Kemi Lala Akindoju, Seyi Shay talk attraction to project, why you should see it, use of music and fashion

Seyi Shay and Kemi Lala Akindoju talk particularly tough moment during shoot and why you should go see "Lara and the Beat."

Tosin Coker film, "Lara and the Beat" is one of the most star-studded films of the year.

"Lara and the Beat" is a coming of age movie about the young and beautiful Giwa sisters caught in the center of a financial scandal with their late parents’ Media Empire. The sisters are forced out of their privileged bubble, and must learn to build their own future and salvage their family’s past.

During an interview with Pulse Nigeria, Kemi Lala Akindoju and Seyi Shay, who play Tonye and Lala, respectively, in the film, share what attracted them to the film, challenges during shooting and why viewers should go watch it in the cinemas.

Read interview below:

On what attracted them to the project

Shay: I would say the reputation of the production company [and] the cast - at that time, it wasn't fully cast, but there were a few people that were going to be in the movie - like Lala [Akindoju] - that I was happy with.

[Also] the storyline; I had the opportunity to read a little bit of the script to get the synopsis and I was pretty impressed. I was also excited to be working with Tosin Cokerknowing that he was going to direct. It just kind of fell into place and I was really looking forward to it.

Akindoju: "Lara and the Beat" is a project that is dear to my heart because the executive director [Biola Alabi] is one of my mentors and it's a project she has been talking about for a while. So for me, it was just about, 'When is the time to make this film?' And from the first day she ever mentioned the film, it was always going to be Seyi.

In fact, the title of the film changed. You know creative process and you're trying to pick the title that works, and you know films and stories evolve, but who was going to play the lead was not affected by the title. So in my head I'm like, 'Oh, the film we are doing with Seyi, that Seyi film.' So you know, it was already a project I was part of, and when it was time to start filming, I still had to read.

Tosin [Coker] had never seen me, he had to see me, he made me read and try out and audition, and make sure that I was fit for the character that I played in the film.

And Mrs Alabi was just like, 'Lala, you are going to help with casting because we need the right people.' It's an ensemble cast, it's large, and every single person in this film is someone to look out for. Every scene in this film matters and we have subtexts: like fashion and music. So we had to get it right. And trust me, it took us weeks and weeks and weeks to get it right.

On particularly tough moment

Shay: I have a few memorable moments that were particularly hard for me. There was one that I had to really regress to a memory of my mother just to really get the emotion of what Lara was supposed to be feeling at that moment when she had moved after losing all her wealth.

That was really hard for me because I hadn't really gone to that dark place in a long time in real life as Seyi. So it was hard for me to bring that out.

On a much lighter note, the hours that we had to spend on set was just ridiculous. When I shoot a music video, highest, 10 hours and that's it. But this is a movie, over a month, everyday, sometimes 18 hours - crazy. And those days were particularly hard for me.

Akindoju: Every set is tough. And for "Lara and the Beat," because we were trying to do things differently, it wasn't going to be business as usual. We weren't going to compromise. And we had a mixed crew - Nigerians and non-Nigerians on set - so first of all, we had to find that synergy.

For a lot of the people coming from abroad, it was their first time shooting here. So understanding certain things, and I hate to say this, but there's the Nigeria factor where we have to wait for the generator to start or the rain to stop because of where we were shooting.

We weren't shooting in the studio, we didn't build the set, we don't have special areas to shoot. We were shooting in a regular neighborhood, so regular things that can get in  the way of the film can happen. And they [guys from abroad] they don't know how to compromise. So there was no 'make we just manage.' So if we had to wait, we had to wait. If we didn't have to shoot, we didn't have to shoot.

Shay: Sometimes we had to just cancel a whole day because it just wasn't working.

Akindoju: So for me who has been on different sets, I have experienced the best of both worlds, and I was like, 'This one, we know the goal.' And so we were all on the same page.

It was hard and we had to manage everybody, apologize a lot, but I am happy now that with what we can see, it was worth it, because, it wasn't going to be business as usual.

And Tosin doesn't compromise. Tosin is a director that is special. He needs what he needs when he needs it, and he doesn't care if it's 1 am, he is going to get what he wants. I don't know that anything was particularly challenging. I think it was just that mental reset which as an industry, we are doing everyday.

To reset and say that we have to be excellent everyday, we have to work with world standards and not just make it Nigeria. Because we are telling a Nigerian story for the world.

Use of Music in "Lara and the Beat" 

Shay: I think it was very important that the right songs, lyrics, melodies and producers were used for every scene in the movie. I think it also speaks high volumes with regards to where Nigerian movies have grown to. I don't think many people have spent this much time, paying this much attention to focus on the soundtrack of a movie. It's going to show another side of Nigerian filmmaking.

Akindoju: As an actor who sings, music says a lot. And in film school they would tell you [that] when you watch a film with your eyes closed and you can still follow the story, it's a good film. When you watch a film without audio and you can get the story, it's a good film.

So the importance of the music [is that] it can tell the audience what's going to happen next. The audience can feel different ways. In this one, it's called 'Lara and the Beat,' so the music was as important as the casting. The music had to be right, beautifully written and produced.

Shay: I think we captured the right emotions. And I am particularly happy that different characters in the film have a song on the soundtrack.

Akindoju: Yes, she has hers, Vector has his, I have mine, Toni Tones has hers, Chioma Akpotha has hers.

On the soundtrack getting a separate release

Yes, the songs are going to come out. There's a buildup already on social media for the soundtrack. There's a competition going on for the soundtrack. So the official soundtrack for 'Lara and the Beat' will be out very soon as an album.

On which character the viewers would love most

Akindoju: I really think there's something there for everyone because there's Lara, who is the spoilt kid and she falls from grace to grass. There's Dara her sister, who is grounded. There's Aunty Patience, who is the nanny/house keeper, who people will bond with.

Shay: I will tell you, all the characters were really well thought through and really well put together, and everybody that is in this movie, I have never seen them play these roles before, so, the audience is going to be pleasantly surprised. I don't think the audience is even going to recognize some of them. I don't know if it's a thing of who to look out for, I think it's just a thing of just go in and be blown away.

Akindoju: I think it's just like when you go for dinner - it's like a feast. It's a buffet and I am sure people will click with one or two characters.

Why fans should go see "Lara and the Beat" 

Shay: It's funny. It's moving. It's hot. It's touching.

Akindoju: It's a Nollywood film and you have to support Nigerian content. Two, you have never seen Seyi Shay in  a feature film, you need to see her in a feature film. There's so much fashion and music in there, so even if you are not a movie buff, go and see new styles, Nigerian designers killing it. It's an ensemble cast; someone in there is your favorite, someone in there is your MCM or WCW. It is a relatable story because everybody has that grass to grace, grace to grass, I wanted to become better story.

"Lara and the Beat" is out in cinemas on July 20.

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