If you keep frequent tabs on the latest celebrity gist and lifestyle, you would probably have heard notions about how ‘divorce’ is a thing for them.
More often than not, many fans don’t know these celebrities on a personal level, but they admire their work, and many of their lives feel aspirational to them.
That is why it can be so heartbreaking and shocking when they realise or see that their favourite celebrity couple are going through a divorce.
Considering divorce reports emerging in the Nollywood entertainment industry, many have internalised the notion that they split because they can’t keep a home.
However, in this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Nollywood actress and producer Ireti Doyle clarifies some misconceptions about Nigerian celebrities, noting that people sometimes forget that they are human.
She also shares the inspiration behind her first series, “The Hidden”, as a producer and her 28-year acting career journey.
PT: How do you think the Nigerian film industry has evolved since you started acting?
Ireti Doyle: Oh, wow! We have evolved in leaps and bounds, and I am proud of our journey thus far. I am also proud of how far we’ve come and what we have accomplished — the kind of collaborations that we are now involved in.
I am so proud of our frontiers, especially the women, for doing great things. It’s a beautiful time to be involved.
Is there room for improvement? Absolutely! There will always be. There’s no denying that we’ve come a long way, and there is so much to be proud of. If we weren’t on the right track, we would not have the big streamers here. Everybody is here. There is a vast market. Our technical value has risen.
Our production value has grown exponentially. I’m looking forward to when the artistic end of things like storytelling and scripts will get even better.
We have evolved tremendously.
PT: What sets Nollywood apart from other movie industries worldwide?
Ireti Doyle: We are fearless in navigating the global Industry as one combined.
When we are navigating, we navigate as Nigerians. We are not ashamed of our Nigerianness. Our Nigerianess holds in our stories. It shows in the way we even tell the stories.
The way we present the stories and the way we unveil these stories to the world. We carry the best of the Nigerian spirit with pride.
That is what gives us a unique flavour. Is all of that good all the time? Maybe not, but there is no denying that it sets us apart.
When the Nigerians arrive, you will know. So, the fact that we carry our identity with us around with pride. That’s one of the things that sets us apart.
PT: How have you stayed motivated all through these years?
Ireti Doyle: Passion for what I do. You have to love what you do. I don’t care what it is that you do. I don’t see you sustaining it for almost a decade if you don’t love it.
Well, if you are doing it under duress or that’s how you pay your bill, you’d do it anyway.
So, I don’t take it for granted that I am truly blessed to have a job I thoroughly enjoy, that I would do for free. Don’t tell them so. Let’s say, for instance, I was in a corporate setting; I’ll look for opportunities to act. That would probably be my hobby.
So, first and foremost, passion, understanding and a conviction that I am doing exactly what I was designed to do. So, it doesn’t matter how hard it is. It’s not always rosy. You’re only sometimes going to get lead roles. You’re only sometimes going to get it. Sometimes, you get a bench under a tree. Sometimes, people would annoy you. You will feel disrespected. It doesn’t matter how annoying a set gets; quitting never crossed my mind.
It has never crossed my mind that I’m leaving Nollywood. If anything, I’m wading into the waters even deeper.
PT: What is your take on the sexualisation and objectification of women and children in the Nigerian showbiz scene?
Ireti Doyle: Sexualisation of children is a no-no. So, let’s not even go there. It’s something that shouldn’t be allowed. It is something that there should be strict laws.
I was online yesterday, and a story caught my eye about the arrest of an individual who had sexualised a minor in their state. That is to say, the authorities are doing what they are doing.
When discussing sexualising women, that can be offensive because I am a woman, but that’s not because I condone it. Sex sells. Let’s stop. Do you understand? There is a market for it. There is a demand for it. As long as there is a demand and a need for it, somebody will supply it.
How to deal with it? First of all, Deal with the people who are demanding it. If there is no demand, there will be no supply. It’s not just show business. The world is wired in a particular way.
I ask myself this question all the time. You’re selling a car. Why does there have to be a half-clad woman lounging on it? Why can’t you just sell the vehicle based on its merits? I don’t know why.
