From 'Hamptons' to 'Atlanta,' actor Shalom Obiago creates successful reality with the art of fiction

Shalom Obiago stars in his first series regular role next month with the premiere of “The Black Hamptons,” a miniseries scheduled to premiere on BET+ on Aug. 25. (Courtesy of Shalom Obiago)

As Atlanta becomes more prominent as the “Hollywood of the South,” local artists are experiencing the benefits of working on projects that garner national recognition and various networking opportunities now more than ever.

Actress and Georgia resident Danielle Deadwyler starred in HBO’s dystopian miniseries “Station Eleven.” Deadwyler, who started her performing career with The Alliance Theatre, was recently tapped to star in the lead role of Mamie Till in the upcoming Emmett Till biopic, “Till,” scheduled for release this October.

Another local performer, Kendrick Cross, has experienced similar success in being cast in prominent roles in metro Atlanta filmed series such as “Stranger Things” and “Ambitions.”

This trend of Georgia performers climbing the Hollywood ladder is no exception with Shalom Obiago, 23, an Atlanta-based Nigerian-American actor whose passion for artistic expression has extended into recurring roles in hit series such as “P-Valley” and “Black Mafia Family.”

After only two years of pursuing a professional acting career, Obiago takes the leap into his first series regular role next month with the premiere of “The Black Hamptons,” a miniseries scheduled to premiere on BET+ on Aug. 25.

In between doing promotion for “Hamptons” and awaiting network feedback from a recent audition, the Ivy League graduate sat down with WABE to discuss how the city of Atlanta has shaped his current career and how the city has inspired a “Black mecca” for performers of color looking to break into the entertainment industry in the future.

Building a ‘bridge’

After expressing interest in acting from a young age, Obiago’s mother enrolled him in an afterschool acting program at age 10. The first class began with his instructor engaging the students in an acting exercise known as pantomiming, where the performer uses exaggerated movements and expressions instead of words to conjure actions.

“It was like magic to me, sort of like a superpower,” Obiago said. “It was so simple, but the way that the instructor mimed leaning on a table or pouring a cup of coffee made everything feel so real.”

After years of acting classes, Obiago transitioned into attending Dekalb School of the Arts, an Avondale Estates-based performing arts high school.

While at DSA, he had the opportunity to join the original team of “The Bridge,” a DeKalb-based variety show written, produced and starring students from the county’s high schools.

As a host, performer and student producer on the series, the production and its fast-paced production schedule offered a one-of-a-kind foray into the world of television.

“It allowed me to become educated on all aspects of the industry,” Obiago said. “During my time on the show, I was getting to learn about the technical aspects, I was able to write, produce, as well as to work in front of the camera. It was all so dope to be a part of. Every part of the show allowed me to be a part of something that I was interested in.”

Lights, COVID, action

Although Obiago has spent most of his life as a Georgia resident, he credits an out-of-state move to attend college at the University of Pennsylvania with reaffirming his love for the theater and honing his craft.

“Until then, although I’ve always loved acting, it sort of fell into a hobby for me,” he said. “I originally went solely for academics but being there around so many talented people and being a part of their theater department made me realize this is something that I wanted to do as a career.”

After performing in college productions of “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Well” in his sophomore year, the then 19-year-old performer acquired a talent agent in New York City and balanced commuting from academic classes to auditions until the COVID-19 pandemic relocated him back to Atlanta.

After six months of virtual auditions for various projects, Obiago booked his first national television spot with a role as a local clubgoer in two episodes of the Atlanta-filmed Starz series “P-Valley”, followed by the booking of “The Black Hamptons” one month later.

On the BET+ miniseries, Obiago plays the role Tyler Johnson, the eldest son of a wealthy African American family who gains both friends and enemies on a summer getaway to the quiet town of Sag Harbor in Long Island, also known as “The Black Hamptons” for its array of primarily high-income African American residents.

Shot over the course of a month in Los Angeles, he was able to work alongside entertainment veterans such as Elise Neal, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Tyler Perry Studios alum Lamann Rucker. Many of the experienced actors doubled as mentor figures during his time on the set.

“Lamann would have conversations with me a lot about the industry, how to carry myself on set, as well as how to deal with financial matters,” Obiago said. “I really look forward to the chance to work with him again.”

Another mentor figure Obigao got a chance to work with was Donald Glover, a fellow DSA alumnus who directed the younger actor’s guest-starring role in an episode of “Atlanta” that is set to air next year.

“He is just so multi-talented and such a great director,” Obiago said. “As opposed to telling us what to do, he invited our input and allowed for a creative, collaborative environment. He wasn’t there to direct our acting, but rather direct the overall vision.”

‘Black Mecca’

In addition to years of training and auditioning, Obiago attributes much of his current success to the city of Atlanta.

He notes that he probably would not have been given the same opportunity to access such resources and gain exposure if he had started off in a larger entertainment market such as Los Angeles or New York.

“Although Atlanta has always been a big city, it’s a smaller local talent market that makes it easier to be seen, easier to be remembered and easier to make a mark,” he said.

“It truly offers that ‘southern hospitality’ that makes it much more attainable to find work compared to somewhere like California that is much more established and political and more difficult to navigate for somebody who is a ‘nobody’ just starting out,” he added.

Another incentive to being based in Atlanta, Obiago notes, are the versatile roles offered to actors of color in stage, television and film.

Long nicknamed “The Black Mecca” for the city’s ties to Tyler Perry Studios and veteran Black artists, Obiago hopes that many of the Black-produced projects in the city will help to inspire African Americans who long to be able to see themselves on the screen.

“Television is such an influential platform,” Obiago said. “It is important that we as Black people are able to tell our own stories and contribute to showing accuracy in how we are portrayed in the media. When people see themselves in it, it inspires the way that they think and the way that they move.”

While he has experienced a rigorous climb to success thus far, his words for fellow up-and-coming Atlanta actors are simple.

“Acting is not a one-and-done thing,” he said. “You have to keep training, you have to keep trying. You have to keep showing up. And that’s for no matter what you want to do in life. Just keep showing up.”