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Arts

Kam Williams | 5/30/2012, 8:30 a.m.

The truth reigns supreme and the love that all of these characters share is what people ultimately connect to. They see themselves in these characters or in their dilemmas.

Plus, the hearts of Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy are deeply genuine and infectious. It begins with their genius together.

What are the similarities and differences between you and your character?

We both have a dry sense of humor and an appreciation for classic literature. Samuel is Senegalese and my family is Nigerian. I hope to one day speak five languages like Samuel. Right now, I know English, a lot of French, a little bit of Efik and a few words in Wolof.

Were you surprised when Melissa McCarthy was nominated for an Oscar for “Bridesmaids?”

[Cast member] Reno Wilson called it immediately after we saw the premiere of “Bridesmaids” and [cast member] Katy Mixon had a dream about it not too long after that. So, when it came time for the nominations, I wasn’t surprised. She was that good! Melissa McCarthy is a character acting genius.

How did you develop an interest in acting while playing Division I basketball in college?

I have always had an interest in acting for as long as I can remember. I just never called it acting. It was celebrating the nuance[s] of the people I met. So I constantly was entertaining my family and friends with some character they knew —an uncle, an aunt, a cousin, a family friend or a character from a television show or film.

When I was a college senior, I was a business major and uncertain about my future. The dream was always professional basketball, which was fading with each dribble, and I just did not feel Wall Street or any other desk job was in the cards for me. I was at a loss. So I decided to do what I do when I want to be happy and that is [to] play a character.

There was a Martin Luther King gala at Bucknell University, so I offered to recite a speech I used to compete with in high school for the forensics club — the art of speechmaking forensics, not CSI forensics. I sensed doubt in the coordinator of the event about my skills, because those who knew me from afar knew me as a quiet, shy type.

To have fun and prove the coordinator wrong, I decided to memorize the speech, study his cadence, his suits, his walk, the speeches behind the speech, his inspirations and never once did I call any of that acting or what an actor does.

So, the night I performed the speech, something new was happening within me that was electrifying. For ten minutes I actually thought I was Martin Luther King. Afterwards, Professor Glyne Griffiths who — along with me, I’m sure, wondered what I was going to do with my life — with joy, put a name to the very thing I loved to do: ‘Nyambi, you’re an actor.’ And I haven’t looked back since.