PT: What are some of the misconceptions about the acting profession?
Ireti Doyle: One major misconception is that actors and actresses are morally loose people. That’s a big misconception. It’s wrong. It’s like saying all nurses cheat on their partners. It is a generalisation that has no basis in facts.
The second one, which is ironic considering that I am no longer married, is that performers cannot keep a home. That’s not true. Examples abound for performers who have been happily married for decades.
Life happens the same way it would happen to a banker, nurse, or what have you. It’s the same way it would happen to a performer.
The difference is that we do not have the luxury of anonymity. Our lives are in public space, so everything we do becomes public consumption.
There’s a third one that irritates me. That those actors are stupid. That we can’t have an opinion on politics, governance, rocket science, or something.
How condescending! Actors are among the most intelligent people you can ever find on the earth’s surface. Why? They are widely read and knowledgeable. That’s why they can portray different characters.
PT: Why is your series titled ‘ The Hidden’?
Ireti Doyle: Omo! Before we settled on that name. It was initially titled Grandma’s House. Why? When you think of your grandmother’s house, what emotions does that evoke? Safety, security. It’s where you’re looked after, but there were other shows or several other shows named like that.
We settled on ‘The Residence’, which everybody liked, including the channel, and we ran with that for a while. This was when we were still at the writing stage. Madam Shonda Wrights was working on a project in America, and the title was the residence. So, we said we can’t do this so they don’t mix up the two shows.
The show’s central premise is that a group of people live in the house who are not related by blood but are bound by the secrets that bind them.
In the course of telling the story, a lot of those secrets would become unhidden. That’s how we came about the title. It is called ‘The Hidden’. If you want to discover what we are hiding, you must keep watching the show. It’s a house full of secrets.
PT: First, I would love to understand the chemistry between Flo-Ade and Kweku.
Ireti Doyle: Interestingly, you are asking but telling you would let the cat out of the bag. So, go and watch the show to find out.
PT: You mentioned that Flo-ade also has some personal issues and baggage. Can we get a peek/insight into her struggles?
Ireti Doyle: An insight? What would be the point of telling you? As I said, watch the show to discover what happened and all you need to know.
PT: Would you say there are similarities between your character and you?
Ireti Doyle: Yes. The hidden is a combination of different people’s experiences. Some of them are mine. There are several similarities.
My life is an open book to everybody that is called to me. I was just living my life. I like to use my life lessons to teach and inspire those called to me.
PT: What is your most challenging role?
Ireti Doyle: My most challenging role would be in the movie ‘1929’, based on the Aba women’s war events. I played the women’s leader. I can’t pronounce her name now. It’s in Efik. I had to speak Efik, but that wasn’t my greatest challenge. She was a warrior who led women to war. She was vile. She was gutsy. It was physical. It was a rugged shoot. The greatest challenge was that it was based on actual historical events. You can’t mess that up.
It’s not a work of fiction, so you can’t say this is what I feel like doing. There were historical facts that cannot be hinged.
That was my most challenging role. If you look at it, the transformation was complete. Even when I saw the pictures, I was surprised, and there was no makeup. There was no makeup. So, whatever change you saw on the outside was brought about by the emotions on the inside. It was hard work.
PT: The Hidden addresses some negative cultural and traditional issues; what was your most significant discovery during research?
Ireti Doyle: These are things that have happened. These are stories that I have told in other ways. Oyinye’s account, for instance. I’ve told that story several times on stage. That’s another thing that inspired the choice of this particular story.
I don’t know about other people, but if you are trying something new for the first time. In this instance, it was trying out to be an Executive Producer, you’re going to choose the story that you can manage.
It’s a simple story that can be told entertainingly because you’re testing the waters. Attempting a very complex story as my first project would have been foolish.
So, no. There were no discoveries. The discoveries for me would be the fresh actors and talents that make my heart glad each time I watch them.
PT: What informed your choice of the story?
