Behind The Scenes With Wale Ojo

Among the A-list actors gracing our screens in the Nigerian movie industry, Wale Ojo continues to be an actor who is ageing like fine wine both physically and professionally. A versatile actor celebrated for his dynamic roles in Nollywood and international films, Wale Ojo has a career spanning over two decades, establishing him as a prominent figure in African Cinema. His compelling performances in film and stage play have earned him accolades and a loyal fan base. One of his recent successes includes winning the award for Best Actor at the recently concluded 2024 AMVCA Awards for his role as Timi Johnson in the movie Breathe of Life.

In this exclusive interview, Wale Ojo speaks with THEWILL DOWNTOWN’s Johnson Chukwueke on his admirable career, how it began, how it’s going, and how he balances it with his personal life.


Congratulations on your award! How does it feel to be recognised as the Best Actor at this point in your career?

It feels great. I have been doing this for a long time now, and I am very happy and proud of the award.


Can you tell us about your journey into acting? What inspired you to pursue this career?

You know, my journey into acting began at a very young age. I was very good at public speaking in school. I went to a school named Mayfield College in Sussex, England, and I used to be top of my class in public speaking. So I guess from there, my interest just grew more, and I became a professional at the age of 21. Today, I have played in most of the major theatres in England.


What was your first major role, and how did it shape your career?

My first major role was on stage in William Shakespeare’s Othello. I was all dressed up in army attire from top to bottom.


Looking back, what do you consider your breakthrough moment in the industry?

There have been a few; as far as Nigeria is concerned, I would say working with Kunle Afolayan was a breakthrough, I really enjoyed his work in The Figurine, and then inviting me to be in Phone Swap, and then after that, to be in CEO, I really enjoyed that one. Another breakthrough moment was forming my own film company, New Nigeria Cinema Production Limited, and shooting our first short films. Another breakthrough moment was working with David Goyer in a sci-fi series called Foundations for Apple TV, which was about two years ago now, so yeah, there have been a lot of breakthrough moments. Another one would be playing Wole Soyinka in the movie adaption of The Man Died, which is coming out soon, that’s definitely a breakthrough.



How did you prepare for the role of Timi Johnson? What was your process?

Getting very angry all the time, eating a lot of eggs, drinking a lot of coffee, and basically being rough, irritated, and suicidal as well.


What were some of the biggest challenges you faced early in your career?

I think the biggest challenge I faced, especially at the beginning of my career, was being able to survive, being able to live, and still have a passion for what you do, especially if you wake up in the morning and are not able to eat. It’s hard drinking garri and water, and then going out there to be quoting Shakespeare, it’s a hard one.

How have you evolved as an actor from your first role to your award-winning performance?

It’s been great, we thank God. It’s been a slow and gradual process, as well as a learning process. I have acted in a lot of films, in a lot of countries, from Nigeria to Botswana to South Africa to Rwanda. I have worked with various people all across the world, from Guy Ritchie, Bill Scott, David Goyer, Don Cheadle, then in Nigeria with wonderful actors such as Pete Edochie, Sam Dede, and the list goes on and on.


What has been the most significant learning experience in your career so far?

I think for me, most of my profound learning experiences have been on the stage with a live audience. I love film, but I probably prefer stage because it’s more electric, it’s more immediate, it’s more direct, and the audience is right there, you either get it right or wrong. You have to be in control of your nerves, but Nigerian audiences are the best in the world, they are very accommodating.


Are there any roles or projects that you turned down that you regret or are particularly proud of?

There are lots of roles I am proud of. There’s one I am doing right now, but it’s not out yet. I am very proud of it. It’s called Three Cold Dishes, directed by Asurf Oluwaseyi. There have been a lot of different projects I have been proud of. I think the top of that list would be The Man Died and, of course, Breathe of Life. It has gathered so much popularity.


How do you choose the roles you take on? What criteria do you consider?

A good script, a good director, and a good supporting cast, that’s it for me.

What has been your most challenging role to date?

