By Bolatito Adebayo
If you are conversant with Tinsel, the number one TV series, the character, Titi, is one of the most amusing personalities you wouldn’t want to miss. Abiola Segun-Williams, who plays Titi in Tinsel, is quite different from the character, but the only thing they both share is good diction and eloquence. She spoke with Sunday Sun recently in an interview on career, being a mother, wife and many more. Excerpts…
What have you been up to lately?
I am into stage drama, I produce and direct. In the next couple of months I would be doing quite a number of things, especially for the Christmas season. We have a stage play and there is a theatre project coming up, too.
How did you get into acting?
I studied theatre art and God told me to study drama when I wanted to fill my JAMB form for the fourth time. I said this time I was going to ask God, so that day my plan was to fast for a week and hear from God. And so, on the day of the fast, as I was about to kneel down, I remember very vividly, it was on a Monday in 1985, as my knee was about to touch the ground, I heard Him clearly saying to me, the talent I gave you, why do you think I gave it to you? Fill in drama. And my JAMB form was right beside me, so I jumped up. It was so clear that in 50 years’ time, if you ask me, I would repeat the exact story to you. When I jumped up, I looked through the window to see if anyone was around, because I hadn’t even started praying. At the time nobody knew my thoughts, no one knew I was going to fast, so I went outside again and asked myself, was somebody watching me? Obviously, there was no one there and I was the only one at home. Clearly, I knew it was God talking to me, so I told God since I have answers to my prayers now there was no point fasting again (laughs). Then, I told God, how can someone go to the university and study drama? But as you have told me to study drama, these are my own requirements. I told Him I wasn’t going to do JAMB again, that I wasn’t going to the JAMB office to queue for result, because then you needed to see the mammoth crowd that went there to check results. I told God I wanted the result delivered to me at home, I told Him I wasn’t going to lobby. By then, all my mates were in fourth year in the university and my mind was in Ife. I told God I wasn’t going to the Jambite hall, because all my mates would be in Moremi, so I told Him I wanted to be in Moremi hall. Also, because I heard that lecturers victimized students then, I told God I wasn’t going to sleep with any lecturer, I wasn’t going to compromise, and God did all that for me.
At that time, it wasn’t very popular to study theatre arts, what were your parents’ reactions?
Exactly. My father said to me, you want to do drama? I said it was God that told me to do it. At that point in my life, I was the first and only person to have given my life to Christ for years in my family. My father fought it and got tired. So, at this juncture, he was like okay, just go and do it. More so, all the things I asked God to do for me came to pass. You know I am not the kind of person that preaches God and not back it up with action. I was studying, I stopped going to church for a month close to the exams. I wasn’t so much into friends; all social activities came to a halt. I was going to the library every day; I would go from Anthony to LASU every day. I would be out of the house by 6 a.m. and get to LASU by 7 a.m. I would leave LASU by 4 p.m. and get home by 6 p.m. You know, if you study, you won’t hold God to ransom, and then as a child of God you will be begging. I hate to beg. So, everything I asked for came, and my father didn’t have a choice but to agree. All through the years in school I was excellent; that sounds immodest (laughs), but God showed Himself faithful to me.
When did you start acting, professionally?
I would say I started acting professionally from school, that was what I was studying and we were taught some basic principles. So, I became professional from 1986. Also, in school I started acting to earn a living as a professional actor. We did so many things from school. Then, my lecturer was Chuck Mike and we used to travel to Kaduna, Zaria, and Chuck Mike was an Afro-American who stayed in Nigeria for a while, he was here for years. He married a Nigerian and had children. I learnt a lot from him. Professionally, aside studying theatre arts, I started going out as an actor in 1988, we brought so many stage plays to Lagos, Ibadan, Jos, Kaduna, and so on.
Can you describe your years in the industry, how has it been?
Well, the stage is my first love, I love the stage because it is full of life. You are acting and giving back because the audience is part of what you are doing, so they are responding to you and as they do so, you are giving more to them. So, you are interpreting that character in more ways than you saw it when you were reading the script.
