Thespian Akin Lewis Exclusive “If I Die and Find Out There’s No God…”
Like his words, am one of the youngest of my generation of theatre artistes, and this is not in doubt. That’s not only that, this thoroughbred professional actor is one of the best to happen to the arts and for your information, he’s not one of those run of the mills theatre artistes who want to do everything just because he’s got the money. The rare gem shares his interesting background and offers insightful advises on the problems facing the movie industry. You would enjoy the never read before interview conducted by Faith Irabor.
Can you briefly tell us how growing up was like?
Growing up was actually exciting actually because my dad was an engineer with Nigeria Railway Corporation, so I grew up all over Nigeria learning languages.
So how many were you able to grab?
I speak about seven languages. I speak English, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, French, Bulgarian and Quorum language.
That’s really a nice thing to know, so would you say you’re a silverspoon kid?
Really I come from the middle class family but we were all privilege to be well educated courtesy of our parents.
What’s your educational background like and where are your siblings now?
Yeah, most of my siblings are Charted Accountants and I am the only actor and that caused a big brawl between my father and I because he didn’t want me to go into the profession because in those days nobody wanted his child to be a dramatist but I thank God I did not end up regretting. (Cuts in…)
How did you find yourself in the profession in the first place?
You see it’s incredible, my dad who didn’t want me to act was ironically actually encouraging me because he kept buying literature books, comics, adventure books and the rest and I was just busy devouring them. Those were the days of very good comic books like, Marvel, Spear Man and stuffs like that, so I started acting very early from primary school. Obviously I have the talent and all I needed was for it to expose and it did eventually.
You keep begging the question on education?
Well I attended Alafia Institute Primary school in Ibadan and it was one of the best schools around that time, I also attended Lagelu Secondary school in Ibadan, then I ended up at the University of Ife with Prof. Wole Soyinka and the rest of them where I studied Theatre Arts after which I went abroad and came back with a Masters degree in Directing and Acting, then later I went back to the University of Lagos for my PGD programme in Marketing Communications.
You’ve really gone far academically, considering this, would you say the movie industry is paying your bills as you envisaged or otherwise?
The truth is, at a time it was not paying the bills, I mean it was ok when I was a bachelor when all we needed was just money to rock, but when wife came and children, it was no longer what I expected financially and that’s why I had to go and choose a second career in Marketing Communications.
But did you at any time practice it while acting?
Oh yes I did, I worked in the biggest Advertising Agencies in Nigeria.
Interesting, can you share them with us?
Yeah, I worked with PromoServe, STBMccan; I worked with Eminent Communications (Cuts in)
And you were still acting?
Oh yes, very actively and never quitted for once because I knew I was still coming back to it and was only using it to pay my bills. I worked in Omega Bank, I also worked in Globacom at the very top level, I mean as a Senior Executive.
Can you compare both experiences for us, I mean Akin Lewis in Corporate environment and as an actor?
That was the good thing about it, my father raised us up to be very organized. Our principle is if you promise to be here by 5.00pm, you better be here on or before then else you get into trouble and I went to schools where they put you right and I learn from a very young age to be the best in everything and that was the motto of my school. If you give me half a chance, I would beat you hands down and that was the attitude I took to work as well and at the highest level, you can plan if you’re organized. But it was a lot of hard work, I must say because all of my spear time was being consumed. I was always on location at weekends, leave period and even overnights just to make sure I stay there. Right now am even one of the most organized persons you’ve ever known, I think on my feet and can do ten things at the same time.
Would like you to be sincere, can you share who your crush was at one time or the other in the movie industry?
Well, the truth is at that time, the ladies were the ones who had crushes on me and that’s the honest truth because I became a prominent actor as early as age of twenty two. I was on television soap operas like Why Worry which was great and powerful at that time, there was also Cocoa Close and then a lot of other feature films, so everybody had a crush on me.
So did you actually respond to anyone of them?
(Sigh)Yeah well… when I was young I did to be sincere.
Then why didn’t you end up marrying an actress?
It just didn’t happen because I wasn’t the one who had a crush on any of them; I married a woman who was outside the industry.
Let’s talk about her and how you met?
That was a long time ago, we met when I was at NTA, she came to work in the late 70’s and we courted for a long time and got married in 1987.
So is the marriage still intact?
No it is not, that was my first marriage (cuts in)
I thought I saw a wedding ring on your fourth finger?
Yeah, I have re-married, am married again.
Why did the marriage crashed or would it be right to say the nature of your job had a hand in it?
Well not really, it’s actually a long story.
So let’s summarize it, sincerely were you guilty?
No I am not, and am not trying to protect myself.
But you jilted her?
No I did not, she took a walk actually.
Ok but are there kids in the union?
Yeah we have two kids (cuts in)
How did you survive it?
It was really tough and I never had a girlfriend for like twenty years, it was that tough but there’s always grace when you’re right. It’s tough to be right but you end up being right all over again.
As a thespian in the movie industry what’s your reaction on the National Awards President Goodluck Jonathan lavished at some actors because some veterans are of the opinion that not all the awardees truly deserved it?
First of all, I want to congratulate those who got the awards. Truth be told I have never in my life worked towards getting an award but they came all the same, I mean I got an award for being a good actor since 1982 and this was when award really had meanings. Having said that, I just enjoy doing what I do and with all sense of sincerity I am one of the best. But then again, this is Nigeria and when it comes to politics, these things have been bastardized without meaning to insult anybody. I feel it could have been done better and that’s what people feel and like I said I do not act for awards, I just enjoy doing my thing.
