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Blending into Nollywood  was tough – Zainab Balogun

Zainab Balogun, Bolanle Olukanni and Lamide Akintobi are friends whose bond is strengthened by their shared passions.  Their interests include television, radio and acting

 What is your family background and where did you grow up?

My parents hail from Abeokuta, Ogun State. However, I was born and raised in London.

What memorable childhood experiences can you recall ?

I remember exploring a lot as a child. Though my parents were strict academics, they allowed me the freedom to experiment with creativity. From artistic after-school clubs to being encouraged to take part in local talent shows; I was really exposed.

What are your educational qualifications?

I had my post-elementary education at Sacred Heart RC Secondary School, London. I also attended Christ the King Sixth Form College where I completed my A levels in Law, Psychology, English Language and Literature. I eventually graduated with a Law degree from the University of Kent.

What were your childhood ambitions?

I wanted to be a lot of things as a child; from a chef, to a salon owner. I also had big dreams. The biggest of them all as a teen was my desire to become a lawyer. I wanted to practise entertainment and media law.

When was the first time you knew you wanted to become an actress?

I decided I was going to pursue a career in acting in 2011 when I got booked for a huge Hollywood movie. My role was very small but I was amazed by the entire experience. At the time, my casting agent didn’t reveal the name of the project but once I got on set and saw the likes of Christian Bale, Ann Hathaway and Samuel L Jackson, I soon realised it was The Dark Knight Rises. I was sold at that moment!

Do you see yourself practising Law someday?

Yes, I still picture a career in Law. However I am happy and content with where I am at the moment.

How easy was it for you to settle into the entertainment industry in Nigeria considering that you were coming from the UK?

It was not easy at all. I have been in Nigeria for five years and I tell people all the time that the first three years were the hardest. I was battling with convincing my parents that their child wasn’t going crazy by randomly moving to Nigeria and not pursuing a career in Law. I also struggled with the culture shock and the way of life in Nigeria. It was difficult to get in as an outsider but that changed eventually.

Did your parents support your decision to become an actress?

My parents expected me to follow through with my initial plans to become a lawyer. They knew that I had creative interests but probably didn’t expect me to take it this seriously. They weren’t supportive at first but the moment they started to see the fruits of my labour, they were convinced.

What are the challenges you face in your movie career and how do you surmount them?

The challenges I faced are too long to list but the most difficult one was trying to curate a level of consistency in my career. It’s easy to get one role but you’re only as good as your last movie.Therefore, maintaining a steady growth is important. I overcame this by being patient and staying true to my strategy.

Can you recall the first movie you acted in?

The first movie I took part  in  was The Dark Knight Rises, by Christopher Nolan. My first movie in Nigeria was A Solider’s Story, by Frankie Ogar.

Who gave you your first opportunity in the movie industry?

Frankie Ogar, the director of A Soldier’s Story, was the first person I worked with in Nigeria.

Which movie would you consider as your breakthrough?

That is undoubtedly The Wedding Party.

Can you recall how many movies you’ve acted in?

I have been featured in eight cinema releases so far.

What are you working on at the moment?

I recently wrapped up leading roles in Sylvia by Trino Studios and The Door by Jude Idada. At the moment, I am currently reading a number of scripts.

You are also a model, what are the highlights of your modelling career?

The highlights of my modelling career include taking part in the London and New York Fashion Weeks. It is every model’s dream.  I like to refer to myself as a former model. I’ve had too much starchy foods over the years, so I’ve hung up my heels.

What do you enjoy most about being a television presenter?

I love the freedom to be myself and entertain people in my own special way through unique content. Presenting is pretty straightforward but producing is a beast. I had never produced a TV show before getting to EbonyLife TV. I was thrown into the deep end and I learned a lot through it. It was difficult, but most definitely rewarding.

How do you balance your work as a television presenter with being an actress and model?

I pray, multitask very well, and drink a lot of coffee to keep me going.

If you were to pick between modelling, presenting and acting, which would you go for?

Acting is my first love.

You also had a stint as a singer, what’s happening to that part of your career?

