Actor Adeniyi Johnson, asides from being infamous for being the ex-husband of actress and filmmaker, Toyin Abraham-Aimakhu, is widely recognized for the energetic interpretation of his roles. When The Film Conversation’s Yousuph Adebayo Grey recently had a sit-down with him, he tells him about the downsides to being in the limelight, his widely publicized divorce, and the role the media and the fans played in pushing the marriage towards rock bottom.
How long has it been now in the film industry?
By and large, it’s been close to two decades now. I started practicing professionally around 2002/03. But I started way back in secondary school when I did a drama for the valedictory service of the set before us. There was a guy playing the major role before but I think he just got full of himself. He wasn’t going for rehearsal anymore. They needed somehow to fill in the gap and someone from my own class was there and told them about him. I went for the rehearsal and I was just being me. I was all playful and I guess they enjoyed the way I interpreted the role asides from the guy that was just being all too cocky. So, a few weeks after, he came back wanting to take the role but I had warmed myself into the heart of everybody there and they loved the fact that I was infusing comedy into it. So, I played the role to the point that my Principal then was spraying me. Meanwhile, that man happened to be the strictest Principal in Alimosho Local Government. I loved it and I wanted to do more. That’s how I started.
Without being hyper-modest, did you see the fame and plaudits that you currently enjoy coming your way at the time when you were starting out?
When I started, it was all for fun. It wasn’t like it’s something I’d set out to do because I was an Arts student and what was on my head was to study Mass Communication and probably become a Journalist. Asides from that I wanted to play football but my parents were like even if you were going to play football, at least go to school. When I started acting in Church, my Mum was asking me, ‘where did you find this boldness to face the crowd and say these big words?’ because when I’m in the house, I’m very reserved. My head is always calculating what to do in the next drama. People from the Church started asking my mum to let me study Theatre Arts. It was in Church that I thought of how to build a career in this pari passu with football but then my leg got broken in football. So, I had to come back to acting. I didn’t see this coming but with hard work and prayer, we are here today.
- Advertisement -
So, two decades of doing this; how fulfilled are you?
To the glory of God, I’m extremely fulfilled. You just have to thank God. It was tough, it was rough but we’re atop of it. I mean, I’m not telling the story from obscurity. I’m in the limelight which is the goal of everyone acting. And we can feed our family and do big boy once in a while.
Picking this from the point of being in the limelight; does that come with its downsides as well?
Oh, a lot of it but it depends on how you handle it. I tell people, once you’re in the limelight; you own only 30% of your life. 70% is out there already but in my case as Adeniyi Johnson, you’ll get 30%, I still own 70%. I go where I want to go. I don’t put myself out there for people to start expecting too much from me. Although, it opens a lot of doors for us the downsides are more than what it brings especially because a lot of our colleagues are not making it easy for us. You know, you buy a car and put it up there, so people think we’re rich. That’s not the reality, though we’re not paupers.
Does this habit of putting out your possession on social media affect your charge rate in any way during the casting process for a film?
Well, somehow it does. Sometimes, the kind of car a producer or director sees with you determines how much they’ll even offer you. Most of the things we do in Nigeria, we’re being materialistic about it. In foreign countries, I was opportune to be at Universal Studios, you are not even allowed to drive your car in the studio. But here, you want to show off that I’m a big boy. It actually can affect you. There are some endorsements that can come your way but because you’ve been ostentatious and raised the bar, they’ll just overlook you. If it’s about putting a value on yourself; then it is fine but be modest about it. We know when you’re showing off.
- Advertisement -
Are you happy with the state of things in the film industry right now?
We’re evolving and the level of evolution is exciting to watch. Story-wise, picture-wise, we’re evolving. Gone are the days when people see us as unserious. It can only get better, particularly in the Yoruba film industry. I could remember several years ago the kind of houses we use for Presidents in films will make people laugh at us like why will a President be living in this house and the chair is Apoche. So, it’s getting better.
