Actor and entrepreneur, Deyemi Okanlawon is best known for his roles in the TV series, Gidi Up and An African City. He also dazzled in movies such as If Tomorrow Comes and Road To Yesterday as well as some music videos.
In this chat, the University of Lagos graduate of Chemical Engineering speaks about his career as an actor and how the movie industry has grown in spite of the backlash from the audience.
What have you been up to lately?
I have been involved in quite a few things as an actor. I have also been involved in filmmaking. I work with Silverbird Film Distribution and I am pursuing other business interests.
Are you happy with your current standing as an actor?
I am ecstatic to be a participant of the Nigerian film industry and I am more than happy with where I am today.
You are a graduate of Chemical Engineering, why did you choose acting?
I never planned to be an actor, it just happened. The best things that happened in my life were not really planned. I never dreamt of the good life that acting has given me. From Chemical Engineering, I started a career in sales and marketing and I did that for many years until I resigned to acting full time.
What’s your first experience on set like?
I started off as a short film actor while I was in the corporate world. Those experiences helped and gave me the determination to go into acting fully.
Of course, I got a lot of exposure because people liked the things I was doing including some of the series I did like Gidi Up, Blink and others. So, when the opportunity came to do it full time, I knew I had a chance to succeed.
The role you played in Gidi Up sort of projected the real Deyemi, is that true?A lot of people ask me this question, but then it is true, because there’re few similarities between the character I played and myself. So, it’s not difficult playing the role, and of course, I enjoyed playing the role.
Tell us about your role of the black sheep in Ayetoro Town series
I am having a great time on that series, and to be honest, I am from Ayetoro. So, when I got a call from Funke Akindele inviting me to be a part of the show, I said yes immediately. After reading the script, I realised I had to play a particular character, something I had never played in my entire career, and that was really interesting.
Have you had any embarrassing moment?
It’s hard to embarrass me. I had a good run and so
I cannot even remember any time I was embarrassed.
Switching roles is part of the business, how has that been with you?
It depends on what you do for fun. For me, this is fun because the very idea that I can play different roles is really enjoyable. In real life, you just cannot do that because if you do, your employers will look at you and ask why you keep switching roles or even colouring your hair. I am able to live different lives because of my career. So, switching roles is one of the things I enjoy as an actor, and it takes a lot of preparation, which can be intense. I remember Blink, the short film I talked about earlier;
I had to prepare for like six weeks. We were doing breathing exercises, as we needed to hold our breath for up to four minutes because we were shooting under water. So, there are lots of movies where I had to do research to successfully bring any character to light.
What’s your take on today’s Nollywood movies?
If you look at the last five to six years of the industry, which coincide with the time I came in, you’ll agree with me that we have been growing in leaps and bounds. Nollywood is still new compared to other film industries around the world. Nigerians are too critical of Nollywood, because if you see a child trying to walk falling down, you would not criticise that child but encourage him.
We should bear in mind that Nollywood is still growing and so needs encouragement and support from Nigerians.
What are the challenges you face as an actor?
Money, of course! Jokes aside, the industry faces several challenges including poor distribution infrastructure, guild ineffectiveness in influencing government policies, few training opportunities, lack of funds and loss of audience confidence.
These have negatively affected the earning capacity of the film industry; hence we are yet to capture its full value.
Thankfully, the industry is growing tremendously and several individuals and organisations are tackling the challenges we face. As things get better, we will receive more value for our talent, time and efforts.
Which is easier for you to do, English or Yoruba movies?
English obviously. I am Yoruba but English movies come to me more naturally. The first major Yoruba film I did was ‘Oja Aje’, and it was few weeks ago. I recently got off the movie set of ‘Your Excellency’ by Mo Abudu, which is coming out this Christmas. I think that is the most exciting movie I have ever done as an actor.
When it comes to kissing and cuddling, what is it like playing romance roles?
For me, it is work-related. I am not even there, because what you are seeing is a totally different person, lifestyle and set of objectives. I am separate from my character and I will do what needs to be done to play a character. I am a professional, so it is a job.
Do you have any plan to become a full time movie director?
I have done some directing and producing, and I am now in film distribution. I am the kind of person who wants to understand whatever I am doing. I had to move to another level. I am not content being an actor, I want to know if I can be impactful and add more value in the industry.
How do you balance work and family?
My family is my priority and I never miss that. If I have to choose between family and work, family would come first. Of course, I created a home environment that I enjoy going to all the time. I will rather be in my house than being in a club. When you are outside the confines of your home, problems sort of start. So, I do my job and go home.
What advice would you give to people who aspire to be like you?
Whenever people ask me how they can become actor, I ask ‘what have you done?’ Most of them say ‘nothing’. Now you cannot say you are passionate about something that you have not done before. You can only build passion from success and feedback. For example, you do something and someone says ‘wow, I love what you did, you can do better’, and you do better, that for me is a process of you being passionate about something.
I spent a lot of time in church dramas, learning; and that was a training curve for me. I was in primary school then. The third thing is ‘what do you do now that would be of value to the film industry because there are millions of people wanting to be actors, so what makes you unique as an individual?’ I am not talking about talent but the values you are bringing.
I had a career in sales and marketing, so when I came into the industry, I was able to tell producers how they could promote their works in ways they did not know before. To them, that was value. So, I tell people to get a job, go into the corporate world, become a professional, learn something significant and bring that into the film industry.