One Afternoon with Oba, The King of Boys
Flashback. I wanted a quick bite in Mr. Biggs at Abule Egba, a Lagos outskirt community. This was in October 2001, and it was just before eight at night.
‘Toyin Tomato’ started as a finger-pointing whisper, lo and behold when I turned at once, Sola Sobowale was thirsty for a bottle of water. From my queue, a queue was offering a red carpet to the smiling salesgirl. It seems she was making a case for taking her turn and they weren’t having any of that. Not even the fair Ondo star herself could stop them from gifting ‘Toyin Tomato’ their spaces.
A simple dress and casual footwear, looking smashing without any visible makeup. It’s difficult to be sure, as a journalist, if her wide smile is real, considering her acting prowess.
The scene escalates rapidly. Faces not brave enough were growing at the wide glass window. Seems like traffic was heading into the moderate space like there was a cinema show.
The echo of ‘Toyin Tomato’ was growing louder…
Fast forward. Eighteen years later. Sunday 27 October 2019 at the Landmark Event Centre in Lagos, Nigeria. It is the same broad smile of delight, and it is straight from her soul as she appears on the glittering stage, adjudged the best actress in Africa. It’s the prestigious Africa Movie Academy Awards ceremony once again, the fifteenth edition.
The awards night was hosted by Kemi Lala Akindoju, Lorenzo Menakaya, and Funnybone.
You can’t win this playing in a lousy movie. Bundled with her crowning as the Best Actress in Leading Role for her role in King of Boys, were the well-earned victories of Kemi Adetiba, the director, and Adesua Etomi Wellington who was adjudged Best Actress in Supporting Role.
So, Sola Sobowale starred in King of Boys which emerged as the Nigerian film with the highest number of awards at the 15th edition of the Africa Movie Academy Awards Ceremony. The film got nine nominations and won three awards. King of Boys explores the dark back streets politicians default to when grappling for power. And in Eniola Salami’s hands—Sola Sobowale’s character—resides the mafia-style clout of the streets.
Fast forward, again, to The Nollywood Reporter Valentine 2023 interview. Starting with the publisher’s brief.
A call came from the influential filmmaker, and former president of the Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN), Andy Amenechi. “Sola Sobowale is quite a private person, but she’s unassuming. I think she does not like frivolous interviews. But if you have a new idea, I’m sure she’ll oblige you.”
“We want to understand the nuances of her craft,” TNR responded.
“She’s expecting your call,” Amenechi replied.
And she was.
She is heading home from the airport. Just arrived from India where she went to play a role as an expatriate actress.
“Let’s see how things go,” Sola Sobowale said.
That was a promise almost impossible until the first Sunday of February, by which time, The Nollywood Reporter had traveled to the past, the days of Toyin Tomato and beyond through Hafeez Ayetoro, lecturer and versatile actor who was groomed by icons like Chuck Mike, Ola Rotimi, and Wole Soyinka. He was ecstatic about his experience on set with Sola Sobowale.
“Sola Sobowale is a symbol of creativity and hard work,” the man popularly known as Saka told TNR.
“Sola Sobowale has been in the industry for about 40 years now, and she is still there. All the time I’ve worked with Sola Sobowale, I have never had any regret. I think Nigeria should be proud of her and even give her a special award for carrying the name of Nigeria all over the world.
Continuing, Ayetoro asserted:
“Sola Sobowale has gone international now. With RMD, I think. So, the world has noticed her.
“She is very easy to work with, and she brings out the best of every actor in a very friendly, very cheerful way. She has a way of interacting with everybody on set. Young and old. If Sola Sobowale is acting with a 10-year-old, she comes down to his level.
“She’s very respectful and so easy to work with. I do not know of any other person like her. I have worked with Sola Sobowale several times when we acted in some Yoruba movies, even English movies, and she is wonderful. Clean, very polite, very hardworking, very artistic, and creative.
“She can write, she can direct, she can act. Though a lot of people know her as an actress, Sola Sobowale is a producer that has produced Yoruba films. I’m very sure she’s planning another production of her own now. So, she is a complete thespian. That is how I can describe Sobowale.”
