Temi Ami-Williams & Cynthia Ebijie: Beyond Eyimofe Sisterhood
To a random observer, the love between Temi-Ami Williams and Cynthia Ebijie is undeniable as the duo prepared for their photoshoot.
As the expert hands of a makeup artist worked on Temi’s face and a hairstylist worked on Cynthia’s hair some few metres away, the ladies’ light banter filled the dressing room of The Guardian Studios with laughter.
“My husband whom I am yet to meet must be hairy. If he does not come from a family of wolverines, I am not interested,” Temi bantered, praising Cynthia’s enviable longer hair.
Their camaraderie is reminiscent of their on-screen characters, the sisters Rosa (Temi Ami-Williams) and Grace (Cynthia Ebijie) in Eyimofe.
Two sisters struggling to survive the harsh realities of Nigeria, all they have is themselves and their hope for a better future by seeking greener pastures. The characters of Rosa and Grace as sisters have obviously transcended beyond the screens to reality.
Temi might not have had any experience with film acting despite being a graduate of Theatre Arts, but she found it easy to play the character of Rosa in Eyimofe. Rosa is the everyday Nigerian hustler trying to make ends meet through multiple sources of income.
In the film, Rosa works as a hairstylist, a bartender, sells personal items to raise money, and even entertains the attention of an unwanted suitor for money.
Temi says she could easily connect and resonate with Rosa as she has “already lived through it.” Temi’s work experience goes as far back as when she was 12 years old as an on-air personality. Since then, she has taught at a school for autistic children and costume designing before making her on-screen debut in Eyimofe. Thanks to her uncle who imbibed the hustle spirit in her and her siblings, Temi says it was easy to slip into Rosa’s character who embodies the reality of a Lagos hustler.
Growing up, Temi recounts how an uncle tried to leave the country and ended up getting stuck in Liberia. For years, the family thought him dead until he reached out a few years ago. This she says is the reality of many aiming for better lives on foreign shores.
Rosa works tirelessly to get passage to Spain for herself and her pregnant teenage sister, Grace. They make the ultimate sacrifice by promising to give Grace’s baby to their ‘benefactor’ as payment. Ultimately, the plan falls through as Grace loses the baby.
As a human interest story, even those whose realities are far from that which the story of Eyimofe tells can grapple with the other reality that they have been sheltered from. They can understand the depth of the struggle that the average person undergoes.
“I really liked that it was humanising things, Eyimofe’s story has been told from one point of view but now it was addressed from our own point of view. It is a story that addresses social issues that affect many.”
The story of Eyimofe is so important that things had to go perfectly with the story brought to life adequately. The directors went as far as getting acting coaches for some of the actors.
“Eyimofe is my first film, so I had to understand many new things. Being the person to carry the story of Eyimofe to people is something I am very proud of, so I had to do it right. I had to understand shots, how much and how little was expected of me during scenes. I am glad the directors and producers took all these into consideration and they even got Cynthia and me a coach whom they flew in to take us through the story, how to bring it to life and the techniques needed.”
Despite growing up in Lagos and seeing the squalor in which some Lagosians live in despite it being a megacity, Temi lives the life of the average Nigerian when she has to take her bath in one of the houses used for filming. It could have just been another scene, but the realisation dawns on her that this is someone’s reality. It isn’t a film for those who call those houses their homes; it is their life, their story is told through the lens of the camera.
“We were complaining of how things are hard, but these were people’s houses. They step in there and do their thing without a second thought. That whole experience made me appreciate what I have and I will never take anything for granted again.”
Stumbling into acting, Cynthia Ebijie is slowly but steadily on the rise to stardom. She says she has always known she wanted to be in entertainment but did not quite know-how. Since she isn’t a talented singer or dancer, she decided to give acting a shot, a venture she says she didn’t like from the onset.
Having been ‘luckily picked’ at a few auditions, she realised that she had a talent that others could see and decided to embrace it.
“I went for an audition and they picked me. I was surprised and didn’t understand why they picked me, I went for another and I was picked again so I thought maybe acting is for me after all.”
She made her debut in the film “Marooned” but is best known for her role in Africa Magic’s series, “My siblings and I” in which she plays a notorious and troublesome cousin of the Aberuagba’s family, Bimpe.
With her acting experience, it was easy to settle into the character of Grace, the pregnant 16-year-old younger sister of Rosa. Demure and meek on-screen, Cynthia is far from that in reality as; vibrant, outgoing, and jovial best describes the actress.
However, just as Grace looks up to Rosa in Eyimofe, Cynthia is not shy of taking guidance from Temi despite having shed their Eyimofe characters.
It is the same ease with which the two female stars bonded that Cynthia got into Grace’s character. It was a connection she says she felt as she shares the same humble beginnings that Grace has in Eyimofe.
Asides from that, the relatability of the story is one she says the average Nigerian can buy into because many live it on a daily basis.
“I may never have been pregnant before but I have been around pregnant women and I also have a good understanding of how society tends to treat pregnant teenagers or young girls.”
It is this same disdain Rosa experiences when she begins to date a white guy whom she met on her bartending job. His Nigerian friend is quick to dismiss her as a gold-digging Nigerian, and when she makes the wrong move of asking for help to pay her rent, she loses the attention of a potential suitor whose mind has been clouded.
The desolation that Nigeria represents for the characters is so poignant that they are ready to die to be reborn. A first-time mom-to-be who is yet to fully grasp the concept of motherhood is willing to give up her baby for greener pastures. This is a scene that Cynthia says rings a bell with her.
“The scene where Grace has to agree to trade her unborn baby to leave the country is one that particularly resonates with me. Let’s not forget that she is just 16 years old but she already has to bear being pregnant and the extra burden of giving her baby to a stranger for a better life.”
Cynthia further opines that Eyimofe is accurate in mirroring life because just as the characters of Grace and Rosa never appear to make it to Italy, it is the same way many Nigerians are unable to achieve their dreams of leaving the country.
Asked if she would like to redo any scene from Eyimofe to make it better, Cynthia’s eyes and voice brims with excitement as she talks about everything being ‘perfect’ and there being not a single mistake.
“When I watch my films, I tend to see scenes that I tell myself I could have done better, but with Eyimofe, there was none. It was thanks to the directors because they all wanted every scene to be perfect. I will rate it 100/100.”
As Temi and Cynthia bask in the euphoria of a job well done and eagerly await the premiere of Eyimofe in Nigeria on April 18, as well as its cinematic debut on April 23, they share their aspirations for more roles. The two express their gratitude for the film for already opening doors for them.