Without really meaning to, Ariyon Bakare has become a familiar face for sci-fi and fantasy fans. With roles in films like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Jupiter Ascending and the popular British television shows Doctor Who and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the 46-year-old actor seems to have hit his stride in the genre. For his latest turn in front of the camera—and his biggest role yet—he plays a microbiologist who heads to space with the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, and finds himself face to face with a dangerous alien life form. A passionate scientist, he can’t help but regard the specimen with a sense of awe, but what ensues makes for quite a thriller.
DuJour caught up with Bakare shortly after the film’s premiere at SXSW, and he shared with us an image from five years ago, stories from set and his somewhat surprising next project.
Where was this picture taken?
I just came out of a relationship and decided to take a holiday in Belgium. There was a crowd of people and my friend called me and I turned around and I waved to him. When we looked at the picture it just seemed like I was saying goodbye to the old me. It was like, okay, the past is the past. It was a really strange year because I lost my sister, my mum and just a lot of things went wrong. I was in a kind of state of grief and there was quite a lot of sadness around me. And I just needed to change my energy. I went traveling for six months.
Where else did you travel?
I went everywhere. I went to Thailand, Brazil, Paris, America, Nigeria – that’s where my family is from. I went to see my roots and my people. My family had told me stories, and it made a great impact to see the landscape of the red soil. I had only been as a young kid, so it was good going back and hearing the language I grew up with. My father is Nigerian and speaks the language. The temperament, everybody’s the same – it’s a loud country. Boisterous people and affectionate.
Your most recent trip was to Austin for the premiere of Life at SXSW—how was that?
It was amazing. It was the first time I’d been to Austin. I’ve never seen people smile so much. It made it more inviting. And that’s really good when you’re promoting a film. It’s like, ok, people like me! I didn’t have time to explore the city, but there was one night where we went to see a jazz band.
Can you share an on-set memories from filming?
We all got along well on set. Everyone had their own way of being on set, too. Ryan [Reynolds] made everyone laugh. But he’s also got a beautiful sensitivity as well. He shares a lot with people. He shares his experience of life. You kind of see his rollercoaster of his career. He gave me a lot of advice. I came into success quite late in my life, but he said, now you’ve got to roll with it. It was really lovely the way he explained his career to me. And Jake [Gyllenhaal] is a tremendously talented actor. And he was so giving. It was like, wow, you don’t need to give this much. But he really did.
What’s next for you? More sci-fi?
I have done a lot of sci-fi. I think the English voice makes me be good for it. My next film is about boxing. It would be quite interesting if it were a boxer in space, but it’s a departure from sci-fi. It’s more gritty.
What’s the biggest difference for you between that photo and now?
In the close-up photo, that was taken yesterday, and that’s just me, right at this moment, in the place where I’m supposed to be. I’m standing still, I’m not looking behind, I’m not looking in front. I’m just in that moment. And that’s what I feel like. Before, my back was turned to everyone else and I was looking backward. Where I am now, I’m really happy.
Main image credit: Jamie James Medina