Nollywood actor Adeniyi Johnson made headlines in 2013 when he took popular actress Toyin Aimakhu as wife. Currently, the Lagos State University graduate of History and International Relations says that he is ready to make his directorial debut. OVWE MEDEME caught up with him on set where he talks about the challenges of being an actor, marrying a celebrity, and the caucuses in the Nigerian movie industry, among other issues.
WHAT are you currently working on? I am currently on the set of the TV series, Tales of Eve. We are shooting the fifth season.
How did you get cast for the production?
Actually, I didn’t come for the audition. I came for a reading with a couple of guys here and afterwards we were told to go. So I got a text (message) that I got the role and that I should come on a particular date for the official casting. I came and I was given the script. I came for reading. It wasn’t automatic. I still go for readings. You wan siddon for house? The role no go come meet us for house na.
How long have you been acting?
On TV, I think it should be about seven years. I started with soap operas, though I did a couple of English movies. I diversified and I started doing Yoruba films, being a Yoruba man. That was where I found my wife and married her.
Was it easy scoping her?
Bros, no be small thing o. It wasn’t easy. Then, there was the difference in status. She was a celebrity while I was an up and coming (actor). But we became very good friends. We were so good that we hardly could not do without chatting a day on BBM. The feelings started developing for me, but you know, initially, you have to be very careful. One way or the other, things led to her deleting me off BBM at some point and adding me back. There is a whole lot of story to it.
How have you been meeting up with the demands of the industry?
So far, I have to be thankful to God. The industry will treat you based on how you handle your job and how good you are. You don’t expect to be mediocre and be treated like a prince. It doesn’t work like that. By God’s grace, it has been smooth. Not like it has been very rosy but we have to confess positively. The industry has its own ups and downs. There are times when it is rosy, there are times when it goes downwards but we just have to find a way to sail through. Generally, piracy, favouritism, caucus and all sorts are working against the industry.
Let’s talk about caucus especially as it relates to the Yoruba movie industry…
It has always been there before I started doing Yoruba films and it will continue to be there because everybody has his or her own clique. It even extends to the crew. A particular DOP will tell you he is not comfortable working with a particular sound guy. There is caucus everywhere. In the industry, you have to belong to a particular crew, otherwise you can’t even work for them. Until you break out, until your head is out of water, then people can start calling you but, naturally, when coming up, you have to belong somewhere.
Whose caucus do you identify with?
When I was coming up, I belonged to the caucus of Jesus (laughs) although I was adopted into several caucuses. Basically, I met a number of Yoruba actors on the set of soap operas. They invited me to come and do Yoruba films but I was initially skeptical about it. So when I got there and they started challenging me, I go back to them and they tell them I belong to their caucus.
Candidly, I have to give kudos to Funke Akindele because she adopted me. Femi Adebayo also helped me several times when I had challenges until when they got to know me. All that is coupled with who I got married to. When I became known, I decided to break off the caucus thing.
So far, are you comfortable with the financial reward?
For Yoruba films, I am not. Piracy no let us rest. Thank God for some of us that can diversify by doing soap operas and some English films. Yoruba industry is not like what people think out there. That is why we have problems with all these area boys. When they see us, they want us to give them money. How much you think say I collect where I dey come from? The biggest stars in Yoruba movie industry today cannot boast of collecting two hundred thousand naira per film. Some cannot even boast of one hundred and fifty thousand naira and they are A-list actors. Because when you shoot a film and it is being released on Monday, before 12 noon, pirates have gotten a hold of it and syndicated it.
What has been your most challenging moment as an actor?
The most challenging moments of my life as an actor were the growing up moments, the time when I was relatively unknown, when I had to convince people that I can actually do it, when I had to go the extra length, when I had to push myself. There are people who have been there before and they are coming up with you, so you have to really convince them that you can do it. It is not easy getting roles as an up and coming artiste. Some people pay producers to get roles and for you who have nothing to offer, it is very challenging.
