In a relatively short acting career, East London-born Solomon Taiwo Justified has not only managed to stay afloat in the notoriously fickle movie business, but has already clocked up some 37 movie and TV credits to his name. Talking of names, when he popped into Kreol’s London office, we started by asking him how ‘Justified’ came about. One reason, says Solomon, is that he acquired the nickname ‘Justin’ on set, but he also happens to believe the title sums up his attitude and that his decision to follow his dreams has been fully justified – and so the name has stuck.
Since giving up a music career (singing, drums, piano) some 18 months ago, Solomon seems to have spent most of his time on set, appearing in music videos, documentaries, TV mini-series, and/or feature-length films. He’s currently busy filming two mini-series for television (Guerrilla, Minds at War), has another in pre-production (Apocalypta), and is also working on a number of films scheduled for release in 2017 and 2018. Viewers in America got to know him in the crime series Obsession Dark Desires, and the reality TV show Stripdate. Not bad for a 30-year-old actor who decided at a young age that he “wanted to be somebody”.
Homeless “one-man army”
After leaving school and studying briefly at Langdon Park Community School, where he landed the role of Johnny Casino in the school’s production of Grease, Solomon found himself homeless, aged 18. “I was homeless but I had a strong mentality. I concentrated on what I wanted and I reached out to certain people, such as Les Brown (American motivational speaker). This helped me and made me more confident. I learned to develop myself. I learned how to do stuff. If you show me something and I accept the challenge, I’ll do it – I’m a one-man army!”
He has, since, earned a reputation in the industry for being positive and self-confident, but importantly by his willingness to take on new challenges. All good attributes for an actor to have. But getting to where he is now hasn’t been easy. After struggling to make a living as a musician, playing gigs wherever he could – including in casinos – he landed bit parts as an extra before being offered some work on TV. His family were sceptical of his career choice, particularly his father (a train driver) who was not convinced Solomon had made a wise decision. “At the start, my dad didn’t support me – he wanted me to do well at school, but he congratulated me when I was nominated for four awards. When he saw I could stand on my own two feet, he realised that he didn’t have to worry about me. My family are proud of me now and what I have achieved.”
Solomon also had to go through the inevitable process of being turned down when he auditioned for parts. “I had a lot of disappointment, lots of rejection at first, but you get over it. It was hard, but it’s getting easier now. People are starting to relate to me, and I’m very creative – I can adapt to whatever’s put in front of me.” Although he only “fell into” acting after a friend suggested he try for a part on a project involving the actor/screenwriter/director and fellow Londoner Noel Clarke, Solomon quickly fell in love with the business. He was also inspired by the likes of Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, Vin Diesel, and Dwayne Johnson, and is determined to carve out his own niche – his own “brand”, as he puts it – and be a role model for others. “I don’t like to talk before I walk, but I do want to leave a legacy, someone who started from nothing to become something.”
Films that have inspired him include Star Wars, Alien, and “anything sci-fi”, but also action movies like Fast and Furious. Solomon believes his acting ability has changed for the better as he’s matured and gained more experience. “You have to go deep and build the character you’re playing for as long as you’re playing him, so you become that person – he’s in your head. I’d love to play a Jedi, do some stunts in movies, but also I’m interested in films that ask, what’s out there?”
“Challenging myself is important”, he says, “I’d like the opportunity to play comedy roles in future.” He cites Big Bang Theory as an example of contemporary comedy he finds both interesting and inspiring. He enjoys the spontaneity of acting and advises any young actors aspiring to make a career out of it to have courage. “As an actor, you have to be brave. Don’t be scared to take on a challenge, but first you should make sure you learn your craft. When you’ve learned your craft, you’ll be someone – the universe just wants to get out of your way.” He also draws on his own attitude of preferring to work with people who want to be successful, and trying to avoid those who are negative or hard to get on with. Staying positive is important, he says.
Into the future
Something else Solomon has learned is how,
“a good script is important to the success of a project and how it makes it easier to get into a particular role”. In future, he’d like to write his own scripts, try his hand at directing, and maybe have his own production company one day. Asked what else he would wish for, Solomon says, “I’d like to have a bigger house, inspire twenty million people, and live on the moon – just to see what’s out there!”
In the meantime, he is immersing himself in one of his latest roles, the part of staff-sergeant Austin Gray, in the television mini-series Minds at War (due for release in 2017), where a group of soldiers faced with fighting a common enemy end up at war with each other.