David Otunga has been an “A” student for as long as he can recall. So when he recently made his acting debut in the suspense thriller The Call, starring Halle Berry and Morris Chestnut, the Windy City native was a bit disappointed with the “B” rating one Chicago film critic gave the flick, which pulled in $17.1 million during its opening weekend. “That’s the first ‘B’ I ever got in my life,” Otunga said before his playful frown turned into a big smile.
He has a lot to be happy about these days: His childhood dream of becoming an actor became a reality, and what better opportunity than to share the silver screen with Berry? The Harvard-trained lawyer, who first won recognition in 2007 on the reality show I Love New York 2, has his hands full these days, doing pro bono legal work in addition to his superstar wrestling career in the WWE. Not to mention, he’s the doting dad of a 3-year-old, David Jr., his son with fiancée Jennifer Hudson. Last year, Otunga and his ‘Mini Me’ were featured in EBONY’s Father’s Day June issue. During a recent visit to the Johnson Publishing Company headquarters in Chicago, Otunga’s trademark bow tie was noticeably missing, but his ever-present coffee mug was right by his side as he talked to Ebony.com.
EBONY: What acting advice did you get from Halle and Morris?
David Otunga: To be comfortable, because less is more.
EBONY: You played a police officer in the movie. But speaking of the law, what’s your background as an attorney?
DO: Criminal law, especially defense; that’s what I spent most of my time doing in law school. Just recently, I have been a guest legal expert on HLN and CNN talking about the Jodi Arias trial.
EBONY: I understand you work with an anti-bullying campaign. Were you bullied growing up?
DO: The campaign is called the Be a STAR Alliance. WWE and the Creative Coalition established this. STAR stands for Show Tolerance And Respect. I go to different schools and talk to kids. I teach kids coping skills, how to avoid being bullied and how to spot it. I share my personal experiences, because at the tail end of grade school and the beginning of junior high, I was bullied. I was short and chubby. I had thick glasses. I did fairly well in school, so people always called me a nerd and a dork. It was a rough time, but I eventually got through it. I didn’t always have muscles like this. Maybe that’s what drove me in some way.
EBONY: You’re quick on your feet when it comes to the tweets. Is insulting people part of your wrestling persona?
DO: My Twitter is pure entertainment. So I’ve toned back a little bit and people are like, “You’re too nice. I liked it when you were meaner.” Then I’m like, “All right. Let me insult some people real quick and even it out.”
EBONY: You’ve done reality TV and wrestling. What do people recognize you for the most?
DO: People are always saying, “Oh, Punk [his I Love New York 2 character] ! I loved you on that show.” That was my first acting job. Everybody knows reality is not reality. People come up to me and say, “I felt so bad when you got eliminated. You really were in love with her.” They should have given me an Academy Award then because people believed it. That just tells me I did a good acting job.
EBONY: Anything clever you’d like to leave us with?
DO: Barack Obama’s father was born and raised in Kenya; my father was born and raised in Kenya. Barack Obama’s father came to the United States and married an American woman; my father came to the United States and married an American woman. Barack Obama is from Illinois; I’m from Illinois. He went to Harvard Law School; me, too. He worked at Sidley Austin; I worked at Sidley Austin. The day I walked in and got my very first assignment, the guy sits down and he tells me about this assignment. He says, “OK, this will probably take you four weeks to complete.” And then he goes, “I want to tell you a story. Twenty years ago, I had an associate much like you come in. He sat down in this chair. I gave him a very similar assignment, and I told him the same thing: ‘It’s going to take you four weeks to complete.’ That associate brought it back to me in two weeks. I told him, ‘I don’t even want to look at this; this is ridiculous,’ but I looked at it, and it was amazing. It was exquisite work. And [completed] in only half the time.’ And he goes, “Do you know who that associate was?” And I was like, “No, I have no idea.’” He said, ‘Barack Obama.’ And then he’s like, “So I’ll see you in two weeks.” Talk about that for pressure! I used to meet with Obama before he was president. But after meeting him when he was president, I introduced myself again. I told him, “I worked at Sidley, too,” and told him about all our connections. He said, “Oh, what do you do now? What firm are you at now?” I smiled at him and said, “I’m a professional wrestler in WWE.” And he was like, ‘What?’ Then he took a minute and said, “Well, I’ll have to watch that.”
Keep up with David’s many endeavors by following him on Twitter @DavidOtunga.
Margena A. Christian is Senior Writer for EBONY. Follow her on Twitter @MargenaXan.