In this riveting interview with Stanley Ugagbe of TNC, Nigerian movie star, Frank Donga, whose real name is Kunle Idowu, shared insight on sundry issues in the Nigerian movie industry. He also talked about how he transitioned into acting.
TNC: First, let me congratulate you for carving a niche for yourself in the Nigerian movie industry. Could you please tell us about yourself, early life and growing up?
Frank: I studied Agricultural science for my first degree and I have a Master’s degree in Animal Genetics and I started my career right here in Lagos as a journalist working for Network News 24. And also I’m a cinematographer, editor and producer. After my swing back into the media from working as a journalist, I started my journey into the entertainment industry and that’s what I have been doing since then up till now.
TNC: Considering the challenges involved in getting into the movie industry, can you tell us how you were able to get into the field of acting?
Frank: My love for acting spans over right from when I was a child. I’ve always loved watching animated films, comedy, and movies, so I participated as a youth in several drama workshops and theatre groups in Church. So that’s where my love or journey started from and sometime in 2011/2012, while working with an online platform called NdaniTv, I came up with an idea for a comedy sketch and I made one sketch, made the second one that went viral and one thing led to another thing and I started getting calls for movie roles. That’s essentially how the entertainment industry kind of called me or chose me.
TNC: Why did you choose to pursue a career in acting instead of your course of study – Agriculture?
Frank: Interestingly, I never dropped my field of study as an agricultural scientist. Even now, I still consult in agricultural activities. I teach, I hold workshops online, trainings and education on agriculture, starting agricultural businesses, solving problems in agriculture and a host of online and offline stuff as an agricultural scientist and genetics. However, because of the way life happened or the journey of life, entertainment chose me. That singular skit that I did then involved something that became identifiable with me and people in the entertainment industry; producers etc. started calling me for roles. I had always done media productions since then, so I kind of just evolved into that and I did more of entertainment but my background and my love for teaching or education has now crossbred with my reality of entertainment.So, I do what I love to call- edutainment now, mixing education and entertainment.
TNC: Shortly after your debut in acting, you started producing movies –what was the motivation? Has it become a norm for every actor to also be a producer?
Frank: It’s not every actor that becomes a producer or that will become a producer. Production takes special skills and interests and it has its own peculiarities and challenges. You need to be cut for it because it’s a lot that happens in production. However, my background as an independent filmmaker which was something I did way before acting came into the picture. I basically ran a production company where I produced documentaries, short films, quoted videos for clients, so I had a production background. That was what I did for a living before acting came into the picture, so for my particular case, acting came after production. For me, it was a natural projection. Having said that, not every actor will end up being a producer or every producer must have acted before but for some people, it just happens that way because after years of being an actor, they naturally want to tell their own kinds of stories so maybe that encourages them to start producing the kind of content that they would want for themselves.
TNC: In your words, “I didn’t get into this field because I wanted to make money. It was something born out of desire, to inform, to educate people about unemployment and self-development”. Can you tell us how you have delivered on the above tenets?
Frank: As I said, I love to describe myself as an edutainer because I love to mix education with fun and I love to learn when I’m getting entertained. Now, I did say in previous interviews that my reason for full-time entertainment participation wasn’t because of fame or money but for the desire to inform and educate. So far, I’m grateful I have a good support system around me, my team and I have been able to do just that and we’re still doing more of it. We have a series on Instagram and YouTube called “Mr. Meko” where we educate or edutain people about little tips that they can attend to, almost like a “do it yourself” tip, series of videos with power issues or automobile problems so people can watch those series and learn. If your car is not starting in the morning, if it’s starting but not moving, if your car is smoky, if your AC is not working, those little things, we teach people on them. We have another one called “Baby Landlord Series”, where a fictitious character called the baby landlord corrects Frank Donga’s grammatical errors consistently and a lot of people know about it, if you go to my Instagram page @FrankDonga_ or the YouTube page, you’ll see more on that. I’m also partnering with educational institutes to bring trainings, scholarships and funding to young entrepreneurs in Nigeria in particular.
