Popular Nigerian actress, Ireti Doyle, began acting in the 90s. She featured in the top two Nollywood box office flicks of 2018, namely, ‘Merry Men’ and ‘Wedding Party’.
On television, she has created memorable characters on hit shows like Fuji House of Commotion, Dowry, and Gidi Up. Described as an ‘actor’s actor’ by her peers, she is renowned for her brilliant role interpretations.
PREMIUM TIMES interviewed her during the launch of DSTV ‘I Am’ campaign in Lagos.
Here, she speaks about her career highpoints among other issues.
PT: As a seasoned actress, do you think much progress has been made in area of authentic story-telling in Nollywood?
Ireti: Telling the story is first and foremost, the screenwriter’s duty. I am an actor. I am a gun for hire, I re-enact characters that are given to me.
If you ask me how well we have done as in industry in telling our own stories in the last several years, I’ll like to say we have done a lot, things have improved a lot. Everybody is proudly Nigerian; everybody is trying to tell the Nigerian story. There are many definitions of the Nigerian narrative as there are people seated, people tend to want to stamp their personal perspectives on things and that’s fine but we are very cosmopolitan, there is no situation happening anywhere else in the world that you would not find here.
PT: Many people see you as a serious no-nonsense actress. What is one thing that would surprise them about you?
Ireti: I run the gamut, I can play hard, I can play soft, I can play corny, I can be serious, elegant, and I can be razz! I am an actor! There was a character in Fuji House of commotion, called Sis Kuli Caro, who remembers that?
PT: But some people say you are too principled, even outside movie locations…
Ireti: There is no such thing as being too principled. You are either principled or you are not. And I don’t know how you can become middle aged without acquiring a few principles here and there.
I am principled, yes. Do I have professional integrity? Yes. Do I believe there is time and place for everything? Yes. If it’s time to play, kick off our shoes and laugh, you will find me there. Ask my close friends, they will tell you that I can be the life of the party. However, am I reserved human being? Yes, I am. I make no bones about that.
PT: Have you ever featured in a movie and wish you could go back and shoot all over?
Ireti: None that I would go back and do over but do I mark my papers? Intensely! Every time I watch a project of mine, that’s what I am doing, I am marking my papers. If you are honest, you will always see something or some things that you would have wanted to do differently, sometimes, even better.
This is because you are in the moment and you are working and responding to stimuli, the energy you are getting from your cast mates. So, when you watch the play back, you point out things you could have done differently and better. So yes I mark my papers, any actor worth their weight in gold should so same.
PT: Wedding Party 2 is now being distributed on several online platforms in the US. What does that say about the future of the industry?
Ireti: I am very proud about it. And this is beyond the fact that WP 2 will be the first Nigerian film to get such distribution opportunity. Those types of accolades are superficial and good for a moment. I am proud that the industry is evolving. Distribution is evolving.
There are more channels for a producer to make more money and greater profit off their jobs which in turn gives me, the actor, and a greater negotiation power. Because I can now prove to you that if we collaborate and make a great project, you can continue to make money off this project for a long time and if you continue to make money off a project that has my name and my face and talent, it gives me the better way to negotiate for a better post profit deal.
PT: What did you take away from your role in ‘Wedding Party’ that continues to influence your subsequent roles?
Ireti: I won’t say learn, it just reinforced what I have known for a while: continue to do great work. Like somebody always says, continue wearing your best shirt, sooner or later the right person will notice you.
PT: Any criticisms?
Ireti: Absolutely none. It is a work of art. If ten people view a work of art they will come back with ten different points of view and it is okay in my line of work. I just give you my word that I will continue to do great work.
PT: Which do you prefer, screen or stage?
Ireti: Stage every single time. Stage because it keeps you on your toes. You can’t take the theatre for granted. There is no “Cut, take 2”. You have to deliver on the spot. And there is a certain energy rush that I get from the exchange between the actor and a live audience that given the choice it will be stage all the time.
But, unfortunately, the cashing is not as heavy as television and film.
PT: Will you say actors who transit from stage to screen have a better grip of role interpretation and delivery?
Ireti: I will say this much, people who come from a theatre background are cut from a different cloth, and you can tell by the way they behave, the way their delivery on the craft (is) and their level of discipline.
There are certain things you cannot get away with in the theatre. Theatre makes you a ready team player, a virtue you have to acquire consciously in television and film. You cannot be a successful theatre artiste if your ego is larger than life. It takes a village. You have to trust your colleagues because you are going to get undressed in front of each other. It is a leveler and you go into the project knowing that you have each other’s backs. There is no rivalry because if one person looks bad the entire production looks bad. So, it equips you with a certain mindset.
PT: How will you describe your acting career thus far?
Ireti: It has been wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. Every actor will tell you that in the early years is when you struggle. You have to hustle. You have to go through the auditions, you cannot get every role and you will get passed over.
There was a time in my career that I got things like being passed over but, no, I see them as the high inside because I discovered that my career was being shaped in a way that afforded me the opportunity to own other skills like television presenting, television producing, writing for example.
Perhaps if I had gotten the big break back then, I wouldn’t have seen the need to tap and discover all these talents. I had the opportunity to produce my own television show titled ‘Oge’ for ten years.
This is because I needed to fill the times and do other things to pay the bills while I was waiting to become a successful actor. Those 15 years were 15 years of learning for me. They helped me acquire the skills that made the fantastic actor that I am today. So no regrets.
PT: You once said you started off acting because of the incessant strike actions in the university at that time.
Ireti: I would have joined the acting eventually. It just happened a whole lot faster because the school was always on strike and I didn’t have anything else to do. It was a burning passion in my belly. I seized the opportunity, spoke to somebody that spoke to somebody until God, fate, made a way for me.
PT: Before that time, was acting something you wanted to do for a long time?
Ireti: It (acting) came to me naturally. I don’t know how it did, but I just found out that if there was a performance to be done in secondary school, I was always involved in it and if anyone was to be called to speak it was me.
I think Checkmate was the first Nigerian TV series I fell in love with. I used to hurry back home to watch it. Then there was ‘Mind Bending’, a TV series produced by Lola Fani Kayode and it starred Joke Silva at the time.
There was a particular scene where Aunty J took me through an emotional journey. I looked on so steadily at her as she tugged at all my emotions. After that scene, I knew that was what I wanted to do. It may sound weird, but it was a light ball moment for me.
PT: You became a grandmother at 51, how did that make you feel?
Ireti: Blessed. That is the word, truly blessed. Having a grandchild is completely different from having a child. If someone had said that to me two months ago, I wouldn’t have understood what they were talking about. You look at yourself from a different perspective. Now you have two generations looking up to you for directions, for legacy. Common, I am someone’s grandma now.
PT: Does it make you feel old?
Ireti: I don’t feel old. My mum is late and I am a grandma so I realise I have more people coming behind me. You are an elder. Your decisions must come from a much deeper place. You (are) not spontaneous. Things begin to have a completely different meaning. That is how I can explain it.
PT: What would you say acting has given you that cannot be compared to anything?
Ireti: Exactly what the DSTV ‘I Am’ campaign is all (about). The ability to be anything.