A graduate of Accounting from Devry University, who also holds a Master’s degree in Branding and Marketing from Kellogg Branding School of Management, both in Chicago, United States of America, Bolanle Ninalowo, has risen to become one of the most sought-after actors in Nollywood today. The Lagos State-born actor, who returned to Nigeria from the US about seven years ago, in this interview by FEMI OGUNTAYO, talks about his life and experiences. EXCERPTS:
How was the year 2020 for you and what are your plans for 2021?
2020 was a great year because we are alive; it was a challenging year with a lot of craziness. From the Coronavirus pandemic to the EndSARS protest, they had a negative effect on the economy. We were all affected, because we are all parts of the economy. In relation to me, my business, a lot of my films couldn’t make it to the cinema last year, because of the lockdown and stuff, but we thank God for grace, we thank God that we are alive and we thank God for sound health, shelter and food.
One thing 2020 did was that it showed us our strength and how resilient we could be as human beings. For me it just showed me that, if I could make it through 2020, I could make it through any situation in the world. For the New Year, I have a lot of projects I am working on with Netflix; Perfect Picture 2 is out (Raising Jobestina series) is out, it came out on January 1st and that is making the rounds right now. So, there is a lot coming up, so many endorsements I am looking forward to. I am really optimistic for greater things in 2021.
Tell us about how you gained prominence in the Nigerian movie industry and how did it all start for you?
It has been a very tough and challenging journey for me. I have been in Nollywood for about 6 years plus now, it will be seven years in June. But I have done great things, I have been highly blessed by God and I never quit. I am not known to quit, because I believe winners don’t quit and quitters don’t win. So, with the grace of God, I have just been able to just keep going with resilience and determination. I will say my career has been highly impacted by Mary Remmy Njoku, wife of Jason Njoku, the owner of ROK studios and Iroko TV. I remember meeting Mary back in 2014, when I came into Nollywood. She did an audition for me when they needed a character in ‘The Husbands of Lagos TV Series’, then Iroko was launched in 2015. So, I auditioned in 2014, I got the role of ‘Wale Teniola Fernandez aka WTF’. That is how the journey started and I started working for ROK studios doing the small jobs and doing whatever comes in. I was doing that and with prayers, hard work and perseverance, I kept on going, looking for the next challenging scripts and that is how I got here now.
Who, then, is Bolanle Ninalowo?
I am just a man, a man of grace. I am a determined person; I am a dreamer, a goal getter, pace setter and a fighter. I was born in Nigeria but relocated to the United States when I was 15 years old. I finished my high school in America; I have a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Devry University and I have a Master’s in branding and marketing from Kellogg Branding School of Management, both in Chicago. So, I am born into the Ninalowo family, second out of eight children, I have seven siblings and we are natives of Ikorodu.
For many, the movie ‘Picture perfect’ brought you into limelight, do you agree?
Absolutely yes, ‘Picture Perfect’ is my breakout movie. I came into the industry in 2014 with the movie ‘Husbands of Lagos’. That was my break-in role to get some attention and to create awareness for myself, but the movie that broke me out and just blew me was ‘Picture Perfect’. So, I agree with that.
What inspired your book, ‘Shame to fame’?
My story, my life inspired my book. Like I said, I am a man of many experiences; I am a man of many failures, I am a man of many mistakes, I have grown so much in life. I am highly favoured and blessed by God to be where I am today. So, I always feel like, with my story, I have gone from shame to fame. Moving out of America to relocate to Nigeria, I didn’t even know what I was doing, I was just lost here and I didn’t want to go back to America because of the shame. All my peers would say that, oh he went to Nigeria and couldn’t make it and he came back. I have pretty much, just been through so much and I said to God that if I make it through these hard times of my journey, I will definitely use my story to inspire the world.
