Her small frame belies the level of intelligence she exuded while the interview lasted. She spoke impeccably about her root and love for film. Tayo Elesin may not be a household name in Nollywood, but she is gradually making a name for herself as an actress in the United Kingdom film industry.
Elesin works in London as an actress, a place she has never stopped calling home. Although she is a Briton of Nigerian descent, Elesin has lived in England all her life. She studied Law at the University of Cambridge, but before she went to the university she did musical theatre at Greenwich Musical Theatre Academy, under the accreditation of Trinity College of Music, the school that produced great musicians like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
“I did Musical Theatre, which involves singing,” she says, “dancing and acting, but I look forward to acting more than others. When I started working back home, I mean London, I was represented by an agent. You get an agent; an agent puts you up for a job, then you go for an audition and all of that.”
Elesin says she doesn’t work all the time as an actress. “The kind of our films don’t happen every two, three weeks or one month even. I was doing all of that, I was about 14 years, but also going to school at the same time. As I said, in England you don’t work all the time. You work as and when the productions happen.”
Elesin has been able to transit from being a law student to taking up acting as a career. She has decided not to work as a full-time lawyer, but practice a profession she loves as a child. “I enjoy acting. I come from a family where it’s like you want to do drama, do it. But I wanted to be intellectually stimulated and the law did that for me. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be in court when I’m 40 years old; that doesn’t mean I’m in court now, but I’m very glad I did it. I think it informs the way I story-tell when I do my acting and acting, I think should be about story telling.”
Elesin says she refers to London as home because that is where she was born and her agent is based there. “I refer to London as home when I want to make a point about my agent being in London, because that’s where I live. Nigeria is home. I’m black, I’m African. Both my parents are from Nigeria, and I always say this is home no matter what anybody says about it. When I come here this is my land, irrespective of any problem anybody wants to shine to it, this is home.”
She agrees that Nigeria is a country of over 160 million people that is full of talents. “When you go back to London, if you look at the black people in the world of entertainment, politics, in anything that are high level and black, if you look at their ancestry, they are half Nigerian or fully Nigerian. Born in Nigeria, came here when they were young, etc. For me, what are we talking about, Nigeria is where it is at. The talent is here. This is it. It might need a bit of structure here and there, but it’s here.”
She does not only feature in films, she has also done stage plays. She featured in the TV series, Law and Order, Casualty, Doctor, a lot of BBC productions in London.
“I have done stage as well. In fact, I just finished doing a run of ‘Our Husband has gone Mad Again,’and I played Sikira. Do you know my favourite area in Lagos? Mushin. I love that place. I don’t like all this Lekki and Victoria Island stuff; I think they are so pretentious. When I come to England, I live in isolation in London, I don’t want to replicate that when I come on holiday. I want to feel real. Mushin, I feel is fantastic. You can walk 100 metres and meet all kinds of people, so that’s my favourite area in Nigeria.”
Elesin is familiar with Ola Rotimi’s plays, but not those of Femi Osofisan. This she considers shameful because her university teachers in the United Kingdom never taught them the works of Osofisan.
“It is for this reason she considers it important to stay in touch with her root. The only writer we were taught in creative literature class back in England was Wole Soyinka, and it’s because he’s a Nobel Laureate. And even so, we were taught maybe one or two of his poetry, no prose work per se. And I am a bit disgusted by that because there is a population of black people in England from African origin, and I didn’t learn about my story. Yet, I learnt about Shakespeare and Chaucer, it’s fine, it’s well and dandy. You know what annoys me? The education system here teaches people about Shakespeare and Chaucer and all these things, but back home I didn’t know who Ola Rotimi was and that’s disgraceful. Now, I’m getting to read all the literature. There is so much rich material here and I want to track them down.”
In spite of all, she plans to come to Nigeria more frequently to take part in some local productions. Even though she is not pleased with the current structure on ground, she hopes to contribute her own quota to make a difference in the Nigerian film industry.
“I think there is need for a structure, let’s be honest. Talent without structure, you will not be at your best. There is talent but structure is needed. It is needed – number one for ease and legality; it makes everybody’s life easier.”