In London lives an artist Nigerians can never forget as ‘Sura the Tailor’. Now 83 and “home alone with his wife,” Tunji Oyelana is the television star who carried Sola Sobowale on his back into the limelight. Her first time on television was in Pa Oyelana’s popular show, Sura the Tailor, as Iya Alamala.
But the senior citizen hands his well-earned accolades for sowing the seeds of providence.
“God gave you Sola Sobowale, not me. We are absolutely nothing. Everything is from God. No one can do anything about what God has ordained. It has always been there and destined to come into existence. Because, if Sola did not show interest, even if she’s pushed into it, nothing will come out of it.
“Apart from that, it is not the only thing we urged her to pursue as a career. I wanted her to be a secretary because she speaks good English, and she’s very good with her hand. She even went to secretarial school, but she was not keen on being a secretary.
“She also trained in a reputable catering school. After training in both fields, she insisted on acting. So, I agreed that the knowledge gained in the two fields is not wasted. I encouraged her and invited her to the theatre training department to learn with us. God decreed it and I was the vessel to bring her talent to reality. That is just the bottom line.”
Sola Sobowale’s first big break was as the manipulative ‘Toyin Tomato’ in the premiere of Wale Adenuga’s hit television drama series, Super Story, Oh Father, Oh Daughter, which folks remember as the Suara series.
In the beginning, ‘Toyin Tomato’ tells her friend, ‘Soyoyo,’ in a memorable scene: “God created man. When He saw that man was getting too smart, He created woman, so that men can know that sense pass sense.”
The man who gave her the break, Wale Adenuga, aging but still active and as humorous as ever, took TNR back in time to 2001.
“The ‘Toyin Tomato’ character was a production of Wale Adenuga production during the shooting of the Suara story year 2000/2001. The character resonated well with the viewers, and they loved it up till today. We feel fulfilled and happy about the astronomical success of the character.
“We picked on Sola Sobowale at that time because we saw that versatility in her. You know there are some actors who can only play a particular role. Soft role or tough role. But this lady can play all roles. We have somebody who could play both a big woman and a poor woman at the same time. Someone who you could easily see through her moods. When she’s happy you see it, when she’s sad you see it. Very versatile that’s why we picked on her for that role.
“And we invested in that character of ‘Toyin Tomato’. What do I mean by that? You observe her costume was different. She was clothed in the best designs of those days. Always wore expensive jewelry and appeared in very rich and tasteful costumes, a high-class lady. We’re happy we were able to maintain and sustain her character.
“From there she has gone and played bigger roles in Nollywood films: The Wedding Party, by Mo Abudu, so many of them. She called me last week on her return from India. I think they have finished shooting the Indian film. Each time she comes back from an assignment, she calls me. And I jubilate and pray for her.
“She is someone who doesn’t forget her past. Do you understand? She will go on a trip; she’ll come back and send me a gift. She appreciates WAP exposing her talent to the world. She’s like a daughter that is grateful to her father. She’s a grateful soul and a complete lady. I believe it’s that humility that has taken her to this level she has attained because talent is not enough.
“Talent without good character will not go far. You can become a star, but you won’t become a superstar and won’t go the distance. She is humble to the director, and to everybody. She doesn’t carry on as if she can stop the world from moving. And I believe she has just started.
“She is still noticeably young. She is not yet sixty. She is still carrying the roles. One good thing about acting is that there are always roles for you. For all ages, you understand. If they need a woman of ninety, they do not need to make you up if you’re ninety. You know, it is natural and even better. So, she has not reached the end of her road. She has just started. Insha Allah. By the grace of God, she can act until she is 100. And I believe the best is yet to come for her.
“All these Indian films, Chinese films she’s doing, she will go to Hollywood and conquer Hollywood. That is my prayer for her. Until she conquers Hollywood, she should not stop. That is my prayer for her. She is the best actress in Nigeria. I am telling you the truth.
