Taiwo Ajai Lycet, remember her? She is one of the few Nigerians to walk the halls of Hollywood with pride. Indeed, her emergence as a showbiz personality would make a classic story for a talent hunt programme.
As a young girl, Taiwo left the shores of Nigeria in the late 50s with eyes set on becoming a lawyer but that did not materialize.
She was at different times a teacher, a hustler, and later secretary to the Post Master-General of Britain. “I never dreamt of being an actress. All I wanted to do was become a lawyer. You know, it was very prestigious in those days.”
But since her return to Nigeria in 1976, Taiwo has appeared in a few, but notable television productions such as “Winds Against My Soul”, “For Better For Worse”, “The Young Ones” and “The Honourable”. Her only Nigerian movie appearance to date remains Tade Ogidan’s “Hostages”.
Today, Taiwo Ajai Lycet is a school proprietress. The school, TAL Private School, is a nursery and primary school located in the heart of Lagos.
Having done it right and where it matters most, Taiwo is one actress who frowns at mediocrity in whatever form. In fact, each time anything goes wrong in Nollywood, she raises alarm, saying: “Eh, watch it!”
For instance, when Nollywood star, Cossy Orjiako got obssed with near nude roles, Taiwo did not hide her resentment.
Frank as ever, she revealed to Sunday Sun in this exclusive interview how sex has taken Nollywood stars hostage, to the extent that they have lost their senses of creative thinking.
She also spoke on why she thinks it would take quite a while for a Nigerian movie to be nominated for an Oscar award let alone clinch one.
Angered by the craze to bare all by some Nollywood actresses, Taiwo condemned without looking back what in her judegment amounts to the debasement of womanhood.
Interestingly, over the years, she has identified why some Nollywood actresses like to flaunt their bodies even when it is absolutely unnecessary. She thinks, believing that it is unfortunate also, that what occupies the minds of such girls almost all the time is sex, sex, sex and sex.
Put in a different way, the reason Nigerian actresses go nude is because they are obsessed with sex. “Because these girls are not trained, they lack what it takes to interpret roles. Even when they do movies with love story line, they end up with sex. That is what they are obsessed with.”
On the quality of Nigerian movies, Lycet said Nollywood lacks good movies because of the level of literacy of the stakeholders: “They are not making good movies because they are illiterates. They are socially illiterate and artistically bankrupt. That is why they go for the lowest common denominator.
“What the Nigerian movies have right now are beautiful girls who dress well. They are pretty and beautiful like any set of ladies or young men anywhere in the world. But acting is not only about beauty. Okay, the ladies are beautiful and the men are handsome. The houses are well furnished, gleaming and wonderful. The locations are well sought-out. Posh cars.
But, like I said, acting is much more than that. When you bring a wrong character and put him or her inside this beautiful setting, the body language, the intelligence and everything about this character is out of place. It is easy for anybody to know that this is acting.
Your attitude and body language is supposed to match with that of the setting, but you hardly find that in our productions. When you are doing a movie, you shouldn’t think it is acting. You should learn to be real and make the audience feel it is real.
“Let me tell you about a movie that I saw. The story line was something like this – a young couple who have been dating from their university days got married and were finding it hard to have a child for two years. All sorts of dialogue was going on, but not even for one moment did anybody suggest that if this couple was looking for a baby, that they should go and see a gynaecologist. In this modern day and age, that is not real. Before anybody can conclude that a woman is barren, you need to see an expert.
If it were to be a movie from Europe, because they deal with real life, you’ll see her go to the doctor, you’ll see her agonize or she is considering other possibilities. That is modern life, which gives comfort and hope to women in the same situation.
“They forgot to include all these because they are interested in the intrigues. They want to show you that it was her step-mother or the husband’s secret lover that was responsible for her situation. All that might be going on any way. That is real too. But they overlook the real issues because they want to dwell on intrigues. They want to show you the girlfriend who wants to snatch your husband or the step-mother who has vowed that she will never have a child. That is childish and idiotic.
“You show Nigerian men as being soulless. They don’t let us see what the men suffer. Are they telling us that that is the way we are? I say no! I always believe that my job as an actor is to open widows to possibilities in life, to think about the unthinkingable. Unfortunately, our people are not doing this because they are illiterates. They are socially illiterate and artistically bankrupt. That is why they go for the lowest common denominator.”
