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LE Newsletter - December 9, 2004

  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 dreams 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 him.  CLICK HERE to see that article Ė itís a very good recap of Human Cargo as well as some insight into Bayo himself. 

Is it surreal to be nominated for a national award (the Gemini) in your adopted Canada?

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 know that
sometimes the ultimate for everybody is America.  Somehow Canada has found itself playing second fiddle and I think itís a role theyíre very comfortable playing.  I 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 life there.

BAYO: Nothing like that happened to me
(as with 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. 
Don't get 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 actor?

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 remembered for?

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
Brian McKeown, 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 kids. 

LE:       Whatís next for you?

BAYO:            Practically, 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 actor. 

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 for that?

BAYO: Oh, a lot.  Itís a common thing.  Itís part of the culture.  Youíre expected to take
care of 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 clueless 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).