Why the stage?
I started from the stage.
But the movies seem more popular and glamorous than the stage?
Yes, it is more popular and glamorous, but stage is the origin of cinema. Stage is where it all started, as I am talking to you, it is the process of acting. Stage is everywhere, camera is not everywhere. But the rituals of theatre started from everyday relationship. We all act; the Yoruba people are natural actors and actresses (laughs). The stage is life and you draw energy from your audience and when you are acting with a very explosive actor on set there is so much you can do. But on camera, you can’t do so much because it will look like over-acting if the camera catches it; it will be too big for the cameras. I had that problem when I came on camera, because on stage you can exaggeration, it makes allowance for exaggerate; you can explore your character to the fullest. You can’t do that on camera, you have to keep cutting back. But on stage you need all those expressions, because you might be acting to an audience of 500 people looking at you at the same time.
The stage seems to demand a lot of hard work?
Yes, it is absolutely hard work, but it is refreshing, revitalizing, far more rewarding than the camera.
You don’t appear in many Nollywood movies, I have seen you a few times, why?
I have done a few things, most of which were with Desmond Elliot and also Emem Isong. I have done three or four with Emem, I was in I Will Take My Chances, I was in Holding Hope and another one I can’t remember. Recently, I did one with Desmond entitled In The Cupboard. It is showing in the cinemas, and interestingly, I got an award for that two, three weeks ago as the best supporting actress for the year in America.
You prefer to appear in only Emem’s movies?
No, it was actually Desmond that said they needed somebody to play this role of a polished, English-sounding person that would carry herself with grace, and the only person he could think of at that time was me, apart from Joke Silva. And I had had a brief working relationship with Desmond on stage sometime in the past. So, he introduced me to Nolloywood,, so to speak, and when Emem saw me, she was like, I didn’t know you could act. So, I have done two movies with Desmond too, and I have done a Yoruba movie with Bukky Wright, it will be out soon, I guess. I have also done one with Uche Jombo, but I don’t know when it would be out.
You said they were looking for a polished English-speaking person; don’t you think they were trying to box you up into a certain character?
No, they won’t (laughs). I am running away from that. Like I said earlier, I did a Yoruba movie, and the one I did with Uche I wasn’t a polished person in it. I am not going to do something because of money; right now Nollywood is not paying so much. So, I am not going to do anything for money, although I am looking for challenges because, as an actress, you should be flexible and be able to play different roles. But, for me, I cannot act a nude scene, and I will not do anything that involves touching.
Not even kissing?
Not even kissing.
Even as a professional?
Yes, because that is just my standard.
How did you get into Tinsel?
Some young people were talking about a soap coming up and they were going for an audition. So, I picked up my phone and called someone I knew to help me find out. Though, I knew someone inside and they told me where to go for the audition. When I got in for the audition, I saw many young people. But I waited on line; after all, I was the one who wanted something. And then they started packing us here and there. I went home that day feeling bad, and I said to myself, how did I get to this point? Of course, nobody knew me there. So, when I got home I called my friend, who told me he would call somebody and I would have to go back because the days of the auditioning were not over yet. So, I went, and there were fewer people that day, and that was how I got it. But I told them I didn’t want any main part, because of my work, my business and sometimes it can be very demanding. So, they told me they had this perfect part for me, a support role. Like I would always say, if you must go for audition, go, because I don’t shy away from auditioning, but what I appreciate most is treating people with dignity. If you really want anybody, pursue it, I always tell people in Tinsel, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know any director, I just called and asked for details. And I went and got a part, so you should never be ashamed or shy to go for an audition.
As a scriptwriter, what is your assessment of the content of script-writing in the Nigeria movie industry?
