My Ilesa journey helped me succeed in Hollywood —Bayo Olufemi

The United States of America based actor, filmmaker and speaker Bayo Olufemi is well known for his character in the American sitcom “Bob Hearts Abishola”. He tells OGHENOVO EGODO-MICHAEL about his experiences in the television and film industry at home and in the diaspora

What is your favorite aspect of theater and the performing arts?

They are all different because they offer different challenges and experiences. I like directing more than acting, but whether I’m an actor or a director, the part of my brain that works, works differently depending on what I’m doing. It’s very hard to pick my favorites, but if someone puts a gun to my head and asks me to pick one, I’ll probably pick directing.

As a creative person who must constantly be on the lookout for ideas, how do you deal with creative block?

First, whenever I work on something, I almost never have a creative block. However, I might have a little challenge trying to figure something out, and that’s because when I’m on a project as an actor or director, preparation is key for me. I always like to do that. I mainly work on projects that resonate with me and speak to my existence as someone born and raised in Nigeria but later moved to Hollywood (United States of America). Passion is one of the things that motivates me. When I’m passionate about something, it gets my creative juices flowing all the time. There may be a phase where I’m in rehearsal and trying to figure out what the blockages are and how to get an actor to give me what I’m looking for. (In these cases) I fall back on my skills and try different methods.

(But), when I write, it’s a little more difficult because writing is a little more difficult. It involves laying the groundwork for whatever one wants to do and there are different ways to solve this problem. I come back to the heart of the story I want to tell. I think about the story, the problem, the format, the characters, what they want, what they need and the obstacles on their part. These things help me overcome these problems.

You have extensive experience in different aspects of the arts and theater production. Did you try these different parts one by one or did you tackle them all at once?

I attended University of Ilorin, Kwara State where I studied Performing Arts. I have also performed many plays at the National Arts Theater in Iganmu, Lagos, and at the University of Lagos Auditorium. However, I always knew I wanted to get into acting because I really loved watching movies growing up. I even did some Nollywood movies. One of the stars I worked with was Liz Benson. I also had the opportunity to work with Richard Mofe-Damijo on a piece called Obaseki.

However, I always wanted to get into film and when the opportunity arose in 1998 to travel to Canada, I jumped on it and went to film school because there is a huge difference between training to work on stage and training to become a filmmaker. I had the opportunity to work on many Nollywood movies as a production assistant and assistant director. I believe nothing can teach better than being on set and doing these things. The more I did this, the more I realized that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

What’s it like to work with the best actors in Nigeria and the United States?

I live my dream. It was the dream I had many years ago, before I even thought about traveling abroad. These experiences have been more than positive and enriching for me. Few people can do what they love and be successful at it. I am blessed that God allowed me to live my dream. In all of this, I’m just getting started. But, for this little boy who grew up in Ilesa, Osun State, being able to work in Hollywood at the highest level as both an actor and a director is a dream come true.

It is often said that writers are readers. To this end, how often do you read?

I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t read. I am currently an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, USA. I teach directing there at the school of cinematographic art. I also teach theater in the drama department. Since I am an intellectual and an academic, I have to read. A lot of people don’t know that about me. They think I’m just an actor and director. I have been teaching for over 15 years. I also used to give talks when I was in Toronto at different film schools. After I finished film school in Toronto, I went to USC and then did a master’s program. After getting my master’s degree, I started teaching part-time. I became (a) full-time (lecturer) when the School of Drama and Film made me an assistant practice professor.

As an actor in the United States, have you ever witnessed racial discrimination in the course of your work?

Let’s say I’ve had experiences and I’ll leave it at that. The United States has been so good to me, despite all the prejudice. There are people I’ve met who have been absolutely obnoxious but I don’t take these things to heart because I know how far I’ve traveled to get to the United States. I just see them as ignorant.

Of all your productions, which is your favorite?

