Timini Egbuson talks with YUSUFF ADEBAYO about his AMVCA win, its significance and how that has strengthened his ambition to champion the crossover of Nollywood to mainstream international audiences. Excerpts…
With an AMVCA award, how does it feel to be the Best Actor in Africa?
Well, truth is I feel good. It’s indeed an honor that is quite humbling. I mean considering that there are other people that are equally talented and hardworking as I am. It’s a great accomplishment that the diligence is finally being recognised.
Of course, it is also motivating because now you’re there, you’ve done that and more people are looking at you now. So, that keeps me going.
In the build-up to the AMVCA, you went all out to persuade people to vote for you. How important was it for you to win that award at that point?
I mean for me, I’m a vibrant person and sincerely nobody really remembers number two. Being nominated, I wanted to win.
Anyone who knows me will know that I’m also a very competitive person. I understood the fact that it was voting category. Meanwhile, everybody that was nominated had a wonderful performance, from Gabriel to Swanky JKA.
I also knew that I have a strong fan base of people who love me. But then when it comes to the actually voting, people can be indifferent in general, so there was the need to push.
So, I wasn’t afraid or shy to do it. Sometimes, people just need that push to do some things. And I knew this was going to benefit me on the long run. Having Best Actor for The Future Awards and then AMVCA on my resume is no joke.
This is your first time wining the AMVCA; if you were to be nominated again, would you still go all out to do this?
Of course! I want to win it three times in a row! When I get nominated next year, I will definitely even campaign harder. Trust me, I will!
The Future Awards for the Best Actor in 2019 and then an AMVCA win this year; when you were starting out, did you see these plaudits coming your way this soon?
Baba, it’s not soon o! I’ve been acting for 10 years. But I get you and see; it’s not rocket science. People that know me knew that I worked myself really hard last year. I was moving from set to set and I treated every project with equal importance.
I had work on all media platforms. I had a web series; Skinny Girl in Transit, I had MTV Shuga running on terrestrial TV, I had movies in the cinema, I had movies on Africa Magic.
And that’s why I was really excited about The Future Awards because it was based on merit. So, based on merit, I won. Based on viewer’s choice, I won. 2019/2020 has been a great year.
Probably in late 2018 or early 2019, I read an article describing you as having a smooth run ‘From UNILAG to Nollywood’, and you just mentioned that you’ve been acting for practically 10 years. What is it about you that gives people the impression that you journeyed seamlessly into the film industry?
I think it’s more about how I broke out. I mean I’ve been doing a lot of work. You know, just the regular Lagos Boy hustling to buy a Benz and acting was just on the side at some point.
And then I got MTV Shuga which is the biggest platform anyone on the continent can get. I mean Lupita Nyong’o started from MTV Shuga. So, it was a big one for me.
There have been ups and downs and I’ve just been genuinely doing it for the love of it. Out of everything I’ve tried doing; acting has been the most comfortable and the happiest one for me.
There is a certain kind of sauce that I was bringing into the industry and without the risk of sounding cocky; nobody else was bringing that vibe. In 2017, I remembered I said, ‘Timini give it four years, if it’s not working, dust your certificate.’ I mean, I’m a Psychology graduate.
So what would have happened if acting didn’t work?
A lot would have happened. I could do marketing, branding, consumer psychology, voice over. I could work on Radio, I mean I was an OAP at some point with Rainbow FM and I was learning under my cousin. There was so much that would have happened.
You have just described how the journey has been for you but what would you say to people who believe that you had easy access to Nollywood because you have someone like Dakore as a sister?
I mean everyone has a right to their opinion. I feel like if they check my resume and the project I’ve worked on and all the times I’ve been said no to, they will understand that in an industry like Nollywood which is very much performance-based, you won’t be able to hide someone that is not talented under the guise of he’s my brother or family, for a long time. People are putting good money into the industry and at this point, only your talent can speak for you. Yes, she definitely has an influence. I mean she’s my sister and she’ll definitely look out for me. She’s been doing that for 33 years of my life. Yes, she’s advised me, coached me and helped me become a better person and that’s why that moment of she giving me that award at the AMVCA is one of the precious moments of my life.
