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In Conversation: How ‘Najite Dede Takes on the Screen and Theatre as a Multifaceted Filmmaker

In Conversation: How ‘Najite Dede Takes on the Screen and Theatre as a Multifaceted Filmmaker

“I have respect for acting, irrespective of the style, medium or platform. I prefer theatre acting just because it’s live and in the moment. I think I feel more when I act on stage.”_ ‘Najite Dede

By Fancy Goodman

‘Najite Dede is renowned for her versatility with her performances across various platforms; she stands out both on screen and on the stage. With notable appearances in acclaimed projects such as the Ola Jegede-directed Grown (2023) on Showmax, Niyi Akinmolayan-directed The House of Secrets (2023) on Amazon Prime Video, and Africa Magic’s original period TV series Riona (2020), she has proven herself as a multifaceted artist. Beyond her screen presence, she is equally recognised for her contributions to the theatre world, captivating the crowd with her performances in productions like Shift Lemme Faint (2017) and Her Majesty’s Visit (2017). 

But that’s only a slice of her excellence. Dede is not limited to merely gracing the stage; she also assumes the role of Stage Director, showcasing her creative vision in productions such as My Nina Simone Trip produced by Roots and Blossom Productions in 2017, and Mama Mia, The Musical, which she directed for Jarin Séríkí Productions in 2021. Needless to say, she proves to be a well-rounded theatremaker, dancer, and voice-over artist.

In this interview, Dede speaks about the actor as an artist and as a product. She talks about her preference between stage acting and screen acting, being managed by the talent management team, Guguru Media, and shares her thoughts on directing and producing for the screen. 

Congratulations on the representation at Guguru Media. What does this mean to you at this point in your career?

It’s been great. They’re wonderful people and I’m glad to be with them. I’m looking forward to a fun and beneficial journey together. I started my career without much success in having people who would direct that path. I say all the time that “A dancer cannot see his own back”. So, as much as I think of myself as a talented professional,  I may have ideas of what I want for myself, but I don’t think I should do that as an artist. I think that there should be skilled people who are in the business of managing artists, and understand the artist as a product, and their mindset. They will be the ones to oversee the direction of that artist’s career. It’s not taking over their lives, but being able to look at the bigger picture. Because speaking for myself, I tend not to give as much attention to the other parts of my business. So, Guguru Media has been able to make that very clear for me. 

You have worked on many projects which are on streaming platforms (Grown on Showmax and House of Secrets on Prime). In terms of performance, is something different required of you compared to other projects that are not intended for streaming platforms?

I don’t think that the platform matters. The medium that you’re going to be playing on is not the actor’s concern. You have a role to play, and you play the heck out of that. The streaming platforms may give you more exposure nowadays, but even if it’s just a couple of people who are going to see it, you must do your best. 

Najite Dede in conversation with Afrocritik
‘Najite Dede | Prince Ileleji

Do you think directors demand something different from actors when the project is headed to a streaming platform?

I really can’t speak with any authority about what it must be like for a director or producer when it comes to these platforms. Technically, of course, there may be certain ways you direct a television series or film. There may be certain technicalities that make a difference. Varied negotiations would go on with those platforms or distributors. The director’s responsibility to the whole project and actors is certainly a creative choice. No matter how talented your cast is, you are the one who’s in charge of that overall picture. The producer has a big responsibility to understand what good art is and whether it will make a good product for sale. I mean, their work is a little harder. Then they have to think about which platform it should go to. This is the age of the producer. It’s good to see those people who are actual producers – not just managers of people, but curators of quality and creativity. 

How is acting for these projects different from stage acting?

There are different techniques that you need to employ because when you’re acting for the stage, it’s done live in a space. Your emotions, voice, expressions and mannerisms are amplified, because depending on how big the space is or how many people are there, you have to communicate in real-time, with a live audience. With film or television, performing is more distilled because you have the camera and the microphone that is going to literally, in some cases, be in your face during say, a close-up. So you don’t need to have such large gestures, facial expressions or voice volume. So in terms of technique, they’re different. With theatre, you tend to have more time with the rehearsal process, to prepare for your character. You could have a month or two, to build your character in the world of the play. Also, performances happen in the moment, and there are no second chances. The reverse seems to happen with screen acting where you don’t have as much time to prepare your character in the world. That’s unfortunate, but it’s changing. However, you have several chances to do-over because you may do as many takes as the director feels should be done to get the right thing.

You also direct for the stage. Are you looking into directing for film anytime soon?

To be honest with you, I never wanted to direct films. I directed once for the screen but it never saw the light of day. I’m, however, beginning to change my mind. Yes, I would have to get better acquainted with film techniques. I know that if I have talented experience hands collaborating with me I can do it. The director’s job is also to get the people working with them on that vision. If you have a team that buys into what you want to do, they will put all their skills at your disposal. So considering that, I might direct. I haven’t quite made up my mind,  If you had asked me this a year ago, I would have said certainly not but right now, it’s a maybe.

