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Schenectady-born actor Ato Essandoh has been everywhere; now he’s going to Mars

Schenectady-born actor Ato Essandoh has been in every single place; now he’s going to Mars

IN PHOTOS: Ato Essandoh is seen in a latest publicity picture and, inset, clockwise from high, floating in a scene from the upcoming Netflix collection, “Away,” as a teen rising up in Glenville and as Main Trey Ferry within the CBS drama “The Code.”

Ato Essandoh has to suppose.

Not about what to do together with his life. He’s figured that one out. Not about his subsequent main appearing position, both. These are all booked, for essentially the most half. 
As a substitute, after I ask him which of his on-screen performances was the hardest to organize for in his 25-year profession, he actually has to suppose. To him, although, that’s a great factor. It means he’s made it. 

And in his protection, there are quite a few performances to shuffle by way of in his thoughts. He performed Tanis within the 2005 Will Smith romantic comedy “Hitch.” He acted alongside Leo DiCaprio in 2006’s Civil Battle thriller “Blood Diamond.” He’s appeared as D’Artagnan in Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning movie “Django Unchained” — which he in the end says was, fingers city, his hardest to organize for. And he was additionally an everyday on the 2016 Scorsese-Jagger collab “Vinyl,” with an upcoming streaming position in Netflix’s “Away,” coming in September. 

However as he heads for Mars in his newest stint as an astronaut, and as he celebrates a profession of rubbing shoulders and dealing with a number of the biggest actors and administrators of the fashionable period, it’s necessary to recollect the place Essandoh’s story started: Schenectady.

Essandoh was born within the space in 1972, to oldsters who immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana. His dad and mom met within the states earlier than ultimately coming to Schenectady years later, when his father bought a job at Normal Electrical.

“My mother was going to school in Washington and my dad was up at Cornell,” Essandoh mentioned. “After which they met someplace in between. Then my dad, who was learning electrical engineering at Cornell, bought a job at Normal Electrical. In order that’s why they moved there after which had the best factor ever of their life. They’d me. And we lived in Schenectady, Woodcrest Drive.”

When speaking about his childhood, Essandoh’s recollections bounce again pretty rapidly. He lived in Glenville till the fifth grade (so about age 12). He went to Glencliff Elementary College in Alplaus and later was despatched to St. Helens [now Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Parish School]. What stands out essentially the most for him, he admits, was how straightforward it was to journey his bike round his Glenville dwelling.

“What I bear in mind about Schenectady was simply using bikes in every single place,” Essandoh mentioned. “And that was again within the day the place, you understand, your dad and mom simply kicked you out of the home after which instructed you on the weekend to come back again for dinner.”

Essandoh’s favourite place to journey his bike was an outdated gravel pit off Woodcrest Drive, generally known as “the pits.” “We’d go there with the remainder of the neighborhood children for hours and simply tear it up.”

Moved to New Rochelle

Sadly, Essandoh’s time in Schenectady got here to an finish round 1984, when his household moved to New Rochelle. He ultimately went to Cornell, following in his father’s footsteps, and determined to check chemical engineering.

That was till at some point in school, someplace round 1993, when he bought a name.

“It was a director who was doing this play and he or she was on the lookout for my finest pal Marcus who was additionally an engineer. I used to be like, ‘Marcus isn’t dwelling, can I take a message?’ Then she supplied me a component within the play. I by no means acted or something earlier than, so I used to be identical to, ‘You need me to do a play, I don’t get it?’ I kind of froze.”

So Essandoh referred to as his then-girlfriend up, defined {that a} stranger supplied him a job in a play and his girlfriend began laughing. At that time, she dared him to do it and hung up the telephone.

“And so I ended up doing the play,” Essandoh mentioned. “And it was essentially the most wonderful expertise in my life. I by no means considered appearing as something greater than what I see on the display, like Denzel Washington. I by no means considered it as one thing that may be a factor that you simply do as an endeavor.”

However he did it. And after a couple of years of nonetheless pursuing a life as an engineer and transferring to Rhode Island, he wrote himself a mission assertion. 

“Then the appearing simply saved coming again to me,” Essandoh mentioned. “So when I discovered myself in New York Metropolis, possibly three to 4 years later [around 1997], I began going to an appearing class. I had no thought what an appearing class would seem like, however I felt like I used to be at dwelling, dude, it was like, these are my folks. I get it. These folks perceive me.”

