I am delirious as I type on my computer. I am delirious that Tope Tedela won the AMVCA 2014 Best Male Actor Award. I am very excited for him and you’ll know why as you read on.
It’s no news that he was nominated for the best male performance in a drama alongside heavy weights like Majid Michel from Ghana, and Jacob’s Cross Hlomla Dandala from South Africa, and two days ago he was declared the winner in that category.
I got to know Tope by chance in 2012, and it was on the set of a feature film I was collaborating on, A Longer Night, as the screenwriter and assistant director with some of my friends whom I had attended a film school together with.
Our well thought out shoot had turned out as a guerrilla affair when our would-be investors had pulled out without any warning at the last minute, and we had almost lost steam trying to see it to a conclusive end. That is a story for another day, but God bless the cast and crew for their patience, tolerance and labour of love on that project. Tope was one of them.
He came on board as a replacement for one of the very significant roles in the story. The actor initially cast to play the role was stuck in another state and we didn’t have the cash to cover his logistics so I was burdened with the task of finding a good substitute within Lagos.
Bothered about getting a very good actor in such a short notice and with no means of paying for the service I had discussed the matter with Eric Nwanso, who was playing one of the major roles in our movie and shuttling another movie location he had confided in me was undergoing a guerilla shoot as well.
Nadia Buhari (in red), Emeka Ike, Eric Nwanso and Tope Tedela
at the movie premiere of A Mile from Home
Eric excitedly proffered a solution. He spoke about this upcoming actor who was the lead character in the other movie, A Mile from Home, where he, Eric was playing a major role as well. He was certain this actor was our man, and would jump at the opportunity as Eric had shared the script with him and he, the said actor, loved the story.
I reminded Eric that we couldn’t afford his artistes fees and Eric replied that the said actor will be available when we needed him.
The D-day arrived for the scenes involving the actor and he turned up with an unkempt look, the type Chiwetel Ejiofor wore in 12 years a slave. I got to understand later his appearance was deliberate for the other movie he was shooting, A Mile from Home. He introduced himself as Tope Tedela, and was very soft-spoken and humble to a fault.
Tope on the set of A Longer Night movie digesting the script
I explained the situation to him and he told me he was already abreast of it and asked for the script for the scenes he would appear in. Honestly, I didn’t pay him so much attention as so many things were calling for my attention. O’boy I was doubling as an emergency co-producer, props man, and continuity on top my already established portfolio, so you’ll understand my not giving him full attention, and he understood. He wasn’t pretending to understand, his actions were sincere.
So, I gave him the script of six or more pages of dialogue wondering how he was going to juggle it and do a good job as the shoot was one hour away or so. Fast-forward to the shoot. The director, Chinedu Omorie called the takes while the camera was rolling, and that was when I realized how truly talented Tope is. He delivered his lines, word for word, no improvisation, delivering a stellar performance, and we didn’t waste any takes or retakes on him. The director, producer and I were so impressed we kept talking about him for days after he left. We agreed we needed to keep him close.
After we wrapped the shoot, he kept in touch and we rubbed minds on many things, one of them was his growing weariness of his acting career not taking off as he’d expected plus the rejections he had suffered in some auditions. I was maaaaad at the people who had rejected this raw talent, and asked, rhetorically, if they had no sights, to which he smiled. He went on about how he was considering quitting acting as he had bills to pay and the little gigs he was getting wasn’t sustaining enough. He looked and sounded very serious about it.
I chided him gently to rebuke the thought as I shared my challenges as a film-maker while encouraging him that soon his time would come, and his weeping shall turn into joy, and God will make everything all right. I don’t know if he took me serious but I remembered he laughed and thanked me.
Then one day I had checked my bbm updates and I saw Eric’s personal message on Tope being an AMVCA 2014 Best Actor nominee, and I was literally dazed at the news. I quickly buzzed Tope to confirm it which he did and thanked God seriously for. Gradually his fame began to spread online and in the media circles but he remained Tope, cool and humble.
While the voting was going on, he wasn’t so sure he would win since the other contenders were more popular and have large followership than he. To confirm his concerns, one of my bb contacts had asked sarcastically when she saw my display picture of him canvassing for votes, “ na who e be? … Which film he don act? … I hear”
Notwithstanding, I tried to keep his eyes on the prize but he stubbornly stayed indifferent as he didn’t want to get his hopes high and end up getting them dashed.
I insisted he will take over from OC Ukeje, the previous winner of that category, and he will rise like OC too, and he retorted quietly, “what if I don’t win it?” to which I replied “you will rise still because now everyone knows who you are”
I went further and called him Nigerians Lupita to which he busted into a fit of laughter. I joined him laughing too, and continued asking him to start preparing his speech but little did I know God would make it come to pass. So, when the news got to me that he had won the award, I was really excited as the words of Lupita N’yongo came to my mind that, “ … no matter where you are from your dreams are valid”