Ireti Doyle: First of all, the commissioning body is Africa Magic. We know that Africa Magic is primarily a family-oriented channel. So, I’d like you to produce something. You’re going to create something in keeping with the tone and feel of the channel.
So, while I wanted something that would address the strength of a different kind of hope, it must be presented in a way that the entire family could produce. So, it’s a no-brainer that my first project for Africa Magic would be a family-oriented story.
Tomorrow, I am producing something for a different commissioning body. The choice of the story would change. That’s one of the biggest lessons I learned during this journey. I am doing things within the process. Understanding process.
Different methods guide production, and you must stay within that framework. So, those were some of the things that informed my choice of story.
PT: What would make the audience leave other series for The Hidden?
Ireti Doyle: First, it has my name and is synonymous with good quality. I like to believe. I have thrived very hard to maintain high professional integrity and brought that to bear on this production.
Anything with my name must be produced and presented to the highest level possible. It is one of the things that we have accomplished on this show.
Two, some of the stories you might know. You might not know some of them, but they are told differently.
Third, the production value is newer. Suppose you are a Nigerian complaining about repeatedly seeing the same faces on your screens.
Please jump on the hidden because it boasts of a cast list that is relatively unknown but brings first-class performances. You’re going to want to find out what happens at the end.
We were very particular about our storytelling. We are telling the audience enough to keep them interested and wanting more. Those are the reasons why they should watch The Hidden.
PT: What inspired the storyline/plot of the series?
Ireti Doyle: It was a synopsis I had written many years ago. It is one of many I have in my drafts—the difference between the two when I say them. I mean the first synopsis, which is that the first story was titled ‘Street Wise’, centred around teenagers and young adults. It’s the same premise. A central character who had lived life possibly suffered trauma but uses their experience to help other young people see the light and find their way.
The same premise, but I have grown now; I was no longer in my 20s or 30s, so if you create a central figure, it makes sense to age her slightly. And in ageing her, you had to age the other characters, too. It is no longer a teenager or young people’s story. It is grown folks.
So, that is how evolved it became. Grown women living in a house, having their problems solved. So, that was the inspiration. It creates a central character representing hope, a safe space, and second chances.
PT: How could you get into such a challenging role since it is emotionally driven?
Ireti Doyle: Was it tedious getting into a high emotional state? After 28 years, No. Getting into a heightened emotional state is the name of the game that I play. I’m an actress, so that is what is expected of me.
So, I did not find it that tedious. Did I find it particularly dull to play Floade? No. She is not the most complex of characters that I have played.
A scene from the Hidden [PHOTO CREDIT: DSTV]If anything, I wanted the audience to see her through the eyes of the other characters. Do you understand? Because she is the one – Floade is the one solving other people’s problems. She had her demons, but we must delve into her problems more deeply in season one.
In season one, she is busy taking care of everybody. She is like a caretaker.
It was a manageable challenge. In this instance, It was even easier because I created that character.
In the original story, I knew her intimately as the head writer. It’s not like a story somebody handed me and I need to study. I already knew her. I knew the story. So, playing Floade was a smooth process for me as an actor.
PT: What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career?
Ireti Doyle: I’m not lying. Sometimes, it gets tedious, and it’s only occasionally that you want to engage with the public. People might not be aware that the average actor is pretty shy and, deep down, is introverted.
Most of us just put up this run, but the ability to connect with people makes me smile the most. I’m just doing my daily job and putting the art out there.
When you get feedback, people tell you, “Oh, that this particular character or role touched me in a particular way, or it gave me illumination or something. Or that it made me smile or brightened my day, or it made me stop and think”.
I’m like, ‘Okay, maybe I am here fulfilling my purpose because that’s what I’m called to do – to communicate different messages at different times and as they are presented to me.
Connecting with people would be the one thing that puts a smile on my face beyond accomplishing each task placed before me better than I did yesterday.
PT: What three tips have brought you this far in your career?
Ireti Doyle: It would always be – be prepared. I never take it for granted that ‘Oh, I’ve been doing this for X number of years, and then it has become a natural blah blah’ or that ‘Oh, I’ve seen this character before, so I don’t need to apply too much effort.”
