Road to AMVCA 2023: Discovering The Qualities Of Greatness
Acting and entertainment, as a whole, are an exploration of the human experience. It is a journey into the depths of the human soul, a reflection of our deepest desires, fears, and emotions.
But unlike other art forms, entertainment often involves stepping into the limelight, exposing oneself to the scrutiny of an audience, and sacrificing one’s own sense of self for the sake of a character or story. A paradoxical pursuit: at once intensely personal and yet deeply public, requiring both vulnerability and strength. The art of entertainment forces us to question what it means to sacrifice, to reveal oneself to the world, and to explore the boundaries between reality and fiction.
As we approach the 2023 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMCVA) and Africa Magic at 20, the focus is on the entertainers and other stakeholders who will be vying for recognition as the best in the industry, in the period under review. From seasoned veterans to emerging talents, the competition is fierce, and the road to greatness is not an easy one.
Guardian Life meets with some of the nominees of the forthcoming AMVCA 2023 Awards; Chidi Mokeme, Scarlet Gomez, Tobi Bakre, Ini Dinma-Okojie, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Toni Tones, and Toolz to discuss what it takes and feels like to be amongst the best, the ones who can captivate audiences, elicit emotions, and create timeless performances. And what we can learn from them.
Villains, by design, are seldom loved. But when Chidi Mokeme took on the role of a ruthless kingpin called Scar in Shanty Town, a six-part Netflix series, viewers were left enthralled with his performance. One would think that Mokeme had a secret life as a Lagos crime lord, but the Nollywood legend is not new to this. For the uninitiated, you may want to check out Major Gomos in the 2016 Nigerian historical fiction drama film, ’76. Mokeme’s outstanding performance in Shanty Town earned him critical acclaim and an AMVCA nomination for “Best Actor In A Drama, Movie Or TV Series”.
Speaking to Guardian Life about his role as Scar, Mokeme reveals he was able to breathe life into Scar by opening himself up. He admits that Scar was indeed a despicable villain but “he [Scar] had his reasons and motivations for the things he did, and was transparent. And the way I tried to achieve that, was not to make him a totally mean and wicked guy through and through, but to also let his vulnerabilities show… And even though he recovers from those vulnerable moments almost instantaneously, the fact that those moments shine through at all, helps the audience to connect with him.”
Many often inaccurately equate vulnerability with weakness. But vulnerability is not only a strength, it is one of the many qualities that define the entertainer. Being vulnerable allows the entertainer to fully experience and explore complex, layered emotions, be it in their characters, story or mannerisms – even if those emotions are difficult or uncomfortable.
Blossom Chukwujekwu, who is also a contender for the AMVCA “Best Actor In A Drama, Movie Or TV Series” award, admits to experiencing some form of emotional conflict in his portrayal of Eric, a cold-hearted kidnapper in The Trade.
“Well, one of the first rules is never to judge the character but to fall in love with its entirety, motivations to choices. However, with this character, you’re dealing with one who has made peace with the fact that he’s a villain and is constantly trying to beat consequences by hiding in plain sight. We are talking about a cold-blooded, amoral, character of pure evil and mindless cruelty, this most definitely gave me emotional conflict,” Chukwujekwu says.
Sometimes, an actor may not totally agree with some of their character’s personality or vices but they must find a connection to pull off an outstanding performance.
Scarlet Gomez play Wura, the complex titular character of Showmax’s telenovela. Wura is on the one hand a perfect wife, and a loving mother, but you dare not see her other side; the ruthless iron lady and Chief Executive of a gold mine. For Gomez, this brought about an emotional conflict but she was able to connect with something she shares with Wura: love and dedication to family.
“There are a lot of things she [Wura] has done that I do not align with morally but at the end of the day, her love and dedication to her family are what defines Wura and I’m emotionally in tune with that,” Gomez says. For her role, Gomez earned an AMVCA nomination for “Best Actress In A Drama, Movie Or TV Series”.
Another sign of a great actor is that you don’t see the actor, you see the character that they are playing. When an actor takes on a role, they immerse themselves in the character’s world, thoughts, and emotions, becoming a vessel for the character’s essence. It requires a willingness to relinquish one’s own identity and surrender to the demands of the character. This can happen in any form, from altering one’s look to taking on new mannerisms, voice change and a lot more.