I write for the stage, performance stage, monologues and stuffs like that and not for screen play, not yet because I believe that if I am going to write for the screen, I need to be adequately trained for it, not assimilate training from people who themselves were not trained. Do you understand? So, I won’t jump into it because I do not have adequate knowledge for it. I was trained to write scripts for the stage. So, if I go for screen writing, I would have to go for training. We have a lot of lapses that even my children can crictize. That is the point we are, because it is difficult to watch some of these movies. That is all I would say about that.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up with a very strict dad and a very soft mum, but in between all of that I met Christ very early. I was 11 years old when I gave my life to Christ. I had a very bold childhood; I was adequately well brought up with very strong morals and values. There are so many things I see now that I just shrug off, that if it were to be in my own time it could cost you a lot of trouble. You see, I try some of these things with my children and they think I am a very hard person, and it is fine as long as they have the values they need. Somebody told me recently that something happened and we had to accept it that way because the society now accepts it, but I said no, the fact that the society has evolved to become so errant, and disregard values does not mean we should allow our children to imbibe such. For instance, somebody called me up from my bank and said, “Hello Biola,” the person called me by my first name and I protested. For crying out loud, you don’t know me. If it’s in your culture to do that in your bank, then that’s your business, at least, the person must have seen it in my resume that I was married and not just assume such familiarity. The person should have at least used the title in my resume, even the oyibo man that brought westernization does not call you by your first name unless you give him permission to do so. My father is a very blunt person, so that’s where I got all these bluntness. That is why I can never live in America, because my body will be itching me (laughs).
How do you cope with motherhood, marriage and your career?
Maybe if I had gotten married when my mates were getting married, in my twenties, it would have been a lot easier, maybe my children would have finished school or be in the university by now. But I thank God nonetheless, because even at this point God has helped. But it got to a point when I said I couldn’t continue to be a housewife and doing my business by the side. I knew I needed to pursue my dreams and my husband allows me. It is always good for every woman in any industry to have the support of her family to able to succeed, because there is so much expectations and responsibilities. Although we have learnt to multi-task, but sometimes it can be so overwhelming. For instance, now in my industry, I am working with younger ladies, who don’t have the enormity of my responsibilities and as such they have more time to explore other options. I am not saying I am limited, but I have to work more, think faster and maximize the time I have. I don’t have time for flippant talk; I won’t go to parties except I am committed to the person. So, I watch my time because there are so many things to do. The bible says redeem the time, because this is the day, there will be a time I would not be able to do some things. You know every man was created for a purpose, and you must achieve the purpose for which you were created. I had realized that as early as when I was nine. I remember it now because it was in my social studies class that my class teacher asked the question on purpose, and it has helped me to keep my eyes on the mark.
How long have you been married?
It will be 16 years in a month and a half.
How did you meet your husband?
I met him in a church.
Was it spiritual or love at first sight?
No, it wasn’t spiritual, neither was it love at first sight; I went into it with my eyes wide open (laughs). Yes, I made that choice myself because I didn’t want to hold God responsible later when anything goes wrong.
So, you didn’t hear from God this time?
I asked God several times, you see a lot of time when we ask God for something, sometimes we know the answer, and sometimes He may choose to answer or not to answer. In that first situation, I don’t know why He decided to speak clearly, it’s His choice. But in the choice of a husband, God chose other ways to answer. It depends on your walk with God. I have heard God clearly twice in my life, the second time I cannot tell you. Other times through witness of the spirit, that is your heart, and you will know this is the way God is leading. I dream a lot, but check it with the word of God.
You said you went into it with your eyes wide open, what was the attraction?
My husband is a very intelligent person and I needed somebody, if not more intelligent, should be as intelligent as I am. I recognized superior intelligence. I told you I was in the theatre art and I would write, direct and produce stage plays for the church. Then, I would give him the script and within 30 minutes he would have the lines and it’s like what kind of human being is this? And I used to write heavy lines and he would know it in minutes. He loves to worship God. And I love God with a passion, too.
You had a stint in The Punch?
Yes, I was in The Punch as journalist for two years, but that wasn’t my calling. It’s just that when I am doing something, I am like the Igbo, well, I am partially Igbo, because my grandmother was Igbo. Once I am doing something, I would do it tenaciously, but I knew I wasn’t going to pursue it.