After speaking with Branden Wellington, I immediately thought, ‘What an interesting guy?’ It’s in the way he speaks. Evidently, he’s a poet. When I asked him how he’d describe himself in one word he told The Quintessential Gentleman, “Radiant.” Amazingly, this talented gentleman described himself as such to me, then he went on to elaborate on that word and why he says so. I had to hear more. In fact, the spoken word artist just recently took home an Emmy for his penmanship as “Best Writer”. This charming and creative voice is most known for his role in Orange is the New Black. Don’t get it twisted, he is much more than an actor though. Branden Emanuel Wellington hails from Indianapolis, Indiana with a love not only for writing and acting but also oddly enough, he did in-game hosting and sideline reporting for the NBA. Branden’s diverse skills run deep and although each of his experiences is different in their own way, they all align just fine for him. Check out more about Branden and his multi-dimensional career below as he shares his background in the industry, both writing and acting and the road to it.
Tell me who Branden Wellington is in one word.
Tell me about this radiance.
I’m an action verb, radiate, to a degree. Whatever it is that I feel on a day to day basis, I do my best to radiate that at a high level. Whether that be joy, happiness, or love, it could be sadness for whatever it is; I feel that whatever energy you give across, you want to make sure that you radiate it to the best of your ability and be true to yourself. I never do anything half speed, radiant describes me when I’m optimistic. I’m radiating optimism.
How did you get your first big break into the industry?
My first job in this industry, I was running coffee around for Miss. J and Tyra Banks on cycle 14 of America’s Next Top Model. Most people don’t know that. Miss. J and I were good friends. His niece used to be my manager at an Italian restaurant that I worked at for a couple of years. There were just years I couldn’t afford to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas and she’d say, come eat with my family. One weekend I went over there and he was at the dinner table. She’s like, ‘This is my uncle.’ I was like, ‘You look so familiar.’ She’s like, ‘Miss. J, America’s Next Top Model’. He was like, ‘Listen, if my family lets you over to her house, you’ve got to be a good soul. I’m going to look out for you.’ He helped me get my first job working behind the scenes and he and I have been friends ever since. Then from there, I started building my way up, doing reenactments, short films, student films, independent films, and then ultimately getting a break during prime time broadcast; Blue Bloods, Gotham, Younger. I would say my biggest break came last summer getting cast in a recurring role as Jarod Young on Orange Is The New Black. It was a process, it didn’t happen overnight for me.
Talk about your writing and how it started.
Well from the beginning, my mother introduced the gift of poetry in my life when I was in the fourth grade. Basically, I was getting suspended from school a lot and she gave it to me as a gift to channel my energy so that I could stay focused and put that energy to better use. Then from there I just kept writing and writing and writing. Then I got my poems read on the intercom in elementary school and I made the school newspaper in Middle School. By high school, I was in the state newspaper then competing for state championships and national championships. It was a gift that started at age nine and just kept going. Recently, the thing I’m most proud of is that I became the first spoken word artist in history to perform live at a professional soccer event. The U.S. men’s national team had called me in to perform at their match versus Peru. It was amazing, 30,000 people and I got to do a poem that I wrote for them called, ‘The Future is Us.’ I’m very proud of this next piece, “in the wild”, specifically about wolves, and I can’t wait till we turn it into a broadcast video that the world could see hopefully within the next couple of weeks.
Who was the first person you called when you got the news about your recent Emmy?
Easily, my mother. As soon as I got backstage she was the first person I called. I told her the good news and just thanking her for giving me the gift of poetry because I had no idea it could take me to where it did. It was my birthday that day of all days, so I was a little more emotional; celebrating my birthday while at the same time winning an Emmy. I’m like, ‘God, how are you going to top yourself next year?’
What can you actually tell us about your role in the show and this season of OITNB?
Season 7 is our last season, that I’m currently in right now. Bittersweet. It’s been a short ride for me to be a part of the family, but the love I feel will last a long time and I made some pretty decent connections and friends that I think will be my friends and colleagues for years to come.
So right now I’m still wrapping my mind around that, it’s public information now that we are working on the last season, so there’s a bit of excitement into it. There’s also a bit of a bittersweet. As a fan, I’ve gotten to watch these characters grow and flourish over the last six years and one of the years. One of the years I got to grow and flourish with them and now we are working on another one.
Talk about that journey.
I felt with me doing so many things, it would inhibit me from being able to act, but as we’ve progressed more these last couple of years with technology and media, being able to be multifaceted, to a degree, I feel has helped me. I’m honored to wake up every day and say, I’m a spoken word artist. I’m also a host and I’m an actor and I do voice-over work. I feel, if you’ve been blessed with a skill or a talent, it’s your responsibility to try to utilize them as much as you possibly can, all avenues. At the end of the day, if you stay within that vein, I feel as if what’s for you will eventually come your way.
If you could only choose one between acting, hosting, and writing, which two would go and why?
I guess I’d hold onto my gift of writing because it not only fuels me professionally but also personally. I was a writer long before I was an actor and it was because of writing that I was able to organize my thoughts, feelings, and emotions to a degree to function on an everyday basis. So if I had to get rid of writing, I don’t even know if I’d be stable enough to be a host or an actor. It helped me organize my thoughts.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing that people wouldn’t expect you to do?
I’d be a financial investor. I’ve been a day trader for the last six or seven years. If I wasn’t doing entertainment full time, I’d pretty much be a full-time day trader. I find finance very interesting and it’s just been something I’ve been studying and actively doing since 2011 off and on.
So what is next for you?
Well, I’m currently starring in a pilot in development called Payroll. It’s about three friends from New York City who dropped everything to launch the largest festival the culture has ever seen. It’s basically a story about brotherhood and entrepreneurship as three friends get to dream beyond their realities. I also have a supporting role in an upcoming film called Inez & Doug & Kira, which is a psychological drama that studies the collateral damage of depression and suicide and the people it affects.
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Photo credit: Ron Rinaldi