The unveiling of the new faces in the latest season of MTV Shuga was done recently in Lagos and Omowunmi Dada was one of them. ROTIMI IGE was there and brings an excerpt of their interaction.
Tell us about your experience with MTV Shuga.
I just practically joined the family, and it’s such an honour, I have been wanting to be on this platform for a very long time because it tells our African stories; a lot of things about us as youths, as teenagers that people do not get to know. Also, it tells the story in a way that is not just educative or about education being forced down your throat but also entertains. So you get to watch something that is interesting, educative, yet you can see yourself through these characters. So it’s such an amazing experience for me. We have started filming and I am super excited. It’s been beautiful, particularly the character that I am playing, which is Barbie. She is someone who represents about 50% of a lot of schoolgirls out there. She is a student as well, but she has another life entirely and you find a lot of girls out there who are students but are also paying their bills and getting their education through other means that are not right. So something happens, and she has to pick between being a bad or good girl. And then, this season is entitled ‘Choices’ and we realised that at the end of the day, Barbie’s choices have a ripple effect and she has to pay for the consequences of the choices she made. So the show spurs you that you are responsible for whatever choice you make, so you better make your choices wisely.
As someone who has tested several movie productions and is now a part of the Shuga family, what is the comparison like?
I have done a lot of productions, I have told a lot of stories, but this one is close to my heart because we are not speaking to just one kind of generation, we are speaking to the older generation; parents can learn and see how they should treat their children, children are getting informed about the things their parents do not talk about; they get to see it and they get to learn. It is really different, it is really beautiful, and this is not just ‘Shuga for Naija’, it is Shuga by Naija, but not just Naija alone, it is for Africa, and it is for the world. Also, the production process is top-notch. It is not just consistency that has been the game, every year the quality of the production that they churn out is really better. Now that I am part of the family, I see how they make it good and I can see that there is a progression in the quality. So yes I am super excited.
So what for you is the deal-breaker when you want to accept any script?
The story, the story is king. Who is this story talking to? What change would this story make? What societal defect would it correct? Who will learn from this story? At the end of the day, it is not enough to entertain people, you can get entertainment in all sorts of ways, but how are you telling it differently? How will someone watch whatever it is you are putting out there and say ‘wow! I need to have a re-think’; ‘Okay, I think I have been going my life the wrongest way.’ The story has to be something that will impact whoever it is that is watching it.
What kind of story would be a turn down for you?
If I do not believe in the character they want me to play. The story might be nice, but what about the character? And it doesn’t have to be the leading character. I tell people, there are no small roles, there are only small actors. You can practically have just one line, and that one line would change the narrative of the whole story, so for me, it is the character. Do I believe in the character? Is the character believable, and how does this character affect the whole story?
In your opinion, what do you stand for in the industry?
I stand for professionalism, for quality, for discipline, because it is not enough for you to be talented, you have to be disciplined. Nobody wants to work with an indisciplined actor. I stand for integrity, consistency and of course, at every point in time, I keep working on becoming a better version of myself.
What’s your take on nudity in roles?
It depends on how the nudity is being played. You can create nudity in a creative way and it will be tastefully done. Also, what is the essence of that nudity? It’s not just about showing a sexy body, how does it tell the story? For example, you want to enact a scene where a girl was raped stark naked and thrown out of her house. There is no way you would say you ripped off a girl’s dress, maybe in her night wear and you ripped it totally that you won’t see a bit of nudity. But then, it has to be tastefully done. Look at Lupita Nyong’o in ‘12 Years A Slave’, she was practically naked. But her acting, the way the nudity was created, it was in such a beautiful way that you look at the story and you get passionate about her performance, about the story and you even forget she was totally naked. You are not concentrating on her body parts, you are looking at the story. It has to be tastefully and creatively done. And it has to make sense to the story, not nudity for nudity sake.
If you had access to a younger version of yourself, what advice would you pass on?
What I would tell a younger Omowunmi is ‘do not ever forget what stuff you are made of. Life will be hard, but you have to find the inner strength to be harder. Life will not be easy but you need to know that everything that you need to survive and be great in this life, God has deposited it in you.’ I would tell her that it is okay to hustle, it is okay to go for auditions and it is okay to be you, but know one thing, you are destined to be great, and you will be great and nothing anyone will say or do will deter you from being great.
At the Shuga auditions, how did it feel competing with relatively unknown faces in the industry?
That was about two or three seasons ago. I wasn’t this Omowunmi at the time, so I did all of the struggling but I didn’t get it. But this year, it worked out.
Do you think it was your hard work that paved way for you?
I tell people that no matter what it is that you do, give it your very best, you don’t know who is watching. It only takes one scene for someone to notice you and say, “I want this person in my next project.” There have been times in the past where I have had to play one scene, and the next time the producer or director would call me, they would call me for a leading character. Just know what stuff you are made of. Even if you are asked to just laugh, laugh well and in the right way. Also, don’t ever think that your success is in the hands of anybody. Your success is in the hands of God and you, so everything is in your hands, make do with it. Be consistent. It’s okay to go for auditions, you cannot neglect the days of humble beginnings. I went for auditions. You can’t become a star in a day. Enjoy the process. You might not be perfect for a character that is being auditioned for at a particular point in time but they will remember you for being a professional, being diligent and giving the best at every point in time.
Can marriage stop you from acting?
No. Nothing can. I want to be old with all my grey, still acting because I love it and it gives me fulfilment. So when challenges come sometimes on set, I enjoy the challenge. My most challenging roles have been those that have given me a whole lot of accolades. I did ‘Moremi,’ a boxing movie, and I practically trained for about two months. Now I’m like a boxer. I trained with very big, Commonwealth belt-holding boxers. I just did Oloture with EbonyLife TV and it will be out in September. For the first time, I smoked because the character had to smoke. I did a whole lot of research. When we had the private screening, hosted by the British Deputy High Commissioner, everybody was crying. I saw everyone’s performance including mine and I was so impressed. I don’t run away from challenges or adventures, or work because those challenges actually help you become better.
How do you handle fame?
I see myself first as Omowunmi the regular person who is absolutely in love with what she does and it just happens that what she does comes with a certain amount of attention. I don’t let it get into my head. In fact, I feel honoured when people walk up to me that they love my work.
Is there anything fame has taken away from you?
Nothing. There have been so many times that I am on my way to set and there is traffic. I park my car and take a bike. What makes me an actor is acting, and what sets me apart is my professionalism. I won’t because I want to be a fine girl or that people must not see me on a bike I now get to set late. My job, my work comes first. I respect my art and craft. The amount of respect I put to my craft is the same amount of respect someone else will give my craft. So if I don’t respect it or take it seriously, why will anyone take me seriously?
Is there anyone you look up to in the movie industry?
Internationally, I love Meryl Streep. There is nothing you give her to do that she doesn’t ‘kill’, a lot of others. In Nigeria, I love Tina Mba. I have worked with her many times, she is one person that is very disciplined and there is no role you give her that she won’t interpret. Also, I am someone who keeps my private life private, and I see how she keeps her private life private. I basically just come out as Omowunmi the actor and leave Omowunmi the person at home.
What’s the secret to doing that?
That is why it is private. Maybe it is because I let my love for the craft overwhelm me, so when people see me, it’s just the craft that is most important.