Every project I work on has been my favorite from the time I worked on it. So for now I will say Bob Coeur Abishola, the sitcom I’m currently on (is my favorite) because it gave me a lot of experiences that I hadn’t had before. It gave me the opportunity to direct, to be the show’s cultural consultant and also to be a regular on the show as an actor. I’m having a really good time working on the series right now.

As a theater arts practitioner who has worked in Nigeria and the United States. What improvement would you like to see in Nollywood?

First of all, I congratulate Nollywood practitioners and what they have been able to accomplish. I’ve seen the quality of production improve dramatically over the years. I think people are more and more informed. However, there is still a lot to improve. The more knowledgeable and knowledgeable our practitioners become, the better the quality of films we will see that can compete with other films in the world. I would like to emphasize the need to acquire skills and knowledge. The more we are informed, the more the better movies we will make.

Being born and raised in Ilesa, Nigeria, how did your cultural experiences help you grow?

Without the education I had in Ilesa, I don’t think I would have come this far. By that, I don’t necessarily mean that those experiences were pleasant at all. When going to school, the teachers would beat one every day; even the senior students also beat one. It was unpleasant. However, it made me tough and taught me perseverance and also to keep fighting, regardless of the obstacles in my way. It was the solid base I had. There were a lot of rejections along the way, but the values ​​instilled in me growing up, such as hard work, diligence, and passion for everything I do, really helped me. specifically, my Nigerian accent. When I arrived in Canada, before moving to the United States, it was very difficult for people to understand me because my accent was very pronounced. But over the years it got better. Even though I always speak with an accent, people understand me clearly. If my students don’t understand me in class, there will be a problem. Today, I am a cultural consultant on Bob Hearts Abishola, simply because I’m the only one who really grew up here out of all the cast members. I was in my late twenties when I left (Nigeria). So today I translate scripts from Yoruba to English, and my experiences growing up here help me with that.

After acting in movies and TV series, which do you find the most challenging and which do you like the most?

I really like the TV show I’m on right now. It has been going on for several years, so I had time to familiarize myself with it.

As a performer, how do you deal with anxiety?

I’m hardly anxious now, when it happened at the start of my career. However, with the experience I have had, nothing shakes me anymore. This confidence comes from the fact that not only do I have a lot of experience in the industry, but I also understand that the easiest way to deal with anxiety is to be well prepared. When you know you’re as prepared as possible, confidence is high and you’re ready for anything.

What motivates you and helps you stay focused?

My passion and my vision motivate me. These are the things that motivate me and help me stay focused because I’m very specific about what I want to accomplish in my personal and professional life. When challenges come my way, I just think of the dreams, visions and aspirations I have. This is what feeds me and motivates me.

Do you intend to relocate to Nigeria now or at any time in the future?

That would be a definite no. It’s not because I don’t want to be here, but I need to keep in touch with the pores of the entertainment industry in Hollywood, which is the entertainment capital of the world. So the more I know about what’s going on, the better positioned I am to serve the industry here and the country as a whole.

Which Nollywood actor or filmmaker would you like to work with?

All of them, as long as they are very talented and professional.

You have been widely recognized for your role in Bob Hearts Abishola. How did this project push you creatively?

It was the first time I was going to be on a sitcom. Before this show, I’ve always had a thing for intense drama, and for sitcoms, it’s different in terms of the skills required. It taught me a lot and helped me understand this kind of TV shows.

What is your platform, African Theater Artists Society?

I am the founder and director of the African Theater Artists Society, Los Angeles. We basically bring African theater to audiences in Los Angeles. I’m going to direct a play called, Marriage of the gods, in September. I will do it with the School of Dramatic Acts because I am part of the literary committee that selected all the plays in which the students will perform. ATARS is the same as Africa Theater Ensemble, but at the moment I am the founder. and art director and we’re doing the same thing in LA that I did in Toronto.

What do you do during your moments of pleasure?

It depends on my mood. I go to the cinema a lot to watch movies, not only because I need to be aware of what’s going on in the world of cinema, but also because I like watching movies. I also attend basketball and football games. I also go to the theater a lot because that’s what I do and I love it. I like going to the beach too.

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