Sola Sobowale, one of Nigeria's most popular actresses, has remained relevant in the industry for nearly three decades.
Having relocated to the United Kingdom a few years ago, she recently staged a big comeback into Nollywood spotlight, a rare feat in the sector that produces new stars virtually every hour.
In this interview, the enigmatic diva opens up on her staying power among sundry issues. Enjoy it.
Your nickname has metamorphosed from Toyin Tomato to Eniola Salami and now Laburu, a lead character you played in King of Boys, how does that make you feel?
You see, in life, consistency is key. Despite taking a long break in the movie industry, my comeback was huge and big shout out to Mo Abudu and Kemi Adetiba for bringing me on board of Wedding Party. These days people don’t call me Toyin Tomato anymore, only few oldies do. But my role in King of Boys became a game changer. Now, anywhere I step my foot, the scream is ‘Mama King of Boys’ and I am grateful that a lot of people connected with that character. The honest truth is that transitioning from Toyin Tomato to what I am now was huge, and I am enjoying every bit of it.
What is your favourite take for working with Kemi Adetiba on King of Boys movie?
Working with Kemi (Adetiba) isn’t easy at all, because she is someone who pays keen attention to details. You may feel you are done with your role but Kemi has a way of speaking to you and you will end up taking about five shots for a particular scene. Kemi made me stronger, she believed in me. I’ve been around for a while. You know you can do something, but you’re never given the chance. I have never met Kemi Adetiba before; I came from the UK for an audition for Wedding Party and she auditioned me, and I got the role. Later, I got a call and she said I should come for dinner with her. When I got to Landmark, she looked at me and said we’re going to work together. Then she gave me the script. I said ‘this is huge’. I asked ‘what am I doing?’ She said ‘you are the king’. I laughed and said ‘you are joking’. She said ‘no’. I said ‘you are putting this responsibility on me, you are putting your life on the line for me, and you believe I can do it?’ she said ‘yes’. I said ‘give me the baton, let us run’, and we have been running since then. We will not stop; we are just starting.
How much of Eniola Salami are you now?
Some of the things I do in films are natural to me. I am a mother as seen in Wedding Party. As Eniola Salami, Sola Sobowale would not take no for an answer, Sola Sobowale would not want to be cheated, Sola Sobowale is principled, I call a spade a spade. Eniola is a killer, I am not a killer; Eniola is a liar, I am not a liar; Eniola is forceful, I am not. Sola Sobowale is a natural being.
Not many are able to leave Nollywood for a long time and then return as if they never left in the first place. What is the secret of you coming back big?
It’s not my doing, it is God’s doing and I believe so much in him. I believe this (acting) is what God has ordained me to do, and that is why I am still relevant. I am very sure that if I had towed a different career path, I would have been forgotten by now. So, this is the path and this is what I have been led to do.
Did you at any point in time miss the industry while you were away?
Yes, I did miss the industry. But every year, I made sure I return home, produce a movie and then return to England. Now, I have my time and only travel abroad on holidays. I am also glad that Wedding Party came at the right time, because if I didn’t play that role, I would have been so envious of the person that played it.
There are many sides to you as we see in movies, some portray you as being very hot, at other times very meek and you could also be lukewarm. Who exactly are you in real life situations?
You see, what you saw in Wedding Party, mirrors what Sola Sobowale is in real life. I love my family passionately; I protect my family. With me, what you see is what you get because I call a spade a spade. I don’t mince my words because I’m a very down to earth person. I’m also a very free person; I play with people a lot, male and female alike. I love people around me. I don’t like to be around unhappy people, and if I find myself there, I’d do my best to make them happy. I’m always smiling and you can tell that my therapy is on my face. If you brood and waste time thinking evil, very soon virus would enter into your system. I’m a very happy person.
We see less of you in Yoruba movies as you feature quite often in English films, does that mean the scripts aren’t coming from that part of the industry?
You are actually right. I am not a regular face in Yoruba movies but I have acted in a few. But the truth is, when the Yoruba moviemakers are ready, I am ready. Sola Sobowale loves Nigeria and I’m a typical African woman. I don’t joke with my root. I always advise that when you want to produce a movie, don’t just do straight English language movie, code-switch and co-mix appropriately. I like it when we input our culture in movies. Whether the moviemaker is Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba, I’m ready to act any day. I don’t discriminate.
How did the journey begin for you?
I opted out of College of Education to follow my dream, by going to Ibadan, the then hub of entertainment in Nigeria. I initially enrolled as a secretary-in-training at Sight & Sound, Ibadan.
However, Tunji Oyelana, who married my elder sister, Kikelomo, enrolled me in University of Ibadan’s Department of Music. But I switched to Theatre Arts. I starred in Village Headmaster, Lola Fani-Kayode’s Mirror In The Sun and a couple of stage productions including Femi Osofisan’s Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again. I was lucky to work with Adebayo Salami (Oga Bello), and we shot Asewo To Re Mecca. Before the advent of home video though, I also shot a celluloid movie titled, Eri Okan with Adebayo Salami; and now we are here.
Watching movies from pacesetters like you, we see less of cleavages; how do you feel when you see today’s actresses appearing almost nude in movies?
I don’t get annoyed, the bottom line is this: nobody forces you to do anything. We need education and we need exposure. I’m a typical Nigerian woman, I love my Naija and our culture; there are some things we don’t do, it’s not in our culture. If we say we want to do it, we can do it in our house under our roof, not in public because you get no respect doing that. Our producers and directors need to know that when you are acting as a prostitute, you don’t need to remove your dress to become a prostitute. You don’t need to be touched to act as a grade-A prostitute. I did Asewo To Re Mecca, the pacesetter, fantastic; myself and Toyin Adegbola. I played the number 1 Asewo and I introduced Toyin’s character to it. We didn’t remove anything and it was talk-of-the-town. When the producers know this, you will not see nakedness again. We want people to respect us and respect this profession.
You act with so much passion and conviction, what is your staying power?
First of all, I’m from a disciplined home. My late father was a retired school principal and mom was a retired head teacher. We were taught that ‘what is worth doing is worth doing well’.
This is what I’m ordained to do, this is what I love doing; and when you’re doing something you love, you need to put in all your efforts and energy.
You must be focused, know your onions and know what you want to do. That is why you see me working like this.
Is there any movie that is very dear to your heart?
I owe every one of them close to my heart. Toyin Tomato took me almost everywhere, it made me recognisable, and so I want to thank Wale Adenuga for giving me the grace.
How do you feel when you sit down and watch the role you played?
Sometimes I don’t sit down to watch it, but when I finish my work, I know I have my peace. My families and most especially my fans are my greatest critics; and I appreciate every comment towards making the brand grow bigger.
What do you do to maintain this shape?
I love aerobics; I do that a lot. As a matter of fact, I am 100 per cent health conscious because I don’t joke with my health; only a healthy person can relate well with others. I am mindful of my consumption and whatever goes into my system. I can tell whenever my body needs rest, so I take a break of movie set. Believe me sincerely, we are at a point in the industry now where we need to take our health seriously, because when you are gone, there are thousand and one actors waiting to get your role.