Pepi Sonuga is a 23 year old Nigerian-American actress starring in the American TV show Famous in Love.
Charlotte: Are you in love?
Pepi: I am in love with myself and the constant growth of my heart, mind and spirit. I am in love with my work, my pets, my family, my friends, my heroes, Maya Angelou, my books, my Spotify “oldies” playlist, Chaka Kahn, sushi, driving with the windows down when the wind is only going one way and your hair just sways that one way without getting in you face, I love that.
What are the two things you would love to see happen in your lifetime?
What would bring me the most joy is knowing that not only has my country (and other countries as well), risen out of drastic poverty but that I was a strong voice and force in making it all happen. That is the dream of all dreams. I don’t know how realistic of a dream it is, but I'm too young and unafraid to worry too much about it right now. I would also be delighted to see the day America starts loving, showing appreciation, and remorse for the past, I believe this is an important step, it can’t be overlooked. All different kinds of color, faces, and types were broken so that this nation could stand tall.
What do you love the most, modeling or acting?
To be honest, I’m not sure I can claim the title of “model”. I never graced the covers of magazines or even walked fashion week. I never fit the mold. I tried. I was 5’5 and I had hips, even at sixteen years old I couldn’t even get signed to a modeling agency. So I became a fit model*. I started modeling for a small online company and getting a break here and there with big brands. I made consistent money this way. It got me through school, it meant I never had to be a waitress, it paid for my acting classes and I made one best friend there. So, I don’t believe I have had the full experience of being a model when I say that I prefer acting. But I have always wanted to be an actress: when I was little I could Imagine my name in the opening credits of films. When I was a model, I never felt like I was enough. It made me insecure about my future. With acting, it feels like a second nature to me. And I almost never worry. There is this innate thing inside of me that always knows, that no matter how long it takes, my perseverance will get me there in the end. And that brings me peace.
If you had not become an actress what would you love to do?
I often hear actors say that if they weren’t acting they don’t know what they would do. But if i weren’t an actress, there is so much I could love to be. You have to consider the fact that I am from Nigeria and when I left it art was not something that was respected. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be an artist. When you live in a country that is not thriving economically the positive is that it forces people to rise up and rise out, everyone wants their children to be doctors, lawyers… I spent a lot of time thinking of what I could do instead. I knew that if Hollywood had failed me: I would be fine. I would move to Costa Rica or Spain find a job, volunteer in orphanages and shelters. I would also have loved to be an historian, a party organizer or a wedding planner. At one point I also dreamed of being an author: So many possibilities, so few lifetimes.
What do you love the most about your job?
First of all, I like to over prepare, it means that even before I land a role or even get a call back I have probably drowned myself in research way before the audition. Because of this, I have had to do extensive research on very random things and people. Things I did not even think about, or acknowledge the existence of because they were not part of my world. I’ve learned so much by being an actress. It opens your world completely up. Then there are my supporters. I believe that artists are the most compassionate people. We are forced to care. I have all sorts of different people from all over our world who support me and perhaps without even realizing what they are doing, keep me going on hard days. When we go through life, we attract kindred spirits. But when you become a public figure, you attract and connect all sorts. People who I may have never talked to in real life and who may have never bothered with me either. That is beautiful. We are all stuck in our own bubbles fighting our own battles but there is so much to care about and fight for. The more people who fall in love with my art and extend that love towards me, the more I, in return, fall in love with them, and feel the responsibility to stand up for them. I love that about my job. Not many people are lucky to see the world the way artists do. We are so lucky.
Did you ever play a love scene?
Before Famous in Love I have only had to kiss on screen. This is the first time where I have real love scenes, and multiple ones, with the same actor. It can be hard to feign passion. You are supposed to care about and love this person or maybe even just have a crush, but you’ve hardly just been introduced. It is really scary!
Was it hard to demonstrate such passion for someone you are not in love with?
What helps me is to focus on who the person is; I try to get to know my screen partner and find something to fall in love with. Because you could fall in love with anyone if you got to know who they are. But with Famous in Love, it really is quite different getting to build a relationship with someone on screen. It is very special. And you are obviously not actually in love with them, but a part of you does fall in love with them. At least for me. You become protective of them and hope they are happy. In a totally unromantically way. It starts to feel more like a team. Anything you see on screen is my true heart. So even though we are “playing”, it still feels like I am sharing a part of myself with you that is usually sacred. My costar becomes very important to me. I am sharing something with you. And it’s nice to feel like we are in it together. It is sort of hard to pretend to be deeply in love with someone, and then not care for them at all, right?
You traveled a lot for work reasons, in which country would you love to live?
I have never been to Spain but I always used to say that I would love to live there, it feels like so most romantic country to me.
Right now in my life, I think I would love to settle in California. Like you said: I have traveled a lot for work and even personal reasons but every single time I touch down on that LA runway it feels like home. People have so many opinions about Los Angeles, mostly about the people there. What I have discovered is that LA natives are very beautiful people. It’s actually the "out-of-towners" who come here and expect monsters that turn into monsters in an attempt to fight off the monsters. I have spent half of my life in LA and I can say that if you are a nice person here then you will meet other kind people.
What is love?
To be completely honest, I don’t know. At least not yet. I asked my mother and grandmother.
Mom simply said: “Love is selflessness and being appreciative.”
Grandma said with much conviction and finality: “Love is showing concern for another person. And when you show concern, you become patient and tolerant. You are not quick to judge. When you love somebody, it does not matter who or what they are, you just accept them. That is love.”
Photographer: Alex Freund
Stylist: Santa Bevacqua
Hair: Randy Stodgill / Opus Beauty
Makeup: Shannon Pezzetta / Starworks Artists
Fashion Assistant: Leonard Murray
Shot at CVLT, Los Angeles
Special thanks: Ashley Mokma / BWR-PR