When Tobi Bakre got the role of Akin Adetula [aka Kala] in the crime-action thriller Brotherhood, a story of two brothers on different sides of the law, he had to change his diet and workout routine, shaved his hair and pierce his ears. Bakre’s look and performance were undeniably real and that is what matters.
“Once we achieved the look, it was easy to feel like that character in every moment as he was built from scratch. Everything with him was intentional. How he talked, how he walked, mannerisms.”
One of the most praised highlights of Brotherhood was when Akin cocked his shotgun with one hand and shot Izra. You could sense his anger. For his role in Brotherhood, Bakre earned an AMVCA nomination for “Best Actor In A Drama, Movie Or TV Series”.
Toni Tones is vying for the AMVCA award for “Best Supporting Actress” for her role as Goldie in Brotherhood. Speaking about her character, Tones says she knew her character completely. For the sake of her character, she lost 35 pounds, did her own stunts and was covered in bruises, which she fondly named ‘battle scars’, by the time filming was completed.
“I found Goldie to be very special from the moment I read the script and I approached playing her with a deep commitment to her backstory, personality traits, motivations, her goals, fears, desires, and relationships with other characters in the story. I knew who she was completely, I knew her favourite food, colour, pet peeves, her, hobbies etc. This helped me to connect with her emotions and create a portrayal that felt grounded and truthful.”
While filming Flawsome, a drama series around the lives of four women, Ini-Dinma Okojie was also preparing for her wedding. Combining long hours on set and plans for a wedding was “quite tasking” as she puts it. For her role as Rahmat Ekong, Okojie is vying for the AMVCA award for “Best Actress In A Drama, Movie Or TV Series”.
Back to Chidi Mokeme. For his role as a crime boss, Mokeme went through drastic changes. He kept a dishevelled look for the duration of the film as well as smoking with less hydration to maintain Scar’s deep cracked voice. “I had to remove Chidi totally from the equation, and just let Scar be Scar. No judgments, no rationalizing, no morality, just giving of myself totally to the character so I can feel every nuance, every twitch, until I was one with the character, physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically,” he says.
Chukwujekwu revealed that he was under personal emotional pressure during the filming of The Trade but he didn’t let that affect his performance. “I had to be fit for both the home front and also be able to come on set and disappear, just perform and BE. You know, keeping the authenticity of the character beyond every take.”
Entertainment goes beyond films. Talk shows are a fascinating aspect of our modern culture. Talk shows provide a platform for individuals to express their opinions, share their stories, and engage in dialogues that challenge our understanding of the world and our place in it.
While both working at Beat FM, Tolu Oniru better known as Toolz and Gbemi Olateru Olagbegi would casually have a chat after Toolz’s show (Midday Show) and before Gbemi’s show (Drivetime show). That casual interaction quickly became popular. In 2019, the OffAir show with Gbemi and Toolz was officially launched and in just three months, after 10 episodes, the show racked up nearly a quarter of a million views on Youtube, over 25 thousand listens on audio podcasts and almost 7,000 subscribers.
Off Air with Gbemi & Toolz earned an AMVCA nomination for “Best Unscripted Original”. Speaking about the nomination, Toolz says, “It was disbelief at first, I really wasn’t expecting it. Then I got emotional as we have both put a lot into this project for many years. Without a doubt, it would be absolutely amazing if we won.”
Although it is undeniable that the true measure of success for an entertainer is their impact on their audience, it’s important to recognize the immense amount of hard work, sacrifice, and time that actors put into their careers.
The AMVCA Award is set to hold on the 20th of May 2023. The nominees Guardian Life spoke with are excited. Mokeme, who took a brief break due to Bell’s Palsy, is full of gratitude mostly for being able to return to acting. He sees his nomination as a “icing on the cake”. For Ini-Dinma Okojie, it’s her first nomination and “that in itself makes it so special,” she says. Meanwhile, it’s Blossom Chukwujekwu’s sixth nomination, he says it’s always a rewarding feeling to be recognised for one’s work.
Scarlet Gomez was ecstatic, “I wish I could tell you I was cool about it but no I was a mess! There was a lot of crying & dancing involved too.” Toni Tones says she was thrilled when she found out she was nominated, it is her second AMVCA nomination. “It’s a validation of all the hard work and dedication that I had put into my craft, and it’s an honour to be recognized among so many talented actors and filmmakers.”