Kemi Lala Akindoju is a seasoned actress with 11 years of experience under her belt. In the 2016 AfricaMagic Viewers, Choice Awards, Lala, as she is popularly called, won the Trailblazer award, a category which comes with a car gift. In her excitement, Lala chronicles how she began her journey from her first professional job ‘All I want for Christmas’ on stage to her foray into movie making and what the future holds for her in the industry. Excerpts.
How does it feel winning the award?
I don’t even know if I have the right words yet, I think now I’m calmer than when I won it, also because I didn’t see it coming. It is one thing to be nominated in a category for an award, it is another thing to be picked and announced and have no clue that you are winning it. After a few days I feel immensely grateful. I feel very honored and humbled at the same time.
When did this acting journey actually begin for you?
In Decembe2005, I did my first professional work. I was in a play called ‘All I want for Christmas’, and I was still in the University of Lagos, an undergraduate that was my second, and third year. A friend who knew me from church wanted to do this two-man play and my senior colleague and very good friend OC Ukeje, was already in that play. He said ‘ Lala I think you will be great’, because the character required singing. I did that play in 2005. In 2006, somebody had seen me in that play, his name is Niyi Ogunsanwo, he did A husband wife, at Peck theatre, near the MUSON Center, though it’s not running anymore. By this time, I had done a play in 2005 and 2006 and then I was still trying to find where I was going to settle. I was doing a lot of music, at that time, I was doing voice over and I loved to perform.
My first degree is in insurance, so it had nothing to do with the performing art. In 2007, in my final year, I had decided that I wanted to act, but I didn’t really know how to go about it. I didn’t study Theatre Art and I wondered how I was going to get into it. I remember that I did a list of directors that I wanted to work with, actors that I want to work with, and then I decided that I wanted to get into the industry through stage and theater. I felt like I needed some training and when you work in theater you get all kinds of training because you are doing the real thing. You are working on your own body and everything, so I knew that I wanted to work in theater first. In May 2007, Terraculture just started something called ACE and I went for the audition and got picked. In July 2007 I started acting every Sunday at Terraculture. I was part of the team that started what we now know as theater-terra and I did that for two and half years.
After then, I did my Masters in Media and Communication and I began working in front of the camera. My first professional work in front of camera was Tinsel(season three) in 2010 after which I had more confidence to go in front of the camera, after doing stage strictly for five years and I guess the rest is history.
So which will you say you are more comfortable with, the stage or the film?
As an actor you must be able to perform on all platforms and on all the media for performance, whether television, film, radio, stage, an actor should not be restricted and for every actor you have to now decide which one will be your door in. For me, it was the stage. Working in front of the camera for television is different from even working for film. The techniques are different because the size of the screen is different. So they are all very technical. The techniques are different and so I don’t know if it’s about comfort because every time I have a role to play I’m nervous.
In the course of your doing movies, the lessons you have learnt, has it in anyway impacted in your output?
Definitely. I worked on Tinsel like it was my first time in front of the camera and I remembered speaking to my mentor Aunty Joke Silver and she said to me ‘Just be easy, be relaxed and don’t project if they don’t tell you to project’. She knew I was nervous. I also spoke to Femi Odugbemi and I remembered because from stage you have to have all your lines , so I got on set and I had all my lines like I was ready. Tinsel was a good place to learn for me, so by the time I was casting my first feature film with Charles Novia, I was ready for the camera.
In film you are not shooting for your sequence. You can shoot the last scene first and then shoot the middle scene next week, meanwhile on stage, the chronology is correct so we start from the beginning and we go to the end and it’s all there in an hour and some minutes. With film however, it’s a period of time so the character doesn’t come alive and die within one hour even though when you are watching the film, you are watching it for an hour or ninety minutes but the process of making it is very different.
How did you get the nick name LALA?
From my childhood and Kemi became Kemo Lala, Kemo disappeared and Lala just stuck ,so I know that all through my years in secondary school,people started calling me by the time I was leaving secondary school, Queens College by the way, people were already calling me lala, and it just made sense to stick with Lala and I just added an exclamation mark to it. For proper credit I’d like to introduce myself as Kemi-Lala really am Lala, if you call me Kemi, I don’t even remember, my mum calls me Lala, and I call her Mama Lala.
In your acceptance speech, you were saying your family is the best any actress should have, elaborate more on that.
