Ito Aghayere: Ito’s new act

PHOTOGRAPHY: Emily Sandifer
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS: Genevieve Aitken and Marci Manklow
STYLING: Jennifer Austin at Opus Beauty
MAKEUP: Dana Delaney at Forward Artists
HAIR: Patricia Morales at The Visionaries
LOCATION: Loft 1923
WORDS: Vicenté

Ito Aghayere is the star to watch out for. That is why you should know her name and how to pronounce it right.

In case you missed her television debut on September 26th, Ito Aghayere stars in the new CBS medical comedy Carol’s Second Act as Dr. Maya Jacobs, a tough and disciplinary chief resident in charge of a group of interns. Among them is a fiftyish and newly divorced Carol Kenney (portrayed by three-time Emmy award winner Patricia Heaton), who is pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor. ‘‘My character is all about the work,’’ she says. ‘‘She tries to press [Intern Carol Kenney], push her, and shape her to help her become the diamond that I know she can be.’’

This is her first major role on television, so we asked Ito about her journey on becoming an actress. ‘‘It’s been a ride,’’ she answers. A ‘‘ride’’ it has been, indeed, as she mentions the many side jobs that she had to do along the way. ‘‘I’ve worked overnight for two and a half years,’’ she recalls. Nevertheless, there is something unique in Ito’s path that makes it so special. There aren’t many people who can boast about having been on the Broadway stage of critically acclaimed plays such as Ayad Akthar’s Junk, or having appeared in numerous shows including Elementary, Blacklist, or Master of None, just to name a few.

Every public social act is a political act on some level

In addition to that, she completed an internship at the White House. Ito should be bragging about her resounding success, except that she won’t. ‘‘I feel very grateful,’’ she repeats several times. She is meticulous when working, as she makes a point of only reading roles that she finds both important and meaningful. ‘‘As an actor I choose my role but it’s [based on] what I want to see in the world,’’ she says before adding that she has sometimes refused roles, including the lucrative ones, in order to remain true to herself and to keep her values intact.

However, the former political science student of Duke and Columbia Universities doesn’t feel like she has had to choose between acting and politics. ‘‘Every public social act is a political act on some level,’’ she declares. ‘‘The work that we do whether it’s political scientist or politician, actor or writer, it’s on the biggest possible social platform because our voices, I believe, extend to millions of people in powerful ways. So I think that I never had to choose between acting and politics. I’ve never felt the pressure to. I think that what I do is political.’’

There is, therefore, something political in Ito’s commitment to acting. You can see it through the projects that she is involved in such as her current one, Carol’s Second Act, which highlights the issue of senior representation in the workplace. Even in Junk, the play she starred in on Broadway, explored the deep financialization of America in the 1980s. Her will to constantly push herself and others to be better makes her a curious and avid learner. More importantly, she is willing to constantly improve herself and question the world around her.

The work that we do whether it’s political scientist or politician, actor or writer, it’s on the biggest possible social platform because our voices, I believe, extend to millions of people in powerful ways

While Ito’s schedule is becoming exceptionally busy, she still takes a break from her working life every so often. She wants to make sure she doesn’t neglect the part of herself which does not belong to the sets. ‘‘[I worked] on really finding the balance between who I am without my job as an actor; who I am as a sister, as a girlfriend, as a daughter, as a cousin, as a niece; who I am on the days when I’m not working being more important than the days that I am,’’ she states.

Storytelling is also one of the keywords that should be incorporated into Ito’s image. The Nigerian, Canadian and American born actress shares her ardent wish to be a part of stories related to the African diaspora. ‘‘There’s so much of our history that we don’t talk about. We concentrate on such a small corner of African history,’’ she declares, as she deplores the lack of Hollywood-made movies dealing with African narratives. ‘‘Where are those movies?’’ she rightly questions, and she has ideas! Chris Cleave’s Little Bee is a story Ito read and would enjoy watching on screen and being a part of. It’s a story about ‘‘hardship, loss and identity,’’ that even moved her to tears.

‘‘As a child of immigrants, I know what it took them to get here,’’ she explains, letting her emotions shine through her voice. ‘‘They brought me here so I can have opportunities. To be able to be an actor, it’s a responsibility. The responsibility of telling stories like that about real people who struggled and who may not be white, but who are just as real and important,’’ she continues. It couldn’t be clearer: Ito is committed to telling real stories. Ito Aghayere is nothing but genuine, and we are certain she fully intends to achieve this goal at some point of her promising career.

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