Ato Essandoh
Photographer: Michael Williams
Fashion Editor: Tiffani Williams
Grooming: Jessica Ortiz / Oribe at The Wall Group
Retoucher: Becky Siegel

(Interview follows photo series)

Suit and Top – Paisley & Gray // Shoes – Zara

Suit and Top – Paisley & Gray

Jacket & Pants – Zara // Top – Paisley & Gray

Blazer – Paisley & Gray // Top and Denim – Zara

Blazer – Paisley & Gray // Top and Denim – Zara

Blazer – Paisley & Gray // Top & Tie – Zara

Jacket, Pants & Shoes – Zara // Top – Paisley & Gray

Jacket, Top & Pants – Zara

“Sometimes I look back, I mean I was studying to be a chemical engineer and suddenly I’m on a Scorsese Mick Jagger television show, its still weird.” -Ato Essandoh


The world is talking about Vinyl, the new television series that was produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger. Ato Essandoh, who plays Lester Grimes, sat down with us to talk music, Vinyl, Tarantino and more.

Imagista: How did you end up landing a role on the new show Vinyl?

Ato: An audition, an audition I never thought I would get. I keep saying Gary Clark Jr is perfect for this role. I auditioned, I got the part and they didn’t realize I played guitar so I kind of auditioned again by putting myself on tape and showing them I could play the music and so then they sort of made sure that Lester was playing the guitar as well. That was an accomplishment I loved being able to pull off.

Imagista: What kind of things did you have to do to prepare for the role?

Ato: There was a lot of stuff that fell into place but I did some preparation because I’m not actually a singer and I knew they were going to dub my voice with Ty Taylor’s voice from Vintage Trouble but I took singing lessons just to make sure I knew what I was doing because in the dubbing I have to actually sing, so it makes it look as real as possible. Ty Taylor was awesome, he let me in the booth when they were recording the stuff and he was giving me all these pointers. There were moments (I’m not saying I could ever sing like Ty Taylor at all) when the people who were watching were like “hey is that your voice?” because they could hear me singing with the track. The one worry I was having was is it believable that Ty’s voice can possibly come out of Lester’s mouth.

Imagista: Did they mix your voice into it at all?

Ato: Not at all, they went straight with Ty.

Imagista: How many episodes have you shot?

Ato: We have shot 10 and then we are going to have another season I think which should be filmed in a couple of months.

Imagista: Amazing, you guys got renewed for a second season?

Ato: Totally!

Imagista: So Scorsese directed the pilot and who has been directing the other episodes?

Ato: A whole bunch of other directors, I think its one director per episode. People like Allen Coulter.

Imagista: Do you guys feel the presence of Scorsese and Mick Jagger or are they kind of in the background?

Ato: They come in. I got to finally meet them. I obviously had met Martin Scorsese, but when they would drop by the set for some reason I would always have just missed them. So finally we were doing a read through and Mick Jagger was there. It was exciting for me because the Stones are one of my favorite bands in the world, so it was kind of awesome to meet him.

Imagista: How did you get your start as an actor?

Ato: The first seed of it was doing a play in college that my girlfriend at the time dared me to do. I thought acting would be ridiculous but I did it and I had so much fun. When I graduated, I finally found myself back in New York so I started taking classes and the next thing I knew I was writing plays and doing theater and then I met my manager doing a show, who I have been with for the past 20 years and the rest is history. Sometimes I look back, I mean I was studying to be a chemical engineer and suddenly I’m on a Scorsese Mick Jagger television show, its still weird.

Imagista: What was your “big break” where you really felt that acting was your career?

Ato: It’s hard to say but I think it is when I did a television show called Copper, it was my first series regular and I have been working ever since. Every time I get another thing, it’s a bigger venue and a bigger responsibility. When I got the role on Copper, it was my first series regular and first steady paycheck and I thought to myself “Alright I think I don’t have to fall back on chemical engineering anymore” which I probably couldn’t since I forgot it all!

Imagista: You also worked on Django Unchained, what was it like shooting and
preparing for that intense scene?

Ato: When I auditioned and got the call back to meet Quentin Tarantino, the thing he kept saying was that I would have to be in that head-space for a week, which was the amount of time it took to shoot that scene. I showed up prepared, but what was funny is that Quentin, who is a very light and funny guy, likes to keep it loose on set. So while I’m up in the tree and the dogs are barking at me, right before they call action, Quentin is making jokes and I was like “hey I’m trying to prepare over here” but I realized he was trying to loosen me up and it worked.

Imagista: What was the energy on set in terms of the other actors, working with some of the most legendary people in Hollywood? What was that experience like?

Ato: Luckily, I don’t really feel that because I have been around it enough. For example with Leo, we had a slight conversation, between Leo and I and another actor where Leo was just sitting there talking about how when he was young his mom was driving him around L.A from audition to audition and then suddenly he’s this. You look at Leo, who I think is one of the best actors we have alive and you realize he’s a regular dude, he’s just extremely talented. It helps to know that everyone you are working with is a regular person, no matter how talented or famous they are. I’ve been lucky to have been able to work with such awesome people, it makes a huge difference.

Imagista: Obviously you are really into music. Who are the five musicians you would listen to if you were stuck on a desert island?

Ato: [laughs] I knew you were going to do that! Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Miles Davis, Nina Simone and A Tribe Called Quest.