5 January 2013

Nigeria: Catching Up With Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi

Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi is an actress whose name immediately lends seriousness to any movie's cast. She has spent the past decade blazing a trail unlike any other.

Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi is a tough nut to crack. She's almost as famous for her acting talent as she is for being media-shy, scoring both, as she has succeeded in keeping her family life out of the glare of cameras. After a dozen calls and a handful of e-mails, she budges even as she interrupts a small family gathering to speak with Weekend Magazine. "The festive period is far from over, believe me," she says laughing and apologising in her smooth, distinctive voice. "I hope you've been reading my blog," she asks, referring to her recent foray online (www.iamfar.com) where she dishes out news, jokes, tips, photos and other virtual knick-knacks.

But, a blog which runs news about celebrities and artistes run by a celebrity/artiste? Funlola explained: "After I recently rested my radio show, which has been on air for 13 years, I decided to move to the internet. Online is where it's at if you want to communicate and I do." She added that the blog is generating a lot of traffic, without trashy content. "I celebrate stars, not gossip about them and that's the difference between my blog and others."

She is currently best-known as Brenda Mensa, her role in 'Tinsel,' one of the most popular Nigerian TV series currently running, produced by M-NET. She plays the role of the Prodigal daughter whose hatred for her father is the driving force behind her success. Her character crushes all that gets in her way and has the most sarcastic lines in a story laden with vitriol. "Brenda's character can't be any more diffaerent than the real me," she tells Weekend Magazine. "Many a fan equate me with Brenda - sassy personality and all - and tend to back off," she said. "But, hey, I love my fans."

"Most people think I'm a snob. I do keep to myself. I'm a reserved person. But it doesn't really bother me because you meet and interact with me, you'd see that I'm not like that."

A bit scarce in movies since Kunle Afolayan's critically-acclaimed 'The Figurine' (2009), Funlola chalks that up to her then-impending motherhood. "I got a really juicy role in a movie by a great director, but I had to decline as I was pregnant then."

The award-winning actress and her son Xavier featured on the cover of TW Magazine, an edition which focused on raising kids. She discussed juggling her role on Tinsel with playing mom (and wife) at home. The photos reveal the glow of a woman basking entirely in her role as a mother, protector and caregiver. When asked if it's been difficult making the transition from being a working actress always on-set, to becoming a new mother she replies, "I'm never going to see him at two weeks again. I'm never going to see him at three months again. So I absorb each stage as much as possible, enjoying every moment."

With buzz going on that Funlola pocketed a sweet, seven-figure sum for the publishing rights to her baby's first photos, she denied flatly. "Not a kobo," she asserts. "The magazine interview and photo-shoot were done as a celebration of myself, my son and my entry into another phase." In the magazine, she also wrote a letter to her son. "I'm usually a private person, but for that whole period, I wanted to go out of my comfort zone and surprise myself."

Motherhood changed Funlola. "I'm a new person," she says to Weekend Magazine. "I'm shocking even myself," she laughs. When she was asked about the type of man she would like to raise her son to be, she said she would love him to be a responsible man, "Like his father." About her husband, she revealed that they met on the job. "We were just friends in the beginning, and then it developed into something more serious." They ended up getting hitched on Valentine's Day 2008.

Another much-talked-about aspect of the talented Mrs. Aofiyebi-Raimi is that of her personal style. She strikes a balance, most times, between Western and Nigerian looks, with a twist that makes it her own. Like her famous turbans and head covers, which set trends anytime she steps out with new incarnations. She tells Weekend Magazine that she's into simple and comfortable looks. "I also love African fabrics and the creativity of our so-called local designers who can whip-up magic with Ankara fabric. I love head ties, scarves, long skirts and sensible shoes. I can pull off three-inch heels on any occasion."

Born in Lagos, the last of seven siblings, Aofiyebi-Raimi grew up and schooled in both Lagos and London. Her professional career took off in 1996 while she was studying in the University of Lagos. She auditioned for and got the part of Ese in hit Nollywood movie 'Violated', in which she featured alongside screen greats Richard Mofe-Damijo and Joke Silva. After the recognition which came from that role, it afforded her other roles as Kofoworola Baker, the lead female character in 'Palace', an AIT production which ran in 1998. Then came her performance as Tam Tam in 'Keeping Faith', followed by Doctors' Quarters on M-NET and Vagina Monologues for the stage as well as Doctor Grace on BBC's 'Wetin Dey,' to much acclaim. In addition, she went into radio broadcasting presenting and producing the aforementioned, now-defunct talk show, 'Touch of Spice' on Star FM in Lagos.

Rounding up the telephone chat, Weekend Magazine asked her if she always knew she'd pursue a showbiz career and she replied that she was born to act. "To be an entertainer, on TV and radio, the whole nine yards. Oh, and I'm loving it." She again says one of her unrealised dreams still include an entry into Kannywood: "I have serious passion for both the language and the culture. Being a Muslim, I can relate to some of it. Then I've been told I look like I'm Fulani. I'd love to do a Hausa movie." Other dreams of hers, she added, include: "Winning an Oscar award, of course."

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