It has been rested permanently. I’ve moved on to other things.

What would you consider the high points of your career?

The highest point of my career as an actor was attending the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016 with some of the cast and crew of The Wedding Party. As of today, the highest point is going back to the festival with my own movie; The Royal Hibiscus Hotel.

What is the lowest point of your career?

The lowest point of my career was in the early stages when I wasn’t sure if my move to Nigeria was a good idea. I struggled with getting things done for some time. However, it all paid off.

What are the greatest lessons you’ve learnt over the years?

Patience is top of the list. Sometimes, there are blessings in sitting still and waiting for things to align in your favour.

 Who are your role models and mentors ?

My mother is my greatest role model. I watched her resist everything that came her way at all cost. She is truly a superhero!

How did you get to feature in The Wedding Party?

I was called to audition for my role in the movie and the producers selected me apparently because they liked my performance.

How would you describe your experience on that set?

It was fun all the way. The Wedding Party had a cast that was amazing to work with. We always had something to laugh about.

What peculiarities and traits do you share with your character, Wonu, in the movie?

I and Wonu share a desire for excellence and a frantic lifestyle.

What other skills/interests do you have?

I have major interest in social media marketing. I have a social media solutions company where we develop strategy, content and experiences for brands.

How would you describe your style?

My style is a reflection of my mood. Sometimes I’m fun and edgy; at other times, it’s classic.

What’s your favourite fashion item?

I love shoes!

How do you relax?

I watch movies and I hang out with my friends as a form of relaxation.

What’s your relationship status?

I am single like a dollar bill!

What kind of man rings your bell?

I like a man who is smart, ambitious, and a person after God’s heart.

I’m passionate about social issues   — Bolanle Olukanni

What are your academic qualifications?

I graduated from Loyola University, Chicago, with honours in a double degree, of BA Communications and BA International Studies.

You lived in different countries while growing up; which one had the biggest impact on you?

Living in Israel had a huge impact on me. That was where I fell in love with travelling and also began to realise how vast the world is.

Was presenting/broadcasting or entertainment your childhood dream?

I was interested in being a radio DJ when I was in secondary school. I did a few years of secondary school in Kenya and that’s where I fell in love with radio and entertainment. I was so enamoured by the potential to influence and impact millions of people through the medium of radio.

Who gave you your first opportunity in the entertainment industry?

My very first opportunity was hosting Moments with Mo.

Tell us about your time hosting MTN Project Fame?

Project Fame has been a great experience. It’s such an inspiring and entertaining show to be part of. There are so many talented Nigerians and it’s great that for nine years, Project Fame has been giving them the platform to really develop their talents and showcase it.

How would you describe your working relationship with Joseph Benjamin?

Joseph and I have a great working relationship. When I first joined Project Fame, I was really nervous and Joseph helped me to find my footing. We have so much fun it doesn’t feel like work.

What are the highlights of your time hosting Moments with Mo?

I have been part of Moments (formerly Moments with Mo) for four years now and every episode is unique. We have really inspiring guests who are doing amazing things in their different ways. My favourite episodes were our: I survived series, and our guests were people who had been through life-changing experiences such as cancer, leg amputation, and loss of a child. I was amazed at how resilient and optimistic they were, despite their losses.

Have you ever been on stage with a co-host that you didn’t have chemistry with?

I have been so blessed to be part of amazing teams. For every single person I have had to host a show with; I really enjoyed my time on set with them.

What’s the most challenging gig you’ve ever handled in your career?

That would be hosting my first TV show, Moments with Mo as a novice with no experience. I was fresh out of school then. I was chosen to co-host the show through the Search for Mo competition, which was a reality show that was looking for two co-hosts to join Mo Abudu on her talk show. Despite the odds of over 300 applicants, including seasoned presenters, being part of the competition, I was chosen to host the show alongside Mo Abudu and Dolapo Oni. I had no prior experience before that as a presenter and I was faced with the task of being confident, engaging and up to par in my presenting skills. I was terrified almost every single day we shot the first season, but I stuck through it. I practiced, watched myself and learnt from my co-hosts and also from seasoned hosts across the industry.

