Akin Lewis: You don’t retire as an actor, only your role changes
Akin Lewis is a veteran Nollywood actor who has graced the television screens for over 50 years. The director and producer became popular with sitcoms in the 80s, including ‘Why Worry’ and ‘Koko Close’, and had featured in numerous television productions to become one of the most celebrated in Nollywood. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, he speaks about his sojourn into acting in the last 50 years.
Your acting career started at the age of 16. How was that for you?
For me, it wasn’t really a big deal. I had been acting since I was a very little boy, doing children’s television plays and all. Then I got to secondary school and I was right in the literary, debating and dramatic arts association. By the time I landed my first acting gig, I knew exactly what I wanted to be. It was big but at the same time I was prepared for it.
You have featured in a lot of drama series and movies. Which would you say is your favourite?
That is a difficult question because, for me, all these projects are like children. It doesn’t matter how many children you have, it is difficult to say this is my favourite. Even when you know which, you keep quiet. All I can say is, in 50 years I’ve done quite a lot that I’m proud of. I have great works that I can’t even remember but I remember those that have had and still have impact.
You got your first award in 1982. How do you feel about actors ‘recognition in the industry in the present day?
With all due respect, the kind of training that we had, we were used to getting backed by people who understand the industry. I love it when my works speak for me, not because you like my face or what I wear or the car I drive. I have solid awards. They may be few but they are very solid such that when you enter my house, you would see them and I’m proud of them.
Are there plans of retiring from acting?
Never! As a matter of fact, for me, it is a new beginning from now on. They say life starts at 40, but for me, it is starting at 50 and I am still working. On this job, you do not retire, your roles change. I used to be a kid actor, a teenager, casanova, playboy, father, billionaire and so on. As long as you have strength physically, you are good. I’m grateful for that too.
What role has been the most challenging for you?
Every role is challenging because I have to be someone else. I’m one of the most highly trained actors in Nigeria if I must say so. I have diploma certificates, a Master’s in theatre with a specialty in acting and directing and then I have a PhD. The thing is, if I have a role, I have to study it and be that person. I even create things that the person might do. Acting is all about emotions; you cry, laugh, you’re sad, happy, at peace and so on. People think that these things are easy until you get on and they beam the light on you. That’s when you know that it is not easy. Back in theatre school, we used to say the army is the hardest profession asides from theatre because you have to do theory, practical, stage plays, rehearsals and projects and they must all be completed. It is difficult but all of my trainings brought out the best in me and that is always my motto. I always give my best.
In your 50 years of experience, how far would you say Nollywood has come?
When we started out it was just raw talents and passion and we wanted to do it. There was no money and I remember a lot of colleagues who fell by the wayside. At some point, I also had to work in the corporate world for a surplus income to be able to sustain the theatre spirit in me and to keep my family. Now, there are more funds, you do not even have to go to acting school, you can gather experience just from working with people like me. Even now, the gadgets have changed; in those days, people thought theatre was for dropouts. My objective was clear. I had to make it clear that I was not one.
What advice do you have for young talents who look up to legends like you in the industry?
I would keep saying it, make sure you are at the right place and get training. Make sure you have talent. If you are too old for school, then go find people who can train you, then work hard and be consistent. A thespian that doesn’t understand that he is a role model hasn’t even started working. I’m much more than an actor, I’m a model in acting and in every sphere of life, and so I must know how to conduct myself because people are watching you.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.