Actress, Juliana Olayode better known as Toyo Baby has ventured into motivational speaking and recently made a move by publishing her autobiography titled, “Rebirth: From Grass to Grace.” In this interview with David Adebayo, Juliana shares insights into her journey—how it all began, the challenges she encountered, and the various projects she has undertaken.
How does it feel to feature on soon-to-be released movie ‘A Tribe called Judah’?
It feels great to be back on set with aunty Funke Akindele and I don’t know, there is a lot of emotion; sweet, exciting. It’s really great to be back. Before we did A tribe called Judah, we did Bashorun Gaa together but it wasn’t her project. It was for BAP (Bolanle Austen Peters) and I believe that will be out next year. It’s always really like good vibes, energy, fun and laughter being on her set. It felt so good to be back.
Have you always wanted to be an actress?
I didn’t know I would ever act in my life. I felt I would be a singer and people would be listening to my music and I would be jumping all over the place. I didn’t set out to be an actor. I think that sometimes in life you plan to do certain things and you have your five years plan written out and if you are somebody that submits your life to God at some point, God will disrupt your plans and put his own plan. He starts to lead your life in the way he wants it to go. I think that’s the typical story of my life. This whole acting was just God that launched me and put me in this direction. There is no way I’m going to talk about myself and not talk about my relationship with God. I’m a Christian.
How will you describe your auditioning days?
Auditions days were like suffer head moments. It’s like you are looking for a job. You will be going from place to place hoping that some people will call you back. Some will and some will not. That time you will spend your money and get fine clothes. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon and I could use that money to buy food. I would start thinking of clothes. Thankfully one of my friends used to work at a boutique and her boss was nice. Shout out to Genevieve, that was her boss and she used to have a clothing line. When new clothes come, she would give out the old clothes and that was how I had clothes. She never met me in person but I love her. I love and respect her in Nollywood.
When you don’t get picked for roles after auditioning, how did you feel?
I think it was a bitter and sweet experience. Bitter when you don’t get picked at the end. Sweet in the sense it feels like your hard work is being recognized. I auditioned and they found me worthy to be able to play the role so that means I was doing something right. And then the people that you meet because it’s always a long queue and sometimes you are there the whole day and you buy gala and coke. If you don’t have money then you buy gala and pure water. I feel like it’s all just part of the journey but when you are at that point you will never think that there will be a time when they will call you for closed door auditions. It was a good experience. When you are being told that they cannot hire you to play role initially you feel very bad that you had hoped. I feel that it is to build you up in this industry. Sometimes they call you for closed doors audition and they still don’t call you for the job.
So, at what point did the spotlight come for you in the industry?
That will be during Jenifas Dairy, It was really unplanned. Nothing really prepares you for fame. I didn’t think I would be famous. I used to have one drama group in UNILAG and our tutor used to tell us that there are some actors that will never be famous and it doesn’t mean there are not good and it just happens to some people. He kept mentioning names of fantastic actors we didn’t know. I believe that God gives different grace to different people. It doesn’t mean that you are not talented or good enough. That’s how God is. When the first season of Jenifa’s dairy came out I never believed I would be famous or come for the next season until people started calling Toyo baby and I became famous. The movie did it for me.
Does price determine if you will part of any role you are given?
No. I don’t think anybody should do that. You have to love the story; you have to be interested in playing the character. Every actor has certain thing that they can do and can’t do. You just have to check with yourself if you actually really want to go into it. At the end of the day the money they pay you will finish but that project will be there forever. If you don’t like what you did, anytime people bring the project you will be feeling disappointed even if your fans are hailing you but you know that you don’t like what you did.
What will make you reject a script?
I will reject a script 100 per cent if it doesn’t align with my values.
What are some of the challenges you face being an actor?
I think it would be the fact that sometimes it is not how good you are, it’s about the people you know. You might get a role and probably the person dropping money for the project doesn’t like you or prefers someone else and then they drop you for that person. For you, it breaks your heart because you have pictured yourself playing that role and then they drop you last minute.
Another challenge takes a lot of your time. I was saying that landlords should start giving actors discount because we are rarely at home. You are always up and about. It takes a lot of your time and people don’t really know how much work it takes to be an actor. You need to be mentally, emotionally and physically stable.
People say acting drains them and sometimes takes away more it gives back to them. Do you experience the same thing?
It takes everything from you even though it looks like we are ‘playing’. People think we are players but it’s a lot of work. Even just waiting on set to shoot your own scene, reading the script and getting into character amongst others are challenging. Every job has its own challenges, sometimes I feel like actors have these stigmas.