Nudity in Nollywood
“Again, I talk about reality. When you watch Hollywood movie and the artistes kiss, does it offend you? It won’t! Though they are not married, they are playing a part that look so real. That kissing is a consummation of the business between them. At the end, nobody feels offended. But because they are not trained, they end up doing rubbish. Even when they make movies with love storylines, they end up with sex. It is because they don’t understand anything about love. It is sex! It is animalistic. It is what the girls are obsessed with. They tell you, ‘somebody likes my boobs and I’ll bring them out.’ Nobody is interested in what is in his or her head.”
Nigerian movies and Oscar
“Have you analyzed the South African movie that won an Oscar? You must do that first to see how the actors are acting and the camera work. Mind you, it’s only about costume because the costume and the set would blend easily. It is because they are talking about real people. What wins you an Oscar is the camera work, the editing, set, and costumes. But everything blend together in those good movies.
Then the acting. It comes to people being able to understand what you are saying. Have you asked yourself why we love Indian movies? In spite of the fact that we don’t understand what they are saying, we are still able to follow them. It is because they deal with real human issues.”
Problems with Nollywood
“Part of the problem with us is that we are petty. They see you as an enemy when you critic their woks. In that way, we wont get anywhere. We have to learn to disagree with somebody and get the message right. That is why I say good luck to them. Sure they are doing it and making name for themselves, but the truth is that only the best is good for us, and I know that we are not good enough for now.
“Our people don’t think they need training. I think I’ll hold the media responsible for this. We look at the face and bom of these girls and you make noise about them. I’ve heard some artistes say they have featured in 300 movies. That is ludicrous! It amounts to a lack of vision. That is why they feed the people with rubbish because that is what they understand. That is why I call them illiterates because that is what they understand.
Now they are making the story line look better by making them go to university and fall in love. But they don’t even understand the meaning of love. I’m yet to see anyone do a movie about two young people who are head over heels in love. Without sex or falling on each other.”
“You can be working and learning on the job. But, you must be willing to invest in yourself. Training is of essence in everything. That is the difference between the white actors and ours here. I’ll advise them to add value to their talent by going for more training.”
Secret of success as an actress
“I tell you, it is the education that I have. Look at where I am coming from; I have worked with some of the topmost civil servants in the land. I have read prodigiously. So when I came on stage, I understand all that is expected of me. I had special trainers and teachers in different areas. For instance, every Sunday was spent reading poetry. Not just to read, but imbibe the emotions and all that. Even now I still read the Bible. You should not read your own publicity or have an idea of your own importance.”
Experience in ‘Some Mothers Do Have Them’
“The whole story is built around two people, Spencer and his wife. All other artistes are brought according to script. Of the about 13, my own episode has won awards all over the world.
It boils down to training and education. When make a habit of reading poetry. I made it a habit of reading all these things. When you make it a habit of reading poems like Shakespeare’s sonnet and how the lovers feel for each other, when you come into situations when you are in love, you’ll go back to what is called emotional memory. The actor is the better for all this.”
Life in London
“I left Nigeria around 1959. At that time, I wanted to be a lawyer. I went to work clearing plate and so on in the day and I’ll go to school at night. Later, I learnt to type and I joined the British Civil Service. I was a senior personal secretary to the Post Master General, who was a minister in England. So, from clearing plates and doing odd jobs, I rose. I was also a model. I got a wonderful education in England. They are always willing to teach you, it is left to you to either grab or leave it alone.”
A shot at acting
“One day, a friend of mine was doing a play at the Royal Court Theatre. It was the premier of Wole Soyinka’s Lion and The Jewel. I went to take this friend for coffee. I was sitting in the foyer while the director walked past and asked if I was an actor. Of course, I used to dress elegantly in those days. He just asked if I’d be interested in acting. Before then, I was just an art aficionado who goes to see the plays and catch fun. That was how I joined by going to school and getting trained.
“But in England, anybody cannot just come on stage. If you discover somebody that you think is an exceptional talent, you could get a temporary card from the union. Aside that, you need to be a registered member of the union before you can go on stage.
“After the play was premiered, our dressing room was bombarded by people who were asking to know who my agents were. But I had none at the time. The following day after the play, I was on the BBC.”
Why education now
“Acting is about education. It is about putting a mirror in life and showing what life should be. My commitment to life and vision is to see people who think clearly. To have people who are confident of themselves. All the poverty we have is the poverty of the mind. Once you have control of your mind, nobody can hurt you. That is real confidence. Anyway, I started my career life as a pupil teacher at St Paul’s Catholic School, Lagos in 1957/58.