Deyemi Okanlawon is a Nigerian actor who has featured in over fifty films, with appearances on stage and in several commercials and music videos. His debut role was in the short film, A Grain of Wheat. He is known for his roles in the TV series Gidi Up and An African City, and in movies like If Tomorrow Comes.
Deyemi Okanlawon made short films when other aspiring Nollywood actors were trying not to be late for auditions. 6:30 PM was not the time for an interview. It’s the title of one of such short films.
Okanlawon made about five short films between 2012 and 2016. There was more than enough inspiration. “No one was going to hire me,” he says. “So I got together with friends and we hired ourselves!” Short films like Blink, A Grain Of Wheat, 6:30 PM, Common Man, In Iredu and web series like Gidi Up, Knock Knock, were all opportunities to display his acting skills to Nollywood directors and producers.
And he sure got their attention.
Entering the industry
Okanlawon has been an actor since he was a child, making his unofficial debut in a school play when he was five years old. At age nine he featured in a nationally syndicated TV commercial with Kunle Bamtefa.
So, when did he realize he loved acting? “Same as when I found my wife and I quit bachelorhood for her. I realised exactly how much I loved acting when in 2013 as the Head of Marketing for OLX Nigeria, I decided to tender my resignation and act for the rest of my life.” Before then he was in church dramas (at The Covenant Nation) for almost 10 years, then he did a few short films and web series. The rest is history.
From studying chemical engineering to professional acting – quite the transition. “Well, my dad is an Aircraft Engineer and Nigeria is an oil-producing country,’ he says. So Okanlawan trained as a Chemical Engineer at the University of Lagos, which is, in his words, the best university in Nigeria and the only one worth going to. “For acting, Church drama was a major source of learning – shout out to the late Dr Gbenga Kunoniyi, RIP. Whilst there I won a scholarship from The Covenant Nation to attend the Acting For Film training with Delyork Film Institute in collaboration with the New York Film Academy.
With so many film credits and awards to his name, Okanlawon is a gift to the movie industry, as well as theatre, which he loves as much as film. He is well-versed in several acting techniques, but doesn’t believe in any particular style. “Depending on the situation, I pick one or combine several to fulfill the director’s vision for the character.”
Deyemi does not have a favourite role. “As we have been trained to answer so producers will always hire us – I equally love every role I’ve played. Immersing myself into each role is always a tough experience.”
Okanlawon has a healthy amount of pride in his work. His favourite piece is the show Castle & Castle, which he features in. He thinks it is almost perfect, as well as every other movie or series he has featured in. His favourite actors are Daniel Day-Lewis and Denzel Washington, the former strictly for his legendary work ethic, the other for his exemplary life and career. We can all see him in them.
Thoughts on the Nollywood industry
“I love the fact that against all the odds, with little strategic Federal and State government support and lacklustre participation by the financial industry, Nollywood is still thriving.
“The industry’s greatest flaw? Same as it’s host country’s greatest flaw – the lack of a high enough collective vision with too few visionaries to bring such to life.” I’d love to see Nollywood attract more skilled, passionate, excellence-minded people who have a deep sense of purpose and integrity. All other things will naturally be added on to this.”
Okanlawon will love to be remembered as a good example of excellence and love. “Make sure you develop your skills,” he tells young and emerging actors. “Have a career plan (business or marketing) and seek knowledge on how to manage your finances.”
Alright, stop! Tell us a fun fact about yourself. “I’m not a fun person, that’s a fact.” He’s kidding, right?