…there are a few steps you may have to take prior. One of them is that tedious thing called ‘attend an audition’. I have a busload of friends who all want to be TV actors. They throw this around when I’m within earshot because they assume that the fact that I’m a writer somehow makes me their ticket to stardom. Eighty-five point seven percent of these friends of mine cannot act. But they want to. Because, Genevieve Nnaji. And the endorsements.
Anyway, I have asked many times, “so how many auditions have you attended?”
“Auditions? Auditions for what?”
A.ha. See the problem? See how you people take for granted the industry within which I operate? The industry from whence cometh the money I use to buy you beer at that expensive bar? What do you take us for? You think you can waltz onto the television screen just like that? Who are you? Who is your father? Okay, your mother nko? And your cousin?
I used to be in a soap that ran on National Television for a number of years. Those were my glory days. I say this as I turn my neck from side to side, waving my luxurious eighteen-inch Peruvian hair in your face. The days when I ‘flew’ Okada regularly and my producer would call, asking ordering me to quit the habit because, “you know you are Ego Agaba, your fans will not like to see you on Okada”. Ah, na wa o. If I pooled my acting fee for a few months it would still not have been enough to buy me one humble Okada o. But I loved my producer. She had given me a major role without resorting to the violence of an audition. Yes, auditions are violent, I’ll explain later. But how did my own acting uhuru happen without one?
A dear friend had landed a role in this soap. She is one of my adopted older sisters and so when she asked ordered me to come with her for the photo-shoot so I could help with her make-up, I obeyed. On D-day I was a little tired, didn’t want to go out. Then my older brother reminded me that I had made a promise. “And you do need to go out once in a while, see the world”. Till today I wonder why he wanted me to vacate the house, because that speech was a little bit too ‘you can do this!’ for such a simple matter. I sha went.
The producer’s flat in Ikoyi was bustling with activity when we got there. Photographers, costumers, and actors. Real life actors! I was a bit awed. Well more than a bit, but you know we can’t be admitting such a thing in public. We have to be fashionably blasé about these things. After all, wining and dining with Hollywood is second nature to us so why should we fawn after these Nollywood people? Abeg.
After collecting autographs from the ones that seemed easy-going enough, I settled into my make-up artist/younger sister/doting friend role. Lip-liner here. Eye-shadow there. Purse your lips Julie… okay, cool, freeze that smile so I can check the edges. Nice. Nky don’t make me look like someone else o. Ahn-ahn, I won’t. Okay let me get some tissue and tone down this eye-shadow…
“Excuse me, are you an actress?”
I turned around to see who was addressing me. Madam Producer.
I was not an actress and I said so. But the subject of my make-up ministrations had other ideas.
“She is o. As in, she wants to be, but she’s too shy to say so”
And yes, I did want to be on television, acting. However, in the past, I had been introduced to a few Nollywood producers who had turned out to be nothing but lechers and so my zeal was dampened. If I had to bat my eyelids idiotically and pretend to possess nowt but air between my ears so that I could curry the favour of perverts with over-bloated egos, I was happy to be counted out. I know that many a Nollywood actor will tell you that there is no such thing as the casting-couch in Nollywood. My take is that these ones are simply being politically correct. Or out and out liars. But this is not a post about social change within the film industry, so…
“You speak well. There’s a role I still need to fill, will you read a few lines for me?”
See me see trouble o, this woman was serious. Egged on by my friend, she thrust a script into my hand and asked me to read the highlighted bits.
I abandoned by make-up work and scanned the pages. So this was what a real life script looked like. Hmm.
I read. She liked it. I got the role. Just like that. It was a minor role – a gossipy secretary. Bleh. But not bad for a debut.
So I was thrown into costume and made to join the photo-shoot. It was a bit surreal. It became even weirder when one of the members decided she was no longer interested. ‘Nigerian time’ was happening to the photo session and she was not happy. She had other places to be at and was having none of this nonsense. Her – valid – queries led to a bit of a war of words which culminated in her walking out of the place with a don’t-you-ever-call-me-for-anything-that-will-waste-my-time-like-this-ever-again-in-your-life and a slam of the door for emphasis. So there was a vacant role. Another gossipy secretary, but one who had far more lines than the initial gossipy secretary that I was originally cast to play. The producer took the first script away from me and handed me a new one. It had more pages.
Na wa o. Just like that.