Do you have any special routine before going on air/stage?

I drink tea.

What’s the most exciting and interesting project you’ve ever worked on?

I just finished producing, directing and writing my first documentary titled, God’s Wives. It is a social issue documentary that explores the lives of widows. The documentary is very close to my heart as a lot of these women are marginalised and discriminated against because they have lost their husbands. I am hoping the documentary really creates change for them.

Which co-host or actor do you have the most chemistry with?

I have only been in one feature, so it’s hard to compare.

What advice were you given at the start of your career that is helping you till date?

I have always been told to be true to myself. I think that is the most relevant and timeless piece of advice I’ve gotten.

How do you develop yourself as an OAP/anchor?

I believe that growth comes from a place of self-awareness. Being an OAP is about sharing your personality with the world. It’s the one TV job where you are expected to be yourself but simultaneously entertain. The more you are comfortable with who you are, the more you can be your authentic true self on TV.

Can you recall your most embarrassing moment on stage?

I think being nervous and it showing is embarrassing enough.

Which stage would you like to perform on but haven’t yet?

There are so many of them. I am always interested in growth and looking for new challenges.

Is there anybody you’re looking forward to sharing a stage with?

I would love to host an event with IK Osakioduwa. He is a true talent and he is exceptionally good at being a host.

You also write poetry; which themes do you usually dwell on?

God and heartbreak.

Have you ever dated anyone in the entertainment industry?

I have never dated an entertainer.

Can you ever marry someone in the Nigerian entertainment industry?

I can marry anyone, as long as they have the qualities I am attracted to.

You’ve largely avoided scandals in your career, how have you been able to achieve that?

I don’t think people purposely look for scandal; life happens to all of us and unfortunately, in this day and age of social media, it’s easy for people to get wind of it. I have just not been in a position where any of my private affairs were out in the public.

What’s your philosophy of life?

Follow your guts and it will lead you to glory.

Beyond what we see on stage and screen, who is Bolanle Olukanni?

I am really passionate about people. I am very passionate about development and making sure that I use my platform to add value to the marginalised, such as widows and orphans.

Do you ever get pressured by family/society to get married?

No, I don’t. I believe everything good would happen at the right time.

What qualities do you want in your man?

I am attracted to kindhearted people.

What does style mean to you?

Style is all about expression. It’s the way I tell you how I am feeling on any particular day.

What’s your favourite fashion accessory?

Arm candy. I get all my jewellery in Lagos

What can you never be caught wearing?

Never say never; its fashion and sometimes, we end up wearing what we thought we would never wear.

How do you relax and unwind?

I read a book and drink green tea.

What kind of books do you like to read and who’s your favourite author?

I enjoy fiction books. I like reading to shut my brain off and I do this through fiction. My favorite authors are Francine Rivers and Abidemi Sanusi

What are your likes and dislikes?

I like kind people, and I don’t like unkind people.

What advice do you have for young ones who have the dream of also being where you are?

Write down your goals, speak life into your dreams and take daily steps to achieve those goals. I also tell people to be friendly and approachable because it will take you far.

Hard work is not enough – Lamide Akintobi

Can you share a bit about the family you were born into?

I grew up in Lagos for the most part, although we travelled a lot when I was young. My mum was in the airline business, so we were blessed to have a lot of travel opportunities. My dad is a music producer and entertainment entrepreneur, and my mum has always been in the aviation industry.

How would you describe your childhood?

I think I had a great childhood. I have lovely memories of a large extended family, with whom we spent a lot of time, especially during Christmas and other holidays. My siblings and I were loved and involved in all aspects of our parents’ lives, so we met co-workers, bosses, etc. We also tagged along with them, mostly my mum, to work sometimes, so I like to think we were exposed to lots of things the average kid may not have been exposed to.

What’s your educational history?

I attended St. Leo’s Catholic Primary School, Ikeja, and then Eva Adelaja Girls’ School, Bariga, from JSS 1-3, after which I moved to London and finished high school. Thereafter, I went to Bacons College for sixth form.

