NOLLLYWOOD? HMM,I THINK TWICE, FUNLOLA AOFIYEBI
After the contest, many preferred the title of 'Celebrity Takes Two winner'. Whereas before these landmark achievements, her first appearance in Nigeria's showbiz scene was in her role in the movie Violated and later the popular soap that ruled AIT's airwaves in 1998, Palace.
A certificate holder in Drama and Theatre Arts from the Westminster College, England, Funlola Aofiyebi Raheem's diction is the first strike about her person, second to her humorous company and tall, dark body frame.
Producer/presenter of 'Touch of Spice' on radio and CEO Spice Angels, Lagos, Funlola speaks on her person, memories of her late mother, her quiet wedding and discloses that she's ready to hit the movie sets again and this time full time.
Enjoy the excerpts.
If you were given a plain sheet of paper to describe your person, what would it read?
How big is the sheet? ( laughter). I'm a creative person with a busy mind and I definitely do not like to get bored or idle. I have an ever-active mind.
Hence, you get involved in lots of things?
I'm a very curious person who needs to constantly create stuffs. Make things happen like impacting on the lives of people and giving them hope in some way and letting them know that it is actually possible to succeed through hard work as opposed to other dubious short-cut means.
When did you decide to join the entertainment industry?
Gosh! If not for the fact that I probably cannot remember that far, I'm sure from when I popped out of my mother, that I may have started at age six. I have always been interested in entertainment beyond the typical level of the average kid who likes to watch T.V.
My own thoughts went way beyond just watching the programme or listening to music and enjoying it. I would always have a 'why' somewhere in there. I was thinking of characterization from a very very abnormal stage in life.
What led you into that?
My desire to be one of them.
What are the different things you are involved in?
I shall begin with acting because I believe that is my first love. Unfortunately, that is the one I have done the least of for different reasons. However, acting is my first love; then, presentation on radio and T.V. I started off, doing voice-overs and T.V. commercials. Then I heard about acting auditions.
How did you get the role of Esse in your first movie acting experience 'Violated'?
I was just in the right place at the right time. Some girls were discussing T.V commercials and I commented that I would prefer acting.
So one of the girls just said incidentally, there was an audition scheduled to hold the following weekend by someone called Amaka Igwe. I had only just returned from England , like a year before that.
So I didn't really know that name. But when they mentioned that she produced Checkmate, I remembered this buzz about a character called Ann Haastrup in Checkmate. So I knew that the producer had to be someone with experience who knew what she was doing.
The girls gave me the address and I went there for the auditioning. Afterwards Amaka asked me to come back and that was it.
One would have expected that you would go beyond having a Certificate in Theatre Arts to picking more qualifications in the discipline.
Since I already had a Certificate in Theatre Arts, I felt quite fulfilled. I wouldn't say that I didn't feel a need to study more along that line but because I had my diploma in Sociology, it was like a natural progression to move on to a B Sc. in Sociology.
But then Sociology is so wide and as a Sociologist, you can more or less fit in everywhere.
How was it growing up?
Well, I was born and bred in Lagos . I lived with my parents and most of my siblings. Eventually my sister travelled and one by one, everyone else started traveling. But basically the first 10 years of my life were spent with my parents and siblings. I have five elder brothers and one sister; and I'm the last of the seven.
Was there any opposition when you decided to go into the movie industry?
Of course, yes. As a female and being the last amongst five brothers, definitely there were all manners of opposition, but I would say it was more out of concern.
They tried to put me off but eventually they had to give up because they couldn't change my mind in any way. My brothers were very concerned. I'm sure they still are. But now that I'm older, they know that I can take care of myself.
How did you come into the scene Palace?
The producers of Palace saw Violated and they decided to approach me with the role of the lead female.
Did you complete shooting of that soap?
I completed all the scenes that were written.
Then why did it go off-air half-way?
I understand they planned then to continue but there was a break for a period of time and a lot of the casts got into other things. So it became a challenge to bring everyone back together and that's how they lost it.
What was supposed to become of Ms. Kofoworola Baker in the soap?
She would have taken over the family business successfully. She would have married somebody in the story and they would have lived happily ever after. Something would have happened to the wicked mother who abandoned her at the age of three.
Between Palace and now, what's happened to your acting career?
After Palace, I got a lot of movie offers. Some of them I took, others I didn't. One of those I did was Keeping Faith by Ego Boyo; who I met when we did Violated together. I've done more of TV soaps too.
I did Doctor's Quarters and Solitaire. Then there was Wetin Dey which lasted for a year on BBC. There I played the role of an AIDS specialist doctor. It ran on BBC till late February, this year. On stage, I did Vagina Monologue as produced by Aunt Joke Silva.
I did two plays as part of the Muson Festival: one was The Mansion written by Rasheed Gbadamosi and directed by Bayo Awala. I also did 'Sing that old song for me', written by both men again. There was Shyllock with Joke Silva too. And that's just been it.