I would say playing a cockroach. You know the way it moves. I played a cockroach; it was a stage play; I dressed like a cockroach; I had to be a cockroach, and it’s still one of the most fascinating roles.


Can you share a memorable moment from your time on set for Breathe of Life?

The most memorable moment was flinging plates at Chimezie Imo because I really flung the plates at him. Chimezie Imo was very brave and fun to work with.


How do you stay motivated and passionate about your craft after all these years?

I still feel as excited about acting as I did when I was eight years old. The excitement is still there when I read a script and see a character; of course, now I have more historical and physical knowledge about the craft. All my desire now is to communicate what I have learned to a younger generation because acting is such a wonderful vocation; it’s such a human vocation as it encompasses all of humanity: our quirks, our sadness, our joy, our desire, our failures, our success. I have always been a storyteller my life, and I am still developing into being the best storyteller that I can be and I have not finished yet; the road is still long.


What other actors or performances have inspired you throughout your career?

I am a great fan of many actors, I mean, you have great actors like Pete Edochie, Denzel Washington, Al Pacino, Michael Chekhov, Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte, Kehinde Bankole, I could go on and on, you have Rita Dominic, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, the list is endless really, I love all those people and I have learned from them too.

How do you balance your personal life with the demands of an acting career?

It’s very difficult, it’s very hard, but you have to do your best. You have to buy a lot of gifts; you have to do lots of appeasements, lots of holidays, sometimes come on set with me, sometimes fly back for 3-4 days and back again, you know, but if you love somebody, that is just part of it.


What was the most transformative project you have worked on, and how did it impact you personally and professionally?

For me, it’s a tussle between Breathe of Life and The Man Died because in Breathe of Life, it was a real learning process and I got to know how pain feels as well as how God helps us deal with our pain. Then, with The Man Died, I realised that even when you are in prison and you are in solitary confinement, there’s something about the human mind that can’t stop learning. You can be locked up within four walls, but if you are focused within your mind, there’s still something to learn, even within that cramped, claustrophobic space. So I admire people like Wole Soyinka, who survived incarceration for so long and still came out sane, and then people like Timi Johnson, even though he is fictional, he saw his family burn to death, rejected God, was still able to come out of it and still see the lesson that had to be learned in life, and literally sacrifice his life for another. Sacrifice seems to be something that is at the very centre of all our lives.


How do you handle the pressures and expectations that come with fame and success?

I love it, absolutely love it, it pushes me further, there are lots of things I am doing this year that come out of pressure and expectation, so yeah, I always say the more pressure, the more you have to find imaginative ways to entertain your audience, inform your audience, and educate your audience.


What role do you consider your most significant achievement, and why?

There are many significant achievements; I don’t think I can point out just one and say it’s the most significant achievement for me, so there is quite a lot. I just finished playing a role in a pan-African film called Three Cold Dishes. I played a sex trafficker, trafficking women across countries, which is really significant as it sheds light on terrible things going on. Playing Wole Soyinka in The Man Died, Timi Johnson in Breathe of Life, and roles like Othello, I found it to be significant. I was in a play called Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard, I played a character there and it encapsulated the South African struggle for freedom. I also played a similar character in Who Killed Mr. Drum? It was again on the South African struggle for freedom, democracy, and equal rights, and this was as far back early 90s before Mandela was released from jail.



How do you prepare for the emotional and psychological demands of a role?

I couldn’t even tell you that because there’s some sort of magic involved in metamorphosing into another character; it’s intellectual, it’s deep, and it can be heavy sometimes, depending on the character, but there is some form of catharsis. I don’t know about others, but for me, most of the time it’s been good catharsis.


What advice would you give aspiring actors looking to follow in your footsteps?

Believe, believe, and keep believing. You have to keep doing it all the time. One of my great acting heroes is Anthony Hopkins. He is a fantastic actor, so motivating, and I find him inspiring. He says to still believe even when you don’t believe. Keep doing it. There’s no antidote to your depression or your perceived lack of success; repetition is a growing power.


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About Author / Johnson Chukwueke

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