Barbershop's Immigrant Gets a Makeover
When Showtime adapted the Barbershop
film franchise into a series (Sundays at 10 pm/ET), actors' faces weren't the only thing that changed. Some character names got a tweak, too. Case in point: The resident impressionable foreigner known as Dinka on the big screen is now Yinka (that is, an actual African name). Here, Yinka's portrayer, Gbenga Akinnagbe
tells TVGuide.com what it's like to inherit a film role, why you absolutely should not
let him near your hair and why Nigerian actors are
a force to be reckoned with.
TVGuide.com: A couple of the Barbershop TV series' characters are new, but yours [originally played by Leonard Earl Howze] is a holdover from the film Does that make it easier or harder for an actor?
Gbenga Akinnagbe: A lot of us are playing characters who were in the movie, but I think it was just a general consensus that we were just going to do our own thing. Personally, I think it's best to start from someone else's interpretation and then put your own stamp on things. Besides, the show is a completely different beast.
TVGuide.com: Did you have any hesitation about playing "the naive foreigner"?
Akinnagbe: No, because as they described the role to me, he's naive about certain things in the United States but he's well-traveled and very educated.... He's not ignorant or fresh-off-the-boat type of naive, marveling at "the wonders of the New World." [Laughs] Know what I mean? There are just certain things that he sees a little differently. It was really important to [executive producer] John Ridley and me to make sure that he wasn't like that, the stereotypical African who doesn't know what's going on around him.
TVGuide.com: I have to imagine that with cast mates such as Omar Gooding around, it can get a bit out of hand during tapings, yes?
Akinnagbe: It's crazy. We have a lot, a lot of fun. In between takes we're always cracking jokes and quoting different comedians.... It's a lot of fun. With a comedy it has to be that way.
TVGuide.com: Who's the funniest person on the set?
Akinnagbe: Who's the funniest person on the set? You trying to get me in trouble?! [Laughs] But I think it's pretty safe to say Barry Shabaka Henley [aka Eddie, the veteran barber] is really, really funny.
TVGuide.com: Tell me about being a sketch player on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
Akinnagbe: It was in April, right before I came out here. Gene Wilder was on, and it was a parody of Young Frankenstein. There were all these different Frankensteins, and I was the black one. The only black one. It was cool to work on that show, do something for NBC, before I came to L.A.
TVGuide.com: Your bio says you grew up "very poor in Washington, D.C." OK, I'll bite: How poor were you?
Akinnagbe: I was so poor... that it's not funny. [Laughs] Let's see, how poor was I? I was so poor that I had holes in my shoes and I thought that was cool.
TVGuide.com: That's pretty poor. Did you develop your sense of humor as a survival tool?
Akinnagbe: It's funny, because I didn't really have much of a sense of humor when I was a kid — it wasn't allowed; there wasn't room for it. As I started to collect myself and move past that, having a sense of humor helped with that. But as a child and an adolescent, no, I didn't really know much about that world.
TVGuide.com: Since you began Barbershop, do you have friends hounding you to cut their hair?
Akinnagbe: They ask me to and I tell them, "Listen, you really do not want me cutting your hair. It's a TV show. Don't let me cut your hair." I used to cut my little brothers' hair when I was younger but those were basic haircuts. The stuff that people are doing now, I couldn't even begin to approach.
TVGuide.com: Just tell your friends, "It's all special effects! Green screens!"
Akinnagbe: Exactly. "We use CGI! Do not let me take a blade to you!"
TVGuide.com: So we have you on Barbershop, and Oz alum Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje joining ABC's Lost. So is the rumor true, that Nigerian-Americans are, in fact, taking over Hollywood?
Akinnagbe: I was told that. [Laughs] I've been told that by a few people, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. We bring a different flavor!