de­voted 20 years of his life to prov­ing his in­no­cence. (Warner was ex­on­er­ated in 2001.)

“This is not the ‘Amer­i­can dream’ they were look­ing for,” said Aso­mugha of the two Trinida­dian im­mi­grants.

Such a weighty film is a far cry from Aso­mugha’s first ma­jor Hol­ly­wood gig. While Aso­mugha (who is mar­ried to “Scan­dal” star Kerry Wash­ing­ton) ad­mits act­ing “was al­ways sort of in­side me,” he didn’t se­ri­ously con­sider “thes­pian” as a ca­reer un­til around 2008.

While on the set of a Nike com­mer­cial, the director left him with a bit of ad­vice: “‘I want to tell you that I do this all the time, and you are gifted at this,’” Aso­mugha re­called the director say­ing. “‘So when­ever you’re done (with foot­ball), I think you should pur­sue this and take lessons.’

“I just thought it was nice of him,” Aso­mugha said. Three months later, Aso­mugha got a call from his agent say­ing that same director wanted him in his TV show. The director was Peter Berg. The show was “Fri­day Night Lights.”

In Hol­ly­wood, Aso­mugha is us­ing his name and con­nec­tions to tell sto­ries that res­onate with him. At the core of his small but mighty brand — which spans ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer cred­its on “Beasts of No Na­tion” and a forth­com­ing Har­riet Tub­man film, plus pro­ducer of “Crown Heights” and the film “Patti Cakes” — is iden­tity.

“It’s so crazy. That’s not in­ten­tional, but I’ve re­al­ized there is this theme in all of them,” he said. “Where do I fit in the world? Where do I fit in time? I didn’t know I was grav­i­tat­ing to­ward those sto­ries.”


Nnamdi Aso­mugha acts in the movie ‘“Crown Heights.”

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