Najite Dede in conversation with Afrocritik
‘Najite Dede | Prince Ileleji

Why do you think the Nigerian audience prefers seeing films in cinemas or at home than going out to see stage plays? And what do you think can be done for them to better appreciate theatre?

I think it’s a matter of accessibility. Once upon a time, there weren’t as many cinemas as there are now. Now we have cinemas of all sizes. Yet, we don’t have enough theatre spaces, which leaves theatre companies with limited venues to perform. So if more theatre spaces would give the option for people to come watch plays, they would. It’s a case of access.  Also, what there is right now is just out of reach in terms of cost because theatre productions don’t have as many takers when it comes to funding and marketing/publicity. Nowadays, many would-be investors are concerned about quick returns on their investments. Plays need long runs before one sees returns. So a producer has to look at the long-term gains.

Tickets seem prohibitive because we haven’t yet cracked gaining mass appeal to audiences. It’s still thought of as either niche or elite. They’d rather spend 10,000 to 15,000 Naira going to watch a comedy show or a music concert. They get more entertainment value out of that. 

Those who do come for the first time often fall in love with what they experience and want to come back, but theatre isn’t accessible often enough at the right price points. I believe the creation of more theatres of various sizes and types will serve that need. Nigerians love being entertained and Lagos for example is a huge market for entertainment, so if there are enough places, people will come.

Do you have a preference between stage acting and film acting

Yes, I have a preference. I have respect for acting, irrespective of the style, medium or platform. I prefer theatre acting just because it’s live and in the moment. I think I feel more when I act on stage. That’s just me; I feel more energy coming from the audience, even if they’re quiet. There’s an energy that’s in the space with other live human beings. When working on film sets, though, I get good energy from co-actors but I much prefer theatre acting. Funnily enough, I don’t do as much theatre acting as I do theatre directing. Theatre directors out there should be informed that I’m looking forward to being directed as an actor. It’s been a while since I acted on stage.

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Are there any filmmakers you’ve been wanting to work with that you’ve not gotten the chance to?

I’d love to work with Lota Chukwu, Kemi Adetiba, Jade Osiberu, Femi Ogunsanwo, Kayode Kasum, Izu Ojukwu, Imoh Umoren and Editi Effiong to name a few. In fact, I’m ready for them all !! 

Najite Dede in conversation with Afrocritik

We’ve spoken about plans for directing, but do you have plans for producing films? 

Producing is a totally different ball game altogether, requiring specific skill sets in addition to creative sensibility and temperament. I don’t think I have explored enough of the other parts of my creativity. To be honest with you, I don’t know whether I have the temperament to produce. I think people who produce are incredibly skilled. It’s really hard work. So, honestly, I’m not thinking about it for now. Yes, I  know how there’s more control and more profits but it’s a difficult thing to do. You have to be extremely skilled at it. 

That’s totally fine. You keep mentioning “temperament”. Would you like to shed light on the kind of temperament you need to be a producer? 

You need to be very level-headed, business-minded and people-oriented. As I said earlier, you have to have artistic sensibility, to recognise what good art is. For example, people who own art galleries don’t necessarily know how to paint. They’re not artists themselves, but they have the eye for what good art is, and which artist is going to be important in the next ten years. This is something that a producer does. They also need to have the talent and skills to produce. You also need to have discernment with the people to hire. You should know those who are going to work with you that won’t put either your money or your executive producer’s money in the hands of people who are going to misuse it. You have to deal with all kinds of people. You have to be an extremely good judge of character and have business sense. It’s a lot. You have to have a cool head. That’s the temperament – being sensible and strong-minded. I’m too emotional for those sorts of things. The emotional and artistic part of creating good art matters more to me than the product. I’m not very sensible in that way. 

If you could change 3 things about the industry, what would they be?

I would give writers more respect and more money because I believe that writers are the foundation of all films and television shows. If the work is not written properly, it makes everyone’s job harder. So they would get their flowers sooner rather than later. Secondly, I would make talent more important than popularity. Don’t get me wrong – you do need some popularity. It does not sustain a career but it propels it, no doubt. Anybody who says they don’t want to be popular or famous as an artist is not being honest with themselves. But it must be balanced out, so talent would be the measuring stick of hiring for me. Thirdly, I would create a more respectful relationship between filmmakers and the public. Both sides seem to take each other for granted. Sometimes, artists make the audience out to be unintelligent. We have a much more sophisticated audience in Nigeria than we actually imagine, regardless of their social status. Also, more respect should be given by the audience to the filmmakers, and between actors or artists. The fact that you watch people on TV every day does not mean you own them. They are also human beings who need privacy and the same kind of care that you want. So, the public needs to treat them with dignity. 

Fancy Goodman is a Nigerian film writer. Following her participation in the Inside Nollywood Film Journalism Fellowship in 2022, she was launched into film journalism. Passionate about sharing the stories of African filmmakers, her works have been featured on platforms such as What Kept Me Up, The Film Conversation, Inside Nollywood and Film Rats Club. She was selected by Sundance Film Festival as part of the 2024 Press Inclusion Initiative team.  When she isn’t writing, she is either seeing a film or reading. Catch her on her Instagram and Twitter @thefancygoodman

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