Cover: BOLANLE NINALOWO – Man on a mission
Words by- Josephine Agbonkhese
He has barely spent six years acting but, he is already as famous as one who has been in the industry all his life. An actor, producer and author of soon-to-be published book Shame To Fame, Bolanle Ninalowo, popularly known as Makanaki, is one actor who has won the hearts of millions of Nollywood lovers globally.
The versatile, multiple award-winning actor, is a graduate of Accounting from Devry University, Chicago, and also holds a Master’s in Marketing & Branding from Keller Graduate School of Management, also in Chicago, USA.
In this interview, the dotting husband and father of two, speaks on his career, family and the impact of COVID-19.
The movie industry has been greatly affected by the pandemic. How has life been for you?
Life has been fine. Yes, the movie industry has been affected because there is social distancing and we are not allowed to work due to the lockdown, but in terms of the output of our movies, a lot of movies are being streamed online now. So, even though the cinema is affected, people are still able to watch our movies online. I wasn’t able to go to work but now that the lockdown has been eased, I go to work regularly. I’m thankful to God that the pandemic hasn’t affected me negatively.
What is the most difficult aspect of this pandemic on your work?
It’s the fact that my movies can’t come out in the cinemas for now. Before the pandemic, I had a movie called Ratnik which was supposed to be out in the cinemas on April 10. However, it has been pushed forward indefinitely. Before the pandemic also, I used to travel a lot locally but travel restrictions put a halt to my being able to work with colleagues outside of Lagos. So, that is the only thing I would say affected me.
What other side hustle do you pursue?
I’m an Ambassador to various brands and an influencer as well. I do a lot of appearances; in fact, I’m a brand by the grace of God. I also sell cars on the side. My father is a renowned car dealer in Lagos State, so, I do some of that business as well. I’m a self-investor also; I’ve invested in myself over the years and all that are beginning to yield returns.
Do you think the situation in the industry now can end some people’s career?
I don’t know and cannot speak on that. All I know is about me and my career. I’m a universal actor. Before the pandemic, I was proactive enough to know I needed to be versatile and show up in Yoruba, English and Igbo films; so, that has been an added advantage for me. If there’s restriction on Yoruba films, I can be shooting Igbo films or English films and vice versa. For me, I had already prepared myself, unknowing to me that there would be a pandemic that would affect our careers. But I don’t think this pandemic can end anybody’s career totally; it can only slow things down.
What can artists do to sustain themselves?
Every artiste needs to understand that this is business and that they are a brand. So, they need to treat themselves like a product which they need to sell to the world. There’s a bit of conflict of self-interest because you’re an actor and also a brand; and it can sometimes be hard to differentiate both. However, I feel everybody has a responsibility to understand that it is a business and they need to venture into other things as well. Like I said, being an actor brings you fame. With that fame, you have brands and influencers looking for you to help them sell their products; especially now that the world has gone online. Everybody just needs to venture into other things aside from acting.
What dream were you pursuing before this pandemic?
I wasn’t pursuing any dream in particular. I’m living my dream as it is and I’m thankful to God for grace.
Artistes do a lot to keep their looks. Would you say your great body helps with the roles you get?
Absolutely! Everything, no matter how small, adds to the overall picture; from delivery to looks, to your height and everything. For me, I try to do workouts. Unfortunately, since the pandemic, I haven’t been able to go to the gym anymore. So, I resorted to push-ups and pull-ups because I understand my look is significant to my roles and my career. I’m an actor and people are drawn by what they see.
Do you worry that that may also stereotype you?
Not at all. In the beginning of my career, I wanted to be stereotyped. I’m a professional marketer and I understand that you have to be noticed, somehow. So, for me, I was praying to be stereotyped; which I was. After achieving that, another step was to break out of that stereotype; and I was able to do that by the grace of God with the movie Picture Perfect where I acted as a your. That blew me up and made people realised there was more to Nino.
What movie gave you your break and how long did it take for it to happen?
