Almost every year, the widely acclaimed Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) attracts international stars to Nigeria and the 2013 edition is no different. Tayo Elesin, the British Nigerian actress who has starred in television soaps such as Law and Order UK, Holby City (BBC), Doctors (BBC) is a special guest as the Awards scheduled to hold tonight in Bayelsa state.
A trained lawyer with an LLB, LLM and MSc, she is also a skilled actress making strong incursion into Hollywood and European TV and film scenes. Tayo is 25, beautiful and charming with a high level of charisma, and has done several stage plays and voice over works in the UK and US. She has worked in Musicals in London’s West End and off-West End shows like Godspell, Pippin. Her other works include Casualty (BBC), Acting Raw (USA/Germany), Alison Jackson Studios (BBC), Kodaline music video ‘All My Friends’ for SONY Music Worldwide and MOREMI where she plays the heroine Moremi in the African myth for Spectrecom Studios.
With a much wider and impressive list of works, I was quite eager to meet the Nigerian born actress doing us proud abroad. She arrived Lagos early Friday morning and while she took time out to get refreshed and eat before her afternoon flight to PortHarcourt, we had an exclusive chat at House J Suites in Ikeja G.R.A, Lagos. She had ordered her meal before I arrived and when the waiter brought it over, I expressed my surprise at her plate of pounded yam and edikaikong soup to which she heartily laughed saying she was a “Brigerian”.
Hi Tayo, welcome once again to Nigeria. You’re here for the AMAA Awards as a special guest. Is that the only thing that brings you to the country at this time?
AMAA Awards 2013 is what brings me to Nigeria. I have been to Nigeria before, but I’ve never been outside of Lagos. But it’s exciting and it sounds very interesting. I hope it’s good.
Were you familiar with Nigerian movies, filmmakers and actors before now?
I would say yes to a certain degree. Obviously, there is this terminology called Nollywood that people use to describe films from Nigeria. I’m aware of Nigerian films, some film makers are my personal friends but I would say over the past year I’ve come to know more Nigerian people in the industry. To be honest, I previously didn’t know too much people in the industry.
Could you mention some names you are familiar with in the Nigerian movie industry?
Kenneth Gyang, who got four or five nominations for ‘Confusion Na Wa’. I hope he wins something. He is a young man and I think he is a visionary. I met him at a British Council event over the summer last year at the Olympics. He showed us ‘Blood And Henna’ at a private screening. To me, he is the type of film maker Nigeria needs to be proud of and the type of person that needs to get money to make great films.
On the part of the actors, what do you think about Nigerian actors and their style of acting? Do you have any favourites in the industry?
There are different styles of acting and sometimes style is reflective of culture. The Nigerian culture is vivacious, bright and energetic. But in the Western world, there is a contrast. There is a subtlety especially in Film and TV acting. Overacting is tended to be frowned upon. In terms of film there are some amazing people that I have watched. I think Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde is absolutely fantastic. She plays roles that are not reflective of herself because the tendency for people is that as they get bigger, they play what they are and that is not really acting. Of course everybody likes Genevieve Nnaji, her screen acting is also very good. Also Nse Ikpe-Etim, I saw her recently in a film and I thought she was quite good.
What do you think practitioners in the Nigerian movie industry need to do to boost the ranking of our actors in the international scene?
The Nigerian industry needs to encourage good acting and encourage training for acting as well. Just because somebody is pretty doesn’t mean he/she is a good actor. They should understand that it is a trade; it is not something you do because you want to earn quick money or because you want to look pretty. It’s a skill that one must master.
Talking about training, your profile reads that you are a trained Lawyer. Where did you get some acting training and time to develop your skills?
I did everything almost together. With acting in the Western world, you don’t work all the time. My understanding is with acting in Nigeria, a film can be made in two weeks and you can move from one to another and another. It’s not like that in Europe and USA. I was able to combine education and my acting together. I don’t come from a family where I was forced into studying Law, I actually enjoyed every aspect of it because Law and acting are actually very similar. When you go into a court room, the best story teller wins the case. If you know the art of storytelling and you’re intelligent, those combinations can make you a very good actress that is interesting to watch.
You seem to have been involved in more TV productions than movies. Is this deliberate?
No, not at all. I have a very interesting CV. Before I went for a Law Degree, I did musical theatre – sing, dance and act. It was a two year course at a school under the overall accreditation of Trinity College of Music. I enjoyed it but while I was studying that the year before I went to the University, I realized that acting was the thing for me. TV is not easy to crack into back in England. It wasn’t intentional. How I did it, only God knows. I don’t know how it happened, I didn’t plan for it. But I think it’s my style of acting. I’m not a “showy showy” actor which works well for screen.
