Nollywood actor Solomon Akiyese studied Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan before he took to acting. In this interview with Weekend Magazine, he speaks about the movie industry, his new status and overcoming scandal.
Weekend Magazine: How far would you say the movie industry has progressed since you joined it? Solomon Akiyese: I’ll say candidly that we have really improved. We have moved from where we used to be to where we want to be or where we actually should be. You and I know that in the early 90s when this whole thing started, it was purely for subsistence reasons where anyone could pick up a camera. There was a camera back then called MD9000. It is basically used for naming ceremonies. Anybody could pick it up, assemble a few people, you could tell them what to do or just mime something and then they begin to shoot. But today we are beginning to shoot on digital cameras.
We are beginning to see new scripts emerging and directors who understand the fact that the script is the nucleus of a production. We are also beginning to see that directors are now also helping to use the camera to help the script. Because it’s not just about the script, movie making is a totality of factors - scripting, make-up, costuming, and costumiers - are now also included in telling the story. Make-up for example, in the days preceding 2000, you would see people pour powder on their head and they’ll tell you this is an old man, but within the last few years, you see real make up. I was in a production in Enugu a couple of weeks back and I saw a 40-year-old man who was aged to be 90. I couldn’t believe my own eyes. So we have actually moved forward, we have progressed. We are beginning to see new actors; new RMDs, new Omotolas, new Genevieves, and everybody is coming up strong. So we have progressed. WM: There is this argument about Nollywood not really paying attention to details. What is the way out? Akiyese: Well there are two problems and two reasons for that. The first is that Nollywood is not making movies. We are making what I would call ‘home drama’ or ‘home videos,’ because if you say we have a movie industry and you want to compare us to what we have in America and probably other countries, you would say we are not making movies. You’ll see a movie where an accident scene actually comes live and you see human head cut off and it all seems real. We are progressing but still evolving. Then secondly, because of the subsistence nature of the business, everybody is in a hurry to make money. There’s a lot of money to be made.
The Igbo man who controls the business knows what they make from it. I have seen budgets for movies that were made in 10 days because he wants to finish and move to the next level of money making. So there is no technical detail. Then finally, the viewers tend to be eager to watch; there is a strong viewership out there and we easily forgive some of these mistakes. In Nigeria, we don’t watch movies based on characterisation, we watch movies based on actors. So for now, there is no eye for technical details because of the profit and the money that will be made from it because Nollywood is a 200 percent profit business. You must understand that that Nollywood is a very porous industry. WM: While auditioning, what are the criteria used in casting? Akiyese: Well, we have made a lot of mistakes in terms of that word ‘audition.’ Audition is what we generally know as the process where you call everybody together and try them, and then you give them roles in your production. An audition is not supposed to be a time when all you think about is how to look good. Audition is gotten from the word ‘auditory’ or audio because a lot of times, it is the voice that tells the story. If you are supposed to cry for example, you don’t shake your body.
Auditions are purely for auditory purposes, the person who is handling the auditions wants to know how you can speak, what they call ‘voice inflection,’ how your modulation is, and how well you can interpret roles with your voice. It is not about the physical. The girls would come in skimpy clothes and high heeled shoes, all because they want to look good with their long hair, but that isn’t what people look for in auditions, what they want is the voice and how you can use your voice to interpret certain situations. But in Nigeria is it the other way round. WM: Some entertainers joined the political fray recently. What do you think of the new trend? Akiyese: Well, there is a difference between being popular and being accepted. You can be very popular and you are not accepted. For example, the president of this country is the most popular man but there are still people who don’t accept him. If people want to go on the foundation of Nollywood to become politicians, if they have something to offer their people, their immediate constituencies, I have nothing against that. I will just wish them well. There is nothing bad if an actor goes into politics, it’s a good one. WM: What price have you had to pay for your fame? Akiyese: It is not just a price but rather there are various prices that I have paid for being famous. First of all, I am a very private person and I like street life; I was brought up on the streets and I love such life. You won’t find me in exquisite restaurants. I am used to local delicacies but because I am an actor, I can’t possibly do all of that because people see me differently. There were times I would walk into a chemist and people would be like ‘what are you doing here?’ And I respond too by asking what they are doing here; this is a chemist for goodness sake. You lose your privacy, you can’t be yourself and then you have to struggle from pretending to be someone else whom you do on TV and be yourself. I love roasted yams so much and there was a place in Enugu where I ate it, but I can’t go there anymore. Then secondly, a lot of times you are misunderstood. When you try to be yourself, you will be misunderstood and then someone would be like ‘this man eh, and he’s an actor.’ The problem is that when you are a public figure, you are a role model to a lot of people.
In 2013 the media was awash that I had abandoned my wife for another woman. It was loud, and it was all over the world. But that wasn’t the truth. That event, because of how the world took it, I lost my marriage. Sometimes you hear that actors and actresses don’t get married, we love marriage. I love family life, I love to go home after work and go back to my daughter that I pray to have but you see, when you do something, people misunderstand you, judge you anyhow especially because you are an actor. Those are some of the prices I have had to pay because I am an actor. Then you don’t have time for your loved ones. People like us have to pray to be very lucky to get a good wife who understands what we do and understand that this is when you have to move. WM: Being a celebrity comes with scandals. How have you managed to rise above the drama? Akiyese: If I made an attempt to go and rob now and it was planned and deliberate, if I am caught, I will never get out of it. But if I didn’t do anything like robbery and you say because I am an actor, you caught me robbing, as far as I did not do it, I’ll get out of it. It takes insanity to abandon a wife, not that you had a fight or a quarrel or there was any issue; then you just wake up and then you are wedding another woman? It is not just possible. People didn’t know what happened but they passed their judgment, but because that was not true, I am still standing strong today. I am standing with God, my career, and my life.
In Nigeria, we go through a lot of processes before we get married. Up till moment, no one has been able to tell me that I paid a dowry on another woman apart from my wife. What happened was a transaction that backfired and I ended up being the bad guy. I wasn’t going to marry anyone, because I never had a problem with my wife, so why would I marry a second one? WM: What misconceptions do you want to correct about yourself? Akiyese: People are very quick to pass judgment on others because talk is cheap, reasoning is cheap. I am not in Nollywood because I want fame or the money. Sometime, I read online that I love women. I won’t deny that. Yes, I love gorgeous women and I won’t stop loving them because I cannot marry a woman whom I cannot take to a public place because I am a public figure, hence my wife must be gorgeous so I go for very gorgeous women. And I am not ready for anyone to change that and I am not begging anyone to change that misconception because it is a fact.