December 19, (THEWILL) – Ego Boyo is best known for her role as Anne Haastrup in Checkmate, a TV soap opera that was quite popular in the 1980s. Now a film producer and part-time actress, she speaks with IVORY UKONU about some of the things she has been up to in recent time and her tenure as the 60th president of the International Women Society
But for your recent appearance alongside Richard Mofe Damijo in the TV drama series Mr X, one would have said you stayed away from acting for so long. Is there a reason for this?
There was some intentionality behind my absence from the screens. I did want to focus on my producing, and I also wasn’t sure at the time that I wanted to go on acting because the roles I was being offered were simply variations of the Anne Haastrup role, and I did not want to be stereotyped. After a few years of producing though, I found that my love for acting was still very much alive. Some director friends offered the odd cameo role, and as far as it was a small part I could play in a day’s shoot, I was happy to accept.
If you had continued acting without a break, you probably would have turned out to be the Jodie Foster of Nigeria. Don’t you think?
Well, I guess we will never know, but I think everything worked out for the best. The roles I am being offered now are more mature and well thought out, which is what I always wanted. I didn’t want a role in a film or a drama series that was not fleshed out.
Returning to the screens with RMD exactly 30 years after you made your debut in the TV drama series, Checkmate and later Violated, is to say the least significant. Was this deliberate? Why did it have to be you and RMD again?
I think RMD and I had such a great relationship and chemistry in the two projects we worked on together. He wanted to try that formula in the new project and it turned out to be a winning combo.
You have produced five movies till date. The last one was released in 2019. Are you working on a new one?
I was working on some projects and then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. We have had time to rethink and re-work the script. But despite the delay, I am actually glad that I didn’t go forward with it. We have been in production for over a year. The plan now is to start principal photography by mid-2022.
Why do you always seem to take your time to make a new film?
I prefer to focus on the development of a project. I think it is best to take my time so as to get the best results. I don’t like to rush the process. I prefer to let things develop organically. Ideally it would be great to have a film come out every year or two films every year, but it hasn’t always worked out that way. For instance, Akin Omotosho, who directed my last film ‘The Ghost and the House of Truth, had access to the script about 10 years ago. One day, when we were working on another film, he mentioned it to me and I thought it was a great concept. We started work, changed certain aspects of the script, had conversations with the potential cast and crew, agreed on schedules and from then to the final film took five years to achieve.
From your own experience, what criteria must a film fulfill to be considered a good one?
The writing is crucial. It has to be a well written story with a solid plot, theme and well-defined characters and then good directing. The directing is crucial for the story to work. Also crucial is a great director with a clear creative vision and a plan to develop the story, what he/she hopes to achieve and how, then how he/she intends to work with the entire crew to deliver that vision. Next is getting the right cast to interpret the characters. It is important that the director gives clear directions to the entire team, from the actors to the production crew, in terms of cinematography, lighting, sound and art direction, directing every single aspect of the shooting and then post so that the vision is delivered. It is all about teamwork. The team worked together in a cohesive manner to produce this amazing creative work.
How would you assess the Nigerian film industry, between the period you started out as an actress and the present time?
The industry has grown in leaps and bounds. It has attracted the attention of film aficionados and found new audiences worldwide. More than ever, the audiences are really paying attention and consuming our content. They are receptive to the work and have created this wave of attention that has taken us from just the shores of our country to the world and that is great. There has also been a great deal of improvement in the quality and diversity of our story telling, improved technical expertise and marketing our work.
The challenges remain largely similar. Distribution is still a huge problem, financing is still a huge problem. Loans are available but they are largely difficult for the majority of film makers to access. While there has been some investment from corporate organisations and now, with more streaming platforms commissioning content, some film makers are getting access to funding.
Unfortunately, a lot more film makers still struggle to get funding and access to these new distribution channels. The distribution models need structure and need to be available and accessible for equitable distribution of films. We need more cinemas in more locations, willing to screen all genres of films, more streaming platforms offering lucrative deals and opportunities open to everyone.
What is your greatest achievement as a movie producer?
I haven’t made it yet. I think there is still more to come. I want to make a film that makes a huge cultural impact. I would like that the film creates a cultural shape and that every time the film is mentioned that cultural shape is discussed and it would be because of an Ego Boyo film. Two of my early productions, Violated and Keeping Faith, became forms of reference for many films that came after and continue to inspire.
What are your thoughts on casting social media influencers in movies against using core professionals?
Popularity is not my form of casting, professionalism is. It’s about being able to interpret a role effectively and believably on screen. Anyone committed to the process and willing to subject themselves to the profession, I will proceed with. Film is an art form. Therefore, you have to treat it with that degree of respect and intentionality.
Beyond movie productions, your company, Temple Production handles documentaries, jingles and advertisements. Which of the numerous jobs you have handled stands out for you and why?
The advertisement and jingle for the presidential campaign of 1998. And then the short film for midwives and the silent experimental film were made in 2017.
You were the 60th president of the International Women Society. What was the experience like for you?
It was interesting and challenging. At the time I had been a member for 18 years and I wanted a charity that was giving back, especially to girls and women, and the structure was what attracted me. I had worked in different areas of the organization, so when the opportunity came to head the society, I took it. I was focused on projecting a fresh approach, a 21st century society, and to find ways to attract more young women into the society. Additionally, it was to ensure support for our projects; scholarships, widows business trust, the IWS nursery school and adult literacy center.
What legacy did you leave behind when you handed over?
I hope I left a legacy for the organisation to continue to flourish by bringing in new blood and securing our position and creating awareness of what we do.
What experiences would you say must have significantly shaped you to be who you are today?
The loss of a parent early can shape and/or change you. My father was everything to us; he was our protector, our role model, our backbone, adviser, father, friend – he was everything to us, so, it really affected all of us in the family. We grew up faster and had to focus on using the lessons he taught us to live our lives in ways that would always honour him and our upbringing.
What was growing up like with a Nigerian father and a Barbadian mother?
It was a lovely upbringing. It was also a great mix of both cultures, Igbo and the culture of Barbados where my mum is from, which is, of course, similar.
How did you meet your husband, Mr Omamofe Boyo? What was the attraction?
We met in Lagos, but I have been most unwilling to give anyone that story but my friends and family know the exact story. I prefer to keep the details to myself.
You have been married for close to 30 years. So, you must be doing something right. What advice would you give to the younger generation who don’t have any qualms about ending their marriage at the drop of a hat over very flimsy reasons?
All I can say is that marriage is a union between two imperfect people and it’s not perfect, expect that. It is a work-in-progress. Be committed, be honest with one another and communicate. Discuss the important things beforehand. Things like finances, children, religion, education and values.
How do you unwind?
I read, listen to music, meet up with friends, walk and garden.