The life of an actor is very unpredictable. One moment you are riding high on the frequency of acting jobs that you are booking, the next you’re two full months into a drought – no auditions, no booked roles. It lifts you up and can very quickly humble you. But what if you’re just consistently booking increasingly significant roles? Well, then you’re probably Adesua Etomi. Only starting her Nollywood career in 2014, Etomi has, in the span of four years, achieved a level of stardom that it takes many people far longer to attain. Talent and God aside, how else is this achieved? Well, a serious case can be made for charm. No, not juju, but the power or quality of delighting, attracting, or fascinating others. Immediately I walk into the dressing room at Bics Garden in Lekki, where the cover shoot is taking place, I experience that energy. Adesua stands there, cool as a cucumber in her first outfit of the day – a fun, frilly, yellow and black maxi dress. Her hair is dyed a subtle shade of burgundy, and has been newly cut. It frames her face very nicely. I’m not so keen on the dress she has on, it’s very cute, just not as exciting as I’d like. She agrees. There’s a more mustard number – same design – that she much prefers. I see it. I agree. We take that dress along with us to the first site. She’s happy to do some shots in the yellow and black and then change.Adesua is a natural in front of the camera. She claims to be photo-shy and I suppose there could be some truth to that. A thespian’s job calls for make-believe and finding the truth in pretense, after all. Has she assumed a character, more confident and photo-ready than her actual self for this shoot? Perhaps. But even when the camera goes off, her energy is still the same. She is a ray of sunshine; goofy, candid and really just a joy to be around. Spending the afternoon with Adesua Etomi as she shoots some of my favourite looks for what has become one of my favourite editions, was really one burst of inspiration after another. Her warmth was felt by everyone from start to finish. These are the qualities that people remember. Being talented is great (and she is), but to also possess a personality that exudes warmth, kindness and empathy? Well, that’s that star quality that we constantly speculate about.I concede that charm can be quite difficult to identify via text, but I dare you not to smile at least once during this interview. –SONIA IRABORIf you could, at this very moment, go anywhere – with no limits – where would you go and why?
I’d go to space. I’m very curious about the things that I can’t see and things I haven’t experienced. I know that there are many places on earth but I’m very curious about space and particularly envious of people that have been. They’ve experienced what most people have never – and will never – experience.
Where do you feel like you’re at your most creative?
It’ll have to be at home. My home is my safe haven. I run home as quickly as I can whenever I have any reason to leave. It’s where I’m most comfortable and where I feel most loved. I suppose that’s why I feel I’m most creative at home.
What does that space look like?
[It] looks like my living room – a lot of natural light, touches of brown and cream, brick walls, low chairs, throw pillows, etc. So it’s exactly like my living room. Then a balcony and a great view is always nice.
Apart from work – which can take you to places you may otherwise never venture to – why do you travel?I travel because I like experiencing new things. I’m all about different cultures, different foods, different spaces and seeing things I’ve never seen before. The world is huge and I think I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t travel. I also have the best travel buddy, which makes everything so much better.
What was the biggest thing you had to unlearn when you first came into the Nollywood space, having trained in the UK?
I had to unlearn being in the UK. (Laughs). There are no two places that are more different. I had to learn to adapt to the space, the industry and peculiarities of the industry. As they say, when in Rome, learn to be Roman. So I had to learn the things that had to do with Nollywood.
So let’s say you’re 75-years old, being interviewed for a retrospective profile on your career, what would you like to be able to say you did right?
I’d love to be able to say that I gave it my absolute best shot and wouldn’t change anything because, in retrospect, everything brought me to the place I’m at now, which is a place of fulfillment and peace. I would also like to say that I took chances, learnt from my failures, embraced my successes and made the world brighter just by doing what I do and that I lived a very fulfilled, successful and balanced life.
I imagine you’re still riding high on the success of both The Wedding Party (TWP) 1 and 2, how did those films change your life?
First of all, I think that it changed the perception that people had of Nollywood for the better and that’s a huge win for the industry. TWP 1&2 put me on an international platform because it was a huge success not just in Nigeria thanks to its availability on Netflix. This helped because it gave people in the Diaspora the opportunity to watch the film and when your audience increases, your fan-base increases.
Many actors say that they are never satisfied, despite the successes they may have achieved. They often attribute that to the uncertainty and fickleness of the entertainment business. Do you feel this way?
Yes and no. I do feel dissatisfied sometimes but it has nothing to do with the uncertainty of the entertainment business. I always say that if you ever get to the point where you feel like you’ve accomplished everything possible, then there’s nowhere left to go. There’s nothing scarier than that cause you’re still alive, still here. There’s always a higher plane, something else to achieve, new territory to conquer. So my dissatisfaction isn’t due to anything other than knowing that I can always do more and do better.Does the uncertainty of the industry stress you out? How do you overcome such moments of doubt?
The uncertainty of the industry doesn’t stress me out at all and this has a lot to do with my faith. I trust God. I trust the journey. I embrace the process. I trust that he’s the orchestrator of my life and that he guides me. When it’s time to be still, I stay still. When it’s time to move, I move. When it’s time to work, I work. I have to confess that it hasn’t always been this easy and I still have moments of doubt but I’ve come such a long way in life and I’ve learnt to trust God. He has never let me down, so why would he start now?
Do you think it’s possible to ever feel like you’ve “made it”?
I’m not sure, if I’m going to be completely honest. I’m sure there are people that feel like they’ve made it. Whether that’s wise or not, is a completely different story because I worry that pride could seep in. I’m nowhere close to feeling like I’ve made it though. There’s still so much left to do.
