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The Interview

Yetide Badaki

'American God' Yetide Badaki geeks out

"It should no longer be groundbreaking because it should just be the norm, but I am happy that it’s happening now."

by Jerry Nunn

Yetide Badaki may not be a household name yet but if the American Gods have their way she will be. As Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba, on the Starz drama Badaki is a standout among some powerful players. It is the story of a man released from prison named Shadow Moon. He is hired as a body guard for the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. He lands himself into a hidden world of Old Gods versus the New Gods with discoveries along the way. 

Badaki worked the stage in the 2005 production of Wheatley at Victory Gardens Theater and was later nominated for a Jeff Award for I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda

She is currently LA based, but made an appearance at C2E2’s weekend event and sat down to talk about her career. 

JN: (Jerry Nunn) You have been acting for quite some time.

YB: (Yetide BadakI) It has been a minute.

JN: Has anyone ever encouraged you to change your name?

YB: No. I was born in Nigeria and names mean a lot. We have name ceremonies. There is a lot that comes behind a name. I was born a year after my grandmother died so my named means “mother is back.” It has always felt like my grandmother is always there. 

Thankfully, everyone I have ever signed with or been represented with has never brought it up. 

JN: How do you pronounce it?

YB: Yay-tee-day.

JN: That's a beautiful name. 

YB: Thank you. 

JN: You went to college for acting?

YB: Yes. I went to grad school at Illinois State. I got my MFA in acting. I started in undergrad in Montreal. I started in environmental science because acting is not a thing that Nigerian parents love. I came out as an actor! [laughs]

JN: You came out of the closet! Didn’t you do theater here?

YB: Yes, I did. This is my start. It is surreal being back here. I did Young Lady From Rwanda at Victory Gardens and worked at Marshall Fields during the day. I haven’t been back since. 

JN: Do you have a favorite moment from Lost?

YB: That was my first TV role ever. It was filmed in Hawaii so I was excited to go there for my three lines. I had never been. 

They had something on the call sheet that had my time messed up so I hadn’t packed yet and hadn’t showered. They called me and were ready to take me to the airport. I took a two minute splash and threw some things in a bag. They thought they were going to have a book a whole other flight but I made it. When I arrived there was a fruit basket waiting for me at the hotel. 

Working with Michael Emerson was a great moment because he was so intense. He is the sweetest, funniest guy in between takes. He made me feel so comfortable. There were so many things going on, but he was cracking jokes. He was a theater actor so he knew and got it. He took time out of his day to welcome a new individual. I will be thankful to him forever. 

JN: How did you get this role on American Gods?

YB: It came through as an audition from my agency. I had two auditions. One was a pre-read with a casting director and a second with the producers. 

The casting director saw me a year before that for Minority Report and for the show K.C. Undercover for Disney. The two offers came in at the same time and it broke my hear that I couldn’t do Minority Report. She still remembered me and made a shortlist for the character of Bilquis with my name was on it. 

JN: Did you read the book of American Gods?

YB: Yes, I did when it came out. I had a good long time to think about the character. 

JN; Describe your character.

YB: Bilquis is the goddess of love, a fertility goddess based off of the Queen of Sheba. She is reference in the Bible but we don’t know a lot about her. 

As she portrayed on American Gods she has a particular power of taking worship. Let’s just say reverse childbirth. She is a fascinating character because she is an Old God. We see the journey of womanhood through the ages. She came from a place of power and agency. 

There are individuals that try to take her power and use it as their own. You see her reclaiming it all again. 

JN: Who did you reference when creating her?

YB: Several people. I am a visual person and like working from the senses. There moments of Elizabeth Taylor that I loved and Marilyn Monroe. I was thinking of a silent movie vixen that is trying to make it in a world of talkies. There was a slightly out of time feel to her. I also saw an image of Grace Jones and her being unapologetic. There’s a little Tina Turner, too.

Basically, I picked through a lot of goddesses through time!

JN: Were you nervous about the sex scenes?

YB: As you can tell by chatting with me, I’m a big geek. It was a bit of a journey for me. I am the first one to laugh about playing a love goddess. Going into this character resonated with a lot of people and I had to think about my ideas of sexuality. It was great to do it through this character’s experience. 

JN: How do you feel about the gay characters in this show?

YB: It is about time. People have talked about Jinn and Salim being so groundbreaking. I am so happy about that. I love Omid Abtahi and Mousa Kraish who play those characters and have been friends for a long time before this. We got to have these conversations again about sexuality. 

It should no longer be groundbreaking because it should just be the norm, but I am happy that it’s happening now. 

JN: What projects do you have coming out?

YB: I have The Long Shadow, which is an investigative noir set in Louisiana that is supposed to come out at the end of this year. 

The Buried Girl is a combo of Serial Podcast and Stranger Things. There are a lot of great people in it. Elizabeth Mitchell from Lost is in it as well. That should be coming out the beginning of next year. 

JN: When does the next season of American Gods debut?

YB: Just before we got here, we did the first table read for the new season. We are filming it at the end of the month in Toronto. 

JN: What do you think of C2E2?

YB: I am fan. They introduced me to R.L. Stine and I had no idea what I said. I was just geeking out. It is surreal to be on this side because I am a nerd living the dream! 

I love that is people coming together to celebrate passion and what they love. The sense of community and inclusion is wonderful at these events.


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