#TheYNaijaInterview: I was going to leave acting because I was getting frustrated – Tope Tedela

by Wilfred Okiche


I see a guitar in your car. Are you a musician too?

I have always played the guitar.


Have you done any music professionally?

Not yet but even if I were to try something professionally, you wouldn’t even know it was me, I  would just be the guy in the band playing my instrument, as opposed to being the frontman. I also write songs but maybe I am not yet confident enough to share my songs with the world. I was in the choir for many years but let’s just say I’m just focusing on my acting for now.


For a lot of us, it was the AMVCAs that plugged us into your talent. How has the career been moving post AMVCA?

It has been fine I guess. Winning the AMVCAs and all the other awards is good but they could also put some pressure on you. Early on I felt some pressure because I was not really expecting any of the accolades that came. I tried to do a good job in the film but that’s on the one hand. Mostly it has been good. The awards were good for awareness and recognition and opportunities.


So you can’t complain?

Winning awards is one thing, making a decent living from acting is another thing entirely. I am still grateful and I can’t complain.


On the whole would you say that the quality and quantity of roles coming your way have been on the upswing?

I must say that awards are good but they aren’t the ultimate. It is hard. Fundamentally, this is a hard business. A lot of people want to act, there are loads of talented people and far too little opportunities. A lot of roles have come my way but like food, you cannot eat everything you are offered. On the whole, I have done some interesting films and I hope that in the couple of months, they will be available for public consumption.


Are you one of those actors who won’t accept a script until they are up to a certain standard?

I think every actor looks out for different standards in scripts. That being said, it is impossible to work on all the scripts that come your way. Actors aren’t robots so it’s always great to have a script that touches you in some way or the other. This is perhaps the most important element in the process of making a motion-picture; so, yes to a large extent, certain standards and conventions should be met.


But at this stage of your career, isn’t it a risky route to take? The so called New Nollywood isn’t exactly known for churning out legitimate leading men. There’s been OC Ukeje in recent times but that’s about it.

That is a very valid observation and I think about it a lot honestly but I don’t think I have any answer to that question. A lot of questions come to mind when I think about this issue, more questions than answers certainly. In the end you want to be a happy human being but you cannot go about comparing yourself to other people. We all do what we do for different reasons. If I could be an actor and I didn’t have to be popular, maybe I would be happy. But the currency of the screen business is popularity. The truth is I hope that the work that I do will get me that mileage. I cannot do everything that comes my way and I have come to make my peace with that. My sense of purpose and direction is different from the next person’s and I hope that in a few years if we get to talk again, we would be able to analyse if the path that I have chosen worked.


Do you feel like with the AMVCA win, you were suddenly thrust in the spotlight at a time you weren’t really prepared for it. Like one day, you were Tope Tedela, struggling actor, then the next day, Tope Tedela, superstar?

Well like a boys scout one has to always be prepared. I believe greatly in God and the way he orchestrates things. Before the flurry of awards, I was going to leave acting because I was getting frustrated, things weren’t just working out. I was putting in a lot, attending auditions, workshops but I wasn’t seeing results. So maybe the awards were a way of God telling me that I was supposed to be here. So yes, they came at a good time. I am still here and I haven’t been destroyed by fame.


What was growing up like for you and how did your childhood reflect on your current profession?

I grew up in a compact family as the first child of 4 boys. I have always been interested in films. My dad used to have this Clint Eastwood box set of video cassettes; The Good, the bad and the ugly, A fistful of dollars etc. Also, my mum used to buy us novels and storybooks as children, so my imagination was fired up quite early. I used to be a loner of sorts living in this dream world because in reality I was just this scrawny, uncool kid.


So you found expression in Clint Eastwood movies

Back then, Clint Eastwood was the ideal hero for me to look up to because for a long time, my family stopped watching movies. But later on, I remember being influenced positively by films like, A Beautiful mind, Donnie Brasco, Scent of a woman and being drawn to the excellence that I saw on screen. Richard Mofe Damijo, early Desmond Elliot from Everyday People, Sam Dede, Francis Duru brought it home for me also.


From admiring these guys to working with them now, do you get intimidated when you have to shoot big scenes with them?

I work so hard to be sure that I am in command of my business and the character I am playing so that even when things go bad or aren’t working out fine, it is almost never from my end. I try to do my homework and when you do that, your fear level would be minimal. I still come in awe of these people and I watch them work and try to pick up a few things.


How do you get yourself prepared for a role. What are the processes you pass through to be ready for your character?

For me, I admire people who approach acting from the standpoint of the method and I think certain roles may require you to use certain techniques but I think sometimes you have to marry them. Personally I like Meisner’s approach. I rely a lot on my imagination and being in the moment such that by the time we get to the scene, I get into it. Also I am learning to work from home. If it’s not a silent film, I have learnt that having a command of one’s lines having variations on how to approach the character is also key. Create your backstory, and a life for the character and just work it out from there.


As an actor, are you satisfied with the kind of roles you have played so far?

That is a hard question but I did a film recently titled Surulere directed by Mildred Okwo and I was in a supporting role but I enjoyed working on that project because the role I played is very different from anything I have done. It was quite a challenge but I had done a  lot of homework, I had sent audio recordings on how I thought the character should sound to her, I did some work on the physicality of the character; how he walked, behaved and I loved working on that character. I am not saying I have seen it all because I know there’s a lot more coming!


Has it been easy maintaining a romantic relationship at this stage of your career?

I am just trying to stay focused right now. Relationships are great but you want to be sure before you get into anything. I guess I am engaged to my scripts right now.


Apart from Surulere, What other projects are you excited to share with the world?

I am in the process of making a film with Imoh Umoren titled, The Happiness limited. It is going to be a good film and I am happy to be a part of it. There’s also a series, The Team directed by Kenneth Gyang is coming out soon. I did another film with Charles Uwagbai titled Drive, an action drama plus a couple of other projects coming up. The rest of the year is pretty busy for me.


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