As an actor, I believe we have a break-in and a break-out. My break-in movie was Husbands of Lagos owned by Iroko; big shout out to Mary Remmy and RoK Studios. That was in 2015. Breaking into the industry means getting noticed so that people understand you exist and can call you for jobs. But break-out is that movie that just makes you a super star, and for me, that movie was Picture Perfect where I played the character of Jobe in 2016/2017. I’m grateful to God that Picture Perfect did the magic for me.
There are allegations of sexual harassment by female actors. Do men also face same?
Yes. I’ve been in movies where I felt the producers probably cast me because he or she probably had a thing for me and wanted to get close. I see that as sexual harassment as well; it’s just different because we are men. It all depends on what you accept and allow.
If we do come out of this pandemic, what should artistes be doing differently?
They should diversify. I hope a lot of us have learnt. Well, I see a lot of people doing films that they probably wouldn’t do in the past. I see a lot of cinema film actors are also now trying to do Yoruba and Igbo films, and I am happy that finally, they are waking up. This is something I did as soon as I came into the game. They wanted to be seen in a different way but now, they have realised they are not bigger than any job. People need to take their careers seriously and leave all those packaging alone; and focus on the money and business.
You did an excellent character interpretation in the movie Picture Perfect. How were you able to recreate Jobe?
I thank God for grace, Biodun Stevens, Mary Remmy and RoK Studios; the people that produced Picture Perfect. I had to do my homework. Thank God for humility. I hung out with touts and learnt the nitty-gritty. Basically, throughout my stay in Nigeria, I’ve had to interact with Agberos one way or the other in the course of helping out in my dad’s office as a car dealer in Surulere. So, I went into the set with a bit of education on the mannerism of a typical tout. I mixed it up with myself and by the grace of God, it came out perfect like the name Picture Perfect. I challenged myself and also prayed very hard. I have learnt from that to keep challenging myself.
A very big thank you to Mary Remmy Njoku who played the character of Kumbi. She helped me achieve those high levels of emotionality. We’ve also shot the series and I’m glad everyone can now look forward to more of Jobe coming out.
What will ever make you turn down a role?
I can’t do anything totally nude in a movie; I will turn down the role immediately.
Which of your movies really challenged your creativity?
That’s Picture Perfect; the character of Jobe really challenged me. I have another movie coming up, City of Bastards, where I played the character Jaga. That isn’t out yet due to the pandemic. I just shot another called, Proteus and that also really challenged my creativity. I like to take on massive projects; things that bring on different versions of me.
You and your wife are as close as twins; how did you both meet?
My wife and I met sixteen years ago in Nigeria. We are best friends. We’ve been through ups and downs. Our faith has been tested and we have overcome. We are closer than ever. We have two children that are our greatest friends and we all have a great bond in our family.
Was it love at first sight?
Yes, it was love at first sight. We were young; I was about 24 and she was 23. We met and just became inseparable. We became best friends and did almost everything together.
How do you manage to maintain a blissful union as public figures?
That’s because we don’t focus on the public. Fame is one part of our lives but our reality is more important to us. We don’t package or do anything out of the norm to prove a point. We don’t pursue things that are not ours; we just live our lives and are being celebrated for simply living our lives. We respect ourselves very much; we keep outsiders out of our lives and are our own best friends. I am 40 and she is 39 and we can’t keep making the same mistakes we made when we were younger.
Who is your biggest inspiration locally and internationally?
My biggest inspiration locally is myself, to be honest. I moved from America to Nigeria about ten years ago to pursue my dream of self-discovery and fulfillment, and it’s been a long ride of failures. I failed so many times but people didn’t realise I was failing forward. I’m a product of failure. So, I have a story to tell and I believe my transparency will lead to other people’s transformation in life. My life’s journey inspired my soon-to-be-released book ‘Shame To Fame’ which will be out sometime before the year ends, or the first quarter of next year. Internationally, I have a bunch of them; from Jay Z to many others—people with pedigree, credibility and good success stories. Davido is one of them too.
Now that you can’t dress up, how do you style your great body?
I have to give credit to all the designers out there who sew and send clothes to me. All I do is work on my body; I simply send them my size and they make good designs and deliver to me. The synergy between my body and the cloth is what brings out that appeal.