Spanning about three decades in the Nollywood industry, Olaniyi Afonja, popularly called Sanyeri, in this interview with Olamide Famuwagun, gives an account of how he rose to become an authority in the motion pictures industry.
Kindly tell us how your acting career started?
It all started while I was young as people do tell my parents that I’m very talented in acting; even when I was in the Saint Michaels Anglican School, Oke-Ebo, Oyo State, my classmates and teachers always wanted me to act and crack jokes for them. That was how I started falling in love with it (acting).
At what point did your dream of being an actor start manifesting in reality?
When I was in JSS 3, one of my friends, the late Sheriffdeen Lawal, told me that he could introduce me to the late Mr Seyi Adeoye of motion picture, who had a film group in 1992 and 1993. That was how I started my career; I and my friend, Adekola Tijani aka Kamilu KOMPO spent three years with them until we both agreed to exit the group and come to Lagos State to create more awareness for ourselves in 1996.
How were you able to navigate your way in Lagos and who was instrumental toward your development in the state?
As soon as we got to Lagos, we found out that we needed to unlearn and relearn the new ways of acting,so we joined Alhaji Akeem Ajala Jalingo for three years. After some time there, we left again and started doing things ourselves. It wasn’t easy but we thank God today.
Did you start your acting career with comics or did it become a part of your acting later on?
I started acting generally with any role but I discovered that people love me anytime I say something very funny in a movie. So, while we were still with Alhaji Ajala Jalingo, one of my friends, Mr Tunde Adeyemi, advised me to start giving my audience what they want.
At what point did you start noticing a positive turning point?
I had been releasing movies since 2004 but it wasn’t until 2008, that I released a movie titled Adaba (Part 1 and 2). It was this movie that really brought a positive turning point, as it sold out and I got a lot of personal gifts from it. I was so happy with myself and this had motivated me to do more.
You once said you stopped schooling for acting, have you had any regrets? If yes, what are your regrets; if no, why don’t you have any regrets?
Yes, I regretted my decision to stop schooling but on the other hand, I also thank God because I’m sure if I had gone to school, I might have missed putting to use this great talent. I’m working on myself more than ever before and I have a personal teacher who teaches me how to communicate fluently in English. I’m also currently taking some classes in a private university in Nigeria.
How were you able to respond to people including colleagues who judged you based on your tribal marks and Yoruba accent?
Rising in this industry wasn’t easy at all because I received a lot of backlashes from people on set daily. A lot of people also thought my tribal marks will limit my career but I got a new manager who helped me get rid of such difficulties. As for my tribal marks, I see it as my selling point; anyone hating me because of it doesn’t like me naturally.
As one of the leading lights in the motion pictures industry, describe the most challenging experiences you faced trying to fit into a role during movie shoots?
When I wanted to feature in Abuke Oshin, a film by Yinka Laoye, I never believed I could do it because it needed me to transform my looks as it was a hunchback role. It was very tough but thank God I scaled through and it came out well. Also, Amotekun is one of the projects I had issues with because I needed to emulate Chief Sunday Igboho’s character. It gave me a tough time and I had to watch a lot of his videos on YouTube before getting the character. It took me about 20 days before I found a solution to this problem.
Your status in the movie industry can make you get multiple movie shoots at different locations in the country, among other commitments. Going by your busy engagements, how do you handle pressure?
Well, it’s challenging but I don’t give myself a choice rather than to do it. Moving from place to place can be tiring on its own but in the last six years, I came up with a timetable schedule that I use before accepting or featuring in any project. This has greatly lessened the pressures.