Okea Eme-Akwari: Going from fan to cast on The Walking Dead

Okea Eme-Akwari as Elijah- The Walking Dead _ Season 10, Episode 20 - Photo Credit: Eli Ade/AMC

Okea Eme-Akwari plays Elijah on AMC’s The Walking Dead. The Fandemic Dead Tour was Okea’s first con and we got a chance to speak with him about his experience on the show.

Elijah was introduced in the season ten episode “A Certain Doom.” He is a member of the Wardens who joined Alexandria with Maggie after their previous village was destroyed by the Reapers.

Check out our interview with Okea!

Were you a fan of the show before auditioning?

Okea: Absolutely. Yeah. It was actually my sister that introduced me to the show. I kind of had that thing of like, ‘oh, no, that’s your show. I’m not gonna watch it.’ But then as I kept passing the living room, I started being like, ‘what do you got going on over here?’ I think I jumped in at season three, but yeah, I was definitely a fan of the show beforehand.

What was it like getting to work with the people that you were once a fan of?

Okea: I love it so much, and I hate it at the same time. It’s like one of those things where- have you ever snuck in anywhere that you weren’t supposed to be? You sneak in and you’re like, ‘Oh, I hope I don’t get caught, but I’m gonna enjoy this as much as I can before they realize I’m not supposed to be here.’ But they’re all very welcoming. All the pressure and intimidation was really minimized because of how welcoming everybody is. Like when they say the TWD family, it’s a very real thing… And it’s not just the cast, it’s with the crew, too. It’s one of those projects where, you know, everywhere you look, the person that you’re looking at wants to be there too. Obviously days get hard and long, but most of the people there are also fans of the show that they’re making. That’s a really special thing to be a part of.

Okea Eme-Akwari as Elijah, Cassady McClincy as Lydia – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC
When we first met your character, he had the mask on, was that you the whole time?

Okea: It was not, actually. In the first introduction , I think it was a stunt guy because I was still auditioning at that time. I really felt lucky when the COVID episodes came and I think that’s probably part of the reason I was able to audition, because they needed to fill in something real soon. But yeah, it wasn’t me for that first episode. But then, in 10×17, where I actually took the mask off, that was me for pretty much the entire thing.

What was it like wearing a mask?

Okea: The best analogy I can really think of is like, have you ever, as a kid, tied your bathroom towel around your neck and pretended to fly? It’s really the same energy. Because you have this thing on, you feel like you can do anything. And that’s kind of the story that I built up in my head about the mask about like where I got it because it hasn’t been officially revealed. But the story in my head is “don’t let them see your fear.” Elijah goes through a lot of hard times, to say the least, but I think the mask is something that helps him separate himself from the world at large and also from people. He’s a bit shy, especially around newer people, but it’s also because of everyone that he’s lost. But wearing the mask is just fun because I could always make faces and also I can “fan girl” in front of people and no one would ever know. In the first two episodes, I’m wearing the mask and I’m making so many stupid faces, like for my walker kills, any kind of crazy face that I can get out of my system now.

Was there anyone in particular that you fangirled over?

Okea: Honestly Khary Payton. I’m a really big fan of superheroes and Cyborg is one of my personal favorite superheroes. So it was my first day and I think I was still doing meet and greets like hair and makeup and doing fittings and then he just came up and was like, ‘oh, you’re playing the mask guy, right? Hey, it’s good to see you, man.’ That was a really cool moment for me. But I mean, like generally speaking, everybody on the show because I was a fan of the show before. So it’s like, it’s trippy, but you also have to keep that level of professionalism, you know, and not “fan girl” until I get to my car.

Was the mask heavy?

Okea: It’s lighter than you think. It straps around my forehead and down the middle. So maybe the weight is distributed well enough. But it’s not heavy on my face while I’m acting. 

Okea Eme-Akwari as Elijah – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Josh Stringer/AMC
Did you have to do anything in particular to prepare to play Elijah?

Okea: Yeah. Well, you don’t get many scripts in advance but they gave me a general idea of what my storyline is, so I can kind of build the skeleton at least. Like I knew we were looking for my sister, but I never knew when or how we would find her. So, you kind of fill the gaps for yourself for whatever the situation requires. But physically speaking, especially while wearing the mask, it’s easy enough to breathe in, but while fighting and running up and down hills for a bunch of takes, that can get a little difficult so, it was good to get some exercise in and, of course, train with my kamas at home. I got some practice pairs, they’re not as badass as these are, but my little wooden ones get the job done too. I think maintaining those two things will carry me through.

Do you have any standout memories from filming?

Okea: I have the standout memories from like every single episode, I think, but finding my sister is really nice. And I felt really supported with Lauren (Cohan) as a scene partner but also as a person too, because those were some emotional scenes I had to film and it was good to have a partner there. So, that was a really good memory. The raid on Meridian was really cool when we’re in the Whisper masks. That was, I think, one of my first long, long night shoots and I remember the weather was amazing, like it was a full moon with explosions happening everywhere. And I had to do the “Thriller” dance from Michael Jackson because I was in a zombie look, it was fun. 

Is there anything else that you want to say about your character or about season 11? 

Okea: I want to thank everyone who has been supporting me so far. It’s been a cool introduction into the show, and especially meeting a lot of fans face to face. It’s been strangely gratifying, like I already knew it was going to be but experiencing it as a whole different vibe. I’m really appreciative of everyone that supports me and supports the show.

Okea Eme-Akwari as Elijah – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 12 – Photo Credit: Josh Stringer/AMC
You can catch Okea on The Walking Dead with new episodes airing Sunday nights on AMC.