You’ve had your fair share of scandals, the most prominent one being the altercation between you and your estranged wife. I know you’ve addressed it a couple of times but did the entire episode affect your career in any way; you know perhaps people not wanting to work with you because they didn’t want to be in your ex-wife’s black book?
Well, I don’t know the mind of the Producers. It’s the job that they call me for that I know. If someone is saying I don’t want to cast Niyi because I don’t want to offend Toyin, I wouldn’t know. They can answer that. And then, it’s not scandalous. I don’t know why the media has made it seems like it’s a scandal. There’s nothing scandalous about it.
But there was a whole lot of back and forth, right?
Yes, as usual. You know, when two popular figures separate, that’s meant to come up. When D’Banj and Don Jazzy separated, it seems like a scandal. There’s nothing scandalous about it but the fans and the media created a scandal about it; particularly, the media because they need to feed people with news. But then, it’s to my advantage. It works for me. Both parties are living fine but the media is still sad about us. I don’t know why you’re sad. I’ve never come out to do a comprehensive interview about what happened in my marriage.
- Advertisement -
And you’re not planning to do that anytime soon?
Never! For what? You see, I see myself as a captain and I’ve led a troop of an army to war. We now failed. Coming back to base, I’ll now start saying, you didn’t shoot very well. No. I’m the captain, I’m the failure and I accept. What’s then the joy in blaming your subordinate? I’ll only be making a fool of myself. What’s the point? To prove to them that I’m a good man and my ex-wife is a bad person? No!
I love the analogy of the army and the troops. In retrospect, what do you think you could have done better?
Well, it’s a personal issue.
You’ve had people lampooned you repeatedly up till today. Half of the time, you are painted as the bad guy. Did you consider that the fans, both yours and that of Toyin Abraham contributed to the degradation of things between both of you?
Definitely! Well, a lot of people assume. You see a fine man that’s doing well; you’ll say he likes women. That’s Nigeria for you. Some people just want to talk. Most of the comments you see are from people looking for attention and then myopic people like them start contributing. Most of them are in our DMs for a giveaway. So, I don’t bother myself.
- Advertisement -
And how are things with you now; with you and your ex-wife?
We’re very fine.
I mean, we saw you congratulate her when she gave birth. Are you friends now?
Well, we’ve never been enemies. We never wish each other anything bad. We’re cool.
Are there chances of you featuring in a movie together?
Why not? We’re both actors. We can even play husbands and wives.
- Advertisement -
To what extent does being in the public glare affect the most personal part of one’s life?
It depends on how much you want to put out there. Don’t forget, you still hold control of your life. You know when to give them what they want and when to hold back.
The structure of the film industry is divided along regional and linguistic lines such that we have the regional film industries for the major ethnic groups and then the central English-speaking Nollywood. You’re majored in the Yoruba space but have also done a couple of works with the more central Nollywood. When you see people of your age range and caliber who are more prominent in the English Nollywood sector and do things that even you feel that you can do, what comes to your mind?
Firstly that I have to work harder. Why was I not cast for that role? Perhaps, I haven’t worked enough. Secondly, our charges determine who plays some roles. In some of the films, it wasn’t like they didn’t reach out. Perhaps, we didn’t agree on some conditions. I’m not trying to say I’m expensive. Oftentimes, the way things work in Nigeria is based on cliques.
And what has been the highlight of being in the film industry for almost two decades now?
Well, I’ll say…I don’t think I’ve ever had a particular one. From the get-go, my journey has been a highlight all through.
- Advertisement -
Mr. Adeniyi Johnson, by the time you’re done with the movies, what would you want to be remembered for?
Good movies, good interpretation of my character, and a good legacy. As much as I can, I’ve tried to give a platform to people around me. By the time people remember me, I want to think of an actor who gave them good movies and gave other people a platform to fly; a Denzel Washington.