Akin Lewis has been on the Nigerian entertainment movie radar for over 30 years. He has joggled up acting, producing, working in the corporate world, directing alongside being a father and husband. He speaks to Weekend Magazine on his life and love for the arts.
Weekend Magazine: You speak so many languages, has this in any way helped you in any situation in life?
Akin Lewis: Yes, because speaking languages is the first thing that flows in you. You come across people and they don't like you for whatever reason. Even when they like you and you speak their language back to them, the world just crumbled. It has happened to me several times not only in Nigeria, but along the West African coast because I have visited all of these places all the way to Senegal, and all the way down to South Africa. Essentially people are good. There is always this bad part, but if you can control it, that bad part can always impress if very well. Some people are just good and so it works for me severally, it has.
What was your first audition like?
That is a long time ago, I guess 39 years ago. What I couldn't see because it didn't take me long to hit it. As a matter of fact, I became a star at 22. I guess they saw the palms of my hands wet and my belly was shaking, then I said to myself 'this is a do-or-die'. I did so well that the director Zulu Shofula - she is dead now - she used to be a lecturer in the University of Ibadan said 'wao! I could have really played the lead part, because the way I took on the audition and I was a little boy', then I was scared in my belly. I was like, but then my brain kept telling me I can do, 'this is an opportunity go for it'.
You seem to have criss-crosesed many places. What inspirational quotes keep you going?
I think the one that keeps me going is the fact that 'success is not all about money'. A successful man really is the one who has surmounted the most obstacles, the one who fails several times and stood up again, that is a successful man. It has nothing to do with wealth, riches, powers or positions. It's just a man who falls down, gets up again, surmounts that and keeps going. That is successful man.
You are a father, husband, actor, career man. How do you join all these?
To tell you the truth, right now I have retired from the cooperate work. This is all I do now, so it is less easier to manage things now, because this is the only thing I do. When I was joining all these things, I did not know I made success out of them, but haven said that, let me add that I'm a very very organised person. I'm very scheduled and if I give you my yes, it is yes, if I say it is twelve it is twelve. What I have learned in Nigeria is that people are not like that. If there was trouble, or if anything negative came out of my schedule, it wasn't me, it was the people who I had to work with. Generally speaking, that is how I managed it, am a very organised person, I reorganize myself. I will do what I have to do, so I can get that one done and when I get that one done.
Actresses had alleged that to get to the top, they have got to give something. From the angle of the producers, how true is this?
I have heard such allegations seversally. For me I would say if such happens, then it's part of the entertainment industry's contribution to the kind of corruption we have in the society. Corruption happens everywhere, but I know ladies who had not given anything, except to suffer and work very hard and they are stars today. So if someone says to me 'they said I have to do this and that...' and you let go of your dreams, well, all I know is that if you want something and you feel passionate about your dreams, you will fight hard and not fall along the way to some demeaning antics. For me, I am what I am todaynotwithstanding that I had to fight with my dad.
You just said you fought with your dad to be what you are today. Please tell us the story?
My dad was an Engineer with the Railways and I never knew he didn't want me to go the way of the arts. He bought me comic books, novels and so many other things which led me towards the art. The more I read these books, the more I did literary and debating societies and the more I went for children's programmes. He was of the notion that he just wanted the books he bought for me to broaden my way of thinking in life and not to be part of it. The more I did what I did, the more I realized this was what I wanted to do in life.
Your presence in the Nigerian entertainment scene spans over thirty nine years, who were your mentors back in the days and now?
There were many in different endeavors of life. They include Wole Soyinka, Chuck Nice, Jimi Olanke and Tunji Oleyanan. In the corporate world I admired a lot of people.
Alongside your acting you also waved into the corporate world? How did you manage that?
I studied Theater Arts, but had two masters in Acting and Directing and PGD in Media Marketing; and I also did a lot of certificate courses which gave me the chance to wave into the corporate world. So, alongside acting I also did many white collar jobs. (Laughing)
If you were to change something from your past, what would that be?
