Combining disarming good looks, self confidence and superb acting skills, Tope Tedela (born Temitope Christopher Tedela) is set to break limits. The actor gained recognition after playing Julian in the TV series, Edge of Paradise in 2006, while a student at University of Lagos, Nigeria.
However, it wasn’t until his portrayal of Lala in the action-drama flick, A Mile From Home that he took his place among the elite; he even bagged several awards including Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) for Best Actor In a Drama, Nigeria Entertainment Awards (NEA Awards) for Best Actor amongst others for the role.
The handsome dude enjoys playing the guitar and piano and has a degree in Mass Communication.
In this exclusive chat with ENCOMIUM Weekly’s MICHAEL NWOKIKE, he lets us into his world as he share his experience, passion, motivation and more.
I’m flattered by that assertion but it’s a privilege that I never take for granted. I’m thankful for my journey and how far I’ve come and I’m also focused on the journey ahead.
What do you have on your hands right now?
I’m working on a couple of projects. I’m about to make a film with the talented Niyi Akinmolayan and produced by Naz Onuzo. Most recently, I starred in A Soldier’s Story directed by Frankie Ogar, Lunch Time Heroes by Seyi Babatope, The Wish of Obaairi by Femi Adisa and a couple of other projects are in the works. The feature film Surulere directed by Mildred Okwo is also going to be released soon. I played an entirely different character and I’m looking forward to seeing how the film turns out.
Tell us how and when acting started for you?
I’ve been enchanted by acting for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching Clint Eastwood particularly and I always wondered what it would be like to be in his shoes. For many years I dilly-dallied here and there on what to do but I eventually realised that I’d not be happy doing anything besides acting and the performing arts.
I got my first major role in 2006 in the series, Edge of Paradise where I played Julian who eventually contracted HIV. That was the beginning of my professional journey.
What was growing up like and how did that influence the person you are today?
I grew up in a close knit family and a lot of the values that I live by today are from my upbringing. I was taught that the little things matter: loving God, myself and my neighbour; lending helping hand, being cordial, asking questions when not sure, and many other things.
These and more have been a solid foundation on which to build my life.
So far, which role would you regard as your toughest challenge?
I made a film recently called Oba Airi, an epic piece. We were filming in the jungle for almost a month on a very gruelling schedule. The flies, the mosquitoes, the locale made it all the more arduous and that’s how far we go to bring some stories to life. It’s hard to even describe in words. It’s better experienced than talked about.
You studied Mass Communication. Why acting as a career?
It’s always been about the performing arts for me. Be it acting, presenting, music and related artistic activities. I was going to study Theatre Arts but I was advised to study Mass Communication which I did. It’s noteworthy that I have worked on TV and I still look forward to doing more presenting work. In the end, nothing is lost.
How would you describe your Nollywood experience?
My Nollywood experience has been topsy turvy. It has not been a bed of roses. The average person sees the so called glamour that comes with being an actor but behind all that is a lot of hard work that is most often belittled.
I started from the proverbial bottom, busting my bottom, pun intended and even in moments of great despair. I’ve had to encourage myself and I’ve also had people support me from fellow actors to friends and family. It’s not all blood and war because I’ve been fortunate to also be a working actor and that is something I thank God for always.
Have you had cause to turn down roles for reasons other than schedule?
Not really. Not everything is good for you as a person. We all know what we want and if certain things don’t align with your values, dreams and goals, it may hinder your participation in certain things.
Largely, I’m always available for work. Good work. Great work.
With your experience in acting both on stage and screen, what would you say is the difference, if any?
I hope I won’t be hounded if I say acting is acting. Whether on stage or screen, you want the character to be a living, breathing being.
However, the approach to the two media are different. The screen thrives largely on subtlety. Subtle gestures, subtle actions and so on. It’s almost the opposite of working on stage.
What role would you never play in a movie?
Until I see the screenplay, I really have no preconceived thoughts on roles I can play and can’t play. I may get a screenplay that takes me to different depth and place; you won’t want to pass on that. I’m up for a challenge because in that I believe you grow and get stronger.
Of all the projects you’ve featured in, which do you hold dear in your heart?
I’m very emotionally involved in the projects that I’m part of. I hold them all dear. That being said, Eric Aghimien’s A Mile From Home really did open doors. I’m glad to have been part of the team that brought the screenplay to life.
Have you played a role that mirrored or was similar to your reality? Tell us more about that.
In every role, you have to always find that thing that can be a connection to the roles that you’re playing either directly or remotely. If I’m going to play a serial killer for instance, I could channel some of my angriest moments to aid my interpretation of that role. And that’s just an example.
Did you foresee yourself achieving this much success when you started?
There was a time (and even now I still try to do it) when I used to just explore different characters when I’m home. I’d cry, laugh, be depressed and so on just to reach different depths and just rehearse my instrument which is me. In some of those moments when I’m done, I used to think ‘it seems I’m talented and can act’. Other times, self-doubt creeps in and I hear a different voice altogether telling me how crappy I am.
All in all, I felt I had some talent and I told myself that I would pursue myself and if I don’t succeed, I won’t die regretting that I didn’t try.
The bottom line of the story is that the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong. I think there’s a place for hard work, honing one’s craft and all that grammar but I believe that favour and what some people call luck is also a factor worth considering.
What would you say has made you bag the success you have in your career so far?
Ah! First, I’d attribute it to God’s grace and mercy or what some people may call luck but if I would be unrealistic if I say I folded my arms and things just happened. I’m passionate about acting. I’m an ardent believer in self-improvement. I try to be as professional as I can be. I show up on time. I listen to the director.
I try to come prepared. I do my homework. In the end, I’d say it’s a culmination of different things.
Would you say winning an AMVCA, NMA, NEA and others in 2014 is the height of your career thus far?
Winning all the awards in 2014 is surely one of my notable achievements. It opened doors and has helped me to be more bankable.
Who are the movie stars you admire both home and abroad?
There are quite a number. I admire Joke Silva’s work, OC Ukeje, Denzel Washington, Tom Hardy, Meryl Streep and a whole lot more.
When you are not on set, what could you be caught doing?
Lying in bed, reading, playing the guitar, swimming, watching movies. Then shuffle these around and repeat.
What kind of people do you keep in your life?
Real people. Down to earth people. People that can look me in the eye and say: “Tope, you messed up.”
Give us the true state of things on the romance tale linking you with fellow thespian, Kehinde Bankole. Who is she to you?
Kehinde Bankole is everybody’s sweetheart. And mine too. She’s my colleague whose works I really admire. If anything changes, you’d be first to know.