Tokunbo Oke is one of the fast-growing actresses in the Yoruba movie industry. In this interview with TUNDE AYANDA, she states why she shuttles between the United States and Nigeria, her challenges in the industry and her purpose in acting, among other issues.
When did you decide to be an actress?
It had always been my dream to be on television and the dream became a reality in 2008. I was in Abeokuta, Ogun State, where I joined the Waheed Ijaduade Theatre Group; I started from there and since then, I’ve not looked back.
What was the attraction?
The attraction came from watching too many Yoruba movies; I love what they do and wanted to be part of it.
Why do you prefer the Yoruba movies to the English-speaking movies?
I prefer Yoruba; I think their acting is real, even their lifestyles. I’m also a Yoruba woman, though I can act English movies too, if I see a good script.
Can you remember the first movie you acted in?
Aditu, produced by Olaiya. I did five scenes which I was not prepared for. I was at the location to tell my boss that I was going back to the United States of America and that was when the producer sighted me and asked me to take the role of a princess in the production. I didn’t know what to do but the director told me to believe in myself and taught me how to react under the camera. It later became a fun and I enjoyed it. Later, I worked with some big names in the industry.
What was the first payment you got from acting?
I was paid N3,000.
How do you cope living in America and acting in Nigeria?
I must confess to you that it is difficult and expensive, because I have to travel back and forth, but God keeps me going. My kids are schooling in America, so I have to find time to be with them, and when they are on holidays, I come to Nigeria.
Have you shot any movie in the United States?
My first movie production entitled Atona had three scenes shot in the United States.
How has your stay in the United States affected your career?
It has its advantages and disadvantages. In America, I am privy to a lot of things; you know they have the biggest movie industry in the world, so I learn a lot there. It was also in America that I learnt how to produce. The other thing is that I miss out on many movie productions in Nigeria, but still I don’t regret it because a lot is going on there; they are professionals and the practice of demanding for sex before getting a role doesn’t happen there. In Nigeria, they escape with a lot of scandals that can never happen there.
What are you working on presently?
I’m working on my new movie, Ameerah, which would be released soon.
What’s the storyline in Ameerah?
It’s about training a child in the right way; it’s about discipline. Ameerah is a lesson to both parents and guardians and a must-watch for them.
Where is the setting?
Abeokuta. We chose to shoot Ameerah in Abeokuta to interpret the daily life and upbringing in an urban settlement.
You earlier mentioned that the Nigerian movie industry is plagued with demand for sex, did you experience this or you are just trying to narrate someone’s experience?
It has happened to me and it’s still happening.
The producers will ask you to sleep with them to get roles; it’s real.
But other actresses claim they don’t experience it
That’s good for them, but for me, I experience it. I just don’t want to mention names, even your colleagues too ask to sleep with you. It’s so embarrassing.
So, how do you ward off the advances?
It’s self determination; if you have a focus, you can’t be toyed with. I’m used to it and I see it as a phase that will soon pass, but honestly, it’s so embarrassing. I know it happens to other actresses too, but they choose to be silent. You know the reason I chose to talk? If others have been talking, it would have reduced, because if you make a scapegoat of one, others will adjust. It’s so bad! You will see producers and colleagues begging me for sex and they call themselves married men. I think we should learn to put the fear of God in everything we do. In the past, I would rather keep quiet, but I’m sure my silence won’t help the industry.
Don’t you think this revelation can have an adverse effect on your career?
I have a good job that sustains me and my kids, and right now, I produce some of my own movies. I must also tell you that there are upright and decent men in the industry. So I have no fears.
Who are your favourites in the movie industry?
I don’t have favourites yet, I just watch them and learn one or two things.
As an actress, what determines the roles you take?
The script; not really the money. I fall for any good script. I’m inspired by a lot of things, my environment, positive people and hard work.
Can you act nude?
I cannot, for all the money in the world, do that. I have children and what example will I be setting for them if I act nude.
Can you tell us about your family?
I am a single mum, I have two children.
So, you are not married to their father?
I’m not, though we are friends. He is also here in America and we still hang out together during thanksgiving and other celebrations.
What turns you off?
Dishonesty; I hate liars and fake people.
What describes you?
I’m not perfect; I’m simple, honest, friendly and hardworking.
What determines what you wear?
I’m not really a fashion person and here I dress according to the weather. Right now, I wear a lot of hoodies, sweaters and boots because of the cold, my dress sense is simple and modest.
Can you tell us a little of your background?
I was born in Abeokuta, I grew up there. I finished from the University of Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, before I relocated to America.
What’s your purpose for acting?
It’s a dream I want to fulfil and hopefully, I know one day I will play a major role and be part of the people that will effect a change in the industry.
What’s your assessment of the industry?
It’s growing everyday, our works are appreciated all over the world, but I know some things are still meant to be corrected.