What were your childhood ambitions?

I wanted to become a lawyer.

Your dad, Laolu Akins, is a renowned music producer. As a child, what kind of relationship did you have with him?

I think for most kids, as it was for me, no matter what your dad does, or if he’s well known, your dad is just your dad; you’re not always aware of the bigger picture. So when I was younger, I didn’t really realise how much of a big deal he was, so having musicians at the house sometimes, or being backstage at concerts didn’t seem too out of the ordinary. However, as I grew older, I realised the extent of his influence and took pride in his work. He was, and still is, a very unselfish and loving dad, who adores and is protective of his children.

Did your dad in any way influence your career path?

Not at all. Both my parents wanted us to do our own things, as long as we worked hard, made good choices and were good people.

Which stars did you meet while growing up, and how did those interactions impact on you as a person?

I met a lot of people my dad worked with such as Shina Peters, Christy Essien-Igbokwe, who was my godmother, Adewale Ayuba, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Onyeka Onwenu, and lots more. I was slightly awed by some of them, but no one made a big deal of it. I think it probably just made me comfortable with people in general.

At the time you studied journalism at the Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, did you envisage that you would practise as a journalist?

I started off as a pre-law major, then switched to journalism, so yes, I did plan to practice.

What stirred your interest in journalism?

In my first semester at college, I happened to take an elective radio and TV course and I really enjoyed it, so I decided to go all in.

You were involved in some extra-curricular activities during your time in school in the United States; can you tell us more about that time of your life?

My sister and I formed the school’s first international student’s association at our community college, and we were involved in student governance and part of Phi Theta Kappa, an honours society. We were also mentors/teachers at an after-school programme for middle and high school kids called “Children are People.” When I moved to Texas, I was part of Pi of Texas Honours Society and joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, a community service organisation I’m still very much a part of even here in Nigeria.

Why did you decide to study Spanish, and has this aided your career in any way?

In high school, I studied German first, then Spanish after school, all because I wanted to avoid learning French. We had to pick one, and at the time, the options were French or German. Then, Spanish after school seemed fun, plus I liked the sound of it, and I really actually enjoyed school. When I moved to the US, I had to study a language as part of the basic requirements, so I continued with Spanish. I really enjoyed it and I don’t know if it has aided my career per se, but learning another language is always good for the mind, and I like to think it’s a good skill to have in one’s arsenal.

How many languages do you speak?

Apart from fluent English, I speak Yoruba and Spanish at intermediate levels. Unfortunately, I’ve lost most of my German. I’m starting to try and learn a few more – Italian, conversational French, among others.

What peculiar challenges do you face in your career and how do you surmount them?

I think some of my challenges are rooted in the industry’s structure. It’s challenging for any industry to work as it should when the country itself doesn’t work as it should. Apart from that, there are also personal challenges; I’m rarely satisfied with the work I do, and I want to learn more and do better. I don’t think I do anything extraordinary to surmount them; I just get up, get out, keep learning and keep working. And of course, I try to do the best work I can. No one can argue with excellence, so I continue to try to do excellent work.

Who gave you your first opportunity in the broadcast industry?

John Momoh. I will always have great things to say about him, and of course, immense gratitude. I went in for an interview with him on a Friday, and started work on a Monday. He had great faith in me, and I always tried to make him proud.

Did you have cold feet the first time you ever went on air; if yes, how were you able to deal with it?

The first time I was on air in Nigeria, I most definitely was nervous. I read the teleprompter very fast, and my voice shook a little bit. The only way to deal with it is to keep doing it, so that’s what I did. The more you practice, the better you get!

You worked as a news anchor at Channels TV, what was your experience while there, and why did you leave?

It was such a fantastic learning ground. I worked on producing and presenting mostly on the business desk, and I also anchored the news. I worked with great people and I still keep in touch with some of them. I left because I was ready to do something else, and I was planning to go and study for my master’s degree, which I did a few months after I left.

What were the highlights of your working stint at Television Continental?

