Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama: New Nollywood rising star goes to Toronto
‘Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.”
The injunction contained in that popular biblical verse is clearly what has played out for Nollywood’s new girl, Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama.
Just about three quality Nigerian movies in her creative pouch and the spotlight is already on the easy-going and humble actress, who would have been a health worker if acting had not called her up.
As you read this, Somkele is already in Toronto for this year’s edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which opened on September 8.
Somkele and one of Nigeria’s leading movie men, OC Ukeje, were invited to be part of the TIFF’s Rising Star Programme, which spotlights two up-and-coming actors from an industry that is in focus under the festivals City-to-City programme.
So, to say that of the over 150 delegates travelling to TIFF for the City-to-City programme, only Somkele and Ukeje are the rising stars accredited to attend as guests and to take part in a series of specialised programming, seminars and workshops organised by TIFF’s industry team, and you will be stating the obvious.
It is, indeed, a huge one. Somkele admitted it is and she shared her story to this stage of her career shortly before she left for Toronto.
Congrats on your Toronto pick as a rising star. You were paired with OC Ukeje. Clearly this is huge. How does it make you feel?
I am grateful to say the least. It is truly an honour to have been selected in the first place and with OC, makes it even better. The TIFF Rising Stars program as you know is a program put together to introduce the selected actors to the major stakeholders in the film industry. You get to meet major casting directors, directors and influencers within the industry that could propel your career further.
Is the Toronto bound movie The Arbitration your first movie or your first as lead?
No. It is not! Dreamwalker, directed by Neville Ossai, was my first movie.
I auditioned for both Dunni and Yemisi at The Arbitration audition and I got a call back for Yemisi’s role. It was a supporting role and I had a wonderful time on set.
It is always such a blessing when you are surrounded by very talented and dedicated people. Everything flows organically and your job doesn’t feel like work.
Niyi Akinmolayan is a fantastic director.
You played your role with unerring skills. Was there any one you understudied for that role or it came naturally?
Well, I would say that I drew a lot of inspiration from Mike Ross and Rachel in the series, Suits, because Yemisi falls somewhere between both characters, in terms of experience as a lawyer.
I also had to do some research into legal terms and out of court settlement proceedings.
A key exercise I had to do was meet up with the scriptwriter to study the script literally line by line and note the emphasis placed on specific words that sell the lawyer’s narrative in defending her client.
I have been a fan of intellectual films and series, so it wasn’t difficult finding resources to help bring the role to life, especially when I had a writer like Chinaza Unuzo, a director like Akinmolayan and a veteran actor like Mrs. Iretiola Doyle being my opponent.
What were you doing prior to your getting involved in The Arbitration, and is Somkele a stylised form of a native name?
I was working to be honest. When I am not in front of the camera, I have quite a number of involvements that give me the stability in between roles.
And yes, Somkele is short for Somkelechukwu. It is an Agbor in Delta State, where I hail from.
I was born and raised in Lagos. I went to grade school and secondary school in Lagos and then university in Ontario, Canada.
Is there anything you did as a child whilst growing up that pointed to the fact that you will end up an entertainer or actress?
Oh yes… I was always the performer in the house. My dad loved music and I loved dancing, so he always called me to dance to all kinds of music on Saturdays.
It came as no surprise that my favourite class in school was drama class.
Who were your early role models and what got you motivated to get on the acting turf?
I have had a number of role models growing up, not necessarily in the entertainment industry, but more in my personal life. However, I will name a few for reference.
I have admired their hardwork, resilience and good heart in the way they have conducted themselves over the years.
These same people are successful in their own right and respective fields, so I know looking up to their positive side will only help my career.
People inspire me for different reasons. For example, if you are a working mother in entertainment, you inspire me (like Ufuoma McDermot, Dakore Akande). If you are bold risk taker (like Mo Abudu, Shonda Rhymes), you inspire me. If you are a person of integrity that will stand for either your faith (Denzel Washington) or your family (Brad Pitt), despite being in entertainment, you inspire me.
How easy has it been so far finding a space to live your dream, considering that the turf is crowded?
I am Christian, so I can only say that it has been by the grace of God. I do not know how I would or even could define a strategy that has led me here.
The only thing I know I did was not denying that this passion existed and that I was better off trying and failing than not trying at all.
Which of the jobs you have done so far would you consider most memorable, and why?
They all have been memorable and for very diverse reasons.
However, my most memorable would be 93 Days. It is such a patriotic movie that speaks for the Nigeria I know exists. We have been quieted for too long by the noise of negativity as a people, so I am most proud to be a part of telling the history of national heroes.
What are your likes and dislikes and what do you do when you are not working on any set?
I like honesty and dislike dishonesty.
Also, I am a health enthusiast and a fashion enthusiast. If I were not an actor, I would be in medicine or any healthcare-related profession. These two keep me just as satisfied as my acting.
As for favourite food and music type, I don’t have favourites really. I will try something new that isn’t scary for the most part.
How fulfilling have you found acting and are you likely to give it up for any other profession now or in the future?
I would say, very fulfilling. And I don’t think I will ever give up.
I can take a break, but most definitely not give up. No, not at all!
What is your career ambition and where do you see Somkele in the next five years?
I hope to have encouraged anyone who questioned his or her passion by the traction I hope to have attained by that time, not just in film, but also in influencing the right perception of the entertainment industry.
Fame is the very uncomfortable part of this job, but I intend to put it to use in the right direction by being a voice for those who would have otherwise had none.
I would say to those young people who want to get into the industry to keep the unique things about them that got them the right attention in the first place, and one of which is humility.