Though her name was not well known in the movie industry, she was a perfect fit for the character that the producers of the CTV series, Flashpoint, were seeking to fill a role for their third season.
An extensive search in Canada produced just one individual, Toronto-born Olunike Adeliyi, who compared favourably with the physically strong and “tough as nails” character that the producers were looking for to play Leah Kerns in the Canadian police TV drama series that recently won three Gemini awards, including Best Drama.
“I did test shoots with the actual cast which had to be approved,” recalled Adeliyi. “The cast and producers stood by me even though I did not have a well known name and that was reassuring for someone looking to break into this tough industry.
“I am comfortable with the role because I get to play myself. She is just like me, a go-getter obsessed with saving lives and that’s who I am.”
The product of a Jamaican-born mother who is a nurse and a Nigerian-born father who is a computer scientist, Adeliyi was turned on to acting at Gordon Graydon Senior Public School in Brampton when she was cast as the “Artful Dodger” in Oliver Twist.
“When I went to Central Peel High School, I was involved in a lot of singing and drama events and I won the Drama of the Year award every year I was there,” she said.
Adeliyi’s subsequent enrollment in Humber College’s Business Administration program was short-lived.
“That was not my cup of tea and I quit after two and a half years,” she said. “While there, I did some commercials and some minor acting roles. That was the line of business that I wanted to be in.”
A meeting with Denzel Washington on the set of John Q, which was filmed in Toronto a few years ago, provided Adeliyi with the guidance she needed to be successful in the industry.
“He was very respectful, warm and a mentor,” she recalled. “But one of the things he made clear to me was that if I wanted to get far in this business and be good at this craft, I should go to school and further my studies. He also told me that I should not worry about money because if I am good at what I am doing, the money will come. That was great advice coming from someone who is well respected.”
Adeliyi enrolled in the Canadian Academy of Method Acting and the Professional Actors Lab before heading to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York where she spent three-and-a-half years honing her skills before graduating in 2007.
An established dancer who has toured with major international recording artists, including Shaggy, Adeliyi spent a year in Brooklyn teaching young people some of the skills she acquired before returning to Toronto with her daughter, Alesha, who was born on Christmas Day 1995.
“New York is a big market and there are a lot more opportunities for artists to be successful,” said Adeliyi, who spent her first 10 years in St. Ann, Jamaica with her grandparents and cousins. “I, however, wanted my daughter to be moulded in the right environment and I felt that that was here in Toronto. She’s my rock.”
Alesha is artistically inclined like her mother. While in New York, she attended the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and was involved in a few theatrical productions before coming back to Canada to enroll at Cawthra Park Secondary School which houses Peel’s Regional Arts Program for which students audition to study music, dance and dramatic and visual arts.
Alesha, who is also doing well academically, currently appears in the TVO Kids series, Taste Buds.
While Adeliyi monitors her daughter’s development, she continues striving to perfect her craft and create superior theatre. She starred as Julia Augustine in Wedding Band, and as Fatumata in How to Stay in Paris, written and directed by award-winning director Omonike Akinyemi. She also landed a role in Buddy Hampton, was the lead character in the AfriCan theatre Ensemble production, The Marriage of Anansewa, and performed in the musical, Zinzi, written and directed by award-winning playwright, Phyllis McBride.