It feels like you having her as a sister gave you the chance to have an insider glimpse at Nollywood even before you ventured into it full scale. Getting into the industry, what is it that you consider a mirage about the film industry after getting in?
For me, before I started auditioning, I have been following her to set for years. And when I was following her, the glam wasn’t as much as it is right now. There was no social media and people were just doing this for the sake of it. So, it gave me a clearheaded view of not expecting that much. I didn’t have high expectations and I just moved in for the love of it and that’s why when people come across me, they say I’m level-headed and humble. Dakore taught me all of that. I also understand that you are as good as your last job. When I was starting out, she always told me, there’s no money in the industry and I get it. That’s why I had other things I was doing. They say, as a successful Nigerian, you must have about seven streams of income. So, I had that and I’m still looking for other streams of income. So, if my helper is reading this interview now, the person should reach out to me abeg!
Let’s talk about your craft now. In Tinsel, in MTV Shuga, in SGIT, you were the cool, calm and collected young man. More recently, in Dear Affy, you were that nerdy character, in Elevator Baby, you were the spoilt young kid trying to find his foothold on life. Would you consider yourself to have tested the extent of your range as an actor?
No! I’ve not even started scratching the surface of what I can do as an actor and until the day that I stop acting, I will continue to dig deeper and find out things that I can always do. That being said, there has been a lot of work out there that people haven’t seen. And I’m still looking forward to creative writers to give me scripts that will challenge me. I’m looking forward to playing so many roles. There is something I just finished working on. It’s called Forthright. It’s an Abinibi film. That will show you a different side of Timini that you haven’t seen. At the end of the day, as an actor, I’m a blank space and the Director as well as the script can shape me into any form. And that’s what I’m trying to show. I’m not the flash in the pan kind of actor. There’s range. And that’s why I coined the hashtag #WatchTimini. I plan to take this everywhere in the world. It’s not just about Africa or Nollywood. Nollywood is just Nigeria and West Africa. Let’s do the world. Yes, the AMVCA is fine. How about Oscars now? There’s the BAFTA. So there’s so much and I’m just trying to take my fans who have now become families on that journey.
Considering how much you’ve done so far, what more would you love to do?
There’s a lot of character. I want to play a blind character. I want to play a deaf character. I want to play an autistic character. I mean those are people who have authentic stories.
Considering the sort of storytelling that obtains right now in Nollywood, do you think you’d find scripts that will allow you fulfill these ambitions?
Yes! There are so many ideas popping up these days. So, I’m confident particularly from the younger people. There’s Akay Mason, the director for Elevator Baby. But then, remember I’m not planning to restrict myself to Nollywood. Wherever the script comes from, Bollywood in India, London, South Africa; I just hope the universe finds me. And if nobody gives me, I’m a creative person and a producer myself, then, I’ll create the story.
Timini, eyes are on you as the next big thing for Nollywood. You seem like a replica of Wizkid in Nollywood, that young man who would champion the scaling up of the film industry to international audiences and become the biggest film export out of Nigeria. Do you feel that responsibility too?
Yes, I do because I feel like a lot of my colleagues are not just dreaming. And if that’s what I’m just able to do, my work then is done. I’m not just another actor who wants to make so much money from Nollywood. I want to make a difference and inspire younger people. If I open that door, and drop my shoes that I’m done, I’ll feel successful.
What would you consider the future of Nollywood in the next few years?
Truly, the possibilities are endless. Imagine how we are managing to shoot films and we are still getting huge accolades for it right now. You can imagine if we start getting more funding and producers, directors and actors have more cash to play with, no film industry will be able to compete with Nollywood. With the level of talent we have, the original African stories we’ve not even touched, the world has no choice than to pay attention.