INTERVIEW: How Nollywood can change the Nigerian narrative — Funke Akindele

Funke Akindele
Funke Akindele

Nollywood star, Funke Akindele, shot into limelight after starring in popular United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)-sponsored sitcom ‘I Need to know’, which ran from 1998 to 2002.

Her breakthrough came in 2008 after she appeared in the movie ‘Jenifa’. She has enjoyed an impressive career and recently made her directorial debut in the socio-political comedy film, ‘Your Excellency’ which hits the cinemas this December.

PREMIUM TIMES spoke with the talented actress at the media screening of her latest film which held in Lagos recently.

Here, the 41-year-old actress speaks about the new direction of her career and her industry.

PT: Congrats on your directorial debut. How was it like shooting behind the camera?

Funke: It was a mixed feeling, fun, challenging and tiring. Then also it was more fun. It gave me opportunity to work with Ebonyi Life as a director. Shooting Your Excellency was worth it all. The shoot lasted about a month. Directing isn’t really a new field to me because I’m an actor, writer. I also direct, produce, so directing is something I have always been involved in.

PT: Why were you drawn to the script?

Funke: The storyline is fresh and unique. It basically gives a new spin to the story which was created by Mo Abudu and developed by her too. It’s not a regular storyline. It is something you expect. It’s a political comedy or a comedy movie. It is filled with so many lessons and also to make people laugh. I worked with Ms. Abudu some years ago on the project titled ‘ Screen Divas’, a reality show EbonyLife started then I moved on to Chief Daddy where I acted in. The truth is whenever I see the positive drive of Aunty Mo I just want to double on my own; so when she reached out to me to work as director and lead cast on the project ‘Your Excellency’ I was so happy and jumped on it despite my busy schedule.

PT: What is the story line all about?

Funke: Your Excellency tells the story of Chief Olalekan Ajadi, a bubbling, billionaire businessman and a failed presidential candidate who is obsessed with Donald Trump. Just when his campaign looks set to be another disaster, Ajadi is anointed by a major party and becomes a credible contender-all through the power of social media. As the political drama unfolds, it seems possible that even the most inept candidate with little to offer voters except for viral soundbites and amusing antics can mount a serious challenge for the presidency.

PT: How easy or tough was it joggling the role of a director whilst playing the lead role in the same movie?

Funke: I must say tedious because I do that a lot like the head writer for Jenifa’s Diary and some other contents you see on Scene One Production. This (Your Excellency) is more tedious for me because this is a film compared to TV Series and we kept on working every day. I am super proud of the outcome so far and I can’t wait for people to see what we have cooked.

PT: What is that role that you are yet to play?

Funke: So many roles, watch out for 2020 one of those challenging roles I haven’t played is coming out. I have done some serious roles too not just comedy.

PT: So much has changed in your industry since you launched your career nearly 21 years ago. What type of stories do you think Nollywood needs to begin to shoot?

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Funke: We need to shoot more movies that promote and celebrate our culture. Right now, it should be all about presenting our stories to the Western world. I think Nollywood needs to shoot more indigenous, historical movies to tell our stories like ‘Sango’ and all of that. We can change the Nigerian narrative through our films. I believe Nigerian filmmakers have a lot of power in their hands to change our society and even hold our politicians accountable.

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This is why I love what Genevieve Nnaji did with ‘LionHeart’, I particularly love the role Genevieve’s family played. We just need to tell our story, to make people happy. Let them know what we have in Nigeria.

PT: If indeed like you said that the ‘Lion Heart’ why didn’t it make the Oscar Best International feature cut?

Funke: It’s not a setback. I love the movie. The Oscar rejection made the film more popular. People had to go watch it. It gained attention far and wide.

PT: Nollywood is almost an all-comers affair. What skills do you think budding actors have to possess?

Funke: First, you have to be sure you have the talent. You must have it in you. There must be something different about you. You can’t force talent or do something simply because someone else is doing it. You can learn how to act for sure, but you must be willing to learn. Then stay focused. You must be ready to be patient and endure. You have to work hard. Do not be distracted. You have to be well-grounded and listen to correction. You have to grow organically. I did Screen Divas with Ebony Life some years ago and here I am now directing a movie with the same Ebony Life. It’s called organic growth. Then, you have to be very respectful.

PT: So, which are you most comfortable with acting or directing?

Funke: Honestly, I think acting because I get to express myself so well. Also based on the fact that acting is what I have been doing for so many years; I feel so much at peace doing it; directing takes a whole part of an individual.

PT: Where there moments when you felt like throwing the towel during the shoot?

Funke: Don’t forget that I am also a strong woman; even on those days when I had down moments onset; the executive producer is always there to give words of encouragement. She will be like ‘Funke you can’t give up now; let the world see the stuff you are made of on this project’ and all those words from her and other crew members made the job seamless for me. And before I forget, my ever-supportive husband was also there to support and encourage me and one thing he keeps telling us that you have done your jobs well; this is another person’s production; you have to kill it.

PT: What is that one thing you love about this particular production?

Funke: Well, that will be the fact that everything you see from start to finish of the movie is 100%real in terms of props and more importantly all the cast came with their A game.

PT: So when is your creativity normally at its peak?

Funke: I draw inspiration from happenings around me. I could get an idea and when I am in the bathroom taking a shower I develop it. Later on maybe during a massage, I could give the concept a deeper thought.


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