Could there be a defining moment that might make you feel like you’re at least close to “making it”? Do you think you’ve had yours yet?
Maybe after I’ve won five Oscars. Not like that’s the height but it would be pretty impressive. After that maybe a Tony, a Grammy, build some schools, have at least nine channels of income, raise some amazing children, have a successful marriage and generally be successful in every area of my life.
Every time I ask an actor what their ideal role would be, they often lean towards a villainous character. Perhaps because it’s a dramatic departure from their personalities and ideas of humanness. If you could play a character that was so wildly different from you, what would that look like?
Hmmmm… I’d say, and I know it might sound cliché, but I’d say a villain because most people think I’m really fragile (because of some of the characters I’ve played), which couldn’t be further from the truth. So it’ll have to be a villain because I think that I’d be stretched a little more than I have been in the past couple of years. Or maybe play someone that’s terminally ill because one must go through a rollercoaster of emotions.
What’s been the most challenging role you’ve played so far? How did you get into character for that role?
I know I’ve said it a thousand and one times but I’ll say it again. Every role is a challenging role. Even in the simplest roles, there are complexities. Humans are complex beings. Every role you play is challenging because you’re supposed to find the character, you’re supposed to play it convincingly, you’re supposed to find out the things that make that character peculiar. So no role is easy, it just depends on how much work you put into it.The world currently has its eyes on Africa, and Nigeria is at the forefront of that. Does this fact in any way inform the roles you are picking now?
I’ve always been very particular about the roles that I’ve played right from the beginning of my career and that’s just because that’s how I am as an actor. It has nothing to do with whether I feel like I’m being watched. I’d like to think that I have the spirit of excellence, whether anyone is watching or not. I think it’s great that eyes are on Africa. I think it’s about time. It’s been a long time coming and it’s a great time to be alive but that isn’t my motivation when I pick my projects.
Do you think that, following Black Panther’s success, the desire to tell “African” stories will be as wide and varied as the continent boasts? Or is there a fear that it could be one-note, focusing only on battle and epic dramas?
I hope that it means people focus more on African stories, but even if they don’t, we should tell our own stories. We shouldn’t wait for people to tell our stories for us. Africa is huge and is filled with some of the most inspiring and mind blowing stories. If we paid attention to our own industry and got the whole of Africa to watch our own movies, our industry would thrive. So I think it’s about time we started telling our own stories because it’d be better told in my opinion.
Is Hollywood on the horizon?
I do what I do hoping that it’d be a success everywhere. I’d act anywhere they call me to, whether it’s Hollywood, Bollywood… wherever it is, as long as the story calls to me, I’m at peace and I feel like I’m supposed to do it. So I’m open to working anywhere the work calls me.
Do you agree that if you share your private life with the rest of the world, it is no longer yours alone?
I don’t necessarily agree with that because it depends on what is consistently shared. People share what they are comfortable with and withhold what they’d rather keep private. I can see the rationale behind it, but I don’t think it’s so black and white.
You and [husband, musician] Banky [W], both made a decision to allow your fanbase to get a glimpse into your relationship. Do you think that has in any way changed or influenced the dynamic?
We allowed our fan base to share our joy on our wedding day and we’re glad we did. They were going to see it anyway thanks to social media and smartphones so we decided to do it on our own terms. Love has a way of bringing people together and it’s beautiful to see. Nothing has changed at all. He loves me, I love him and sometimes we share tiny pieces of that love with others. We have decided to love each other the way we choose to and it’s working out great and will continue to by God’s grace.
What’s been the biggest change in your life – if any – since getting married?
The biggest change in my life would be coming home to the love of my life. It’s one of the most amazing things about being married. Coming home and being happy to come home, knowing that it’s my safe place. I have someone to talk to, rant to, cry to, share my day with. My husband and I crack each other up so our home is filled with laughter. Also, the bible wasn’t lying when it said ‘one shall chase a thousand and two shall chase ten thousand’.With both your schedules increasingly requiring you to spend time working outside of Lagos and Nigeria, how do you fit such demands around your lives as a couple?
I’m his priority, he’s mine and we make sacrifices where we need to. If he needs to be away and my schedule isn’t hectic, I go with him and vice versa. We also talk a lot. (Laughs). It keeps us in sync.
You’ve managed to fit a lot of success into four years in Nollywood. What do you feel has been your greatest help so far?
My greatest help so far has been the fact that preparation meets opportunity. I always stay prepared. God is also a huge factor and he has directed me to the right projects. I’m not saying that every project has worked out, but the few that I’ve done have almost always worked out in my favour. It is often implied that people in creative industries – and the uncertainty that such a career comes with – are more susceptible to mental health challenges.
Have you found this to be your experience?
Everyone goes through hard times and I’m no different. I recently shared a period when things seemed to be really hard for me but that was just life in general. In terms of my career, I haven’t experienced that but that isn’t to say that people don’t. Being in the public eye can be really demanding and tough. I can see how it would affect people negatively and affect mental health. Thankfully, we’re now at the point where more attention is being paid to mental health issues. There’s still so much left to do in raising awareness and breaking stigma especially in Africa but we’re moving in the right direction. If you’re reading this and you know you’re feeling overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless, suicidal and defeated, now is a good time to speak to someone, preferably a professional. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. There are people ready to help.
So what do you think has guided your mental health on your journey?
My support system. They have come through for me more times than I can possibly count. Learning to be content in any and every situation. I also pray a lot. Major key.
This interview was first published in Genevieve Magazine July/August Issue. Download Digital Copy.