Kenyan born, Edi Gathegi says he left for the United States from Kenya “with $50, a suitcase, and a dream.” Gathegi grew up in Albany, California and attended the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at New York University for a graduate school acting program.
When the six foot one Gathegi enrolled to University, he was primarily interested in basketball, but when a knee injury put a hold on his athletic interests, he signed up for an acting class on a whim.
According to Twilight Lexicon, Gathegi’s first professional audition was for a part in Spike Lee’s 2006 film Inside Man. Gathegi was thrilled to be cast. However, an unfortunate turn of events involving union contract issues saw Gathegi,s part cut from the film.
To date, Gathegi has gone from playing a psychopathic drug lord in the film Gone Baby Gone which has been screening this November on DSTV, to a conservative religious doctor in the TV series House, Season 4.
Gathegi has also starred in Fifth Patient, Death Sentence, Veronica Mars, Lincoln Heights, CSI Miami, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Life on Mars. But his biggest break has been playing Laurent, an almost-gentlemanly yet dangerous vampire, on the hit Vampire blockbuster movies Twilight and New Moon.
When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?
My family tells me I was always a natural performer. I told dinnertime and bedtime stories to my brother in our bunk bed, but I did not claim until I broke my knee trying out for the basketball team in college.
I just wanted to take an easy course and acting seemed like something that would give me joy, even though I was getting depressed from not being able to walk. Then I fell in love with acting. I decided I wanted to make it my life’s journey and my mother and father fully supported me.
What character have you portrayed in the past that was the furthest from your personality?
I have not played a character on film or television yet that is close to my personality. I am goofy. Class clown. But the furthest from who I am would be, on the one extreme; the cold blooded psychopathic drug lord Haitian pimp Cheese in Crank, and on the other spectrum; the super religious conservative brilliant single father doctor Jeffery Cole on House. But I’m also VERY far from a slightly French accented vampire 🙂
Tell us about the Twilight audition process?
Because I auditioned when no script was available, and I had no idea what Twilight was. I laughed at the sides (audition material) because there were lines like “…the humans…” and “…hunting range…” I was like… “What is this, a vampire movie?”
What has intrigued you most about Laurent as a character?
One word. Vampire. My dirty little secret is that I have always wanted to play a vampire but I have never really been attracted to Vampire films. But the story of Twilight is more of a romance set in a world where vampires exist (many would argue that would be this world).
Stephenie Meyer (writer of the Twilight series) did a wonderful job defining this world and making it accessible and intriguing and the story is so
truthful, kind, and compelling. I wanted to be a part of this vampire story
Were you familiar with Twilight when you first heard about the role?
I was not familiar in the faintest. Then when I heard that my favourite casting director was casting a movie, I just wanted to go in. I had no idea what this was. Despite the fact that this material was not my favourite type of material, I still went in and Catherine [Hardwicke] (the director) was in the room and I had a fantastic time with her. Her energy was contagious. She was so happy to be there and we just worked well.
You are the lone black in the film.
When I was going out for the part, I didn’t ask how many people were going to be African American. I just auditioned for the role, and then I got it. There was actually some fan backlash when I was cast, because people didn’t see Laurent being black. Then I did some damage control about people not appreciating my casting.
People were upset about an African-American being cast in this mythology because everybody has pale skin and Stephenie did not allude that there were any people of colour in this. In the book, he’s described at being olived-toned, and I decided to address the issue head on.
I did an interview where I said, “The character is described as olive-toned, but there are many patches of olives. Black olives anyone?” I think the fans responded to that, and they immediately gave me an open reception after the interview.
Have you read the Twilight books?
The Twilight series is made up of four books Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn. I read the books and instantly fell in love with the series. It is not what I feared — a cliché, trite, vampire world. It is the real world and vampires exist in it. It is really a story about the romance between Edward and Bella.
That is so much more soulful than what I had associated with vampire stories.
How is the Twilight fandom affecting you so far?
I’m definitely feeling some of that heat, but then at the same time, I think I have the best of both worlds. I look very different in the movie than I do in life, I’m wearing dreadlocks and I’m without a shirt. So on some level I can sort of slip under the radar. But there are people that recognize me, so I still get to interact with my fans.
How do you feel knowing that your Twilight ride ends with New Moon?
It is sad not being able to be with the gang again in that capacity, but the good thing is we all became friends. So hopefully these friendships will outlast the saga.