Newsletter - December 9,
Interview with Bayo Akinfemi
Meet Bayo Akinfemi. Bayo
speaks on life as a Gemini
nominee, his career path before and since the nomination as well as his
and reflections on being a Black actor in Canada. I met
Bayo Akinfemi recently, which is
incredibly timely as he was just nominated for a
Gemini Award in the category of
Best Performance by an
Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series
for his role in Human Cargo,
portraying Moses Buntu. One year ago, I featured a Toronto Star article in
my newsletter about Human Cargo,
a six-hour miniseries that aired on CBC, which is where I first heard about
CLICK HERE to see that
article Ė itís a very good recap of Human Cargo as well as some insight into
Is it surreal to be nominated for a national award (the Gemini) in your
BAYO: Well, I guess you could say
that. Itís just one of those things that just
happened. Itís like a dream. The role itself is the biggest Iíve
ever done in my life and itís so close to home. I feel real fortunate
because itís like Iím starting my career with something this tortured, this
real. This is very meaningful to me. I just feel
very privileged to have had the opportunity to do it. The last thing on my
mind when this whole journey began was a Gemini.
I think a lot of people think that Human Cargo is your own story. How
personal is this role to you?
BAYO: Well, itís not
my personal story. There are bits and pieces here and there that I can
totally relate to generally. I have a very good idea of why people want to
come to Canada or America - ďGodís Own CountryĒ Ė as we call them where I
come from. Itís the land of opportunities, of dreams. I
sometimes the ultimate for everybody is America. Somehow Canada has
found itself playing second fiddle and I think itís a role theyíre very
understand why people want to come here,
why they want to leave back home Ė I mean, you have to be there. There
are no words to describe it.
I think one of the reasons that you have a Gemini nomination
is because you allowed us to understand the magnitude of the difference of
BAYO: Nothing like that happened
his character in Human Cargo) in Nigeria but there are other incidents that you can relate to.
Was it a particular incident that made you want to leave or did you just
know that eventually you wanted to leave?
BAYO: To be very honest with you,
if you go to the American Embassy or the Canadian Embassy in Lagos, there
are thousands of people lined up every day looking to get a visa. I mean
people stay 3-4 days in line Ė they camp out. Believe me, when you live in
that environment, you know that there are hundreds of thousands that died
without fulfilling their fullest potential in life Ö itís just a dysfunction
of the environment. You canít fully express yourself, even when you know
the potential that God has for you.
me wrong - there are also people in Nigeria who do very well. Youíve heard about this far away place,
youíve seen people that have been there (North America) that come back
fulfilled and theyíre realizing their dreams and you want to get out. When
you go and come back, thereís a difference about you. You know, thatís the
dream. I see a lot of things that people take for granted here.
LE: Does it drive you crazy when you
see people taking for granted the opportunities given here?
BAYO: Oh yeah. Forgive me but
when I see the street kids, the squeegee kids and I look at all the
opportunities that this place has to offer Ė this is not a personal attack Ė
I think itís a waste. That people have such opportunities to make something
of their life.
LE: Do you think that being nominated
for a Gemini will enhance your career?
BAYO: I sure hope so.
LE: Has anything come across your
plate since the nomination?
BAYO: No, still waiting. I guess
this is one of the things about Canada that we sometimes donít understand.
When I did Human Cargo, a lot of people felt that my life was not going to
be the same again. I was going to get more work, etc. Iím just going to
see what happens and not get my hopes up. I know that if Human Cargo would
have been an American show, maybe my life would never have been the same.
But, itís Canada. Iím grateful for it and I cannot complain because I know
people that Iíve met in this industry
that have not yet had this kind of opportunity. So, Iím grateful for that.
LE: What do you think the plight is
for African-Canadian actors?
BAYO: Itís tough. Itís almost an
impossible situation. I have friends, Canadians that get to audition all
the time. For Black actors, you sometimes donít even get the opportunity to
go out. And for somebody like me who is from Africa, thatís another
obstacle. And Iíve got an accent! Sometimes it works for me, but
most of the time, itís against me. I donít care though; itís who I am.
But, itís really tough for Black actors Ė they are no opportunities there Ė
not enough or nowhere close to enough.
LE: Whatís your ideal role as an
BAYO: Right now, Iíll take
anything I can get. But when the time comes when you are able to select,
you definitely want things that mean something to you. Human Cargo
definitely runs in that category. Itís a very touching, moving story. Itís
so deep; itís got a soul, something you can connect to. Those are the kind
of things that you hope to be able to do.
