The former chemical engineer play blues musician Lester Grimes in the new HBO series Vinyl.
THE PRIME-TIME PLAYER
NAME: ATO ESSANDOH
HOMETOWN: SCHENECTADY, NY
Why he might seem familiar: Essandoh has been all over TV, appearing on CBS' Blue Bloods and Elementary and on BBC America's Copper. Up next, he's tapping into his love of music to play blues musician Lester Grimes in the new HBO series Vinyl.
On discovering the blues: "I remember going into my parents' closet and finding a Lightnin' Hopkins album. Just looking at this rakish Black man with dark sunglasses and a cigarette sticking out of his mouth, I knew that whatever this guy sings has got to be cool. I remember putting that record on and being transfixed."
From chemical engineer to actor: Essandoh graduated from Cornell University with a degree in chemical engineering, but fate (and a dare to be in a play) intervened: "The first time I was onstage, I felt like the audience was breathing with me. I don't know if I was good or not; I just knew I was having a ball, and for the first time I felt I belonged somewhere."
Vinyl airs on Sunday nights at 9pm ET on HBO.