Essandoh began taking over smaller theater roles all through New York to start with. His first gig on display, in a present referred to as “Third Watch,” was as a motorbike messenger who was hit by a automobile by none apart from then-rising actor Bobby Cannavale. Essandoh remembers telling all of his buddies concerning the position — and his large scream within the present — prefer it was the best factor on the earth. And he remembers assembly Cannavale in a while someplace on the set of Vinyl. “Fifteen or so years later, we’re on ‘Vinyl,’ ” Essandoh mentioned. “And I’m like, ‘Yo, Bobby what’s up man? You do not forget that ‘Third Watch’ present you probably did?’ And he was like, ‘No, dude.’ ”

‘Hitch’ position

Jokes apart, Essandoh’s profession quickly took him to nice heights, as he starred alongside Will Smith in 2006’s “Hitch.” All through filming in New York, Essandoh remembers large crowds surrounding Smith, and later surrounding him within the scenes to comply with, which he says was by default as a consequence of Smith’s celebrity aura.

By way of literal heights, nevertheless, his favourite Smith story from the set wasn’t essentially all of the freestyle rapping they’d do in between scenes. It was when he sat with Smith in a taxi cab.

“We’re driving down Fifth Avenue or one thing like that,” Essandoh mentioned. “And you understand, that is Will Smith on the peak of his energy so I feel he’s doing that film, ‘I Am Legend.’ We’re at the back of the cab we shot one of many scenes in, after which we’re simply sitting there ready for the cab to again up so we are able to do one other take or one thing. We simply occur to cease underneath a 300-foot poster [of Smith] on the facet of a constructing.”

“It was like an ideal image: The cab rolls up and I see the silhouette and he doesn’t see it as a result of he’s dealing with me. After which, in the midst of the dialog, he type of simply appeared over his shoulder, appeared up, noticed the poster and he simply went again to the dialog. He checked out it prefer it was simply on a regular basis for him. And I used to be like, ‘That’s wonderful.’ ”

Essandoh’s amazement grew as he began touchdown roles left and proper after the movie. However his hardest to organize for, he admits, was “Django Unchained.”

“Simply due to the emotional kind of weight of enjoying someone who is aware of he’s going to die, is begging for his life,” Essandoh mentioned. “That was emotionally draining and in addition realizing that I’d be having to try this all day lengthy.”

Acquainted feeling

However, for Essandoh, the preparation is what will get him excited for every position. For the final a number of months — as a lot of the world remained in quarantine — the actor joined everybody in feeling isolation firsthand, after filming his scenes for “Away” in January. The irony is that his character, Kwesi, has to handle this sense of loneliness as he’s despatched off to Mars — a sense that has now turn out to be the norm for lots of People in lockdown.

“I feel all of us did a improbable job on it,” Essandoh says of the 10-episode collection “Away.” “As an actor, you’re at all times your performances and going, ‘Oh, I may have carried out this.’ Now I’ve much more info. So if we get one other season and if all of us survive this season, I’ve much more to provide to the position.”

This season — of life not less than — has been fairly hectic for Essandoh. Whereas he needs he was spending time together with his household in Ghana, he’s at present utilizing his additional free time to co-host two podcasts.

“Unrelated,” recorded together with his pal Chris Cecot, whom he met throughout his time in Schenectady, follows the 2 males — Cecot being white and Essandoh being Black — as they talk about race, identification and the world. “Having been born in the identical place, we needed to kind of juxtapose our two lives and attempt to kind of discuss concerning the variations rising up in the identical place, how I used to be affected, versus how he was affected,” Essandoh mentioned. 

His different present, “Radio Zamunda,” follows him and one other pal as they dive into artwork, tradition and music. The pair convey on friends that solely one in every of them is aware of, and have deep, mental conversations about how that particular person bought to the place they’re at present.

Little does Esssandoh know, his personal story would make fairly the podcast. Whereas each exhibits are conserving Essandoh busy, he’s grateful that Schenectady can nonetheless be part of his life together with his work on “Unrelated.” And above all, whether or not locals catch him on display or not, he needs you to know that he’s “Schenectady born and raised.”

“There’s a fertile soil of creativity that’s up there, that’s wherever you’re born. There’s at all times fascinating tales wherever you go. I’m simply one other instance of these issues.”