LE: If you could work with any
actor/director/producer living or past, who would it be?
BAYO: OK, big question. I would
love to work with Uncle D. I call him Uncle D.
Denzel Washington Ė heís one of the
best. I watch him and I just see what he does and I watched him when he won
the Academy Award and he said he had been chasing
Sidney Poitier for a very long
time. I think itís my turn to chase him, Denzel. It sounds like a crazy
dream, but dreams do come true. Denzel,
Robert De Niro. I love Robert De Niro,
Al Pacino, of course. I think that
theyíre the best. You donít feel that youíre watching actors. They
disappear into the role Ė they become the character. I donít think you can
get any better than that. I guess to be the best, you probably want to
watch the best and see what you can steal from them.
LE: What would you like to be
BAYO: Ahhh. Thatís a tough one.
I know itís going to sound so clichť, but truly, I would love to be
remembered as somebody who was able to inspire others. Somebody who is able
to have an impact. I say that because I know where Iím coming from. My
background and where I am today Ė if people knew half my story. Itís the
stuff that happens in fairy tales. So, I would love to be remembered as
somebody who is able to inspire others so they realize that nothing is
impossible. If youíve got a dream, go for it.
LE: Whatís the best thing that youíve
heard about your work?
BAYO: I remember
the writer and producer of Human Cargo,
when we were doing press in Vancouver. He said that he thinks Bayo is one
of the best actors in the world Ė that people donít know him but that people
are going to know him soon. (grins)
LE: In your eyes, whatís your biggest
achievement to date Ė personally or professionally?
BAYO: That Iím here in Canada.
Iím seeing my dreams being fulfilled Ė Iím not there yet but I know that Iím
on the right path. My family. My wife and two kids Ė I love those kids.
Sometimes I wake up and look at them and itís one of those things that Iíve
got to pinch myself. Iím actually responsible for those two beautiful
LE: Whatís next for you?
Iíve got a couple of things that Iím working on right now. Just going
through the exploration process of seeing whatís going to happen. Ideally,
I would love to, maybe after the Geminis, to get more work. I guess for me
and for a lot of actors I know, itís about being able to make a living as an
LE: Do you still compare daily your
experience in Nigeria with your experiences in Canada? Do you feel like a
visitor here still?
BAYO: No, not like in the first
year. Itís getting a lot easier to actually pass myself off as a Canadian.
Never mind the accent (laughs).
LE: Is your family still in Nigeria?
BAYO: Yes, everyone is still in
Nigeria. Itís just me here.
LE: What responsibility do you feel
BAYO: Oh, a lot. Itís a common
thing. Itís part of the culture. Youíre expected to take
your siblings, your parents. When you talk about the potential that
that country (Nigeria) has, and the waste, it just breaks your heart.
That country has so many resources in terms of natural, human - you name it
Ė weíve got it. Itís just the government. Theyíve got
people who have absolutely no business being in government.
LE: Whatís the biggest advantage of
living in Canada? And disadvantage?
BAYO: I guess one of the things
is for my kids. The opportunity to grow up in this environment. Itís
something you canít buy with money in Nigeria. There are people who are
stupendously rich back home, but they could never have the quality of life
that we have here. Itís the quality of life and the opportunity to be what
you can be Ė to be the best. Disadvantage. Starting all over. Learning to
walk when youíre 30 years old. Thatís a big disadvantage. For my career,
my accent. Itís not going to stop me but it could be better if I didnít
have this accent. Apart from that, itís understanding the system.
LE: What would you tell an upcoming
actor here and back in Nigeria about how you foresee their future?
BAYO: I guess anywhere you go in
the world as an actor, youíve got to
understand that it is one profession where there are no guarantees. But if
you have the passion, the commitment and you believe thereís nothing else
for you out there, stay with it. Keep pounding on the doors and I believe
that that door is going to open one day. When you talk about the leading
actor in Canada, Nicholas CampbellĖ
you mention his name and people donít know him. How on earth is that
possible? For anyone that feels that this is it for you, go for it.
Anything is possible.
LE: Didnít you predict your future
while installing chairs in the AMC to your fellow workmen?
BAYO: Yes, that came from a deep
personal conviction. I just know that I
am going to make it.
Watch the Gemini Awards, LIVE ON CBC Television, on Monday, December 13,
2004 at 8:00 pm (8:30 Nfld).