Written By: Michael “Hey Mikey” Fanning
Hollywood is here FOREVER! The stages and the names change, but one thing for sure is that Tinsel Town will always be looking for talented and fresh faces. When that face also happens to be tall, dark, and handsome, the look is all the more exciting and tantalizing. Meet Toby Onwumere, a rising star that just so happens to meet the criteria of “tall, dark, and handsome,” and most of all talented!
Toby is taking hearts and Fox’s Empire by storm as “Kai,” Jamal Lyon’s (Jussie Smollett) love interest and now fiancé! As Kai, Toby is doing groundbreaking work, as he showcases the life and love of a Black, gay, and HIV positive man against the backdrop of family drama, corporate sabotage, and ignorance. “I feel honored to play him [Kai] and bring his story to the forefront…It’s time to really inform people and push forward with representation and inclusivity, all while delivering a really unforgettable story.”
Toby is a first generation Nigerian-American, hailing from Dayton, Ohio and has always dreamt of being an actor. He counts his parents, Fidelis and Prisca, as being the driving force behind his pursuit of the arts as they allowed and encouraged him to do what he loves. “My parents were traditional, but not in the sense of what they expected me to be…usually when you’re Nigerian you the career paths your parents want for you are pretty narrow, you have to be like a doctor or lawyer, for them to do that is really amazing.” Toby admits he is stoked to be on Empire, revealing he has been a fan of the show since its inception. “Man I love it [Empire] I would be in class and thinking to myself I’m gonna be on that show one day, and here we are [he laughs].”
Empire continues to be a ratings giant with no sign of slowing down in its fifth season. However, in an interesting plot twist the series has flashed forwarded two years into the future and we find that The Lyons are mostly in shambles. Lucious and Cookie continue to fight to win Empire back, Andre is incarcerated for Anika’s death, and Hakeem is unable to perform after a grave injury. Jamal, however, has flourished in his self-imposed exile to London, finding new label and love with Kai. Their relationship stands to be the strongest one we have seen for Jamal as Kai is empathetic, intelligent, and compassionate. Toby admits he and Kai are very similar in those aspects, but fundamentally different in others. “Well for one I’m straight [he laughs] and then I’m way too silly! Kai is more straight-laced and serious. I like to laugh and joke and be goofy.” Kai’s storyline is definitely a serious one as no shows have really shown a relationship like he and Jamal’s. Although the Kai’s HIV status has been a topic on the show, the larger phenomenon of him being with a partner who is negative and on PREP (via whatisprep.org, “PrEP means Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and it’s the use of anti-HIV medications to keep HIV negative people from becoming infected. PrEP is approved by the FDA and has been shown to be safe and effective at preventing HIV infection.”) “The storyline was meant to be more informative than anything else. People still have these notions about HIV/AIDS from the eighties and so many advancements have been made since then…the love between the two of them [Jamal and Kai] shows that everyone deserves love and can be loved. Kai just so happens to be HIV positive, but he really loves Jamal and he’s a great person. That’s what counts here love…The scene when they proposed to each other was really just magical and powerful. It’s why I’m honored to play this character…this is really encouraging dialogue and I think people just need to be more open minded and educated.”
Toby continues to look forward to the rest of this season of Empire and hints he has some pretty amazing projects in the works that he is not ready to share. However, he did reveal his holiday season will be international as he travels to Europe to bring in Christmas and the New Year. If 2019 is any bigger than 2018 was for him then we know he is about to be a household name! He advises aspiring actors to “Really study the craft. Take the classes and remain diligent. If this is what you want stick with it and never give up!” Catch Toby every Wednesday night at 8 PM EST on Fox’s Empire!