I think I have changed something about myself already and that is the fact that I have slowed down. I used to be so much in a hurry. If I want to take back the hands of time, I think I would probably take it back to 25 years ago. Twenty five years I made a decision which 25 years later had such a negative impact on my life. If I had the chance I would change it, but I won't tell you what it was, so, please don't ask.
Ok I won't. For you to accept a role what has the script got to have?
As for right now I am probably one of the best trained actors you will find anywhere in Nigeria and so for me I can take on any role. Even the ones I have to repair...you know there are bad scripts and there are some scripts that are so good that all you want to do is that character to nail it down. But the best kinds of roles are the ones that are well defined.
The year is almost running out. What is that one thing you really want to do before the end of the year?
I feel the most important thing that needs to get done is just to have time with my family. That is the most important thing that I really need to get done before the year runs out.
What is your favorite kind of movie genre?
Thrillers, the one that has suspense and the viewer can never guess how it ends.
What is your favorite holiday spot?
You may be surprise that I don't have any. My best holidays have been in Nigeria. I am a man who has travelled a lot and so at a point I thought I have seen enough. And I realized that there is a lot we can do with the same amount of money I would be spending for a holiday outside here in Nigeria also. And still have enough left to do other things.
It's almost 40 years, have you ever regretted having to turn down any role in a movie?
No I have not, because there has never been any role I turned down that has gone on to be bigger than what I had expected. I do select my roles and again I must also admit that I must have taken part in one or two movies that at the end I thought maybe I shouldn't have been part of it. In those days we didn't have a lot of choice but today it is different.
What has been your biggest pay?
That is a tough one, because I am duty bound not to disclose. You know we are duty bound not to disclose, but the best I can tell is that I am a premium actor and entitled to all I deserve.
You have acted with so many actors and actresses. Which one of them do you always look forward to teaming up in a movie again?
Like you rightly said I have acted with many people. I love acting with Joke Silva, Bukky Wright, because they are very good in what they do. They are also very good friends who make the work very easy. The first thing I do if we have to pair up in a movie is to be friends with you. You may not know it, but after the project you will understand why. For the men I think Olumide Bakare and Antar Laniyan, because they have a firm understanding of what they are doing.
Is there any particular person you haven't done acting or production with that you would really like to work with?
Yes, I have not done anything with Lancelot and I hear he is very good. I have not acted with Genevieve Nnaji and I hear she is also very good. So, maybe one of these days I might be opportuned to work with them, otherwise I have worked with many people.
Which project was the most challenging so far in your career?
I really don't see any project as challenging, but sure some had to be given an extra push. In 'Mind Bending', I played the role of a cocaine addict and to get to that height I had to go to spend like a week in the psychiatrist hospital. And believe me, when I did it, people used to move back when they saw me. That was how convincing it was. I also remember 'Madam Dearest' a Yoruba movie. That was a movie that changed the face of the Yoruba movie industry. The truth is that every project has its own challenges.
The Nollywood industry has come a long way. Many feel the actors and actresses give room for the negativity in the society. What's your take on this?
Well we cannot divorce what we see in movies from what is happening in real life. It's what is happening in the society that is being portrayed in movies, but as a professional I don't buy the idea of carrying the cast from the movie into the society. For me it should be a job. Do the job, drop the toga and go back to your real self. Some people don't do that; they carry the role into the society and get into trouble and at the end ruins their lives. I think it's a big risk and mistake they are making there.
When acting an intimate scene, is your wife really comfortable with it?
My wife does not like my bedroom scenes. She only lives with it. She has a problem with it, because most times when she watches it, she is always full of questions. So, one day I took her on location and I had a bedroom scene and she saw how it was done and she is like 'ok, ok...now I understand'. What can you really do with 14 people in one room with all eyes fixated on you?' and she was leaving and suddenly turned and asked, 'but what happens after you finish?' and everybody burst out laughing. Sometimes she would say after watching a movie... 'dear I think you went a little bit overboard in that scene'.
The only person I can really discuss this kind of scene woith and she would understand is my daughter. She wants to go into the arts too, but don't forget that this is acting. I always remember that I am Akin Lewis and this is acting and that way I help myself not to go overboard. Moreover, most of those scenes are techniques.