You have been conspicuously absent from the Nollywood scene. Is it as a result of your decision or just happenstance?
My decision...? Yes and No. At first I was very selective about the kind of production I would be part of. And in the course of being selective, I think I scared away some people who just automatically assumed 'oh no, she wouldn't do it'.
So after a while, the offers thinned out. And I noticed that with every single thing I chose to do, a bit more attention would come in from the producers. So once or twice I would say yes.
But they saw me as more of a TV and soap opera person, other than a movie person.
So do you agree that you are more of a TV person than a movie person?
I have become that but I shall like to do more movies definitely. I just did one with Concrew, directed by Mark. Mark was one of the directors of Wetin Dey, the BBC production. So we had interacted from there.
When he got the script for movie, he said he saw me in one of the roles. He asked me over and we talked. After that, I appeared on the movie set. I don't know yet if it's to become a commercial movie.
What is it that you need to see in a production that can make you want to be a part of it?
The director, to begin with. The story line, can I picture it looking good? Who are the other casts in the movie and what is the character I'm being considered for? I would not like to be typecasting. You actually asked me why I haven't done so many movies.
After Violated and Palace, everybody wanted me to play the spoilt brat who just came back from London speaking phonetics. And I didn't want to be stereotyped, so I had to decline a number of movies.
And then came Ego Boyo's Keeping Faith where I played Tam Tam, a bitch character. After that everybody came with the bitchy roles, so I had to stay away until Wetin Dey came with the medical doctor role. Now I'm being bombarded with roles of playing a doctor all the time but you really have to control how you are portrayed.
What is this about your being married?
Well there was a quiet ceremony earlier this year and that's all I'm going to say.
What brought about Spice Angels?
Being a master of ceremony and armed with my little stint at events management, I saw a vacuum basically as regards that particular aspect of event management. People just believe you gather some young ladies, clad them up, throw them on the floor and that's it- you have ushers for an event.
I think it goes beyond that. I think it's a high level of responsibility. I think a lot has to do with presentation, your spoken English, their aura, warmth, willingness to actually help both the event manager as well as the guests at the event. I decided to give it a try.
Secondly I wanted to give young ladies, especially the undergraduates, a nice decent positive way to make a bit of extra cash. And all I had to do was say the word and I got more a thousand young ladies interested in the area. Now I have a base of about 50 young ladies and 10 gentlemen who I call from time to time for ushering jobs
Have you ever done a 9 to 5 job before?
Yes. I had a two-year stint with the Prima Garnet group. I actually supplied hostesses for an event packaged by Prima Garnet/Lamco, and from my service they invited me to become a member of staff.
Why did you quit?
It was just time to move on.
Will you consider another 9 to 5 job offer now?
Hmm! I wonder! I don't know; if the prices and conditions are right. It might be difficult to lend an entire day to other things for someone else. But it's not impossible. I never say 'never'. If there's something interesting or challenging enough- why not?
What's your next challenge ?
Someone threw a challenge at me as per 'Touch of Spice' while celebrating our 8th year anniversary last year.
That person wondered how I coped for eight years and I tried to remember the experiences of eight years in about a minute and I just couldn't answer him. I mentioned a few things and he said 'why don't you write a book'? He suggested that and I have been thinking about it more and more everyday
Would you share some of your dreams which you aim to achieve?
I'd like to do more movies. I'd like to present a live reality show. I also would like 'Spice Angels' to become the number one choice when it comes to event staffing all over Nigeria and not just in Lagos.
Then 'Touch of Spice' after some years will have to grow into television. And since I tend to criticize a lot, maybe I will one day go behind the scene and produce my movie.
Do you have any fears?
Being idle, losing my closest friends, not having a relationship with God and believe it or not, lack of organisation. That would be a very scattered life.
Your mother's death was a big blow to you. How have you coped since then?
That's the most difficult thing I have had to deal with in life. But you have since moved on and handled it…
Who told you I've handled it? (cuts in) I don't think I'll ever get over it because there's a reminder at every point and juncture. It's been over a decade now and I'm still very soft about it.
All the same you have lived on?
Yes I've had to because you sleep at night and wake up the following morning and you find out that you've had days and months and years and you just have to live each day but it doesn't mean its rosy because it comes up at every time. The values she instilled in me are with me every second.
You want to share some of them with us?
She was disciplined; she was principled. She was very caring but she was also very enterprising; maybe some of that rubbed off on me.
How do you relax?
Movies! Either with the DVD at home or by going to the movies. I enjoy talking with people who make me laugh and I love going on occasional shopping sprees just to free my mind and treat myself to one or two things.
Are you an indoor or outdoor person?
I think Funlola is more of an indoor person at the end of the day. I'm a home buddy with friends and family. Although work-wise, I'm an extrovert.
If you were to engage in a game for sports, which would it be?
Athletics, 100m, 200m or either of volleyball or basketball. I participated in athletics in school and I really liked it.