“OC Ukeje is my best friend, we are not lovers” – Actress, Lala Akindoju

by Wilfred Okiche

Lala Akindoju (2)

YNaija recently had a sit down with talented actress, Lala Akindoju on her feat producing the much talked about V-monologues, her experience in the industry and her future projects.

Enjoy the interview below:

Congrats on the V-monologues show, fantastic production

Thank you

How did you put up a show like that?

It was very tedious. Since that was my first production on that scale, asides from Open Mic theatre. I had been in talks with KIND, the NGO that owns the rights to the Nigerian franchise and they were shopping for capable hands to produce. Initially when I agreed, I did not understand what it would take from me. It was when I got into it that I realized how much work it was. Difficult because I am young, just starting out, with no staff. It is almost a month and I am still balancing accounts, still paying some money here and there which by some business accounts really isn’t so bad. I knew I wanted a quality production, that people will see and they wont be like ‘lets excuse her, she is a first time producer’. I wanted something that would be exceptional artistically and performance wise. So hiring the actors and convincing them, I don’t even know, I guess I’ll have to thank God for that because after I convinced the director, Ifeoma Fafunwa who happens to be my acting coach, the rest sort of followed suit. I guess a lot of people saw something in me beyond the now. But I learned; how to manage people, how to draw up a media plan, how to manage resources. Friends and family helped, lots of help kept me going. I have not recovered but I am closer than where I started from.

Did you make any profits from the production?

No, we did not make any profit but what I got out of it is way beyond money and it is enough to earn me money in the very near future.

Taiwo Ajai Lycett, Bimbo Akintola, Dakore, you grew up watching some of these names. How did it feel to be the one calling the shots this time?

I am always around people that are way older than me so without sounding immodest, being the ‘boss’ wasn’t intimidating because of the kind of people involved. They made my job easy by not arguing, asking for permission, calling me producer. They were professional to the core, no egos. They were all like big sisters and mothers but at every step of the way I had to keep showing them that I knew what I was doing. Thank God for everything.

What is the next project for Make it happen productions?

We are working on a documentary about icons like Onyeka Onwenu, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett. I am fascinated by history, the tradition of learning from people that came before. People just spring up nowadays and say to themselves, I can do this and it’s fine but I want to present the lives of these people on screen for younger ones to see. We also make it happen for other people, the Lights, camera, action Africa film festival run by Lifehouse which we are a part of. We are also tidying up the business and legal ends. And then of course there is the Open mic theatre.

Tell us about Open mic theatre

Open mic theatre is my give back project. I finished my masters in 2010 and knew that I needed to do more, I always need to do more. I used to hang out a lot at the Lifehouse and the owner Ugonma Adegoke is a good friend. She would challenge me to come up with plays and I always told her that without money I would not do anything because I have suffered a lot. She persisted and we decided to start an open mic thing, where people would do their own performances, that they rehearsed on their time. So I called aunty Joke Silva, Kate Henshaw, Bikiya Graham-Douglas, Nse Ikpe Etim, OC Ukeje to pick their brain and right there and then we came up with the first 3 editions. I wanted it to be free, folks just come and pull out stuff from their own repertoire. The first edition, Nse, Bimbo Manuel, OC, Bikiya, Omonor Somolu, they came and agreed to perform and the room was full, people were standing. After that, we came to notice that there is no place untested actors get to show up their talent, nowhere directors can pick from a pool of talent, nowhere even for the already established actor to go and be challenged, nowhere for writers to test their talent. It is a creative hub for talent and it is amazing the number of people that have gotten jobs from there. Charles Novia, Michelle Bello, Kunle Afolayan have all hired people from Open mic. There is also a Youtube channel for past editions. So I give credit to the performers like Najite Dede, Omonor, Abiodun Kazim, OC, Zara Udofia, and others who just hear about Open mic and show up. Funding comes from friends and family and it happens every other month.

Lala Akindoju (1)

With all these hands in so many pies, what exactly is your job title?

I am a performing artiste. I sing but not commercially, I did some of that in the musical Kakadu and people were surprised. I host events as well, I am a casting director for Gidi up, a web series. I am just in there, I live the arts, breathe the arts. Arts and culture make my world go round and they should be celebrated in Nigeria more. I am an artiste and that is my job.

I read somewhere you were doing plays at Terra Kulture every Sunday for some time, how did that experience shape you into the performer you are today?