“I’ve been in this business for about 50 years now and, of all the actresses that I’ve come across, she’s exceptionally good. She is quite talented. And I think God just built her up for this kind of role. It’s an assignment and since she has done it well, God keeps blessing her. I pray this is just the beginning. I am not a man of words, I’m a man of action. I’m not an orator, you know. Honestly. I can barely express my mind but my admiration for her cannot be overemphasized. You can see through her. She is not a pretentious person. She is a very real human being. This is my little testimonial.”
Finally, her call came through.
“Let’s meet in Victoria Island at about 3 pm. Call me when you get there, and I’ll tell you where I am.”
Sola Sobowale shares her story.
The Nollywood Reporter: Congratulations on your honorary doctorate degree. What is it Sola Sobowale wants to transmit through her body of work as a thespian?
SOLA SOBOWALE: Beyond whatever message I may have passed over time, I always tell people this is what God ordained me to do. God created me to put smiles on people’s faces and, at the same time, be a mirror for them to examine themselves.
I see myself as a doctor, a medical doctor. I see myself as a preacher, a pastor, and a teacher. My father was a principal and my mom was a headmistress. Both are late now. May they rest in peace. I gained from them the virtue of educating society. Why do I see myself in these three professions? Number one. When I put a smile on your face, I take the stress off you. There are so many things happening in the world we live in right now. So many negative things to the extent that some people will say, ‘Okay, I want to end it. I have had enough.’
When my performance helps purge your emotion or you see things that make you laugh or reflect, that’s when I say, ‘Yes, I’m accomplished.’
When I give joy or relief, help someone cope better with his or her situation – when my acting adds another year to your life, by giving you hope – that’s when I feel fulfilled.
As a pastor and as a teacher, you let people know good from bad. Let people know there’s karma. No matter who you are, what you sow is what you reap: that is what they teach us in churches; that’s what they teach in school. That is part of education. They teach morals and that is the legacy I want to leave behind. A legacy of enlightenment and compassion, of impacting our society. That’s why when you give me a script to do, I weigh the morality and impact that it will have on young people, especially.
Children did not ask to be born. That moment you made up your mind that you’re going to have children, then you must be ready to take full responsibility for how they grow. In five years to come, Nigeria will still be there. But will it be a Nigeria that you’ll be proud of?
Everybody is chasing money. That is why there are no morals. Parents have lost it. Daddy wants to make money; mummy wants to make money, and nobody is taking care of the children. You do not even know where your child goes…
Did he or she really go to school? Did you check? Who is checking?
I became Notorious B.I.G. in all my children’s schools. I knew all the teachers, classmates, friends, and department, up to the university level: they know me. Anyone, from the gatekeepers to parents. You will hear, ‘Your mother is here.’ Different people, and different departments, know my children because of me.
Embarrassed? I’ll say, ‘Ema binu [Don’t be upset]. I need to know. I need to check.’
Why? Because we are parents. What we’re seeing now is that we have failed: failed our children!
All my life, what feeds my philosophy is the desire to turn people’s lives around in a positive way. I love to do a movie, no doubt about that. But morals are important. If you bring a movie that has no moral value, if you bring lots of naira, I am not going to do it. I involve my children. They read before I say, ‘yes let’s go ahead.’
When a script is given to me – because I’m not the only one who bears that name, Sobowale – I involve my family. I can’t afford to impact the name in any negative way. If I destroy that name, I’ve destroyed it for my children. So, my children and my friends, need to know. There are so many scripts my children will say ‘no’ and that is ‘no’. I make sure my children agree with me and love them.
One thing I tell people is this: ‘Don’t pamper your children.’ When you do, they come out to be hard, they come out to be resentful, they come out to be selfish, be self-centered. Love them but discipline them. Discipline them because you love them.
I see the family focus is your philosophy.
Yes. That is me because my parents handled me the same way.
I was born into a principal and headmistress family. Lati ile ni – from the foundation. Ti le bati dun aadun. Tile baati dun – once the foundation is sweet, you find it difficult to do the wrong things. You find it difficult to steal, you find it difficult to kill, and you find it difficult to put blame on top people because you must first check yourself. History. Will I be able to chest it (own up to it)? You need to first ask yourself, ‘If it were to be me, how will I feel?’
