A Naija Christmas To Remember With Netflix
Loved by many, the holiday season holds a lot of memories for everyone; the twinkling of Christmas lights, road trips back to the village, the smell of food wafting through the kitchen and reunions between families and friends.
It’s no news that Netflix is bringing to our screens the first ever Nigerian Christmas-themed film A Naija Christmas directed by Kunle Afolayan himself. As we hold high hopes and expectations for the film’s release, Guardian Life caught up with Linda Osifo (Vera), Abayomi Alvin (Chike) and Efa Iwara (Obi) lead characters in the film.
Excitement is an understatement to describe Linda Osifo’s flow of emotions when she was cast as Vera in the Netflix Original A Naija Christmas. In fact, getting cast in Nigeria’s first holiday-themed film, was a clear sign that “something big was going to happen,” and she was more than ready for the challenge.
No stranger to Nollywood and auditions, Linda describes the audition process for A Naija Christmas as “an amazing story.” Speaking about how she got a role in A Naija Christmas, she revealed that a call from Kunle Afolayan to audition for the role virtually sealed the deal.
A perfect fit for Vera, she had not intentionally auditioned for the role at the beginning. In fact, being cast was one of those cases where one door closes and another opens.
Describing Vera, in her words, she says, “Vera is a very intelligent lady, however she is maybe you’ll call her your normal diva chic.” She noted that playing Vera came easy to her as they’re both beautiful, intelligent and outstanding Nigerian women who know what they want.
When asked her opinion on female proposals, Linda let us in on a little secret, “I have proposed to a man…….. in a movie.” She revealed that she received a ton of reactions from females who disagreed with female proposals when she posted the clip.
“I can never do that no matter how bad it is.”
But for her, “Love is universal. If you feel the same way the other person feels about you then you might as well say I am ready to spend the rest of my life with you. It may not be with a ring but I think that’s another form of proposal.”
Strong on family values, according to Linda, Christmas time is a season of togetherness and family and she’ll be spending the holidays with them.
With a smile that lights up her face, she describes her fondest Christmas memories in detail. “While growing up in Benin city, I remember going to the Neighbour’s house dressed in colourful clothes, making sure we have those bright coloured glasses. Mine was blue, and we’ll share those sharp coloured outfits; go out to the neighbourhood, eat some food and possibly get gifts of money. And that was just the love and togetherness the community feel that I had. As an adult, these feelings have evolved to become love and unity, most importantly unity.”
Starring in her first Netflix original means the world to Linda, and she predicts the film’s impact would be “amazing.” She revealed that Netflix’s acquisition of Nollywood has given Nigerian films a much bigger platform.
“When I used to have my first love for Nollywood it was when the video tapes were out and now you can stream the films. And with more streaming platforms like Netflix, it’s about to go global.”
Not one to give everything away, Linda gives only a small snippet of easter eggs to look out for; the locations used in the film “I think that gives it all away.”
Funny, jovial and ever ready for the camera, working with Kunle Afolayn is a “dream come true” for Abayomi Alvin. A dream that dates back to Afolayan’s film tour for Figurine in 2009, long before he (Abayomi) ever thought of acting professionally.
For him, getting cast in A Naija Christmas came as a surprise. “Honestly, when I got the role, I never expected it. It’s not even one of those things you say ‘I knew I was going to get it.’ When I saw the brief, I said I don’t even fit this guy like that, so why would they pick me?”
Fondly referring to Afolayan as his “boss,” he recounts working with the award-winning director for the first time. Describing the experience, Abayomi says it was “better than he ever expected and better than what anybody ever said about working with him.”
Abayomi and his character Chike share several similarities. Like Chike, Abayomi is a fitness enthusiast, and whenever his busy schedule allows, you’ll find him at the gym getting his gains.
One interesting detail that helped him bring Chike to life is that they’re both hopeless romantics.
“I love love, especially when the love is sweet. [Especially] in the present time we’re in, where everybody is all about money, fame and trying to chase the bag. People still love, and whenever I see and read love stories, I start blushing.”