I was part of the team that started Theatre at Terra with Renegade theatre which was run by Wole Oguntogun, he was one of the first people who gave me a chance. I was doing plays there every Sunday for close to 3years and that was all the University I needed. From managing money and people to sweeping the floors, prepping the sets, taking okadas, I did it all. So I just look at myself and smile sometimes because I am young but I know the dues I have paid. Not that I am done paying dues, it is still an ongoing process but those years 2007-2010 were very instrumental in shaping who I am today because working with Wole is serious work. I learned to produce then without even knowing what I was preparing for. It is fun to discuss now but it wasn’t fun then. I didn’t go to church at all for all of that period except there was a family occasion. My call time every Sunday was 8am but it is rewarding how Terra Kulture is now the place breeding talent and they have been gracious enough to open it up to a different production company every month.

I noticed you are doing more screen work these days, is this deliberate?

Yes, I am focused on my tv and film career now. I decided to do stage for a while because I wanted to learn and be trained and be of a certain quality and after I won The Future Award for Best actor in 2010, I became a bit more confident, doing more screen work. I was in Charles Novia’s ‘Alan Poza’ and I have 2 more films coming up soon so I am working very hard at it because the techniques are very different. There is no rush but I have to perform because it is my life. You are as good as your last job so I am open to short films; I shot 3 last year so my growth curve is a slow one, do them and release them, study the reception. Even the major features I have done I had a lot to learn from doing them and that is enough for me. Then there are people I wouldn’t pass up the chance to work with. It is not all about the money for me; if it were I wouldn’t be here. There are other rewards for me. Like the film I am working on currently, I play a sickler so I have been speaking with sicklers, getting their stories, reading about them and for me that is the life. Right now I am hungry for a body of work, to build a network, a portfolio, these are the things that matter to me right now so there are projects that I have not seen the script but I am inside because of the pedigree of the people involved. I don’t even know how to do shakara. I walk up to people politely, greet them, introduce myself and tell them exactly how I want to be part of the project.

I was speaking with Funke Akindele once and she says before ‘Maami’ started shooting she was quite eager, calling director Tunde Kelani asking for them to start immediately, even putting some other projects on hold just for the chance to work with him

It’s amazing that you should mention Tunde Kelani because the film that I am currently working on about sicklers is his next film. It is called ‘Dazzling mirage’ and we did a screen test a few days back, tested my skin tone and I landed the role shortly after. The script is going currently being revised but when he calls to start shooting, what is that thing that will keep me away from his set? By the time Funke was doing ‘Maami’ sef, she was a big star. Me? Now? Tunde Kelani? Of course I am in if he will have me. And it is funny because we have been on this film since 2011. It comes out end of the year or next year now and someone will say, suddenly she’s a star. Its not suddenly because by 2014, it would have been 3 years since someone suggested to him I could do the job and he looked at me and said, ok she’s skinny, let us see. He first gave me the novel to read. I read it, replied immediately, told him I loved it, what else? He gave me a Yoruba book to read, I did and discussed it with him. You know because I had done a list of people I must work with before I die and tell me whose list is TK not on? Sometimes I stalk people, go to places I know they will attend and just walk up to them and introduce myself. It has worked for me.

So mentoring is as important as networking ?

Very. I go to places and if aunty Joke Silva is there, I nudge her, oya introduce me and she does. Nse Ikpe Etim has been wonderful. I believe in sitting down and getting oral tradition from the people who have come before me. I am a history buff, I like to sit down with people and just listen. Nse sends me a message on BBM, Lala go and watch this film, it’s opening this festival, the director is casting for his next film. Later, she’s like are you there now? So I got there, with my formidable networking skills, I met the filmmaker, we became friends and of course I am in the movie, it’s coming out later.

Random question: What is the deal between you and O.C Ukeje, are you a couple?

He is my best friend, we are not lovers. I mean I love him and he loves me but we are family, brothers if you will. We are boys! The reason his name always comes up is because we are both in the industry, he as my senior colleague and we both think alike. You need friends and life is easier with him around.

Would you consider offers from the Asaba axis on your way to conquering the screen?

The goal for me isn’t just to put my face out there, if it were about that, I would have gone far. Asaba is a strong market and it gets down to the grassroots. Someone asked me at the beginning of 2012 to choose and I did. Do I want to go to Asaba and become a star, everyone knows you, endorsement deals coming in or do I want to stay artistic? The films may come once a year but you have to be content with that, and do other things to keep you busy. Do one film that will reach London or stands a chance of being filmed at an international festival somewhere and be content with whatever comes out of it. So I made a choice and obviously I chose the later.

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