By Akintayo Abodunrin
After 20 years of a successful career in IT, Afolabi Martin Fajinmi has returned to acting, his first love in the UK, where he is based. He shares how he has been faring in this interview.
HE had always loved acting but circumstances beyond his control took him away from the klieg lights. But then, passion cannot be completely suppressed. Two decades after pivoting into a career in IT instead of acting which he had planned to pursue, Afolabi Martin Fajinmi returned to his first love a year and a half ago.
After graduating from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) with a degree in English and Literature, he did his youth service at the Ondo State Radio and Television Corporation (OSRC), Akure and began acting there. He planned to proceed full steam but then, life happened.
“After finishing my time at OSRC, I travelled to the UK. Unfortunately, life was very different at that time. I had a young child on the way so I had to find something to provide for my family. I put acting on the back burner and pursued a career in IT. It was after 20 years in IT and with my children grown up, I decided that it was time to go back to my very first love,” he explained.
Since returning to acting, Fajinmi who affirms the truth in the saying, ‘nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion’, has landed himself some nice gigs. He has appeared in British TV productions including ‘EastEnders’, the spy thriller ‘Killing Eve’, the police drama ‘Suspect’ and the psychological crime thriller ‘Luther’. He is also a cast of the stage play, ‘1 in 4’ raising awareness about prostate cancer. The play will show in March in Leeds, Nottingham, Milton Keynes, and Luton.
But he didn’t just return to acting after his long absence. He explained how he did it successfully.
“If you don’t have any formal training, there are different ways you can get back into acting and one is what we call support artist work. You are in the background, supporting the main actor and it takes a while before you can get a lead role. In this country, the United Kingdom, it’s a very good way for people to get into acting without any qualifications. That’s what I did and luckily because of my experience back home in Nigeria, I had an advantage. I used my knowledge and experience to propel myself.”
Despite appearing in UK productions, Fajinmi’s goal is to appear in Nigerian movies and he is working towards this. “The intention has always been to eventually be involved in a production that is Nigeria-based, that is Nollywood but it’s all about your connections. It’s all about who you know, not what you know. I know one or two Nigerian directors, not Nollywood but Nigerian directors here in the UK that are currently working on projects. I’ve approached two of them, and one of them is interested in having me be part of his film. We haven’t made any arrangements yet but we are in a conversation but it’s generally difficult. I’ve been to a Nollywood premiere to make contact but it’s so difficult because if you are not at the forefront of these people’s minds, it’s sometimes very difficult to engage with them. I’m Nigerian and my pleasure would be to be part of the Nigerian film industry. I know that I will at some point be part of that but it’s a work in progress.”
Given his intention to be part of Nollywood, what is his honest appraisal of that industry?
“I think Nollywood has come a long way, a very long way and just like our Afrobeats music, it’s very popular in the UK now. I think Nollywood has a place here in the UK. I think the quality of the actors is brilliant; I think there is so much potential for them to break through in the UK market. It’s just about
making sure they have the right connections, and the right foresight to deal with the market in the United Kingdom. But as far as the quality of production of some Nollywood films, I think we are up there to be one of the best even in the UK.
“I’m not saying that every single Nollywood film is pitch perfect. No, I’m not saying that. But there are certain Nollywood films that I’ve seen and the quality of the production, and the camera work are as good as films done here in the UK. So, I believe that with time andsome of our brilliant directors, and producers, we will penetrate the UK just like we have done with Afrobeats.”
The actor who has no problem with returning to Nigeria to feature in a movie or stage play with the right sponsorship noted that it would be lovely to see a mix of UK and Nigerian actors come together and produce something phenomenal, thinks financing will play a role in how easily a Nigeria-based actor breaks into the UK circuit and vice versa
“It’s all about financing. I have been involved in Bollywood movies and we’ve seen where the production has brought people from India, and Asia to the UK to act in those films. So, if you have the right kind of finances, there’s nothing that is not possible.”
On his acting goal for 2023, Fajinmi said it is “to be in a movie where I’m one of the major artists. I’m hoping that it’s in a movie that is with a black director and producer. I’m sure you have heard about the controversy about awards ceremonies, that there’s inadequate black representation. So, my goal is to become more at the forefront of my acting career. I’ve always thought to myself I don’t want to be in the limelight because I don’t want that kind of popularity but this year is different. This year it’s time for me to take a step in that direction and to be part of a major film that’s broadcast on UK TV or even in Nigeria if the right contract were to come my way.”
The inadequate representation of black and ethnic minorities in major award ceremonies has always miffed a lot of people and the UK-based IT professional turned actor is no different. “I think for generations, there has been an underrepresentation of black and ethnic minorities in a lot of industries including the film industry. We are pushing for representation, and recognition and as much as we do have a lot Afro-American great actors, I think the industry is somewhat still behind in, to call it frankly, there’s still a lot of institutional racism which I believe that we need to get rid of. Until that institutional racism is tackled, we will always have low representation of Black African, Caribbean artists in the popular award ceremonies.”
Fajinmi feels strongly about the underrepresentation of women too. “I think it’s time for women to rise and be counted. I think it’s time for the world of film to recognize the role of women in the film industry.”
Has he bid a final farewell to IT or he will run back if the going gets rough in acting?
“I am very blessed in that all my children have grown up. My youngest son will be 23 this year and I have a wonderful wife who supports me. When I first went back into acting, I decided to do it on the side; work in IT and any spare time, do my acting. About a year ago, I decided I want to pursue my acting career so I left IT. I’m not saying it’s easy but I’m in that position in my life to be able to do that and I don’t recommend that for everybody. If you want an acting career, start from a very young age because the older you get the harder it gets. If you have the opportunity to do your heart’s desire and be counted in the field that your heart tells you, go for it. It’s not easy, especially if you have young ones. If you have your bills to pay, it can be difficult but it’s rewarding. I made the decision to leave IT which was very well paid and come into acting which is tough and saturated but I think if you are determined, you will find your way. It’s all determination.”