Akin Lewis, one of Nigeria's finest actors, began his acting career in 1973, the same year he joined a drama group led by Bode Sowande, a Nigerian professor, writer and dramatist.
Playing the lead role in 'Why Worry', a 1980 comedy sitcom on NTA Ibadan earned the 62-year-old actor critical acclaim.
In Tade Ogidan's 2005 hit movie, Madam Dearest, he stole the show. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he reveals the secret behind his 46-year career
PT: You sound so much like your character in ‘King of Boys’. Is there any similarity between that character and Akin Lewis?
Akin: As a trained actor, I can embody and internalise any character I’m given. My sister, I’m just grateful to God, it’s just by the grace of God to be doing what I love and earning a living from it. Because, in my set, I’m proudly the only one left in active service.
PT: Are there any other Nigerian actors who belong to your era?
Victor: The likes of Olumide Bakare, and Victor Olaotan who played Fred in Tinsel are some of my contemporaries.But you know that Victor is not feeling well, yes he is in the hospital, we were classmates at School of Drama in the university. There are about 10, 15 of us that are still working, and I thank God, I’m grateful for that. Apart from that, I think just knowing the job, I’m one of the best screen actors, I have a masters and a first class in acting.
PT: What school is that?
Akin: I attended the University of Ife and then I went abroad to Sophia, Bulgaria. I bagged my Masters in Dramatic Art while in Bulgaria on scholarship. I graduated with a First Class in Dramatic Arts and I also have a Master’s degree in the same course. I was also privileged to have been trained by professors and other great professionals.
PT: What is the secret of your enduring career?
Akin: I’m very diligent, I’m first on set. I’ll come, sit quietly in my space, I do my job then leave. But I guess I have a lot of grace because there are several superstars out there.
PT: Are you impressed with the quality of actors today?
Akin: Yes I am but I can boldly say that there is no alternative to training for any actor who wants to be successful. Even if you have the talent; it is raw and has to be refined. In every other profession, training is necessary, so what makes the arts different in that regard. I am highly trained.
PT: Have you featured in any film lately?
Akin: I play the role of Olalekan Ajadi, in ‘The Excellency’. He is a billionaire, a very garrulous man, full of life, he is just a bundle of joy and a progressive. He contests every four years until one big party decides to make him their candidate and everything changes.
PT: Was it easy for you to embody the fellow?
Akin: Yes, it is very easy for me but that does not mean it was not a challenging role. I had to infuse about 10 politicians that I know into the character. It was very challenging but we got there. This is like the star of the stars. I really enjoyed this movie, this is the biggest film of the year.
PT: What was it like working with Funke on the set of the film?
Akin: Funke is like a child to me. I’ve known her for a very long time, I’ve worked with her on several projects and it’s a pleasure for me. I’ve known her from day one that she was going to direct the film and it wasn’t a problem for me. I helped her in every way I could.
PT : You no longer feature in Yoruba films.
Akin: I still do but It depends on which project comes first.
PT: Some actors say they don’t watch their movies. Does this hold true for you?
Akin: I know, sometimes it is not deliberate, but this one (Your Excellency) I’ll be at the Première and watch it.
PT: Have you thought about the next level, like toyed with the idea of being a director?
Akin: I’m a trained actor, director and producer. I got trained. I’m more than an actor. It got to a point, I went into the corporate world and I was a director at Globacom and at an advertising agency.
PT: So why did you leave acting for the corporate world?
Akin: No, I never left. I went to the office in the day and then go for movie shoots at nights. And I did well on the job, I never used my employer’s office time for acting. I would shoot movies on weekends, when on holiday and during my annual leave. Apart from the talent, you need to be disciplined as an actor.
Having gone into the business world and sat in the boardroom as a director, I can tell you this for sure.
PT: Did people find it difficult to separate Akin Lewis the director from Akin Lewis the superstar?
Akin: Some people (my colleagues at work) liked me while others didn’t like me because they felt l was using my position and official working hours to enrich myself by acting.
So, I had to prove that I was not using their time and also work four times harder than my colleagues. It was building a portfolio, this acting job is hard and tough. Not everyone will like us (actors) and that’s how it has been.
I don’t have a manager and this means that people contact me directly for jobs. This is because I have business acumen drawing from my experience in the corporate world.
I just hope our people see the need to save for the rainy day, take care of their people and just keep being grateful.
PT: You’d agree with me that some veteran actors weren’t as lucky as you are. Most times, we get to know their plight when they get ill and people have to solicit for funds for them.
Akin: Let me just say that I’m very grateful. I have gotten married on this job (acting), I have children, I live in my house, I have my car and all of that. I’m saying this with all due respect and not because I am trying to bring people down. Now, actors from my set got trained just for the job alone and unfortunately, most directors just use you and dump you. I realised this early enough and that enabled me to see the future ahead fast. That made me go into the corporate world, I diversified earlier in my career and I have very good results to show for this.
PT : Are you saying that actors need to foresee the future early on?
Akin: Yes, you have to think. This job is not as spectacular as other jobs. If you get paid N2 million today as an actor, unfortunately, some people will squander the money the next day. Veteran, and in fact, every actor must learn to save and set some money aside for the future. Yes you can buy those choice cars you fancy but don’t forget to take care of your children and your family. I have tried to do all of these responsible things and I’m still on this job. Not all actors are irresponsible and yes acting is a serious job.
PT: Which movie was your breakthrough?
Akin: That would be ‘Wild Wolf’ which was released in the late 70s. And later I starred in ‘Madam Dearest’, ‘ Mind Bending’ among other movies.
PT: Having witnessed over four generations of the Nigerian film industry what would you consider to be the biggest difference?
Akin: Well, essentially, the biggest thing that has changed is money and it has blindfolded many of the young talented people. Today, you have to give me the script first, I read it, and I like it. Conversely, we have a lot of instruments these days and a lot of money, though it is too heavy and I wish it is well spent and evenly.
PT: What do you mean by saying you wish it was well spent?
Akin: It is because it is only a few people (actors) that have access to that funds and only a few are well paid in the industry. This is an industry that has a lot of young talented people. I have been in the industry for 46 years. I have been on the mountain top and it has been awesome. I have also been in the valley. I have been happy and I have been sad. I know the secret of plenty and I know the secret of small. That’s just the way life is.
PT: One final word for the younger actors?
Akin: I have three phrases for them. Work hard, work hard, work hard and money will follow. But they need to be talented.
Of course, they need to be sure they are not in the wrong boat. Some people keep running after money while the money keeps running away from them. This is why I say work hard, the money will follow.
PT: What is your most challenging role yet?
Akin: I wouldn’t really consider any particular role to be the toughest role that I’ve played. I love challenges and roles that task me. Some of the notable roles I’ve played are in movies such as ‘Were Alaso’, ‘Madam Dearest’, Borokini’ among others.
PT: When are you going to shoot a film of your own?
Akin: Hopefully before I die. I will shoot something about myself. It will definitely be my biopic.