I come from a very close family, we are four in my family, I have one brother, he is older than me, we are two kids of my parents, and we are very very close. My parents are very hard hands on, deciding to be an actor, I think for anybody in my generation, I think now it’s getting easier, but for anybody in my own generation, if you should tell your parents you want to be an artist, they love you, but they want you to be happy, to make money, they want you to be better than them, they don’t understand it, I was going to be a doctor, being prepped to be a doctor, I was going to be a pediatrician and because I was a very outspoken child, I knew what I wanted. Somewhere along the line, I wasn’t happy with sciences, and my parents supported me up till when I started acting full time. I remembered when I did Warlock in 2008, that was one of the biggest things that kind of announced me, made them know that this girl is serious. I was the youngest actor, I was on stage with Kate Henshaw, Bimbo Akintola, Funmi Iyanda, Yinka Davies. My parents were very proud and they show up everywhere I go.
What is that one thing you hold key to yourself about growing up?
It’s the time we spent as a family. I grew up watching plays for example every holiday we went out. A lot of the plays I ended up doing as an adult I had watched as a child and in fact there was a bit of a historic moment. I was five years old when I saw a play called THE KING MUST DANCE NAKED. Joke Silver played a male role in that play, Olu Jacobs was in that play ,Ahmed Yerima was also in that play. Fast forward to 2012 I was doing that play with Aunty Joke and Olu Jacobs, it had gone full circle. My childhood memories are full of trips to the National Theater and Unilag. I saw Obaseki on stage, The lion and the jewel, the Gods are not to blame. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon but my family is about love and happiness and fulfillment so it’s in the family times . It is in the having meals together, we celebrate everything so it’s those things that stick out in my childhood and still happens so it’s not a thing of the past.
Back to the industry, is it more challenging for women than for men?
I hear this things, even though I will like to say now as an adult, am gender sensitive, so I look out for women but I was never raised this women or men thing, I was raised as a person, so when am going to do something, I do not see myself as am a woman, I may not get it, or they will treat me funny, am a person, can I do the job? yes, and so when am working hard or trying to raise, it’s because am a person, I don’t want you to give me the job or opportunity because am a person who can deliver, and who can do a job, even though actress is a correct English, I like to see myself as an actor, because am an actor, I can play anything, an actress can only play a female role, am an actor and I can become anything, so I don’t see that gender thing, and to my women out there, the opportunities are there, in fact the question is where are the women? Get up do this thing, enough of the pity patty, am not saying that our very puritanical society doesn’t put women at a disadvantage already , and that our society with the way we are socialized, now we are growing as a society, we are winning some battles, but I think the women need to not put themselves on the defensive and see themselves as people, and work as hard as the men, the only thing we need to do is to make sure the same opportunities are available to both men and women.
Would you say working with the likes of Tunde kelani, and Kunle Afolayan is a blessing on your career?
Definitely, it’s such a blessing, and I really cannot take out the place of Gods favour, because am a Christian, and the bible says, that surely a horse is prepared for battle, but victory is of the lords, it is not of him that winneth, or of him that runneth, it’s of the lord that showeth mercy. And the bible says time and chance happeneth to them all, so you can sweat, and sweat, you can work, and work, and nothing will come out of it, now am not going to say that I didn’t work, or I did not do anything, everybody that I have known in the industry, who is my mentor, and person, they are all people that I walked up to, I didn’t have any God father, or God mother, now I have, but I didn’t have before, I met Aunty Jay, I met her first through OC, my friend, and I said introduce me to her, and he introduced me to her, am a kind of person that says good morning, my name is Lala, am an actor, and I want to work with you, and the person might look at me funny, and yes this is who I am, what am doing, I don’t mind I can intern.
What would you say about these years AMVCA?
I must commend the organizers of the AMVCA ,I pay attention to these things and in the fourth year I must commend the team ,it was very organized .You know its hard work when you are doing something that is live for television ,so you are managing people and, managing sometimes the not so disciplined Nigerians who are keeping to time all of that ,but somehow African magic and multi-choice gets us to behave,we always behave ourselves when it’s an African magic event ,we behave ourselves,we show up on time because we know they will start on time so everyone will cooperate with them.
How do you unwind?
Am an average film watcher, I watch everything, I consume films like no man’s business, Monday night is movie night, me am my clique, I call them my family members, we go and see a movie on Mondays, sometimes we see 3 movies, in fact right now am behind schedule I haven’t seen a movie this week.