Actress and director Oge Egbuonu sat down with OZY’s CEO for the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show. Known for her roles in Eye in the Sky and Loving, Egbuonu made her directorial debut this year with In(Visible) Portraits in which she explores the lives of Black women. Learn how this young star is taking Hollywood by storm, and how she has yoga to thank. Watch the full episode here.
On Growing Up in Houston
Carlos Watson: Where are you sheltering in place? Where are you staying safe?
Oge Egbuonu: I am in LA.
Watson: But you’re not an Angelina, are you? You didn’t grow up in LA?
Egbuonu: No. Born and raised in Houston, Texas.
Watson: OK. And I don’t hear any of that Houston accent. Did you let it go over time or what happened to it?
Egbuonu: No, I actually never really had it, but it does come out every now and again. People tell me that as I’m speaking to them, sometimes they may just hear like a y’all or something like that. But I never really had the Southern accent. I wish I did, though.
Watson: There is something about Houston, I know it’s the fourth-largest city or whatever it is right now, but Houston is just making so many interesting people these days. I feel like whether we’re talking about political figures, whether we’re talking about singers, filmmakers, basketball players, there’s something going on in Houston. Was it like that when you were coming up? Was Houston as dynamic and active and filled with talented people?
Egbuonu: Yeah, I think when I was growing up, it was very much so still filled with that, but I think that we were in our gestation phase. And so now we’re actually in full bloom. So you’ve got the Megan Thee Stallions, you got the Travis Scotts, you got the Oges. And it’s our time now, so it’s pretty exciting.
Watson: I love that you didn’t even put Queen Bey in there, but I loved it.
Egbuonu: I mean, she was iconic while we were in our gestation phase. Like she was someone that we all looked up to. So when you hear Houston, you automatically think of her. So I felt like that was a given.
On a New Chapter, in Los Angeles
Watson: And then, so how did you leave Houston? What took you out of Texas?
Egbuonu: At the time it was work. I was working for a retail company that I had been with for about four years, and they wanted to move me to a different location, and I got them to move me to LA. And I moved to LA and I was with the company for about six months out in LA. And then I eventually quit, because I did fully realize at the time that my values were not in alignment with this company. And so it became very apparent living here in LA, the morals and the values of this particular company. And so at the young tender age of 27, I decided to quit.
Watson: And you quit like righteously, you quit like scared out of your mind? How did you quit?
Egbuonu: I think it was a mixture of all of it. It was a mixture of me knowing that I couldn’t continue to do life not standing in my truth and living in my truth. And so that’s what propelled me to quit. And so when I quit, I was absolutely terrified. I’m 27, I’m in a new state, I really have no friends, no family here. I didn’t know anyone. And it was actually quite challenging for me. I went through a mild phase of depression at the time, about three months of depression because I just couldn’t realize like what was going to come out of this. And at the time, I just was so confused and I felt kind of lost. But a friend introduced me to yoga. I had never heard of it at the time. And I went to a yoga class, and the first yoga class I went to I absolutely hated it. I was like, “This is not for me, this is very mechanical, not into it.” And then about two weeks later, another friend was like, “Come with me to yoga.” And I was like, “What is up with everyone wanting to do yoga out here?” Like, “No, I’m not into it.” And she’s like, “But this yoga is so different, you’ll love it.” And I was like, “OK fine, I’ll try it.” And it was restorative yoga and I fell in love with it. And that’s what started the next chapter of my life.
On Restorative Yoga and Healing
Watson: What was it about restorative yoga that won you over?
Egbuonu: It reminded me that I had the power to heal myself, which is what I had been looking for, and which was a reminder that I needed to be reminded of. And in that particular session, the teacher at the time let us do such a powerful sequence that it allowed me to tap back into who I was through breath work and through restorative poses. And I walked out of that class not the same person that I walked into the class being.
Watson: Wow. As someone who has felt a little bit of what I think you felt, especially when you didn’t expect it, when you walked into that class not knowing, but feeling heavy and feeling stressed and to finally feel like there’s a window opened up, I wasn’t with you in that moment, but I can assume what it felt like when you walked out. What came next? How did you keep breathing in that fresh air?
