Deyemi Okanlawon: Exploring Gold Mines In Acting
Deyemi Okanlawon is more than a fine face on-screen. An actor par excellence, not many know that he is a successful entrepreneur. The Guardian Life sits with him to discuss acting, present climes, and his note to his younger self.
Not many people know you run a company of yours, how has it been and what was the motivation behind it?
I actually run two companies – CES, Covenant Entertainment Services, a 360-degree film production consulting and talent management firm as well as Silverbird Film Distribution. My entire career journey has been about seeking to add the maximum amount of value to whatever industry I happened to be in and I realised that, beyond acting, there are several parts along the Nigerian film industry value chain with enormous potential.
How do you combine being an actor and a business owner, especially in this clime?
The simple answer to this is teamwork – I learnt early to surround myself with very competent people who make my work easier and I’m super grateful for my colleagues. Apart from the fact that I’m very selective about the acting work I do so I’m not on film sets 24/7, I’ve been working remotely even before the pandemic.
There is a total deviation from what you studied in school (Chemical Engineering) and what you are currently doing. Why is this?
I was lucky to have graduated with a 3rd class certificate and forced to consider alternative career paths into a life of success and with each change in paths; I discovered that truly it is those who work in alignment with the tide of life, who succeed.
What is the most difficult character you have played, and why do you perceive it to be the most difficult?
First, there is no such thing as a difficult character, a lazy actor maybe, but a character is only as easy to take on as the amount of work you’re ready to put into it. I should also add that character preparation varies and while some characters may require physical preparation others require mental, emotional and even spiritual preparation so it really isn’t possible to gauge difficulty.
What major changes do you think are necessary and important in Nollywood?
Government policies (starting with tax breaks) and infrastructural support that will help grow the industry, functioning guilds that would protect the industry from monopolistic forces that are ever-present in a capitalist economy, human capital attraction and development such that skilled personnel, especially business and consulting experts, from other industries come into Nollywood while current stakeholders along the entire value chain improve their business, creative and technical skill set.
At what point did you know that the career path you have chosen is the right one for you?
I suspect one can only know the answer to that question when one leaves this earth, but while I’m here, I am absolutely committed to applying all my time and energy in becoming excellent in whatever field of endeavour I find myself. I’m not sure there is any such thing as a career being right for me, as I discover my strengths I make myself right for the opportunities that come my way.
Which do you consider your best work so far and why is that?
I have done quite a lot of work showing on different platforms from DSTV to Netflix to ROK to YouTube and in the words of Olamide, “everything that I do is a hit back to back”.
In what ways have you helped the people who are looking up to you in and outside the industry?
My God-given calling is to inspire people to excellence by being excellent in the work of my hands and to motivate them to greatness by sharing my life experiences and the spiritual principles and business strategies I applied in turning my failures into successes.
What intentional steps did you take to become who you are today?
From an early age, I learnt the value of stepping outside my comfort zone and I’m thus, through mentors and books, constantly searching for wisdom and learning from those who have achieved success in whatever I am faced with.
We have seen the advent of Nollywood featuring foreigners in their projects and vice-versa, what do you think has been a driver for this?
One, if the story we are trying to tell requires a foreign actor to play a role in the film then that’s a valid reason to cast one. A possible advantage is that it may give the said film an international appeal and audience.
Recently, Nigeria was once again in the world news for good, talking about our Grammy award winners. Do you see Nollywood players replicating the same feat soon?
In life, sometimes you are celebrated on platforms that others have built and it is fine. However, I firmly believe in the concept of building your table and celebrating yourself so, Oscars or not, if we build our industry into enviable global standards we should be happy and celebrate ourselves. Personally, I value excellence more than validation from others.
If you could go back in time. What would you do differently?
If I could go back in time I’ll find the younger me, hug him tight and tell him – “Be patient with yourself and others, and take more carefully calculated risks. You’ll be fine, things get better”.