Conscience is what I am teaching. If we do not have it, then we have nothing.
Share your experience with the lady who embraced you because of the Suara series.
Yes. In Abuja. Hilda Dokubo was filming a movie called Shadow, and the movie was championed by one woman we called Hajia, tall light-skinned, she is of blessed memory now: Laila Dogonyaro from Jigawa State. She was a feminist activist, founder of the Women’s Opinion Leaders Forum (WOLF), and a politician.
I didn’t know how these many women knew I was committed to an event there. I came out and saw a train of ladies and this woman just ran towards me, calling me, ‘Toyin Tomato, Toyin Tomato.’
This woman was crying, and she held my face. ‘You gave me my husband back. You gave me my husband,’ she kept saying.
And I was looking at her, I didn’t know her story.
She said, ‘My husband was Suara.’
She told me her story. She was in a comparable situation. She had been begging her husband to watch the series with her, but her husband refused to watch.
It so happened that when a particular episode was playing, the man was getting ready to leave home. He was curious and became engrossed in it. It was an episode showing how ‘Toyin Tomato’ dealt with a Sugar Daddy. After watching, the man removed his clothes and stayed at home. That was it.
‘I feel so thankful to you,’ she said.
It was quite an emotional moment. This is what I want. And I thank God for being a source of healing. Yesterday, I was in a place, and I was with these big, big women, a lot of them, well-read, saying ‘We love you. Thank you for what you do.’ And I was just watching them, as they were saying these things.
Some were praying and I said to myself, ‘Jesus! Eh?! I am this loved. Because mó bí question, yèn ló jú àrá mí, mo dè bú sékún. I teared up. I said to myself, ‘Sola, so you’re getting to people. Ah! I will not stop.’
What is it about you that draws compliments from other actors who played with you and producers like Wale Adenuga and Tade Ogidan? Is it something a younger actor can learn from you?
(Lighting up. A sharp contrast to tearing up a while ago) Uncle Wale, I love him, I love him.
We spoke with him a couple of days ago. What exactly is it that accounts for the songs of praise?
I do not know.
You must know. So, it can be learnt by aspiring actors.
This is about personality now. I honestly do not know. I cannot know. You are my mirror. I do not see myself. I said, earlier, I went out to cry: I didn’t even know that I’m making this kind of impact. I do not know. Míò mò.
Let’s talk about your acting now. When you want to play a role, what do you do to achieve results like the recent movie award? Did you just throw a switch to become King of Boys? Turn another switch and become Awuran in Aníkúlápó? I am thinking about people learning to act. What do you do that they can pick from you that gets you into character?
You want to ask about àshírí òwò mí [secret]? That’s what you want to know?
Àshírí òwò. Kílàshírí òwò? Doctors, teachers, lawyers. Nothing fanciful. It is hard work. When I want to work, it is a script, and the script writes ‘TOYIN this is Sola’. I’m not TOYIN but I need to put myself in that role. So, I put my life, I put my presence of mind, I put my past and I put my blood, my sweat, my soul, my life, everything I have, I put it there. I do not relate to short cuts. If you want to be hot, be hot. If you want to be cold, be cold, but never be lukewarm. It is in the Bible. So that is my àshírí—secret. Hard work.
Say I want to play Oba – Mrs. Salami. What kind of hard work do you need to do that?
I’m asked to play madwoman; how do you play that madwoman? I want to play doctor; how do I play a doctor? It means I must talk to a doctor about it.
‘Doc, when a patient comes in, how do you receive him or her? After seeing a patient, before the other one comes in, what and what do you do? (Because, ordinarily, I do not see that). When they come in, how do you talk to them?’
Of course, there are doctors and there are doctors. There are lawyers, and there are lawyers. There are some people, who do their jobs just to put food on their tables. Those ones, they don’t do it right. Kpakpakpa, you are done.