I try not to take my talent for granted. I try to be prepared. Even with your interview today, I sat down and began to think about the possible questions. Remind me of so many things I wanted to say.
Preparation is vital to attitude, and I don’t always get that right. I’m human. Sometimes, I may be sick, but in this business and life in general, talent would get you into the room, but your attitude and work ethic would determine how far you go.
It costs way too much money to produce any creative piece. No producer would want to take on your bad attitude. I’ve tried to the best of my ability, without selling myself short or getting out of shape, always to exhume the right attitude and maintain a high work ethic.
Number three is in life in general. And again, I sometimes get it right; I’m a work in progress. It would be taking each day as it comes. I am bringing the best of it. Throwing away the worst of it and just learning to pivot and roll and being versatile and adaptable to change, to disappointment, to rejection.
PT: Did it stretch you, as the producer of the series?
Ireti Doyle: Yea, omo! It stretched me. That pushed me because, as an actor, all you see is what is on the ground the day you arrive on the set. All you see is your script. They give you a hand and tell you to come to set on Thursday; you will come to establish on Thursday. There will be cameras there, makeup, wardrobe, this and that. You just do your bit, and you leave.
When you go behind the camera, you realise that the journey from script to screen is expansive. Now, I didn’t go behind the camera and focused on one department, and it’s not like I became the director or something else. I went for the top job, Executive Producer. Which means you have oversight of every single department.
Also, compound that with the fact that the story is mine. So, everything about the story was in my head. So, you have all these highly talented and professional people looking up to you for answers and direction.
A scene from the Hidden [PHOTO CREDIT: DSTV]It could be daunting, but I was prepared for this. The timing was perfect. I was ready for it. It is another opportunity to say that I locked down with my production team.
That group of people are some of the most delightful and professional people I enjoyed working with. They understood the brief, and they delivered without having to be chased or being overly supervised.
Everybody ran with it once it was clear what was to be done. Not only that, they took the project personally. There is no department where I didn’t receive their personal touch. They made this first attempt easy and enjoyable for me.
PT: What are the key takeaways from The Hidden series?
Ireti Doyle: Overall, I’d like it to be entertaining. I’ll appreciate the audience’s investment in the characters.
One of the things we have succeeded in is to be a vehicle for relatively unknown actors to shine. These actors shine so well. I’m so proud of the performance on that show.
PT: Should we expect more productions?
Ireti Doyle: Yes. Please expect more productions. Don’t ask me when. I don’t know. The first one is a new show. We are on episode five or six. It has yet to begin to do what it is supposed to do. You bring it, and you let it run. You allow the audience to interact with it.
So, it has yet to do what I hoped it would do, but yes, there would be other productions. One step at a time.
PT: How do you feel working with younger colleagues?
Ireti Doyle: The only way an individual can remain fresh and relevant is by engaging with what’s new. What is the easiest way to engage with what is new? Engage with younger people.
People need to understand these things. I am tech-savvy today because I live with a teenager. My 19-year-old explains everything to me. People think mentoring is one way, that it is the one with experience doing it.
No. I am learning as well. It is a symbiotic relationship. I enjoy working with young people. I want to share experiences. That’s how you grow. That’s how you remain relevant.
I tested another theory, and it could be right. I’ve always believed you can use a few big names, especially for a TV series. You just needed a good story and a list of brilliant actors to carry it along, and people would watch. It is a TV Series, and you have 13 weeks to grow on people.
Give them a good story and let other people have a chance. So, I enjoy working with younger people. I’m teaching and learning. Their minds are open, fresh and young.
PT: What would be your message to fans and supporters?
Ireti Doyle: Me? You learn not to give unsolicited advice. I’d just like to wish everyone well. We’ve been through several turbulent months and are still going through it.
A lot is going on. So, I just wish everyone well. I want to give everybody peace. Let’s try and keep it together.
Edited By: Jayne Augoye and Oluwaseyi Ayeni.
Additional Reporting By: Esther Kalu
Page Planned and Produced by: Oladayo Ojo