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.”