“Spotlight” is a series that focuses on young Nigerian creatives and the amazing things that they’re doing in their various fields. It was started because we wanted to share their stories and individual journeys on the path to success.
This week we’re featuring the charismatic Actress, TV presenter and CEO of Jewels by Tee, Tope Olowoniyan. A woman that spews multifarious talents, Tope carries us along into the backwoods of the acting and presenting world. Her enthusiasm for the craft not only draws us in but keeps us hooked and wanting more.
In her interview she tells us about her acting journey, how she got into TV presenting and how she easily balances all three of her work pursuits.
How did you get into acting? Tell us about your acting journey.
So I got into acting pretty much like most people. I started off in church then in university I took up courses in theatre art. You’re supposed to just take it as an elective course but I also took pre-requisite courses for theatre art, because I loved how when I was in the drama village I felt differently from when I was in my class as an English language student.
I loved how whenever I was on stage there was just something. I just used to drop ‘Tope’ at the gate and just become someone else and I always loved it. So yes I would say that’s pretty much when I started acting in my second year at school. Then by third year or fourth year I was taking more courses in theatre than I took in my department. Then I finished school and started acting professionally in 2015.
Which came first, acting or TV presenting?
So I wanted to be a TV presenter and I went to TV school in the UK and when I got back hoping to get a TV job, which was in 2015, sadly nothing came. Instead I started going for auditions, and getting movie roles here and there. So acting came first but I wanted to be a presenter. That’s pretty much how it happened.
How did you get into TV presenting?
So I have always, always literally wanted to be a TV presenter since I was a kid. I used to watch Eugenia Abu on the 7pm news and I always wanted to be like her so that’s why I actually studied English language in university because Eugenia Abu studied English language. She was like my role model at the time.
I went to a broadcasting TV presenting school and when I got back, like I told you earlier, I didn’t get any gigs. Then in 2016 I auditioned to host for Linda Ikeji TV and I worked there from 2017-2018. Eventually I got a call from TBC to co-host ‘Wake Up Nigeria’ in 2019 and I’ve been working there till date.
Who’s one person you’d really like to interview on TV?
In Nigeria – Mo Abudu
International- Tyler Perry
Who’s a TV presenting icon that you look up to?
Nigeria – Mo Abudu
International – Oprah
What’s the most memorable thing that has happened to you since you started acting?
Growth. I am not the same person as an actor and a person, I have learned , unlearned and re-learned.
Which Nollywood actor do you look up to?
Nse ikpe Etim & Femi Jacobs.
Take us through how you prepare for a role, how do you get into character?
After getting a script and reading it, I take 2/3 days to think about it, sounds funny but I like to think about who this character is and why this character does the things she does and start to think like the character. I also do some research, if the lifestyle and pattern of the character is stated, and discussed with the director. If not I create one and that helps to fix the world of the character.
I try to pay attention to my environment to see how easily an individual’s life is seen through other peoples perspective and their natural reactions. With 2 days to shoot day I read the script again like 2 more times and do a breakdown of scene by scene reactions and unsaid reactions.
What’s an assumption that people make about acting that isn’t true?
That it is easy, real acting requires so much preparation versus just random things.
Remember your first acting role? What did it feel like being selected for your first role ever? What was it like being on set for the first time?
My first acting role was in 2015 in a TV series called um…what was the title?…(laughs)…I can’t remember! I can’t remember…so funny. See life! Anyway I’m sure I’ll eventually remember. So yeah it was a TV series and it was really exciting for me because it was my first role ever. In fact the audition..funny how it was my friends that went for the audition. I was not in Lagos but they called me and said they went for this audition and I’m like,
“Oh OK…help me ask the director if I could come”
and the director said I could come when I was back in town. Then I went for the audition when I got back and I got the role. Funny how none of them got a role on the project. So it was exciting for me because I got to work with Joseph Benjamin, Kalu Ikeagwu, Jibola Dabo, Ebele Okaro, Katherine Obiang.
There were quite a number of stars on the project and It was very exciting because it was my first time. So I offered to help because they were short of hands so I was a production assistant. I used to serve the cast breakfast every morning (laughs). Like I would go around and serve tea. I would take sachets of milk and tea and bread and I would fry eggs and I would go and give them in their rooms. It was like bonding time for me with each of the actors because when I went to their rooms I would ask questions. We all had different relationships so much so that they would call me like,
“Ah Tope has not brought our breakfast oh”.
But it wasn’t like they looked down on me as the ‘girl that brought their food’…it was the one time I had an opportunity to dig into their minds and start to learn about acting even before I got on set. The very first scene I shot, which was at Marina, I was scared because now this wasn’t the stage. So when they said action I started projecting, because you know how when you’re used to the stage you always want to speak very loud so people can hear you. I remember the director cutting saying,
“Ok Tope you need to reduce your voice this is not stage”.
I was so nervous, but I remember Katherine telling me it was amazing. Even after I watched it, it actually looked good. So yeah it was nerve-wracking but also amazing.
So you do a lot of things, you’re an actor, TV Presenter, Model and CEO of Jewels by Tee, which one takes up most of your time?
I think being an actor takes up most of my time because my job as a TV presenter is quite flexible. Acting pretty much determines where I am at a certain time.
How do you balance it all?
So it’s a situation where I can handle 200 things, so I go do 200 things. I don’t reduce what I can do because I have 24 hrs and I can do a lot in 24 hrs. So the more I find myself interested in something and I find myself developing that interest I just go for it! I don’t say “oh because I’m an actress I should just stick to acting”.
If I see myself picking up an interest in jewellery I follow it. I see myself picking up an interest in cooking, I follow it. I balance things well because I just know how to use my time well. I don’t under-use my time if there’s anything like that. I wanna do some stuff because I just know how to manage time. I give things as much time as they deserve. You know how they say you create time for what matters to you, yes it matters to me so I create time for it.
How has COVID-19 affected you as a creative?
Well COVID-19 hasn’t negatively affected me as a creative because during the lock-down period I was technically much more productive. I started to explore other creative sides of myself. If you notice on my Instagram page I started to sing which I used to be very sceptical about. So the COVID period gave me a bigger opportunity to explore my creative skills in a deeper sense. So yes it was more positive than negative as a creative.
How have you tried to stay positive during these times?
Because I’m a broadcaster I also worked throughout the locked down period so it wasn’t like I was home locked up. The truth is, eventually it started to get a hold of me and affected me when I drove to work and the roads were empty, nobody on the road. The more I saw the numbers increasing the more you think about the fact that you don’t know where this thing is coming from.
There’s no cure, people are dying. It was scary. I try to stay away from the news as much as possible, I tried to remind myself about every other thing that was good in life at the time. I tried to practice all the things NCDC told us to do; social distancing, washing my hands, sanitizing, etc. I just felt like I had to keep my space sane and clean. I controlled the amount of time I spent reading COVID related news because I realized that the more of it I took in, the more scared I was. So that kinda helped.
By: Dammy Eneli