I also noticed you’ve been involved in more than a few productions for the BBC.
I don’t know why again. It just happened, I didn’t plan it.
As a UK based actress, do you have any intentions of breaking into Hollywood?
For me, I hate that terminology of “breaking into Hollywood” because there is something very cliché about it. Everybody wants to break into Hollywood. Where are you breaking into? Just be an actor, that is what I say. I always say that talent and skill would take you where you want to. We are human beings to “be” and if you are excellent at what you do, you will just find doors opening. I live by that motif. In doing what you do best, you would start to see that greatness would come to you. But yes, I’ve worked there and I intend to do more work out there as well.
Let’s talk more about Nigeria now. With regards to your nationality, what would you call yourself?
I am a Brigerian. For everyone that doesn’t know what that is, it means British Nigerian for me!
I notice that you’re eating Edikaikong, a native soup from Calabar. When did you develop a liking for this food?
It is my favourite soup. I tasted it for the first time a few years ago when I came for my sister’s wedding. I love it because it’s so rich in vegetables. And I’m eating it in the morning with Pounded Yam so you can see how bush I am (laughs). I don’t eat this everyday in London. But I’m here, why not?
The Nigerian music industry has grown in huge leaps over the past few years. Have you been in touch with Nigerian music and do you have any favourite artistes?
I don’t like Nigerian or African music that tries to be overtly westernized. I like African music that is African. I like people who sing in Yoruba like 9ice, I love that. I like Asa a lot and 2face Idibia. I saw him perform live once and he did this Jazzy kinda thing where he spoke his language and it was cool. And I love love love Fela.
Of recent, there have been more collaborations between Nigerian international stars and Nollywood movies. If you were approached to star in a Nigerian movie, would you be willing to do so?
Yes, if the character is great and I believe in the Director’s vision. If the story was about characters in Nigeria and it’s a character I believe in, and if it was a Director that I thought would do justice, I would do it. I’m all about the story. Stories are stories.
The AMAA Awards has quite a reputation for attracting some of the best red carpet outfits in Nigeria. A lot of cameras would be on you. Give us a tease on what you would be rocking on the red carpet.
I’m quite upset because the dress that I actually wanted to wear didn’t turn up on time and there was a shouting spree on the phone yesterday to the company. However, there is another company who gave me another dress. You’d see it on the night. I’m not going to say too much about the designer.
Fashion and style are very important to most ladies. How would you describe your personal style?
I’m simple, I’m eloquent and I’m classy. I don’t like too much going on. I’m just a very natural person and that reflects in my dressing. I’m a simple person, I don’t like overdoing it. I think beautiful people are the people who usually don’t do too much.
You have a unique hair style. Tell me about it.
I keep my hair short and curly. I don’t wear any kind of weaves unless the character I’m playing at a time requires me to wear it. I don’t really like it.
Do you need to apply any relaxer in it to keep it this soft?
No, not at all. We all have very soft hair in my family. My mother’s hair is like that.
So, how do you maintain the curls?
I use oils to steam my hair every week. I only use natural oils like macadamia, coconut and olive oil.
I notice you don’t have any make up on. Is this your regular everyday look or are you appearing this way because you’d be flying soon?
I have the same thoughts about makeup – completely simple. I like lip gloss though and it’s good to keep your skin refreshed and healthy. But looking healthy comes from the inside. I’m a big vegetable person. I was a vegetarian for a while but I’m back on meat now. However my meat intake is much lower than my vegetables.
Lastly before you go, what are your thoughts on the often negative perception most people have of Nigeria in the international community and how does it affect you as a Nigerian?
Nigeria is energetic, vibrant, a land of opportunities and very populous. To me, if you look at the population of black people in the Western world who are doing major things either in film or politics, whatever it is, a lot of them are from Nigerian origin. Nigerians are doing great things abroad in so many spheres. In terms of perception, of course there are perceptions of every country in the international world. There are loads of embezzlement that happens back at England as well but it’s done in a different way, it’s subtle. So if it’s done overtly here doesn’t mean one is better than the other. What I would say is that perception is just perception. Perception might not always be reality and it’s important that we remember that.
It was great chatting with Tayo and from BellaNaija, we wish her the very best!
Tayo Elesin Reel 2013