So, ‘shame to fame’ is the story of my life. So, many people have questions about how I made it, how I became so big in Nollywood in just seven years of my career, but a lot of people don’t know that I have been in Nigeria for over seven years and I have failed so many times and I have been through depression, name it, I have seen all the worst things that can happen. So, I have been through a lot. Being here today, standing tall, making it and achieving my dreams, I have gone through a lot and learnt from myself, through my own journey. So, I felt like it was just proper for me to share with the world and inspire another person. You never know who is out there who is lost as well, who needs help. So, that is what ‘shame to fame’ is for.
How did you earn yourself the name ‘Makanaki’?
The name Makanaki blew out of the movie ‘Picture Perfect’. I used to say, Emi Jobe, Jobsi Jojo, aka Makanaki, Olu Aiye cause trouble… So, Makanaki was just that name I used in ‘Picture Perfect’ to always prove to people that I wasn’t on their level, more like my guy-name. I guess people just loved the way I used to say it in ‘Picture Perfect’. The mannerism and everything just kind-of clicked and everybody started calling me, Makanaki and I just adopted the name. I was like, hey! I love Makanaki, now I am Makanaki. (Laughs)
What would you say stands you out among other actors in Nollywood?
I think it is just my style, diversity and my whole brand. One thing I have always wanted to be was a universal actor. I wanted to be the guy that would bridge the gap between the Yoruba and the Igbo film industries, because I believed Nollywood was one, filming was one. I don’t like the fact that people would call me a Yoruba or an Igbo actor. So, I felt like, if I could make it through the English industry, I should be able to penetrate the Yoruba industry, which is what I did and I have been able to do that, thank God for the grace. So, I think that makes me stand out. Now, coming into the industry at age 34 and succeeding, I am 40 years old now, with a wife and two children and I have been able to overcome and succeed, I think it is inspiring enough. So, there is a lot, but I think my style and my hustle just make me stand out.
Are there roles you will never play in a movie, no matter the amount of money offered for it?
Of course, I will never play a nude role in a movie, like being totally nude, for what? (Laughs) I like to be challenged a lot, like the role I played in ‘Picture Perfect’, I played the role of an ‘Agbero’, a hooligan that a lot of people didn’t know I could do. So, I like to challenge myself a lot. I always like to see what the directors and producers like to do with me; I am pretty much like a vessel that you can just do anything with. I am out here to learn new things. Like I always say, I am only here to outdo myself, I am my only challenger, I am not here to compete with anyone.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I see myself blessed, doing great and greater things. I always tell people, if you want to know where or what your life will look like in the next five years, what are you doing now? If you want to know why you are here now, look back to the things you have been doing for the past two to five years. So, whatever I am doing now will lead to what I would become in the next five years and right now, I believe I am doing the right thing. God has blessed me and put me in the position I want to be. So, as long as I keep doing the right things, greater things are going to happen and I am looking forward to what God has in stock for me. It is all God and grace.
How do you manage advances from female admirers and fans?
I just ignore them. I say thank you and I move on. People say, oh I like your movie, I have a crush and all that, that is it, it ends there. I don’t mix my business and my personal life together. I am not an actor; I am in a business of acting. Showbiz is a business; it is not your life. I don’t joke with my business, I don’t joke with my work and I think my success today, where I am, speaks for itself. I had to be disciplined and diligent to make it and be who I am today. So, I appreciate the advances and love, but it ends there.
Do you think your physical appearance has a lot to do with your success in Nollywood?
No, I don’t think so, but it adds to the overall picture. Your looks doesn’t determine your success, your hustle does. What you overcome, your behind the scenes are what determine your success. Your looks just gives you attention, but after they have noticed you, it is what you have to deliver or what you have to see that they want to see.
Your happiest moment?
I have a lot of happy moments though, but my happiest moments are when I am with my family – my wife and my kids. Anytime I see them and I am with them, that just gives me joy. That is all I have in life. So, my happiest moment is when I am with them. Looking at how blessed I am to have them just gives me joy.
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