That would bring me to this question, why were you not part of any political campaign during the last election at all levels like some of your colleagues, is it because you don’t believe in their course?
The truth is money is the name of the game, you see for me money is not the end but rather a means. I am a very comfortable person and my principles don’t dwell on money, money comes because I do what am doing and let me tell you the truth, Nigeria politics have been bastardized and the only institution that has been built is money and am not just cut out for such.
But for the records were you approached?
Yeah, I have always been approached for such things and even many more but there are things I would do and there are things I would not do.
Another thing is you have a clean record in the movie industry and have not been attached to any scandal and yet you’ve always been relevant, would you want to share the secret behind this?
Well, it’s just the way I live my life, am just a man who believes that you need to have a job, work hard and be a man of integrity and really family for me is very key. I mean I told you I didn’t have a girl friend for as long as twenty years! Am not just cut out for the other things people do, am not saying am a saint, am not saying that I don’t have vices but am a very private person. I don’t like the “Owambe” kind of lifestyle, I don’t even like publicity and I rarely give interviews and the interviews I give are so far in-between and I really never asked for it, am just working to put food on the table for my family. The truth is am glad people made me a star and am humbled about it but maybe I really never wanted to be a celebrity because there’s a lot of negative stuff about that name and I just don’t want that, I’ll rather just go to work and go back home. I enjoy hanging out with my friends because my job is tough already and so there’s no reason to give myself more problems.
Let’s quickly talk about your wonderful children, where are they and what do they do?
Another thing is you’d discover that my family is not in the news and I deliberately made it like that because these days the pressure is much, people get kidnapped and that’s why I keep them away from the media. Having said that, I have three wonderful kids, two of them are in the university and the last one is in secondary school and they are doing very well.
How old is the eldest?
My eldest child is twenty three and she just finished studying Law and International Relations in the United States of America, the second one wants to be a model and an actress and I have given her my blessings because she’s towing my part and whenever she’s around. She goes with me to location and act like my personal assistance, then the last one is likely to be a scientist and I said you can be whatever you want to be. My kids are very beautiful and smart, they speak languages too and are well travelled, I mean we’ve been all over the place together.
How would you rate the movie industry now compare to when you started, especially the poor subtitling thing which is kind of embarrassing?
Let me just say this, I think most of those bad movies are old, if you look at more current films you might discover that you don’t have that kind of mistakes again, not as much as it used to be. Having said that, you’ll just discover that there are lots of charlatans in the movie industry, every dick, tom and harry is an actor because they like the glamour, and it’s not supposed to be like that, so also are producers and directors who rarely know their left from right. Somebody wants to be a writer, a director, a producer and a lead actor in the same movie! It just doesn’t work. When things happen, there would be lots of loop holes that they would not know how to fill. What I do though to help is I tell them, again one have to be careful. I don’t want anybody to see me as trying to be something else. I am well read, I am travelled and it’s not funny, which is good for a dramatist. I worked with NTA for good thirteen years so I am trained but most people are not. These days we find people who just have five hundred thousand Naira and they want to produce films and I am like: how are you going to sort my own fee alone and then you’re talking about a whole movie? They don’t know what they’re doing. Having said that, there are still quality movies, good content, good editing and even high tech images, I guess we would get there.
What about plans of rebranding the movie industry, like stating some tough criteria’s for being a producer, director, actor and so on?
Actually you’re right, we need rebranding, it needs to be organized and I must tell you this, it is highly disorganized, all those professional bodies who claim to look after the industry are only there to look after themselves and that’s the truth so they are not regulating anything. You find people fighting all over the place and its all money. Everybody is trying to lobby the federal government and some people collect money from these politicians and end up fighting themselves. I am not involved in all of that, I am too serious a dramatist.
Could it be the reason most actors rarely get endorsement deals, especially Yoruba industry?
The truth is, the bad will always affect the good. When you look at the characteristics nature of endorsement itself, it revolves round the youths because the consumers are young (cuts in)
But there are also young people in the Yoruba industry too?
Well maybe it’s because these people think they are not as good as the English sector and that’s why we said the rebranding is necessary. I am a brand and everybody knows, I think the time will come when all of these things would be taken care of.
So how old is Akin Lewis?
I am in my mid fifties. I am probably the youngest of my generation.
What would you want to be remembered for?
I just want to be remembered for being Akin Lewis. I am greatful and happy that I am able to bring education and happiness into the lives of some people. I understand that I am a role model and that’s serious, it’s also one of the reasons I shy away from being loud because I know that people look up to me. I just want to be remembered as Akin Lewis, a thespian, an entertainer who knew arts and did it like it should be done. I also believe in living in peace no matter your religion or where you’re from and this is my pedigree. I grew up with Igbo boys, Hausa boys, Yoruba boys and I didn’t know anything about tribalism.
Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?
I do of course! I am a Christian by religion and I study the Bible and I am really deep. Why is there good and bad if there is no heaven or hell, why is there Karma? There is Heaven and Hell is real.
Do you also believe that God exist?
Yes there is God and if I die and found out that there is no God, what have I lost? So it’s better for me to believe than finding out that He exists when I die, that would be so regretful.
Thanks’ for your time sir?
You’re most welcome Faith.