When you have a soul, and this is what you’re meant to do in life, you’ll show empathy. There are doctors that are compassionate. The role they have given me to play falls into which kind? For example, we have horrible doctors, and there are real horrible doctors. If the role is that of a horrible doctor, I look for the horrible ones and listen to them talk. If it is about the one with empathy— a doctor with a soul, I go for that one. Research, feasibility study. That is what I do.
You seem press-shy. Your interviews are few.
Yes, I don’t do it.
In the ones that you have done, there’s this emphasis on focus. What do you mean by focus?
No distractions. If this is what you want to do, then go for it. It is called determination. There will be difficulties. There’ll be one time that you’ll want to quit. ‘Ah, Miò shé mó. This is too much.’
I have worked in my life and did not get paid. I’ve worked with no kobo in my hand, and I’ll borrow money to travel home to get garri, ewa – beans – and bring to Lagos. My mother will look at me (God bless her soul) … my mother will drive me to the motor park because then, my mother had – despite being a headmistress: the majority of the schools in Akure, eight out of 10 schools used to buy food from her – a whole house stocked with raw foods that she was selling. She was a distributor of Coca-Cola, and a distributor of Dr. Pepper at that time. Salaries were not paid when due, so my mother had different kinds of hard books with different kinds of schools’ names and when they come, they buy food and pay my mummy when their salaries were paid. That’s to tell you where I’m from.
So, I told my mother, ‘Pray for me, mummy. This is what I want to do.’
She asked again, ‘Is this what you really want?’
I said ‘yes.’
She prayed, ‘Wàárí shè.’
I will go back to Lagos with food from my mummy.
A lot of young ones, come to me and I ask them, ‘Do you know when I started? Do you know? Do you remember Mirror in the Sun, Village Headmaster, Jaguar Nana’s Daughter?
You were in Jaguar Nana’s Daughter?
Yes, my dear. In Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again, as well. RMD was my husband in that one. All these works I did, many without being paid. Village Headmaster, I was paid a stipend; Mirror in the Sun, can’t remember if I was paid. So many. All the ones I’ve mentioned. Osmosis, nothing.
What were your eyes set on? What is that thing that enabled you to pass through?
This is what I want. This is what I feel good doing.
Can we ascribe it to Ondo stubbornness?
Yes, we are very stubborn in Ondo state. Do not joke with us. And if I cannot do this then, I’ll be a nurse. Anything that will bring peace. If I’m not a nurse, then you’ll see me running. I represented Ondo State in sports.
Yes. That is what you never heard of. I was very good in handball. Mad. Number six mad. And I represented my state even when I was in secondary school. My father kept all my medals.
Let me tell you something about my dad, any school performing poorly was where they always posted my father.
The next year everybody would pick up. Then they will move him again. I see myself following his steps in my chosen career. I pray to God Almighty. May God hear my prayers.
Many homes get broken because of acting. How did you navigate the balance between the two worlds – home and career?
Well, Mr. Sobowale did an excellent job.
Can one hand wash itself clean?
Number one, God is wonderful. When God wants you to do a particular thing, God will always prepare you. He will prepare it so much that you are not going to know how, but everything works out fine.
You’ll be so free, it’ll be so easy for you to do, because Baba has already prepared everything you need to do.
God prepared me for this. My children never suffered. Never. Uncle Wale, I remember when I was doing eerrr…
… on and off, and my children were on holidays. I used to bring all my children along: they followed me to the locations.
One thing I do not do. If this is the hotel for the artists, I’ll beg the director, the producer, ‘Please, my children are coming so I’m going to stay in another hotel.’
Instead of taking one room, I’ll take two rooms. I’ll pay the teacher to come and teach them. That was what I did throughout.
You were the mother hawk. Did they like it?
They loved it because they loved their mother. They loved it. I see them when we enter and see them when we go out. I have not asked them not to go out, but they prefer to stay in together because, even after the big success of The Wedding Party, the number of parties you find Sola Sobowale in a year, maybe, you’ll count max 10. I am not a party cat but people don’t know.