You have to act your life out to get roles. Secondly, after my marriage, it became challenging for me in my career. A lot more was expected of me because everybody knows my wife is a fantastic actress. They expected me to match up with her standards so I had to step up my game. Also, in a whole lot of programmes I was doing, they (producers) started running away from me saying, Oko Toyin Aimakhu (Toyin Aimakhu’s husband); how will we pay him? But now, I have been able to strike the balance. We are moving on. It’s been smooth.
Are you trying to say marriage affected you career negatively?
I have to be candid, it has been positive. It is like a journey. You know where you are going and you envisage that you will get there in about five years but getting married to someone helped you arrive a couple of years early. It has affected me positively, I must confess. I thank God I married the woman I married.
Sometimes do you feel intimidated by her status?
I have always been her fan, even before I got married to her. She knows. When people talk about her and how good she is, I kept telling them she is interpreting her role well and that they should leave that to the husband. I never knew I would be the husband. I never knew I was going to marry her. I kept defending her.
So when the opportunity came for us to become friends, I saw the part of Toyin when she is off camera. I have never been intimidated by her. I have always been the one campaigning for people to vote for her. I want her to win as much awards as possible. My brother, there is no joy in meeting a woman who is driving an SUV and then she meets you and starts driving a very small car. It is not a thing of joy. I would rather she goes from there to flying and then keep soaring high. It motivates me to move too. I am her number one fan. Even when I see some of her movies that she is not happy with, I tell her she is the best.
When you first met her, what was the attraction?
The attraction basically was that from an actor to an actor; an up and coming to a celeb. We became friends and we talked about age. I got to know that age-wise, she was a small girl. Not so small but three years is not a joke. Educationally too, I am qualified. So I said okay, I liked her. The only difference was her status.
But people are of the notion that she is older than you are
Toyin is one of the fortunate celebrities we have in Nigeria. She got known early, so people started mistaking stardom for her age. Most of our girls are just plump. They have acting age like they have football age. So when I came into the picture, her real age had to come out. She graduated in 2006.
She complained about how she kept getting bigger, so I asked her not to worry and that she can work on it as a lady. I became a friend. I was almost like a gym instructor, advising her on what to do. We were talking like very good friends, so I discovered that she is from a very good background. What people do not understand is the movie part of her life. Her mother is the founder of a Christ Apostolic Church (CAC).
This is somebody that prays a lot at home. I discovered that what people see about you is what you want them to see on screen. I decided that the off-screen part of her life is what I can live with. It was more like a brother to sister relationship initially, but I’ve always liked her. That was when the feelings started building up. I started getting to know who Toyin is, apart from the actress that the world knows and ever since, I have been happy.
When you made your intention known, did you receive resistance from your family?
Naturally, you should expect that, being an African and a Yoruba man. And then, based on the role that Toyin plays, people judge her by what she does on screen. When they got to meet her one-on-one, they saw a different person. I didn’t really have to patronise my family or sell her to them. It was my decision. It is my life. It is who I want to spend the rest of my life with, although they have a say to a large extent I made them realise this is who she is and I am getting married to her. So far, nobody has regretted ever supporting me. I don’t think there has ever been a cause where family had to come in to settle our disputes. I am not even a fan of family settling disputes.
2015 is just rolling in. What are your goals for this year?
I am looking forward to making a statement this year. I made my statement in 2013 when I married Toyin. This year, I am looking forward to making more statements through movies and family. I think that it is about time the world knew that there is an actor in me. It is not about marrying Toyin. A few people have discovered that Niyi can act but now I think it is about time they see more of me. I have not produced any movie of my own, whether English or Yoruba. This year, I am looking forward to doing that. If it is possible, I will make my directorial debut this year because I am taking some directorial courses online. My wife go shoot English film (laughs). We are also doing Alakada soap. A lot of things have been lined up. They will soon start rolling out. From February, you will start hearing from us.
(Culled from The Nation)