A few days later, I was home learning my lines, basking in the euphoria of being the next possible TV star in town. Then I missed a call from Madam Producer. Ah, why was she calling me? Wetin happen? I listened to the voice message she left. “Hi Nk’iru. Just to say you need to return that script I gave you. I want you to take a more challenging role”. Oh wow. My stomach felt hollow. You know that sinking feeling? What did she mean by challenging role, I wondered. Could it be that the tantrum-throwing stickler-for-time lady had asked to have her role back? They were friends and so maybe they had talked about it outside of the tense atmosphere of a photo-shoot, hugged, and deprived me of a speaking-role in the process, only to probably replace it with a non-speaking ‘nod a lot’ house-help role? That’s when Nigerians bandy around words like ‘challenging’ – when they are about to throw you a sucker-punch. “I have a challenging job for you”. CRAP. I was not happy. So I called her back to clarify, and got the shocker of my life.
“No, no, no, Nk’iru., that’s not it at all”, she responded, with a belly-laugh. “There’s the lead female role which I haven’t found someone suitable to play. I think you can do it.”
“Ego Agaba? The bitch?”, I asked.
“Yes. Come and get the script and let’s talk about it”.
You see, everyone likes to play the bitchy character who goes around looking for trouble. And this is only because this character often gets a lot of screen time. And nice dresses. Heh heh.
Seriously though, I was shocked. So was every other person on that set. There I was, fresh-faced, and I was going to play the lead female? Yes my fee was disgraceful because I was a newbie, but I was happy to do it, I no go lie for you. In hindsight, I will admit that the role eventually required minimal acting and a lot of batting of the eyelids, rolling of eyes, flicking of long finger-nails, speaking clean and clear English., etc. Ego was a fake person who was living a lie, impressing herself as she oppressed everyone around her. It did not require a lot of digging deep to deliver. In fact I did read some critics say that I played her over the top. I did not have a platform to respond to them otherwise I would have said to them that the character WAS over the top, she was fake, so all the fakeness was deliberate. Ah well, I had to take the criticism with the praise. My fans loved me, my producer was happy. I was receiving marriage proposals from far-flung places in and out of Nigeria. In fact I got a call from some ladies who wanted me to become their husband’s fifth or sixth wife. Creepy as that was, it was a testimony to how well-known I was in certain parts. As long as the national network service was available there, my face was very likely on your screen at certain hours of the week. And all this without having attended an audition. Glory!
When the soap died a natural death aka fizzled out because money became tight, my TV acting ‘career’ also ground to a halt. Not because I did not think I had talent enough to pursue roles in other soaps, but because I truly am not an actor, when the chips are down. Except for selfies, I do not like the camera, and my true self is totally averse to popularity. I want to walk into a room and blend in with the furniture. I feel self-conscious otherwise. And very socially inept. I know, I know, some who (think they) know me might find this unbelievable but let’s save the behavioural analyses for another day. Bottom-line here is that I hate microscopic scrutiny. I do not want to stand in front of a panel of judges and try to prove to them that I can be someone else. I hate auditions.
After this soap of blessed memory of which I have waxed nostalgic about, I was invited to attend a few readings for other productions. I did badly all the time. I hate scrutiny, have I said that before? So now that I work on the other side of the camera as a writer, director and a producer, and I see people almost break their necks to attend auditions, I am filled with respect. How do they do it? How do they put themselves out there knowing that they might be axed eventually? “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”, etc.,? Me I cannot o.
And some of them are worth their salt. I have seen very many. I have also seen a whole lot of people who I believe have been ‘blessed’ with bad family and friends. Only people who hate you will encourage you to come outside and not only display disgraceful non-talent but display it with aplomb of the pity-evoking kind. Ah, don’t sell me that nonsense of, “even if you’re shit, be shit with boldness”. I’m not buying it. Stay at home.
BUT if you decide that you want to audition for that role anyway, and you know you do not have that kind of obvious talent that would land you a lead-role by virtue of simply showing up, then I have a few tips for you. Yes, you need tips. You need tips because the stars do not always align for everyone at the same time. You may have little talent for the role being advertised but possess something else that a director feels will be useful to the show. But you have to be able to showcase yourself properly. I may not be a senior member of the acting world, but like I said, I have tips. Because I have sat on audition panels and watched people mess themselves up irredeemably, and I do not want that to happen to you, my friend. You see the things I do for lurv?
So let’s talk about these tips next week, shall we?
Peace and love.