Why do people think actors and actresses are wayward?
I think people just assume that actors are wayward or wild. You can’t just judge anybody because of their profession. You cannot judge anybody because of their looks. Looks can be deceptive. That person you think is the wildest and most deceptive person can be sweet. The person looks that way because they choose it or they don’t see it as anything bad. That’s their style. Meanwhile the person you think is the best might actually be the devil. You never know who is who unless you have a discerning spirit or you meet them. I feel there is just that stigma or tag that actors are promiscuous, they cannot have a good marriage.
Are there down moments when you felt you were in the wrong profession?
Yes, there are times where you are like what am I doing. I had moments like that when you think that what am I doing here? Am I not supposed to be something else? The Lord directs your life and you check with him to see what the plan is for me? You will see if he still wants you here and I will just be here because every job has its challenges.
How were you able to put yourself together during those moments?
I go back to be with myself. I pray. I listen to audio books, sermons. I read. I listen to worship music and I cry. By the time I do all those things I just know that I’m back.
You have acted several roles, are there still dream roles you look forward to playing?
Yes. I would love to be like Angelina Jolie and fight, play a role like they did in Fast and Furious. Or like Wakanda with super powers to fly. While in Nollywood, I feel like whatever the role is, when it comes it will align
Coming into the industry, there must have been some people industry giants you look up to?
There are so many amazing people in the industry. Aunty Funke Akindele is one person I admire so much; she’s very hardworking, a go getter and she’s unstoppable. I feel like she’s a person who believes that if she can think about it then she can have it and she will go for it no matter what anyone says. Also, I admire Genevieve Nnaji a lot, before I thought I would be an actor, outside my school gate, they sell story books and music book, I usually look out for the one that has Genevieve’s face. I love her from watching her movies. I used to cut out any newspaper that has her face in it and use it to wrap my book, put it in my room. I just liked her and I’ve always loved her like that. When my friend started working with her and she said she’s so chilled and nice. I loved her even more. She didn’t know the clothes were coming to me but thanks to her I got a lot of free clothes. I just like her lifestyle as well. She’s so graced and blessed. I love how she acts. To me I think she’s a natural and I like how she’s not all over the place and when she shows up, she shows up. I love Nse. I cannot even describe it. One time I met with her manager before I ever even got to work with her and I was like please I don’t know if she will be taking any acting courses because I would like to come and learn under her. I love how she embodies her characters. She’s also really graced and blessed.
What is your take on streaming platforms helping to position Nollywood to the world?
I love it. I think it is showcasing Nollywood to the world. Like how Anikulapo went viral and even people from other African countries and abroad were watching the movie. That’s our culture and tradition. I love these partnerships. I’m really praying for more bigger and better partnerships because that way people can see the story we have. We have so many untapped, untouched stories and people can see how really talented and exceptionally brilliant we are in Nollywood. Nollywood is full of so many talented people. I feel that if some actors from Nollywood are taken to Hollywood and we get the kind of special treatment that they are getting there then we will deliver better.
Which genre will you say you are comfortable acting in?
I am comfortable in either of the two. I used to think I preferred to do English movies. There is this proper epic Yoruba movie we did and I got my first lead role in an epic role. I was scared. I thought about how I would speak Yoruba because it’s different from the usual one we speak everyday but I was up to the task and I did my assignment. I got someone to read my script with me. When I got on stage and said my first lines everyone just clapped for me. I loved the whole vibes of the movie and the moral and culture portrayed. I can’t pick one. I love both genre.
In 2017, you published your autobiography, what brought about that the idea of a book?
I feel like what had happened was that I had dreams about me writing a book and sharing my story in front of so many people. I believe that I have the gift of dreams so when I kept having those dreams consistently, I felt it was about time to share my story. One of the ways that God speaks to me is through dreams. I know dreams that I know is not a figment of my imagination but a message. That happened consistently so I knew it was time for me to share the story. Sometimes when people see our vulnerability, they can see hope and know that if this person came from here and is here now then there is hope for me. Just for another person to see that they are not alone. Sometimes it is the feeling of being alone that kills people faster. They feel they are the only one in the world going through these things. I don’t know if people have wild thoughts because I have some, I live in my head a lot. For people like me you find out that you are over thinking many things and when you do that you have the weirdest thoughts that when you say it to someone, they ask how you are thinking that. When you keep it in your head it drives you crazy. That was essentially why I felt the need to tell the story because I felt the need to tell the story.
What project are you currently working on?
I’m working on another book. I’m working on some other things I don’t want to let out now.