Egbuonu: I became addicted to restorative yoga. So I just started taking restorative yoga multiple times a week for about three months. And then I realized that this is something that I wanted to teach. I wanted to teach people how to heal themselves, particularly marginalized folks. And so I decided to get certified as a restorative yoga teacher. So I went through training for about a year of meditation work, of breath work, of learning restorative yoga poses, learning the difference between the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Just really educating myself on the various modalities regarding healing. And I started teaching restorative yoga throughout LA.
Watson: And what did the healed you look like? How was she different?
Egbuonu: Well, I think the biggest difference is that I realized that I hold the power to heal myself. Versus prior to being introduced to restorative yoga, I was always looking for outside sources to help heal me and to also discover who I was. But restorative yoga for me laid down the foundation that everything that I was looking for was already within me. And so that is the biggest difference between Oge then versus Oge now. And it also just taught me that healing isn’t linear … it’s cyclical. We go through these moments of highs and lows, but I think the most important is when you’re in these lows, how quickly can you notice it and get back into the flow of life.
On Becoming a Filmmaker
Watson: How did a 27-year-old in LA … I mean, this is starting to sound like an episode of Insecure … a 27-year-old in LA, who’s quitting her job, tried out yoga and meet new friends and beginning a journey, like how does she go from that woman to filmmaker?
Egbuonu: No, that was totally something that found me.
Watson: Enjoyed it the whole time or most of the time?
Egbuonu: Most of the time. It was challenging because I ended up moving to London. I was supposed to go to London for two weeks to meet the team. And I ended up being there for about four months and then immediately went to South Africa because we got our first film green-lit, Eye in the Sky … And then right after leaving South Africa, coming back to London for posts and then immediately getting Loving green-lit and then moving to Richmond, Virginia, for three months. … There was a lot of travel and a lot of just steep learning. So there were moments where it was quite enjoyable, but then there were also moments where it was quite difficult.
Watson: But so now, how do you go from Raindog [Films, producer of Eye in the Sky and Loving] to producing your own film?
Egbuonu: So I loved Raindog, after about four years of being with them. … And a woman that I had met a few months prior at a charity event sent me a text randomly and said, “Really random, at lunch with a friend. He has this idea about a movie. I thought about you, can you meet with him tomorrow before he flies to New York?” And I was like, “OK.” So I go to the Peninsula and I meet with this guy. I walk into a meeting, middle-aged white guy, and we do the formal introductions. And then he starts to tell me this idea he has about a film or a documentary or a TV show that he wants to create. And in the midst of hearing it, that’s how it came about me having the opportunity to have my directorial debut.
Watson: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re talking about everybody’s dream here. You can’t skip over it, and like one minute, I’m sitting down at the Peninsula and the next minute I’ve got an award-winning film. Was it that magical? Did it literally happen over drinks or what was the deal like?
Egbuonu: Yeah, it literally happened over breakfast. I walked into the meeting and Michael Meyer, who is the executive producer and financier of the film, told me that he had watched this YouTube clip of Isiah Thomas being inducted into the Hall of Fame. And he was so moved by his story of how his mother sacrificed so much for him to be where he’s at today. And so it inspired him to want to create something that celebrates Black mothers, because he felt that Black mothers weren’t celebrated in a way that they should be. And I was like, “OK, well, if I’m going to create anything, I would want to create something that celebrates Black women and girls, because we’re that before we’re mothers.” And so Michael was like, “OK, if you can go and create a pitch, and if I like it, I’ll fully fund it.” But in my head, I’m still thinking, oh, he wants me to produce it because he’s only known me and he knows my history as a producer, not a director. And so I go and I start to do a little bit of research and I create this pitch. And then I meet up with him about a week later and I pitched the idea of what I wanted to create. And I was like, “We’ll hire a director. We can hire a whole entire team, but this is the vision of what I want to do.” And Michael looked at me and goes, “Well, I want you to make it.”