Albanian born, Detroit-raised actor Niko Pepaj is making a name for himself in shows like MTV’s Awkward, Selena Gomez’s music video for “A Year Without Rain,” and How To Get Away With Murder. Now, he’s starring alongside Vanessa Williams on VH1’s new scripted series Daytime Divas.
How did you fall in love with acting?
When I was 18, my commercial agent sent me out for an audition for Power Rangers the show that was shooting in Australia. It was my first theatrical audition and after going through the auditioning process, I ended up falling in love. I loved being able to bring myself into different characters and coming up with different scenarios. I had a chance to be creative and expand my imagination. That is when I got the acting “bug” and decided that this would be my career. It wasn’t just a hobby or a phase. Acting feeds my soul and has given me freedom. I made the choice to follow this path and I have never looked back.
What was it exactly that made acting more than just a hobby?
I chose acting as my profession because it allowed me to be free. Free to express different emotions and to explore others. It also gives me a platform to connect to as many people as I can. I feed off energy and I love human nature. I love watching people and learning about different personalities, cultures and point of views. Exploring different emotions and learning what triggers them is fascinating to me. Acting allows me to do that, and it’s helping me be a better person in the real world.
What did working on How To Get Away From Murder teach you that’s helped you as an actor?
Working on HTGAWM was one of the best experiences I’ve had as an actor. Laura Innes (the director) became my “mother” on set. She was wonderful to work with and we trusted each other. She gave me freedom in my scenes and as an actor, that helped me tap deeper into my mind. I was able to go places I never thought I could reach. Between having a very controversial sex scene with a male to having to commit suicide, those scenes took about four hours. It was a lot of real, heavy emotions to handle, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was able to prove to myself that I could handle these deep emotions without breaking. As an actor, I feel we live to have roles like this because we learn so much from ourselves and when you’re able to deliver successfully, it becomes an addiction. I always want to continue to challenge myself on every set that I set foot on.
What’s most surprised you about the process of working on Daytime Divas?
The most surprising process of Daytime Divas was how much talent there was on set. Every day we showed up for work and we all had an amazing time. The hardest part of working on the show was trying to stay in character during scenes with Tichina Arnold and Vanessa Williams. Everyone was so amazing from actors to crafty, to the grips, PAs, I can go on and on. It’s rare to have such an amazing set like Daytime Divas and as an actor you get spoiled by amazing crews that Mike Chessler and Chris Alberghini (show runners) put together. It never felt like I was working on set, it always felt like we were having fun and creating. Again, it’s very rare to work with such a talented group of people and have so much fun doing it so I feel so blessed to have been a part of that set and show.
How is the show stretching you?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have freedom on set so I’ve been able to explore myself more and try new things within the scenes. This has gotten me to be so much more comfortable and it’s allowing me to grow so much as an actor because I’m learning more and more about myself each day. To be able to just have creative freedom on set really feeds my soul and I feel many people will enjoy my character so much more because of that freedom.
What’s your favorite aspect of the show? Why do you think audiences should tune in?
My favorite aspect of the show is that they touch on a lot of current subjects. We bring in politics, religion, transgender issues, addiction, infidelity, etc. I’m also happy it’s on VH1 because I feel that they have a great platform. I feel people should give this show a chance and when you do, you’ll be hooked! It’s the perfect balance of comedy and drama so everyone will enjoy it!
What do you do to stay inspired as an artist and a person?
Every single day I try to talk to as many people as I can. I exercise my mind by talking to people. I love being hands-on, I love working with people and I love helping people. Learning about human nature has made me a better actor and I will continue to keep learning and keep exploring myself by being hands-on with the community around me. I try to help the less fortunate and I love guiding kids towards their goals. All of this has made me who I am, and has helped me become a better person in and out of the audition rooms and sets.
You tell me….I’m ready for anything!