Deyemi Okanlawon: I once ate raw pepper for role

There are no assurances or guarantees that every child actor will go on to have a successful career as an adult but Deyemi Okanlawo, who featured in a TV commercial alongside Kunle Bamtefa and Sola Sobowale at age 9, has risen through the ranks to emerge one of the leading male actors in Nigeria. In this interview with OLAITAN GANIU, he speaks on his transformation from his early days, sacrifices among other issues.

When and why did you decide to become an actor?

I fell in love with theatre and was very active in church drama while studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). It continued after my graduation and even when I started a very hectic corporate career in sales and marketing. Fast forward to my first film audition in 2010 after which I got to feature in quite a few shorts and web series. It was during that time I knew acting is one thing I could be the best at and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. By 2013, as the Head of Marketing at OLX, I decided to switch careers and it has been one of the best decisions of my life.

If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?

I would still be working in the corporate world as a top-level manager alongside my personal businesses but I strongly believe I’d still have incorporated acting into my life.

How was your first acting experience?

I was 9-year-old when I had the opportunity to face the camera for the first time as I was featured in a TV commercial on family planning with two great actors, Kunle Bamtefa and Sola Sobowale as my parents. As a kid, I could recall the feeling and excitement that comes with the project. I felt the same way the moment I auditioned for my first film role as an adult

in 2010.

You featured in King of Boys: The Return Of The King, how would describe the project as well as your character?

It was absolutely thrilling to be a part of the production and playing the character, Mr. Fashina. The creative excellence and professionalism of everyone from the director, Kemi Adetiba to the cast and crew made the production a very memorable one.

Did you have any difficulty with the character?

Mr. Fashina is perhaps the character that is farthest from my true self. Settling on the look and getting accustomed to it was a process that included putting on some weight, shaving my head and most of my facial hair, and getting comfortable in all this, which took a lot of work.

What are the craziest things you’ve done to fit into a character?

I’m constantly doing crazy things to get into a character from learning to hold my breath for minutes to shoot underwater in the thriller, Blink, going through grueling physical training for Funke Akindele’s film, Omo Ghetto, and Blood Sisters; eating raw pepper for Prophetess; adding weight for King Of Boys by eating junk and not going to the gym and losing it by going on an extreme diet and workout regimen for The Kings Horseman.

Of all the roles you have played, which is your favorite?

I have no particular favourite role.

So, in which area would you like to improve as an actor?

In my bank account area. Jokes aside, a lot goes into honing one’s craft to a point of mastery while also creating a sustainable brand and I constantly seek knowledge and support from others for both.

What makes you unique from other actors?

All I know is that I absolutely love my job and will do literally anything to be excellent at it.

You act in films that have the language of communication as Yoruba and English, do you belong to any caucus?

Like a Nigerian president once famously claimed: “I belong to no one and I belong to everyone”. As long as my desire for excellence matches that of a filmmaker I will work with the person.

If you could choose an old film to restore, what would it be?

Yemi My Lover

How does your wife react when you take on romantic roles? My wife is a huge supporter of my work and career and she understands this is my job. On my part, I try not to give her cause to doubt my commitment to her.

You recently advised Nigerian men to go for mental checkups, what informed this call?

Men have been groomed from childhood to not be vocal about their issues and society is comfortable ignoring the fact that a lot of the issues we see stem from a salient but deep-rooted abuse of this gender from time immemorial. My advice to all men is that it is time to start prioritizing ourselves more especially as regards our physical and mental health and also learn to speak up against discrimination and abuse we face.

How do you handle female admirers?

With all my fans I always make out time to smile, say hello and take pictures and then I simply keep it moving.

What do you think of Netflix’s interest in Nollywood?

The entrance of Netflix and other VOD platforms into Nigeria will be a step in the right direction only if we finally create systems and structures within our industry that protect the rights of creatives. From story development to funding to production to ancillary services and distribution, the entire Nigerian film industry value chain is fraught with issues that present huge opportunities. Our most pertinent threat is the monopolistic tendencies of local and foreign companies involved in the movie entertainment space who only seek to drive down costs and increase their margins to the detriment of the creatives in the industry. It is our responsibility to build stronger institutions (guilds and associations) backed by laws that protect the rights of all stakeholders across Nollywood.

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