Children copy parents. My father and my mother were not partygoers. Anytime, you see me at a party, it’s a party that I can never say no to. Mo wa mbi bai. I am here. In a year, you can’t count more than 10.
You were at RMD’s 60th birthday party.
I was there. I came. Then after seeing my friend, Jumobi, and the launching of his book, and his perfume event, I slipped away. RMD and I go way back to when he arrived in Lagos after his national youth service.
Talk about Ayomida, your 2003 movie. You wrote it.
My children wrote it, not me.
The credit carries your name.
No, you will see them. I can be the one who produced. But not the writer.
You worked with Tade Ogidan. Is there any reason for the choice of partner?
Tade is my brother.
In what way?
I am from Ondo state. So is he. But it is more than that. Yeah, Tade is my brother. Tade’s mum is my mum. Mummy came to see me two days before I traveled to India to play a role. She came to see me; instead of me going to see her, Mummy came to see me. Tade brought mummy because he knows she’s my mother. Even with Bolu, Tade’s daughter. Tade is my brother.
You have one credit for producing a movie, right?
I have produced more than one movie. I have produced a TV series for a UK television which is called OH TV. I produced a TV series called Nectar.
It was shown on AIT, too.
I did twenty-four episodes. It was shown in London before even coming to Nigeria. DStv also played it.
My children wrote it. I wrote only one episode.
We have already written scripts covering four years which are still with me that I have not touched.
Hafeez Ayetoro told TNR that you have a production lined up.
Which Hafeez is that?
The actor lecturer.
O my gosh! Saka!! Yes. It is true. I have a lot on my hands like I said.
You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. I still have a lot to do as an actor and producing a film is not an easy thing to do. I do not know how to go halfway. I go all the way.
All the way. How did this play out in King of Boys?
For instance, when they said King of Boys 2 is coming soon, it was so scary, because I knew I was going to add another 10 years to my age.
This is because when I face that job, you cannot see my face like this. People say, ‘Ódárúgbó ò.’ – ‘You look old’ in that movie. It is another side of me. That is Kemi, that is the work. And coming out, before I could get my face back, ófè tó [it took] two years to get back to myself. Yes, because Kemi Adetiba herself is a perfectionist.
But we hear you are also quite fastidious yourself.
Thank God. Then that makes two of us.
Another one is Tade Ogidan. One day, I sat down and said thank God for Tade. I told him, ‘Thank God because you prepared me ahead, yeah.’
Tade gives attention to details and would drill the cast until he gets what he wants. This prepared me for someone like Kemi Adetiba.
What other influences? If Tade prepared you for demanding directors, what is the role of Sura the tailor in your craft?
(Here’s where she turns on a giggly teenage girl persona) That’s my brother-in-law.
What did you gain from him?
‘Sura the tailor.’ Uncle Tunji Oyelana.
And let us add Oga Bello to the mix. What are the things you have gained from these two?
Sura the tailor. (Sings) Sura, Sura, Sura the tailor is my man.
I played Iya Alamala.
You were rather young to play Iya Alamala. I have not seen a young Iya Alamala.
Incredibly young, and Sura happens to be my brother-in-law, Tunji Oyelana. Uncle Tunji. He is in London now. Living there. He is eighty-three. And I still consult him on some roles. Like when I played the voodoo woman in Shanty Town.
Then Oga Bello. What did these people contribute?
A lot. Most importantly, opportunities to perform and learn on the job. I lived with Uncle Tunde Oyelana. I lived with them. He is married to my sister. Lecturer and another teacher that teaches hard work, and morals. I got all this from them.
You know Uncle Tunji very well. You know everything he has done. Fantastic man. A good mentor, a father, a role model. Everything you need in a father, that’s Uncle Tunji. Do you know what I call him?
Ah! Uncle Tunji. He will give you his heart. At the same time, he’ll keep you on your toes. You must know what you are doing.
What of Oga Bello?
Uncle B. How did I meet Uncle B? That is one question you need to ask. I met Uncle B through Ngozi Nwosu. Ngozi is my friend and she used to be either in their group or she used to work with them.
