“Looking” Interview: O-T Fagbenle On Playing Frank And His Cool Name

O-T Fagbenle HBO Looking
O-T Fagbenle (left) and Frankie J. Alvarez in Looking
(Photo: HBO)

As part of our continuing coverage of HBO’s new series Looking, we’ve chatted with creator Michael Lannan and Director Andrew Haigh as well as the main cast (Jonathan Groff, Murray Bartlett and Frankie J. Alvarez), but a member of the supporting cast that has a big part in the coming episodes is O-T Fagbenle, who plays Agustin’s boyfriend, Frank.

Besides going through the adjustment of moving in together for the first time, Frank and Agustin definitely are going to face more challenges ahead in their relationship as Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) deals with his rocky career and his new friendship with a hustler.

Fagbenle, who has extensive credits in UK film, stage and television as well as being a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, talked to us recently about the new series, what makes Frank tick and the origins of the name O-T.

TheBacklot: You and Frankie play lovers on the show, so talk about working with him. When he and I spoke he said you two had a similar work ethic.

O-T Fagbenle: That was one of the things that really worked out well because you never know. In my career I’ve had to play lovers to a lot of different people but immediately because, I think, Frankie’s training was similar to my training at RADHA. We have a similar vocabulary in way of working and understanding each other’s process. So from the get go we connected on such a level that made it really fun to work with him.

TBL: Watching the first crop of episodes, I’d say Frank seems like the kind of guy who is very comfortable in his own skin. Is that how you saw him?

OTF: Yeah, I kind of felt like Frank was a bit like the matriarch. He wants to be settled and he wants to be at home and he’s a grounded individual and he’s chosen this flighty artist to be with, so I think he’s quite sure of himself. But at the same time the man he loves is so artistically driven and so in the clouds so not in the same way as Frank is.

TBL: Did you and your cast mates have time to rehearse and get to know each other or was it a pretty quick shoot?

OTF: What Frankie and I would do is that we’d find time to get together outside of the shoot, but I don’t think we ever ran lines with each other. We’d sometimes go on a little character date to places that Agustin and Frank would hang out. We’d talk about the history of them so we’d find a lot of time to get a better understanding of their world. Once you got on set we’d do a few run-throughs and then we’d just go for it, but I will say that with Andrew and all the directors, you never felt you were rushed.

TBL: Were you familiar with San Francisco before shooting there?

OTF: No! It was my first time and, in fact, I asked HBO if they’d fly me down early just so I can spend some time there. Not to do anything particularly sophisticated, but to go to the bars and walk the streets and go around and talk to people. There was some sense of responsibility in me that at the same time I was portraying everybody who has needs and wants and desires and has dreams and all those things, but at the same time I knew it was a specific culture and a way of being and I wanted to be around it. I kind of fell in love with it.

fagbenle2TBL: Did you have any beard envy? You have some scruff in the show but I know [creator] Michael Lannan has a really impressive beard!

OTF: Most in the cast and the crew, as well, there were some magnificent beards, but I thought I’d go for something a little more subtle. I went for a more minimalist expression of a beard where it was subtle but you knew a full beard could sneak out at any moment. [laughs]

TBL: Frankie also talked about how some of your intimate scenes were shot early on so you were just getting to know each other!

OTF: Yeah, it was our first day of shooting and also the first day you’re meeting a lot of people. But it’s funny to say to the crew ‘Oh, hey guys, can you help me get naked?!’ But, yeah, the first scene was very intimate but I think at one point both Frankie and I really care about the piece and we really care about the characters and at some point on one hand it’s ‘Oh, look at them kissing! How fun!’ but on the other side, there’s a moment happening in these two people’s relationship and it’s a moment a lot of people can relate to. Before you move in with someone you go ‘should we do this? can we do this?’ or ‘I have a spare room’ or ‘it’s that time in our relationship.’ And, I think for me, it was interesting and tough but once you get into the work most of those things become very small.

fagbenle3TBL: You’ve done so much work in the UK. This is one of the bigger projects you’ve had in the US. What do you think the reception will be with audiences?

OTF: I wasn’t sure when I read the script and even after reading the pilot, I wondered if this wouldn’t be more like a cult show. But then actually having watched the pilot and the first episodes, I think there’s so much that’s universal in it and so much I feel like we’ve grown up. We still have a long way to go, but I think ten years ago, people were less mature about people’s sexuality and I think nowadays it’s become more open and mainstream and people’s sexuality is less of an issue.

TBL: Tell me about your super cool name? What does O-T stand for?

OTF: My full name is Olatunde Olateju Olaolorun and so my first two names, Olatunde and Olateju, O-T became kind of an abbreviation of both names. A lot of people assume it was what I was called when I was a kid and a lot of people assume that it’s because people found it hard to say my name but it’s a Nigerian name and they just abbreviate it with Ola or Tunde, but I was just given the moniker and nickname of O-T and it stuck.

Looking airs Sundays at 10:30 on HBO.