Leading Lady

Kemi ‘Lala!’ Akindoju is a graduate of Insurance from the University of Lagos and holds a Master’s degree in Media and Communication from the Pan Atlantic University, Lagos. This year, the actress, producer and singer, she won an Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award as Trail Blazer for her work in the Nigerian film and theatre industry.

In 2010, Akindoju won a Future Award for Actor of the Year. Her first lead role in a movie was in Dazzling Mirage (2014) by Tunde Kelani, which earned her an Africa Movies Academy Award for Best Promising Actor (2015). She has also worked with other notable film directors like Charles Novia, Biyi Bandele and Kunle Afolayan.

She started her acting career professionally in 2005 in a play titled All I Want for Christmas and has since featured in over 70 stage performances, and was part of the team that started Theatre @ Terra – an initiative supported by the cultural centre, Terra Kulture. She also runs a production company called The Make it Happen Productions, which aims at telling African stories through all media, especially film Please tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Kemi ‘Lala!’ Akindoju. Well, Lala! is what everybody calls me. I was called Lala as a child and I grew up knowing myself as Lala. I usually don’t respond when people call me Kemi. My mother tells this story better, of how the name moved from Kemi to Kemo Lala and then Lala! stuck. As an artiste, I liked it and added an exclamation mark. So I actually say my name is Lala with an exclamation mark. I attended the Fountain School in Surulere, Lagos, for primary education, and later Queen’s College, Yaba for secondary. I later studied Insurance at the University of Lagos, and for my Masters degree, the School of Media and Communication, Pan Atlantic University. I also completed an intensive ‘crash’ course in acting with Amaka Igwe. I started acting professionally in 2005. Growing up, I was always an expressive child—always debating, I even went to the MUSON to learn how to sing and play the recorder.

You have been acting professionally since 2005 and 5 years later you won the Actor of the Year at the Future Awards, what were the struggles you encountered when you first started?

I don’t think the struggles I encountered are peculiar to being an actor. The challenges that come with starting a career especially when you didn’t get formal training in that field came at me. From getting the right jobs, to hustling through auditions and earning a good income, were some of the struggles, to mention a few.

The V-Monologues was produced in 2013, telling the story of Nigerian women and their fight against violence. How far do you think this production impacted public perception of violence against women?

When I produced the V Monologues in 2013, it was mainly because I had been touched and educated by the V- Monologues movement, and thought it would be good to bring it back on stage. I must say that the play still needs to go around the country so that all women can get a chance to be educated on how to get help if they are being oppressed by culture or family. It has been a great tool in educating people about so many practices that still go on in our society. As such, some transformational bills have been passed, like the one against rape and female genital mutilation.

Some actresses have complained about sexual harassment against women and having to condescend to get major roles in Nigerian movies. Is this a major concern and have you personally had to deal with such issues?

I think sexual harassment is not unique to the entertainment industry or Nollywood. Women are sexually harassed everyday, the difference is how it is handled and/or stopped. I haven’t experienced sexual harassment and I don’t think it is a big issue getting in the way of the growth of the industry. More filmmakers are particular about actors being qualified for the job, but if an actress decides to have sexual relations with a director, then both parties most likely wanted it.

What are the major challenges young actors and actresses have to deal with in the Nigerian film industry?

Young actors, male and female are usually faced with the challenge of being seen. Many times, filmmakers want to work with the known and more ‘bankable’ faces. This is why I started Open Mic Theatre, which allows new and upcoming actors showcase their talent where directors can see and offer them roles. Also, earning a consistent income and knowing how to build a strong brand are some other challenges young actors face.

You featured in The CEO, directed and produced by Kunle Afolayan. What was the experience like on set and how did you get to be featured in the film?

Getting cast to play a role in Kunle Afolayan’s The CEO was a game of time and chance. He had already cast someone else in the role, but for some reason wasn’t too comfortable, so he invited me for an audition in his office. This was apart from the fact that I had always disturbed him about wanting to work with him. The experience on set was amazing and I will never forget it. My role was very challenging; the director pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I loved it. I also got to work with 3-time Grammy award-winner Angélique Kidjo, and directed by the great Kunle Afolayan. That doesn’t happen all the time!

Please tell us about your role in the new movie Suru L’ere.

This is one project that I won’t forget in a hurry. It started off with me playing the ‘old landlady’ in just 2 scenes, to playing a second role as ‘Beauty’ in the same film! The director Mildred Okwo was determined to prove to the world and I and how much range I have as an actress. Both roles are very different, and I was nervous through the process as I didn’t want both characters to be similar in any way. However, I did my best.

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