Wale Ojo & Genoveva Umeh on method acting, Nollywood & 'Breath of Life'
The actors offer their insights on Nollywood and how to be a "method actor."
“I remember him drilling me in the car just before we got to that scene,” Umeh recounts. “He was like, ‘Let’s run the scene.’ And I run the scene, and he’s like, ‘Is that how you're going to play it?’”
“Did I say that?” Ojo chimes in. They both laughed.
They had spent the whole day on Thursday fielding questions about their new film Breath of Life, directed by BB Sasore (Banana Island Ghost), a Prime Video Original movie that will be available on the streaming platform on December 15, 2023.
The taming-of-the-shrew type drama follows the life of a rather finicky old man, Timi (played by Ojo), who had for years lost himself to grief and metamorphosed into, as Ojo likes to describe him, a rather “morose” and “embittered old man.”
The cast includes Chimezie Imo, Ademola Adedoyin, Eku Edewor (who does double duty as executive producer), Sam Dede, Tina Mba, and Sambasa Nzeribe, all on the ride as Timi journeys to self-rediscovery.
It was the script that first attracted Ojo to the story. “It felt like a story that you can really get into. There’s a lot of different flavours in that plot that makes it interesting to perform as an actor,” Ojo offered.
For him, taking up the role was “a hugely mental journey,” as his character experiences heartbreak, pain, and isolation. It was the same for Umeh. “It made me emotional. It made me feel like this is a story that I can fully embody,” she said.
Working with Ojo made it more worthwhile. For Timi to lose his sheen, the character carries Ojo and Umeh on a series of emotional journeys, laden with heaviness, that they both have to switch on and off constantly.
“Over time on the set, there are moments when Uncle Wale and I will sit and say nothing because the scene was so heavy,” Umeh recalls. “And I appreciated that moment because that to me is like, ‘I'm working with a true artist.’ I admire him.”
Sometimes it was difficult for her to remove herself from the emotional space and come back to real life, making her sob even after the scene had ended. “We are dealing with the prospect of grief. This is somebody that [the characters] care about,” she said.
Since Umeh had her big break on Blood Sisters just under a year ago, she has gone on to star in other projects including Far From Home. Her growth as an actor has quickly catapulted her as one of the rising stars of the streaming age of Nollywood. What does a veteran think of her acting prowess?
“I think she’s really grown as an actor since Blood Sisters, in leaps and bounds. So when you’re working with someone that’s on the ball like that, then there’s no acting required. You’re just reacting,” Ojo recounts.
Nollywood has come a long way from low-budget movies with heavy-weight talents, famous worldwide being underpaid for their work, to a time of marketing budgets that would make over a dozen such films. Are these the preliminary years of “the Golden Age of Nollywood?
“I think we’re past the preliminary years,” Ojo said. “But we’re still to approach middle age. I’ve holidayed in South America and they are asking about Nollywood films in South America. The name is out there. But we are just waiting for that next massive shift,” he added.
The roles that Umeh and Ojo play in Breath of Life, though starkly different from their previous roles, share some similarities in the sense that they demand a lot of mental preparation to execute. Perhaps they are method actors?
Ojo, an expert on the subject, offers some clarity.
“Let’s say Genoveva is cast in a Hollywood role, and she is to play the granddaughter of Agatha Christie,” he begins. “She’s given six months to prepare. She has ten personal assistants. So there’s a lot of scope to be creative. Shift to a different scenario, it could be anywhere. You only have one month to shoot and a limited budget. How then do you expect the actor to get to the same level as that person that had six months? So the budget has a lot to do with it. It doesn't have everything to do with it. But it has a lot. And the most important thing that has to do with method acting is time. It requires a lot of time and effort,” he said.
As Umeh has risen as a streaming darling, presenting through her craft a myriad of experiences of modern young Nigerian youths strutting through life, how does she think Nollywood is different from what it used to be?
“It's nice to have characters that have a personality and a real soul and life,” she said. “It's nice that we are putting young people in movies and having their stories affect the world through streaming and cinema. There is far more to achieve in terms of international opportunities and bringing Africa to play in the big leagues. But until then, the more we up our game and the more we put our best foot forward, why not?”
What can one take away from Breath of Life when it drops next weekend? “One simple statement that everybody hears. That is, ‘There is God, no matter what you go through in life,’” Ojo said. “This is not a religious film. It's a spiritual film,” he adds.
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