Illustration by Ayo Arogunmati
Ms. Naya, how was your 2016?
2016 has been my happiest and most prosperous year I’ve had in Nigeria. I have matured both professionally and personally and I am looking forward to what’s next for me.
How did you reach this point?
I came to an understanding this year that I can only worry about things that I can control. I am not bitter about things I don’t get and I learned to let go and let God, while also realizing that no doesn’t mean never, it just means not now.
Are these some of the lessons you pass on the girls in your organization - 50 Shades of Black?
While I haven’t had much time to engage with girls due to work, I make sure that I share with them these core principles. I want the girls to understand that they are worthy and to never allow themselves to be a victim. I hope to convey to them that if they truly believe in their abilities, then they deserve to go wherever they want.
What was your state of mind when you decided to work in Nollywood after many years in England?
I had my fears prior to coming back to Nigeria to work in Nollywood but overtime it has been the right decision for me. There was the adjustment to my new environment after spending my formative years in England. Also, I had my concerns about the film industry. Nollywood films fit a particular mold in terms of the script, acting and film making. I was not certain that my training as an actor would translate well on Nollywood screen.
What has led to the improvement in film making in Nollywood?
There are a lot more opportunities in the industry because of the increase in the number of producers and directors that are migrating back to Nigeria. The knowledge they are bringing in their film making has led to the recognition of our industry internationally. For example, eight films were screened at tiff. This shows the growth and I’ve been able to see and participate in the process. It is definitely the best time to be part of the industry.
How do you manage expectations in Nollywood?
At the start, I was very concerned about what people thought of me and overcompensating to get people in the industry to like me. I was concerned about pleasing others and not really staying true to myself. The stigma of being the English girl who migrated and now has an advantage weighed heavily on me, but now I understand that rejection is real and not everyone will like you. Now, I have a clearer vision for myself and that has allowed me to eliminate the overcompensation at the start of my career.
Was your early interest in psychology connected in any way to the transition into acting?
I wouldn’t say I connected the two. For me, I enjoyed both separately but psychology was never a passion of mine. I got into the arts and developed an interest in acting and dance. I do know that I have a good sense of judgement and I am able to assess a situation, see how the person it affects handles it, then provide my advice. Psychology never had a direct influence, I do a lot of research on the characters I play – maybe I should start using it though (laughs).
Are there any roles that challenge you?
There are some roles that I don’t think I am yet ready for. For example, I would need more prep time to play a “village girl”. We typically get our scripts two weeks in advance of filming and it is difficult to embody the mindset and culture of such a character without having sufficient time. Any lack of preparation would freak me out.
Has a character you played stayed with you longer than you wanted and did it scare you?
Oh yes, I have. It is a very surreal and weird experience, but also very fulfilling. It tells me I did a great job and shows that I have done justice to that character. While it is great to get to that point, I really don’t like to stay in that zone.
How do you get out of this mental space?
I tend to go out with friends, doing bubbly things like watching a movie or I might just zone out for the night and see how I feel the next day.
You move seamlessly from the girl next door to a leading lady in a film, is there a method to that?
I am not sure how to answer that question. I just go out and embody the character fully. If the character is required to be mean or be a bitch or girl next door then than is what I will offer on screen.
Has money ever trumped the quality of a production?
I can’t lie to you – I have. This was in the past where I took on roles for the money but I stopped doing that entirely because I was never proud of the films. There are so many films in Nollywood that consistently receiving poor reviews will kill your career. Now, I have to be impressed with the script, the story and characters have to be challenging and interesting, otherwise, I am not doing it.
What do you feel is next for Nollywood?
Where it is right now is phenomenal and is only getting better. The scripts are great, there are more characters but we need to see more disparate characters – We need to be more than just the wife – wait, let me rephrase that (laughs). What I mean is we need characters that connect so deeply in our mind, we forget that they are fictional. We need to create the Denzel Washington in Training Day, Merryl Streep in Iron Lady or Angelina Jolie in Changeling. These characters are more challenging for actors but I think we can get there one day.