Who is Wunmi Mosaku?
Wunmi Mosaku, 5′ 9″ (1.74m) was born in Zaria, Nigeria, on 31 July 1986. She emigrated to Manchester, where she attended Trinity Church of England High School and Xaverian Sixth Form College. Mosaku remembers a time she was driving with her husband and they were pulled over by the police. He told her to make sure they heard her British accent.
“You can feel the difference and the shift because, for some reason, Americans are enamored with our accent and think we’re super intelligent and refined,” she says. “There is a difference in the way I’m treated, but from a distance, I’m treated the same as my African-American sisters, so I do fear the police, I do fear for my life, I do fear the Karens, and I don’t think we can deny the kinship between us.”
Wunmi Mosaku found her voice twice over filming HBO’s new series Lovecraft Country, which blends horror and sci-fi tropes with something arguably a lot scarier: the experience of being Black in 1950s America. First, she had to find a whole new vocal style playing Ruby Dandridge – Ruby sings the blues, and for Mosaku, who had spent her whole childhood singing in choirs and dreamed of becoming an opera singer, this led to an unexpected discovery.
‘I just figured out a new part of my voice that I’d never really experienced before – and I loved it,’ she beams via Zoom from LA, which has been her home since 2018. Before that, Mosaku was mostly UK based, making a name for herself in a string of classy British series including Kiri and Luther, plus Damilola, Our Loved Boy, which earned her a Supporting Actress BAFTA.
Wunmi has also appeared in several other TV shows, including:
– Silent Witness in 2010
– Law & Order: UK in 2010
– The Body Farm in 2011
– Fearless in 2017
She has also had minor roles in the following films:
– Philomena (2013)
– Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
– Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Wunmi Mosaku Biography
Being overly “nice” was a choice Mosaku felt she had to make and maintain as a schoolgirl growing up in Manchester, England. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants who was “hitting five-foot-two by the age of nine,” Mosaku was acutely aware of how Black girls like her were perceived in a white-dominant community.
“I was always treated older than I am when I was a kid, so I had to be like, ‘No, I’m sweet,’ and this has continued into adulthood because of the way society portrays Black women,” she explains. “When I step out of my front door, I have to paint on a bright, big smile to make sure people treat me kindly rather than with suspicion, or assume that I’m going to be aggressive.”
Wunmi Mosaku’s Family Journey to UK
Wunmi Mosaku followed a route that was very different from Rial’s. Her mother came to Manchester to complete her Ph.D. when Mosaku was about eighteen months old; her father already had his Ph.D. and was familiar with the town. Both are college professors. Yet the much-milder version of being uprooted and plunked down in a new environment nevertheless took its toll. “I was completely silent for a year. I stopped talking.
Everything about Britain was so different: the weather, the food, the faces,” Mosaku says. Over time, however, Manchester did come to feel like home.
“In British culture, in the educational system, we don’t talk too deeply about anything painful in our past,” she says. But “the north of England is generally quite a friendly place.” Now based in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, Mosaku cites both Manchester and Nigeria when people ask where she’s from. “I’m still very much attached to Manchester and the people,” she says.
Wunmi Mosaku Acting Career
Wunmi Mosaku’s acting career has echoed that early experience of feeling out of place until she found her niche. Initially, after graduating from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she was bound for the stage.
“I was always, sadly, told that I wasn’t that commercial. I thought theater was going to be my route because I look how I look. I didn’t see me represented so much onscreen at that time,” she says. “With Shakespeare, you can be five foot nine and dark-skinned with an Afro. You see that much more.”
A group chat with other Black British female actors, including Michaela Coel, is one of her resources now for talking about systemic racism and artistry. Yet the worlds of TV and film have been more welcoming than she was led to expect: She estimates that at the outset, she got one part out of every twenty auditions, landing her first substantial role in the 2009 BBC drama Moses Jones. A steady stream of work followed, often also with the BBC. The network, Mosaku says, “has been very good to me.”
She has not always nailed it. One of her many auditions was for the UK version of Hamilton while she was filming the crime thriller Fearless in 2016. (Mosaku is a trained vocalist who sang in the Manchester Girls Choir from the age of seven until she left for school at 18.) She didn’t know that there was a soundtrack she could listen to, and prepared for the complicated rhythms by figuring them out on her own and with the help of a musician neighbor.
On the day of the audition, the breakneck speed of the music sent her into sputtering shock. “I could not. Keep. Up! I couldn’t even catch my breath. I broke a sweat trying to keep up with the pianist,” she says through peals of laughter. “Before I left the room, they said, ‘Welllllll done. That was very brave of you.’”