Chike’s story in “A Naija Christmas” tells the story of a young man who falls in love with an older woman, bringing to light the issue of forbidden love and its unspoken but prominent place in the Nigerian society.
Abayomi, likewise, does not believe in forbidden love and he sees no reason why people should be kept from loving each other except in cases of “incest” or “a love that brews out of unfaithfulness.”
He explains, “I don’t know what is forbidden love when it comes to tribe, age, race or any other thing. If you love the person, go for it; that’s what I feel.”
While it’s hard for him to predict audience reactions for a film he hasn’t seen himself, Abayomi reiterates, “I know that we made a wonderful family film, a wonderful Christmas film, and I just can’t wait to see it.”
“I don’t know what the audience would feel, but they should feel great.”
Sharing a strong bond of friendship with co-star Efa Iwara, Abayomi thinks of him as “a great guy” as they both take turns making each other laugh. This bond allowed them to work closely together in killing their separate roles, which can be seen in the exciting trailer of the film that also doubles as its first scene.
Similar to every job with its ups and downs, Abayomi notes that his scenes with Mercy Johnson were both his favourite and most challenging scenes.
“This is somebody I grew up watching, somebody I admire a lot, and I’ve seen the character she plays. She’s always so energetic, and I’m like, ‘what if her energy would now swallow me?’ So funny enough, seeing her in person, she is so calm and sweet. My heart was beating fast working with her. But she made it really easy for me.”
Pointing out that Nollywood’s growth in recent times would be incomplete without Netflix’s acquisition, Abayomi notes that Netflix has “upped the game.”
A great communicator, Efa Iwara is big on playful banter, the breath of fresh air everyone needs. His character Obi is one of the film’s main characters and, like his brother Chike, also on the search for Mrs Right.
Efa shared that while A Naija Christmas is the first of its kind in Nollywood, it is just one of the many testimonies to Kunle Afolayan’s brilliance. In his words:
“He always showed how brilliant he was way before this. The testimonies of Kunle Afolayan’s brilliance were done and dusted. He’s been tried and tested a million times before, and he’s pulled through every single time. I feel like this is him just trying to do more. Trying to do the unexpected, and I think it came out really well.”
One theme that recurs throughout the interview is the interesting audition backstory each cast member has and Efa is not left out. Describing his audition as “really really weird,” we might be right to deduce that he was made for his role. “I think I auditioned without ever auditioning,” he reveals.
“Mr Kunle and I met up at a show I was hosting. We hadn’t met before; we had a conversation, spoke a bit, I talked to a few people and hosted the show. He met me backstage and said, ‘Yo! I’m working on this movie, and I think you’ll be perfect for Obi. Are you in or are you out?’ I said I’m in, showed up at the reading, and the rest is history.”
Playing Obi came smoothly to Efa, especially since they were both similar in many ways. “Obi and I are loyal to a fault; we are softhearted sometimes, and we both dream of snagging the dream girl.”
Like many other actors and creatives, Efa looks up to other actors who have done tremendously well in the film industry globally, including Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Edochie, RMD, Ramsey Noah, to mention a few.
Giving a sneak peek into the film, Efa recollects his favourite scene where he, Abayomi, Kunle Remi and the late Rachel Oniga had lunch. “We always have an argument, and Abayomi said something: ‘E Choke Chokeinth it’. And I’ve never heard that before, and it comes in the scene, and it was so natural and one of my fondest memories on set.”
As an outsider intrigued by the banter between him and co-star Abayomi Alvin, it is clear that they share a form of synchrony that goes beyond the screen.
One thing constant in life is change, and looking at the Nollywood industry, the change from then and now is clear. Netflix’s acquisition of the film industry has challenged the industry over time, and Efa says he believes Nollywood has always been ready for the challenge.
Appreciating fans for their love and support towards him, Netflix and the Nollywood industry, Efa’s parting words are “see A Naija Christmas.”