Diana Yekini: Playing a raised game in Nollywood
Diana Yekini may not be a face on every movie poster in Nollywood but the talented British-Nigerian performing artiste and professional tap dancer is definitely an actress with the potentials to sit comfortably on the list of screen personalities who are good at their craft.
Amiable and very friendly, Yekini walked into the consciousness of most movie-goers in Nigeria when she delightfully interpreted the role of Libby in that 2009 box office hit by Chineze Anyaene titled ‘Ije’. Since then the Lagos native who was born and raised in South London, England has been playing a raised game in the few appearances she has had in Nollywood including playing lead in Seyi Babatope’s ‘Lunch Time Heroes’.
Amiable and friendly, Diana studied Theatre and Dance at the Brit School of Performing Arts, London and took an Intensive Theatre Course at the American
Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York and a BA in Theatre from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Los Angeles. She speaks about her career and life in this interview.
Was it when you participated in the Giama screen icon search, which you eventually won, that you decided on a career in acting, full time?
Fortunately for me, I have always known what I wanted to do in life, which was to act
and entertain. I have been training and grooming myself for years to be the best actor I can be, still a work in progress. I have worked professionally for eight years as an actor. Giama screen icon search was the catalyst for me moving to Nigeria to explore the industry. I know I studied dance and trained in the theatre but I believe an actor should be a triple threat or at least well rounded, I also studied film whilst in school. Being that theatre is my forte I did that for the first few years of my professional career till I came across film and television opportunities. I will take any great opportunity I get to express myself creatively.
But what was the motivation for you to take to screen acting?
My first opportunity to audition for film and first time on screen was when I played the character Libby in the movie ‘Ije’ by Chineze Anayene. After which I decided to explore that side of the arts. But up until that moment all my experience was on stage. As much as I love theatre I felt film was something I wanted to explore. However, many people had suggested I moved to Nigeria or to at least check out the industry after ‘Ije’ was released, but I was acting in Canada and I just couldn’t see myself living in Nigeria. I had been to Nigeria many times but never more than a holiday so I was quite skeptical about embarking on that journey. It was after I won the Giama screen icon search and shot ‘Lagos Cougars’ with Emem Isong that I decided I would try it out.
And when you came in, how easy was it for you to find a space considering that talents abound?
I am a firm believer that there is no competition in destiny. I came in with this mentality and the spirit of hard work and I am all about working together to create an even better industry. And not long after I took the decision to return here and do some work, I got two very interesting situations. The first was ‘Lagos Cougars’ which was actually part of a three-part movie deal I got for winning the Giama screen icon search. It was the first movie I shot and it was then I was later flown to Nigeria to complete the shoot. Then there was the short film ‘A New You’ which I had auditioned for but didn’t hear anything for a while. I had a return ticket to go back home to London the week they called me to be a part of the project. I was very torn as I had been in Lagos two months and nothing had come up, yet the week I am ready to leave l book a job. I deliberated whether or not to stay or go, after weighing my options I decided to stay. After “A new You” I didn’t leave for another year needless to say I am glad I stayed as other great opportunities came about.
And then you recently grabbed the big one, a leading role in ‘Lunch Time Heroes?
Yes indeed. And with regards to ‘Lunch Time Heroes’ it was definitely a case of opportunity meets preparation and Divine intervention. I have always played strong supporting roles but Lunch Time Heroes was my first time playing lead. I am glad it was in a movie like that and with a director like Seyi Babatope.
It was a fantastic artistic experience, but a very stressful shoot. I look forward to working with him again and taking on more challenging roles like that. And so far, I will say that working in Nollywood has been a roller coaster for me. Definitely not the easiest venture but I am still soaring high. I have learnt a lot of business lessons and life lessons whilst working in Nollywood.
I am sure you miss tap dancing and live theatre performances?
Oh most definitely I miss it like crazy. The feeling I get from being on stage can never be recreated on screen. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of some amazing theatre productions in Nigeria, For ‘Colored Girls’ being one of my favourite where I was able to use my tap dancing skills.
Do you sound like you can speak Yoruba and what do you consider your likes and dislikes and what do you do when you are not on any set?
I speak Yoruba pretty well even though I was born and raised in London. I grew up with my parents and my three siblings. I had a fun, yet strict upbringing. Nigerians being raised in the UK need a firmer hand, as there is more trouble to get into. My mother is a pretty good disciplinarian and a fan of the arts. In regards to likes and dislikes, I love to read. I can read six books a week if time permits me. I don’t have many dislikes, but if I had to think of one, I would say people being disrespectful is a huge no- no in my book.
But did your parents object when you first decided to study theatre arts?
I have the most supportive family. All my siblings are also creative such as myself so they have no choice but to love it. My parents paid for drama school and have always encouraged me to pursue my career as a performer.
Lastly, can you describe your ideal man and what is your career ambition?
Well, the man God designs just for me, will be my ideal man. As for projects I am working on and my career ambition, I would say that I have a few exciting projects coming up this year. I will be doing more stage performances as well as projects within Europe. I have been acting since I was five and I plan to still be acting when I am 85. I want to entertain and effect change through my work and I believe this is attainable.
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