Toyin Adegbola is, by right, a veteran Nigerian actress. Like many others, she started acting by taking part in television dramas. From there, she moved… onto stage and then movies. She also is one of the few actors who featured in celluloid movies. Recently, she celebrated her 25 years of acting. Hazeez Balogun was there and she spoke about her past, present and future plans. Excerpts:
How it all began
It has not bee easy. It’s just like yesterday, but I thank God that I am very much alive and I am very much relevant in the industry. It is not by my making, it is God’s doing. One can not have a long succesive run. There have been up’s and down’s but we have sailed through.
Sailing through in this kind of business that we are in, one has to apply a lot of wisdom. What I tell a lot of people is that when they get fame, they should not allow it to get into their heads. One has to always be level-headed to go far. If you allow fame to get into your head, you are going down. Being a star does not mean anything. It does not make one different from other people. As a star, you are not a god, you are just a human being. Many people have this false view of themselves when they attain stardom, they usually don’t last.
Yes, there have been a lot of challenges. I had been doing a lot of movies before I did the popular Asewo to re Mecca. I did a movie then and the thing caused a lot of stir in my life. I just did a small role in the movie. The next thing people were saying was: “how could a married woman act such a movie?” In the movie I acted as a prostitute.
They even went as far as telling my husband all sorts of rubbish. My husband got fed up and said that we should get a copy of the movie and watch it together. So we got one and sat down to watch it. After we finished my husband asked: “What is wrong with this film?” He knew that it was just a movie, my job, and there was nothing wrong in it. But it was terrible for me because people wree saying bad things about me. It was a real challenge.
Also, it took a lot of time before the name Asawo to re Mecca could go down well with me. You can imagine walking on the road, and people started calling me Asewo. That, on its own, was a challenge. At first, we wanted to change the name. We did all we could to change it. We even decided to do a movie in which I would bear another name so that people would prefer that name but it did not work. It is as if it had been destined to stick on me. Funny enough, it is the name that shot me to limelight. Now, it does not bother me. Even when I am at international events outside Nigeria, you see people calling me Asewo to re Mecca, it does not bother me anymore.
Also, as a known face, in the industry, there is no privacy. We can not do as we want because people are looking at us. A few years back, my driver took the car out to drop someone, the next thing I heard was that my car was used by armed robbers to do an operation. It was all over the news. But when the police waded into the matter, they found out that there was no element of truth in the story. But it was all over the town that they met a lot of guns in my car. All these stories were circulated because I am a popular person. Despite the fact that I have been cleared, till tomorrow, some people will still refer to the event. They still say that I groom thugs. That is what follows popularity.
In this industry, a lot of people want to see you grow while a lot want to see your down fall. So one has to really be careful.
I did not start with movies. You will not believe it but I actually studied Electronics. I had been an actress since I was a little girl. I was born into the family of the late Mr. and Mrs. Babatope. My parents were from Ilesha, though I tell people that I am from Kwara because that was where I lived almost all my life. I almost went to the University, but because I was not given admission on time I went to a Technical School to study Electronics. When I reflect, sometimes I thank God that I was not given that admission, because I might not have been as successful as I am today if I had gone to the university.
I was also lucky that I lost both parents at a tender age, so I did not receive much opposition when I decided to go into acting. If my child also decides to go into acting today, I will not object. As an actor, there are a lot of things to gain.
Today, I have been to several places around the world. I have met with people from different nationalities. All these I have been able to achieve through acting.
Rating the movie industry
To be candid, I can say in terms of production, there has been a bit decline in the industry. However, today, actors and actresses are better paid than before.
In those days we did not just release movies like that. At a location, you go to spend about three months to shoot a film. Today, you see an actor acting in 10 different movies at the same time. The Censors Board needs to sanitise the industry because it is affecting us.
Also, piracy is a very big problem. The thing has now spread its tentacles. If you release any movie today, I bet you, by tomorrow, it will be in shops in the U.K and in the Unites States. Not to talk of the millions that have already been pirated in Nigeria.
Also in Nigeria, everybody wants to act, direct, and produce at the same time. If the pay is really good, one should be okay with acting alone. Things are going backwards in the industry. There was a time we used to shoot on celuloid. What we have today are films shot with poor quality cameras. The thing is that poverty in Nigeria is just too much. If poverty strikes a pastor, he could be tempted to visit a babalawo. That is the kind of predicament producers in Nollywood are facing. When they cannot afford high quality equipment, they tend to improvise by using low quality ones. Also, Nigerians prefer to copy people when they see that one is making money from one venture. Today, everyone wants to become a movie producer.
Despite all these, we are still trying. They say our movies are low quality, yet we are still number three in the whole world. They appreciate our works all over the world. I was in Jerusalem sometime ago. When I was at the airport, people would just come around to say hi. I mean I was surprised that our movies are appreciated in countries that are as far away as that.
Almost all countries in Africa watch our movies. In America, London and all over Europe, they watch our films. So, despite all the problems we have, we are able to produce works that people can appreciate. What we need now is to sensitise the industry. I mean from Celluloid, we should have improved. But there is still room for improvement.
I have 12 movies to my credit. The most challenging and controvercial one of them is Olorioko. The film is all about bad leadership. I did the movie after the death of Uncle Bola Ige. After I released the movie, people advised me to travel out of the country because there were a lot of things that were revealed in the movie and those in power might not find it funny. Eventually I had to travel out because I actually got some threats, I went to to London to stay for a while.
The number one person who inspires me is Tubosun Odunsi. He was the one who discovered me. Then Toyin Babatope, who was at Newday Television, was one of those who encouraged me. Lere Paimo, Adebayo Salami, Iya Rainbow, Iya Awero, Iya Oshogbo, Dr. Yemi Farounbi, Adebisi Adesola, they are too numerous. I have a lot of people who inspire me and mentor me.
I was married to a lovely husband. And I have three children. None of them is in Nigeria. They are all abroad studying. How I met my husband is a funny story. We met at the then Television Service of Oyo State. One of my friends, Uncle Abbey, came with him one day to my office. When he introduced us, I found out the man was handsome, gentle and had a lovely voice. The second day, he came back to my office alone, he said he wanted to take me out to lunch, I did not object.
The next thing he went to Lagos, when he came back, the first thing he told me was that he was going to marry me. I was shocked. I called him a joker, and told him to wake up from his dream. But after he said that, I started to notice a lot of good qualities about the man. I also saw that he was serious.
My husband did not have a problem with the name Asewo. He is a man who worked in a radio station and he understands the industry. He did not have a problem with it. I had been acting before he knew me, yet he took me as I am.
Prostitution in the movie industry
It happens everywhere. Even in your journalism, you find many girls who useless themselves. In the hospital you see nurses who sleep with doctors. It happens everywhere. I will not say yes, actress do it or not. What I can only say is that; you don’t need to sleep with a producer for roles. They will only use and pass you around. It is only God that can make one a star. It is true that most of these girls come purposely for men to see them on screen. But real actors behave well because a lot of people are looking at them.
I did not sleep around yet see where I am today. I have never lived in Lagos which they refer to as the entertainment head quarters. They always come here to Ibadan to look for me. The day I was told that I was to be given an Afro-Hollywood award, I did not believe it. It is the hardwork that I had done that is paying off.