Otis Winston was a star college athlete Ohio State who went on to become a computer consultant and high school track coach in Columbus, Ohio. Determined to fulfill his dream to become an actor, Winston started pursuing acting full-time in 2009 and began honing his craft in various workshops with acting coaches like Tasha Smith and Terri J. Vaughn.
Since embarking on his acting journey, Winston had a guest-starring role on BET’s “The Game” and has landed several commercials. Most notably, he made his big screen debut as Winkie in box office blockbuster, “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
His role in “Oz” started very small, but Winston had faith that things would work out for his good. Well, it did.
AlwaysAList.com spoke with the man destined to be one of Hollywood’s breakout stars about his road to now.
How did you end up landing the part in “Oz the Great and Powerful?”
I was invited by an agent from Gale and Rice to audition as a model for auto show in Detroit. Like every audition, I had to handle my own expenses, but this time I had the help of a few friends. I also had my guardian angel Tiombe Nucklos. When I couldn’t drive she would find a way to make sure I got to where I needed to be and made sure I was all ways on time. After leaving the audition I was stopped by a guy who wanted to know how tall he was. I told him I was 6-foot-6 and the guy asked if I was interested in being in a movie. This was a timely meeting because it led to me booking a role as an extra role in ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ less than 30-minutes later.
So you land the role. What the experience like once you started?
I began production on Aug. 11, 2011. That was my first day on the set. It was a 12-hour day. The role involved marching as a part of a platoon of characters called the Winkies. The Winkies were the group of soldiers all over 6-foot-four-inches tall. I spent most of that first day doing rigorous cadences along with other men. I immediately set a standard of excellence by consistently going all out during rehearsals, and continuously practicing during breaks. When the day was over, I celebrated my first day being on a movie set. Then I saw my cell phone was inundated with text messages and voicemails. To my dismay, I found that one of my athletes killed his girlfriend who was also a member of the track team I coached. The athlete told me would only turn himself into me.
What an awful way to end your first day on the set. So what happened next with your athlete?
Me and Tiombe left Michigan headed back to Ohio to meet my athlete. While we’re on the way back I got a phone call from my daughter. My daughter knew nothing about the situation, but somehow had an overwhelming feeling of foreboding, and expressed to me that she “did not want me to die.” After having that conversation, I decided to contact the authorities regarding bringing the athlete in as opposed to going directly to the athlete first. This may have saved my life because the athlete was subsequently killed by the police.
Whoa! Imagine if your daughter hadn’t called! Did you eventually return to the film?
Yes, I went back to set and continued to work on the movies in the days after without letting anyone know I was mourning over my two athletes. My resolve was even more pronounced as a result of the incident, and my mastery of the marching cadences began to cause me to standout. Eventually the choreographer Leslie K. noticed my ability, put me in the forefront and solicited me to help the other extras, making me visible to first assistant director, K.C. Hodenfield and the stunt coordinator, Scott Rodgers. I felt like I was back on the court at Ohio State University leading the basketball team. I drew from the strength of having to fight to stay on the team to becoming team captain despite the efforts of the coach who doubted my ability. This was a second chance for me to persevere through the adversity and prove to myself that I was capable of doing what others thought impossible.
You lived in Columbus, Ohio but this movie shot in Detroit. Extras don’t get housing or anything like that. How were making this work?
I was a struggling actor in every sense of the word! I was paying out more than I was making as an extra in the film. I was forced to drive back and forth from Columbus to Detroit for the rehearsals, which cost me significantly more money than I was making. Tiombe reached out to a good friend of hers, Harvey Savage who opened his doors to them and allowed them to stay at his house the days I was shooting. This was a tremendous blessing and saved us a lot. I was also juggling my full-time job with being on set by taking vacation days and ‘working from home.’ Despite my efforts, my bills mounted and my home went into foreclosure. But I still saw this misfortune as a temporary setback. Even though this was probably one of his most trying times, I was motivated all the more to continue working hard.
How did you overcome the challenges?
Well, that November, I got laid off my job. I went from having a salaried position to making $115 a day when on set. This was a pivotal point in my life where he found more peace working 12 to 15 hour days for minimal income than I ever did working in my day job. That peace confirmed that I was on the right path however rocky it was. Because of my faith in God I knew there was always a ram in the bush. I was operating in that level of comfort when a stunt contract became available. I auditioned for Scott Rodgers along with a few other Winkies without fully understanding the benefit of the new opportunity. I would find out later that securing the role of a Stinky (a stunt Winkie) would increase my income to over $850.00 a day. That increase put me a much better position to provide for my family and bring my finances back into balance. I also continued to work other jobs to improve my finances. I booked a Sprite commercial as a stand-in for Lebron James.
Maintaining his faith, staying focused on his ultimate goal of becoming a successful actor and building a great rapport many of the behind the scenes players on “Oz the Great and Powerful,” several people on the set lobbied to get Winston a speaking part in the film to further expand his profile in the film.
His tenacity and dedication is a testament that hard work does pay off. Winston has since moved from Columbus to Los Angeles and has lots of great projects on the horizon.