That’s Awada Kerikeri, formerly Ojo Ladipo Theatre?
Yes. And then, I had never met any of the Yoruba theatre groups. I was focused on television … but Ngozi worked with both television and this theatre people.
So, there was this 10-year landmark they were celebrating. Ngozi invited me. After the show I sat with Ngozi and many others. That was how I met Uncle B. Ngozi introduced Uncle B to me. He asked me if I was an actress and I said ‘yes.’
‘Are you Yoruba?’ [Uncle B asked].
I said, ‘Yes. Yoruba ní mí ó.’ Everybody laughed.
Then he asked, ‘Can you perform in Yoruba?’
‘I’m Yoruba,’ I replied.
‘Have you done Yoruba before?’
I said, ‘no.’
‘Are you sure you can do it?’
I said, ‘one million percent.’
Then an opportunity came. A movie. I was cast for Èrí Ókàn and I killed it. That was it. No, it was not Érí Ókàn. It was Ásháwó tó Ré Mecca. Since then, I’ve been ógbóngé in Yoruba movies. That was how I entered Yoruba movies.
So, you started with English. But the impression is that you started with…
Let me tell you something. I know you have read a lot of things written about me. I laugh. I say forget it. I know where I came from. I know where I started from. And I think why people do this is because I don’t grant … I don’t do interviews because I say to people why do you want to interview me? I am not interested. I do not want it. Why? I say take my body of work, talk about my job, that’s what I want.
That was enough in the past but now, you need to start giving back.
How do you want me to give back to society? What I can give back to society is like I told you, a legacy that I want to leave behind. It is not a matter of talking.
It is what you put on the table that matters. It’s not by talk. Every step I take, everything I do, write about and talk about, it’s just for me to do my best; it’s not for me to blow my trumpet. It’s not for me to start telling you this or that. I do not do that. I see it as cheap publicity. That is what I say.
At times when journalists want to ask questions, they ask: What do you want to do? Where do I come from? What is my best food? Which food did you cook?… Err, do you have any child? I say these are the same monotonous things I have been asked many years ago.
I am not interested in that. If you have something new, something good that people will learn from, bring it on.
So, let me bring on Shanty Town?
I didn’t recognize you in Shanty Town. What happened? Was it makeup? I did not recognize you. It is just your voice. But that person does not look like…
… Sola Sobowale. Oba, Eniola Salami ….
Shanty Town and King of Boys are two parallel lines that can never meet. One is a rich and powerful politician. While the other is a voodoo woman. They are worlds apart.
Have you ever met a voodoo woman?
Voodoo woman. What will I call them? Will I call them voodoo women? Those ones who dress in white in Lagos, I see them. At times they have cowries. They just walk up to you, especially in the market.
So, I met with them. But I do not know whether to call them voodoo women.
Voodoo is just another name the Haitians use for juju. Benin people call it vudon. Let us assume them to be the same.
Okay. So, when that script was given to me, it was challenging. I had never done it before. I have never seen it before. A new zone entirely.
I don’t know how to chant because I’m supposed to chant. And I got everything I did there from Tunji Oyelana. Uncle Tunji.
You leverage on him when you have sticky points.
Yes, yes. So, without him I could not do it. Uncle Tunji. Aiye nshi, aiye fúmó, bátálà, ájígbó.
If you see it, so beautiful. The full version. Because it was cut. The end was what you saw. It was beautiful. Everything I did there, I owe to Uncle Tunji Oyelana.
What is your most challenging role? Is it Oba or Àwúràn?
Challenging. All my jobs were very challenging. But there are some, because of the director, I cried many times. Because when Kemi says, ‘That’s perfect, Sola, that is good. Okay. I thought I was done. Next time, she says perfect, what else does she want? After saying ‘Perfect’ like four times and you’re still going through another take. About fifteen takes.
So, what was the perfect take?
