With almost half a century on stage under his belt; award-winning actor, director and movie producer, Akin Lewis, deserves induction into the Nollywood’s Hall of Fame. The Ibadan-born movie veteran, in this interview by FEMI OGUNTAYO, talks about matters arising in the Nigerian movie industry. Excerpts:
It’s been almost half a century on stage for you. How would you describe your experience in the industry so far?
If I have to use one word. Awesome. If I have to break it down, I have had mountains of experiences and valleys of experiences. Life is tough and so, what else is new? As far as I am concerned, the making of a man is not how much money or what your properties are but to me it is how many times you can get up when you fall. Failure is part of success, so, there have been failures and there have been successes. There have been sad moments and there have been happy moments, but we keep going.
What is new with you?
Just before COVID 19, we did ‘Your Excellency’, which is on Netflix now. I also did ‘King of Boys’, we have done part two. It is not out yet, that is another new film. Then, of course, I have been in ‘Borokini’, which is like the first truly Yoruba Soap. Well, another thing which people don’t know is that I also preach the gospel of God. I preach on the pulpit and I evangelise.
Are you saying you are some sort of pastor or prophet?
Well, I am Akin Lewis but isn’t that what every Christian is supposed to do? Whether on the pulpit or at a movie location, we are to share the gospel anywhere.
In many of the movies you featured in; you seem to play more of ‘big man’ roles. Is it that you reject other roles, not in line with this type of role or you just get this role probably because of your stature or status in the industry?
The nature of theatre is that it evolves and these roles also evolve. At one time I play the roles of a casanova, at some time I was a lover boy, all these roles that these young men play now, I have acted them. So, as you grow older, as you evolve, your roles will change. Now, the roles that fit me are the roles of the chairman, the big bad boss, the good father, those elderly roles, good or bad, comedy or drama. So, I can play all roles, but you know I am a senior citizen already; it wouldn’t make sense trying to use me as a playboy or a lover boy now when you can get some young fellow to do that.
Are there roles you have ever rejected?
Yes, if I don’t like the script, I reject it. Usually, we read the script, I love to. So, if I don’t like it I will point out where the owners will change things, because they know I have the experience. If they change it and I like it, then I will go on. If I still don’t like it, I won’t take it.
Are there movies you have featured in and you regretted featuring in?
Of course, it’s been over 48 years; definitely, there would be at least one maybe more. But that was in the past because now I can choose and everybody bows to that. Maybe when I was younger and I was trying to grow, I didn’t have a choice, I just want to do something and years later you watch it and you don’t like it. But that is part of life.
Many ailing veterans have died over time because they never got financial aid when they needed it? Why do you think this is so?
First and foremost, I must say I feel very sorry for whoever falls into such a situation; it is not nice to die or fall sick like that, so I don’t wish it for anybody. Having said that, I need to say and I am going to say very boldly, that this profession has no retirement benefits; this profession has no gratuity or pension. So, what does that tell you? You begin to save up. On every project you do, save up! It is as simple as that.
It is because we are in the ‘eye of the tiger’ so to speak, people die in this country like that every day. Just like that! The economy is bad, we don’t even have health insurance that works very well, and the one that is working, people don’t trust it and these are the things we need to do to keep fit. Above all, you need to save up. I used to tell my younger fellows, save up! I don’t care if you earn just N5,000, save N1,000 from there. God is helping me, I have a sister who helped me with that.
I pray nobody has a disease that cannot be cured and you need so much money to treat. But the truth is, every man really needs to speak for himself. What you earn, you earn for yourself. The reason people really need help most times is that they don’t have anything to fall back on. Nigerians are not that good, nobody is good except God, but we are not quick to give. We even give for flimsy things than for real things. A boy says to his mother ‘Mummy calm down’, as he was being beaten; someone gave him 10 million Naira. Another person came from Big Brother Naija, won so much money, goes to the governor, he gave him five million naira and a whole bungalow and I was like what is this? The guy just won 38 or 56 million; anyway, that is how it is.
What do you think the government or the association can do about this?
That is what I mean; it is not the duty of the government or the association, because you earn money, so, use part of that money to take care of yourself.
That brings us to the question, how profitable is the acting career?
Well, look at me and answer that question yourself.
Yes, but not everyone in the industry seems to have made it like you.
No, but the thing is, every job that you undertake in this life has a starting point. You are not going to be comfortable initially, but if you keep at it, you will definitely make it big. So, somebody who started acting yesterday cannot become ‘Akin Lewis’ the very next day, you can’t. Do you know how much I have suffered myself? So, if I can ride a car today, it is because I have suffered a lot and it is because I kept at it.
It is said that the Nigerian movie industry doesn’t have space for up and coming actors to lead in movies as every producer wants to make use of known faces in their movies. What is your thought on this?
I will say that those up-and-coming actors should keep quiet and work hard. Filmmaking is business, you want to make money back, so what do you do? You use faces that people know. Of course, there are some other roles for the up-and-coming actors, so you have to work hard to get one of those lead roles. It is not on a silver platter. Those of us, who have the face now, have worked hard. Well, I have spent 48 years on stage now, but when I started, it took me six years to break through and become known. It took me six years of working every day, and then suddenly I got a series and then, boom, I became popular. So, the problem with the youths today is that they want to wake up tomorrow and find money on their pillows. Those complaining don’t work as hard as we do; we see them every day,
How would you rate the Nigerian movie industry? Some people say it is saturated already, is that the same with you?
(Laughs) The Nigerian movie industry is growing and it is not saturated. It is growing at such an alarming rate. In fact, some indices tell us that it is one of the fastest growing movie industries in the world. It is like the sky, every day, people are working. You will get to some hotels today, you will see like five crews shooting different movies. So, it is not saturated. There are a lot of younger ones out there who are doing great and the old ones are still there too. Well, you can’t push me out like that (Laughs). So, the Nigerian movie industry is really growing.
What would be your advice to an aspiring actor, who is planning to join Nollywood?
I have three phrases for such a person. Work hard, work hard and work hard. Yes, because that is what I know. Even as a known face, I still work hard. Anything you work hard at, you will perform before kings. That is why I say to the young ones, just work hard.
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