TVC was a contract/freelance work. During the 2011 elections, they asked me to anchor their live coverage, and that was a really good experience for me. Sometime after that, they asked if I’d anchor their primetime news for a few nights a week, which I did, after closing at my day job. So I was juggling two jobs for a short while.

Have you ever practised journalism outside Nigeria?

Before I moved back to Nigeria, I worked at a community TV and radio station in East Texas, but other than that, no.

How would you describe the experience of hosting The Spot on Ebony Life?

Different. It stretched me professionally, in that I’d never done anything like it before. Co-creating it, seeing it come to life, and co-producing such a successful show that people loved was a personal and professional landmark for me. Some days were challenging and stressful, but there were more good days than bad. Overall, it was an unforgettable experience I’m glad I had. I also formed a wonderful friendship with Zainab Balogun, which has been great.

On the show, you usually put interviewees on the spot; did any of them ever get angry at your line of questioning?

I don’t remember anyone getting upset. Even when people were asked tough questions, they were asked in a professional way, and were handled with grace.

Do you have any major project you’re working on at the moment?

Apart from my project, Don’t Let Naija Frustrate Me, I’m working on an independent retrospective music documentary. I also do some event hosting and I’m the editor of a magazine called Diaspora Quarterly, which was founded by my mentor, Abike Dabiri-Erewa.

You were part of a humanitarian effort at an IDP camp in Yola; what led to that, and what were some of the insights you gained from the experience?

This was something that began on Twitter. Someone I liked and followed, Modupe Odele, a lawyer, wanted to do something for the kids in IDP camps and I was moved, so I helped to raise funds, and then assisted in sending all the products that were donated to Yola. Modupe led it, and a few of us just pitched in to help. It was great to see people giving and donating toys and other goods. Human kindness in action is always a beautiful thing. It also made me sad that people were living through such a sad situation, and authorities meant to help them were so ineffective.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I’m a freelance journalist, producer, presenter, among a few other things. That means I can work on a plethora of projects with whoever needs my services and that’s exciting. It’s also a bit scary because I don’t always know what or when my next project or paycheck will be, but I try to focus on the positive.

How do you juggle your job, and other activities so that one doesn’t affect the other?

I try mostly to do things I enjoy, whether they are work related or not, so juggling isn’t too much of an issue. Life is too short to spend on things you don’t get some sort of pleasure from.

What would you consider the most notable moments of your career?

I have a couple of them which include working at Channels, winning a Future Award, interviewing both President Buhari and former President Jonathan, co-creating The Spot, filming a documentary on Rwanda, among other things. I have been incredibly blessed and I look forward to doing more.

What is the lowest point of your career?

I got what I thought was my dream job with an international news organisation but then they restructured and I basically lost the job before I even started. That was incredibly heartbreaking for me.

What are the greatest lessons you’ve learnt in the course of your career?

I’ve learnt that you have to be able to adapt and be flexible. Don’t put yourself in a box. Hard work isn’t always enough; these days, you also have to be a brand. Being consistent and authentic is the best way to go.

What other skills/interests do you have?

I love to read, and music is my favourite thing. I’m a good singer, and I enjoy food; mostly eating it, but also cooking it when I’m in the mood.

Do you sometimes wish you are doing something else?

I’d love to be a billionaire philanthropist, but who wouldn’t? Sometimes, when I’m frustrated, I wish I had an easier job, but that’s just in the moment.

Your relationship with your co-host, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, was widely reported; what actually went down between the both of you?

I would rather not talk about that.

What best describes your fashion style?

Comfortable and chic. I’m a tomboy who loves to dress up occasionally, so comfortable chic works for me.

What fashion item do you love most?

I love a good pair of jeans or high-waisted pants.

How do you unwind?

I read, take naps, and I spend time with friends or family.

What’s your relationship status at the moment?

I’m in a long-term relationship with Jesus. He’s the best.

What kind of man do you fancy?

The kind who is very into Jesus, has integrity, is kind, trustworthy, open, and has both common and uncommon sense.

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