I still remember: the last time I cried; she saw it. But I said to myself, ‘But this girl didn’t stop when I stopped. This girl that is calling this action has been working all along. In the next scene, I am not there, she will be calling other shots. What this girl is doing is like 24/7. Sitting, walking, talking, directing, and she’s not tired, so what the heck is my excuse?
I drew energy from her tirelessness. I remember when she was in a sick bed. We carried her for six months from one hospital to another. She was extremely ill. I remember I was with her in the hospital when she cried, ‘Sola, I’m tired.’
‘Ssh, don’t say you’re tired.’ This same Kemi, the moment she has one-minute relief, she wants to go on with King of Boys.
‘Kemi, kilode? What is the matter with you?’
‘With headache o.’
And they discharged her. She was walking with a stick because she could not stand very well, her leg was bandaged. And she calls and says, ‘Aunty Sola, we’re going to location.’
And I say, ‘Which location? Kemi, you cannot do this. You just left the hospital…’
And before I knew it, we have moved to camp.
One moment, she is shaking like…. Then when she’s just a little better, she’s calling shots.
Seeing all that, I said to myself, “Let her call one billion shots, I’m ready a billion times.”
How do you compare King of Boys with working in Aníkúlápó?
Everybody has his or her uniqueness. So, I do not compare people, I don’t compare anybody.
Compare Eniola Salami with Awarun.
The best sugar mummy in Africa. That was the name they gave me. Awarun is quite different from Mrs. Salami.
The challenge with Awarun was that I had to speak the Oyo dialect of Yoruba. It was the first time I was trying that. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am not happy with how we are losing our culture, so there was this commitment to preserving our culture and language.
Eniola Salami and Awarun are different one million times. They are not together. Mrs. Salami did not show any interest in men in romantic terms. Awarun, on the other hand, saw men as pecks of her success. I remember when Kunle gave me that role, yes, when Kunle said let’s do the script. I read it and I said, ‘Ah, sugar mummy. I am not romantic o. I am not romantic, Kunle. What do you want me to do?’
I said, ‘Kunle, jòòr, nítórí Ólórún, please, please, please. Look for a place, let me go and fight.’
He said, ‘Aunty mí,’ (I call him ‘Kunle mí,’, he calls me ‘aunty mí’.) ‘Aunty mí, you’re going to do it. Shèbì your husband court you, shèbì you married? How did you do it then?’
I said, ‘Kunle, jòòr.’
And he said, ‘You’re doing it.’
But you did it well. What do you mean you are not romantic?
We just laughed over it.
‘Don’t give me that role jàáre; give me something else.’
He said, ‘You’re doing it.’
And I’m so happy that people loved it. So happy.
Let us talk about your Indian movie. How’s their production like compared to the production you’ve had in Africa?
With what I saw o, they were surprised I had all my lines in my head. I don’t think that’s what they do there. That was surprising for them. So, I told them I’m not the only one memorizing the lines. RMD as well.
They were so pleased with me. So pleased with me. The DOP is an elderly man. He was so happy. Incredibly happy. The director was a beautiful woman. Beautiful. With her husband, they are a fantastic couple. They want you to be happy. They are ready to give you anything you want. Just be happy here. And they are very genuine. I love them.
Their budget is more. What about technically. Rigs and camera wise?
In Nigeria, it’s a matter of choice. Kunle, Kemi, and Tade can match them. So, technically with what I saw there, the edge isn’t much, if any.
One thing that I saw that I’ll also want us in Nigeria to please look into is details. You must understand your department. The PS there. You do not need to call them before they do what they are required to do: what needs to be done. Makeup artist, everybody at the right place at the right time. That is one thing that I saw that is different from us here.
It is important to know your department and know what to do. You want to do a job; you must know your job description.
Indians, when they do something … when you do a particular scene like say lying in bed, when you rise for another take, that bed is straightened up exactly as it was. This is how the pillow is. Everything back like polaroid picture that was taken. You see the way they open … the setting, oh no, we’re not there with detailing and continuity.
You probably want to input that into your next production.
For real. For real …. We are good in other aspects.
Thank you so very much.
I’m glad that you had it done today. Tomorrow will be hectic.