TNC: A lot of people applauded your role in the webseries ‘The Interview’ which is adjudged the platform that brought you to stardom. It wasn’t your first, second or third movie appearance. Can you tell us what you did differently that brought you such recognition?
Frank: I don’t think I did a lot differently, I just followed my heart. I created the kind of content I would love to watch and this, I advise people to do. It was just something I enjoyed doing and I did consistently and I think that in itself brought that attention to the things I was doing. I would spend my waking hours thinking about why a certain problem was in the society and I would think about the way to inform people about the problem with a comedy sketch; or how to solve the problem with a funny and humorous write-up, so these were the things I did. I don’t think I did anything out of the ordinary or particularly too different from anyone else. Those are my recipes, maybe it was just unique and people found it unique and different from what they were used to at that time.
TNC: You’ve been on very many productions; tell us the one you enjoyed best and why?
Frank. Every single platform I’ve been on has been a lesson; I’ve learned a thing or two from each one. Every single one has been an enjoyable experience, I’ve met people, seen how things should or should not be done, and so I think each of them is unique in their own way. Even if they didn’t go the way I expected them to, then I’ve learnt something so it’s difficult to choose which one was my best. But having said that, I think I truly really enjoy the productions where I’m doing my sketches or comedy skits. They are very much fun people, simple small team and we are able to achieve a lot from very little resources.
TNC: There is a notion in the public that ladies have to sleep with producers before they can get movie roles in Nollywood. As a producer, how would you react to this?
Frank: To be honest with you, the same way you have heard is the same way I have heard those accounts and I find them quite shocking. It is something that is very condemnable and I think every human being, not just an actor, should be concerned with such things if they are indeed happening and I have no doubt that they do happen but then it’s something that is an anomaly, an unfairness, something really ridiculous that should be discouraged on strong terms. It’s very unfortunate that this kind of things still happen in 2021. Young ladies should not be pressured by anyone to do anything against their wish to get anything, let alone a movie role, even young boys. People should get things on merit. Young people should be given a chance to flourish. We need to protect our girls, our women; our youth and we need to give them a chance to flourish without any strings attached.
TNC: Some people have accused Nollywood of portraying Nigeria in a bad light on the International scene because of the incessant movies on witchcraft. What do you say to this?
Frank: Everybody has a right to their opinion. I respect people’s opinions even though I agree with them or not. But again, let’s leave what people have said, and let’s look at it critically. We’re talking about Nigeria’s image. There’s one part of what the creative industry is doing but I don’t think that in itself is more powerful to overshadow Nigeria’s image when it comes to what our leaders are doing. The news of what corrupt politicians have done with stolen wealth, I think that kind of image is more damaging internationally. Nollywood’s witchcraft movies are not more image damaging than what corrupt politicians have done with stolen wealth in Nigeria. I have not met anyone who said because they watched a witchcraft movie from America; they decided to join witchcraft. The moviemakers we are referring to are projecting what they see in the society.
TNC: There is also this perception in the public that Nollywood movies are predictable. How can this notion be corrected? If you are given the power to change some things about Nollywood, what will you change and why?
Frank: Art is subjective. What you find appealing might not be appealing to another person. Like the popular saying ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. People write base on their talent, ability, and what the market demands. It will be unfair to talk about scriptwriting in Nigeria without considering what the audience wants. That is not to say there are no people in Nollywood who are writing intelligent stuff, it’s just that the ovation for predictable movies is louder. But we can do better.
TNC: If you are given the power to change some things about Nollywood, what will you change and why?
Frank: I will make sure that I find a way to create more community-based cinemas so that the people making content for cinemas can distribute them to the communities without going through the hassles of the exhibition network that we have. I will make soft loans available to help young filmmakers to tell stories that can help the nation. But the overall thing I wish for in Nollywood is power – we need electricity.
TNC: What is your advice for upcoming actors and actresses?
Frank: If you want to be a successful actor, the first thing you need to do is to pick a role model. Educate yourself on what acting is all about. Make yourself available for auditions. When you go for auditions, do two monologues. Record yourself acting and post on your social media handles. Volunteer for free. Keep working on yourself and don’t be too aggressive for money.