Ordinarily, she says, you’d hear back in a week or two. She hadn’t made it two miles away on her beloved bike before her phone rang. It was her agent, calling to say that she hadn’t gotten the part.
An inordinate number of detectives appear on her CV, including one in the series Vera, with Brenda Blethyn, and in Kiri. In 2017, Mosaku won a BAFTA for her role as a grieving mother in Damilola, Our Loved Boy, a film based on the true story of the search for justice for a murdered 10-year-old.
“Winning a BAFTA was a huge honor, but I don’t know if it changed anything,” she says. “I don’t feel like studios were saying, ‘Let’s get that BAFTA winner.’ I don’t feel like I caught anyone’s attention until Lovecraft, really.” She muses that American viewers might recognize her from season 5 of Luther (2019), The End of the F***ing World (2017), or perhaps Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).
Wunmi Mosaku Fearlessness
Mosaku’s fearlessness is one of her most prominent features as an actor. Her beauty is another: luminous skin, a complexity of emotions at play in her shifting facial expressions. In a trick of psychology, her mother taught her to embrace her appearance when she was young by pointing out the shared physical traits that crop up in her lineage, like the front-teeth gap that is a symbol of wealth and beauty in Nigeria:
“‘Well, I have a little gap and your dad has a little gap and grandma has a little gap. So what do you think of us?’” her mother would ask. “And I’m like, oh yeah…I do think you’re beautiful. I sometimes will protest against the ideas of beauty that we’re sold—it makes me so angry—but it has never undermined how I feel,” Mosaku says.
Despite the widening celebration of self-love and body positivity that she encountered on social media when she joined Instagram in 2018, “there’s still a lot of pressure to look a certain way” in film and television.
Wunmi Mosaku: “I was told about the race switching really early on in the audition process, and so I was kind of prepared for that. I hadn’t read the script, but I had read the book. The script takes it to an extreme level. And I was really quite shaken reading the script, and Jamie [Neumann, who plays Ruby’s white counterpart Hillary] and I were both quite shaken acting the climactic moments of the episode. It was quite frightening tapping into that rage. So, I’m quite interested to see how people respond to seeing that. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, or even could have imagined.”
The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.
Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.
At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.
A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.
The Lovecraft team understood what they had in her. Mosaku, who is wild about fabric and loves to sew, reflects that she “felt really beautiful on Lovecraft,” giving props to costume designer Dayna Pink for her selections. Off-set, without elaborate hair and makeup assistance, her aesthetic is streamlined.
“Day-to-day, I feel most beautiful wearing some skinny jeans, a little sweatshirt, and an African head wrap with my glasses, maybe a little bit of lipstick and blush, and some hoops. Especially when I’m on my bike. I don’t know why, but when I’m on my bike I feel on top of the world. That is when I feel most myself.”
Lovecraft creator, writer, director, and executive producer Misha Green praises Mosaku’s versatility, one possible explanation for the parts that keep coming her way.
“The role of Ruby was easily one of the most complex and dangerous roles. It required an actor who could be sexy and confident yet vulnerable; someone who is a bit jaded by life, but also an ingenue introduced to a world of magic where anything is possible, even her darkest fantasies. Wunmi threaded all of those complicated layers seamlessly from her first audition—where she left both Jurnee Smollett and me in tears.”
In a year that has relentlessly immersed Black people in collective pain, His House and Lovecraft provide an outlet for imagining what could be. Mosaku is careful about balancing the importance of art with real-life stakes, but ventures that both works feel necessary right now, giving full credit to their creators.
”The reality is they chose me. I’m so grateful. I didn’t write these scripts. The vision and freedom, the responsibility that they’ve given us as Black people? That is Remi and Misha and their teams,” she says. “They’ve created something incredible. I am just so lucky to have been asked to be a part of it.”
As for what she’ll be part of in the future, Mosaku sets no genre limits and welcomes any roles that evoke feeling in the audience. As in her most recent roles, she is open to projects that upend perception: The dark comedy Search Party and Matilda, The Musical are examples that she could see herself following.
Weekes’s advice to Hollywood: “She’s ready to stop playing grieving mothers and hard-nosed detectives.” She can’t yet talk about the series she is currently working on, but going forward, Mosaku says, “I want to be a part of rich and meaningful things that make people care more and open them up, that move people to the depths and heights of their emotions, whether that be laughter or tears, politically or romantically.” Oh, the places she’ll go.