Interview: Abubakar Salim

Words By Gerry Otim

Abubakar Salim is a man with many strings to his bow. A multi-talented theatre and television actor, producer, video game voice actor as well as the founder of a new independent game studio. Salim who stars in the critically acclaimed HBO Max show Raised by Wolves describes the series as “an exploration of what would happen if you were given a second chance”. The American sci-fi drama was created by American screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski and centres on Mother played by Amanda Collin and Father played by Salim. Both characters are androids tasked with raising human children on a mysterious planet after Earth is destroyed due to religious war.

The series has grown from strength to strength since season. It has proven to be a hit with viewers with its futuristic approach to topics that are prevalent in the world today. The show explores the way religion and faith are capable of both intertwining and clashing with science and technology. More importantly, it delves into how such topics have the potential to bring people together as well as divide them.

Salim’s journey dates to his upbringing in Hertfordshire.  He recalls being the only black family within the cul-de-sac that he grew up in. “Even in primary school, I can distinctly remember a school photo where I was the one black dot in the middle.” 

Like most of us, Salim went through periods of uncertainty during his teenage years. A time in which he was unsure of who he was and more importantly who he wanted to be. A journey of self-discovery during a time in his life where relatability and being around like-minded people was a scarce opportunity. 

Many people that come from an African background will be able to relate to their parents having the best intentions in the world for their children, by encouraging careers such as a pilot, a lawyer, or a doctor. At the age of 14 or 15, Salim recalls considering a career in the army, such was his lack of assurance on what his next career step should be.

“One of the things I remember thinking that I’m not really good at anything. The only thing I’m good at is making people laugh. I just remember going through the motions. It was only when I started doing drama at secondary school that I started making cool friends, and all the girls I fancied were doing drama.” 

Despite being somewhat critical of the lack of practical opportunities during drama lessons at school, the experience was enough to tempt him to take a deeper plunge into the world of acting. Aged 16, Salim was accepted into the National Youth Theatre. Salim then proceeded to be awarded a scholarship to train at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. 

He has since crafted a more than impressive acting CV, having appeared in The Jury, Black Mirror, 24: Live Another Day, Informer, Fortitude and Jamestown. Most notably, through his adoration for storytelling through gaming, Salim was cast as the voice of Bayek in 2017’s Assassin’s Creed: Origins. A role that landed him the honour of a BTVA Video Game Voice Acting Award at the 2018 BAFTA Awards. 

His time working on Assassin’s Creed proved to be a defining moment for Salim. He reflected: What’s really funny is as I grew older and wanted to be more serious as an actor, I started to shun away from playing games. It was only when I did Assassin’s Creed origins and having that feeling again of falling in love with a story and being a kid again. That’s when I was like, ‘you know what, I’m a gamer and games have the power of interactive storytelling’.” 

Having found himself reinvigorated by his experience on Assassin’s Creed, Salim has gone from strength to strength and has flourished during his second season as Father in Raised by Wolves. A two-year gap between season 1 and season 2 has afforded Salim the opportunity to reflect and grow as both an actor and as a person.  

“I think during season 1 I was trying too hard to please others rather than myself. Something that Ridley (Ridley Scott) taught me was to be free, open, and daring with the choices you make. I’m a lot more confident with just being myself, and that has reflected from season one to season two. With season two, I’m still learning. I’m still hungry to learn more.”

The opportunity of working alongside Ridley Scott, who is one of the most distinguished and respected names in the industry, was one of the many highlights Salim experienced working on Raised by Wolves. The director/producer has a decorated CV which includes, Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, American Gangster, Prometheus, and the Academy Award-nominated science fiction comedy-thriller The Martian. Salim is full of praise for Scott, who he credits as being one of the most down to earth people he’s worked with. 

“He’s very good at making you feel like you’ve come up with the idea yourself, which is great because then you feel part of the collaboration process. He gives you the space to create. The beauty of the show is HBO Max have given Aaron (Aaron Guzikowski) and Ridley (Ridley Scott) the space to be free with their creative choices. They’ve also given us the space to be free with our creative choices and explore quite deep with wherever we want to go. To be a part of that is special. It’s almost like a collaborative feel of being part of a world that you helped shape and build. So, it is a great feeling, but also terrifying. Also, he just cares about you as a human being, which is one of the things that really stood out when I’m met him for the first time. He’s a guy who’s literally changed cinema, and yet he doesn’t wear it. He is just so level-headed and down-to-earth.”
Salim has achieved so much in his career, yet he remains ready and primed for so much more. Being good at his craft isn’t enough. Salim enjoys pushing the boundaries, hence the recent plunge into his new independent game studio Silver Rain Games, which has been signed by the EA Originals label. Another monumental milestone, of which there are still many to achieve. His experiences as a child where he was determined to understand and navigate his own unique path have led him to a point of acceptance. Accepting who he is. An actor who adores performing. Adores video games. Adores storytelling and sees the value in merging all those passions which make him Abubakar Salim.

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