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In Conversation: Obi Maduegbuna on Voice Acting, “Iwájú”, and Future Plans in Filmmaking

In Conversation: Obi Maduegbuna on Voice Acting, “Iwájú”, and Future Plans in Filmmaking

“As an actor, I approach any project the same way. I know what my character is and I give my own interpretation.”_Obi Maduegbuna. 

By Fancy Goodman 

British-Nigerian actor, Obi Maduegbuna, has always dreamt of telling stories since he was a young child. This dream landed him the voice roles of Lackeys, Pilot, and Newscaster in the 2024 series, Iwájú, the first animated mini-series set in Lagos and produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pan-African entertainment company, Kugali Media. Even after the success of this project, Maduegbuna is just getting started. The passion he had for filmmaking and storytelling as a child has continued to burn inside him, which is why he pursued acting in the United Kingdom at the Cambridge School of Visual & Performing Arts on the Drama Foundation course, as well as the BA Acting course at East 15 Acting School.

Maduegbuna has acting credits in a number of Nollywood film projects including Dr Sid’s 2022 directorial debut, The Order of Things, Shola Thompson’s 2024 feature, Last Call, and the latest Africa Magic TV series, Checkout. Interestingly, the actor is also a stage performer, as he has had classical training while in the United Kingdom. Being a voice-over artist, too, Madueguna’s stage acting has influenced his voice projection. He has also co-written and produced a stage play, Chapters, which he describes as a semi-biographical tale of his growth from childhood to drama school, overcoming life’s challenges, and the blossoming love for the art of acting. He continues to write projects for himself whenever roles are not forthcoming. He is currently being represented by Guguru Media,  a Lagos-based production company which also offers talent management services.  In this interview, he discusses his experience working on the set of Iwájú, his representation with Guguru Media, and other future filmmaking projects.

Congratulations on Iwájú! How has the reception been for you?

The reception for Iwájú has been amazing! People really love the show, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. The audience has been very supportive, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s so rewarding to see the hard work we put into the series being appreciated by fans. The animation, storytelling, and characters have all been praised, making it a truly special project to be involved in. It’s nice to see Disney’s first collaboration with Kugali, and it’s a Nigerian animation people can relate to because it is the first time [many Nigerians] are seeing themselves represented in animation form.

How did you get cast as a character in the project?

A childhood friend of mine, Tolu Olowofoyeku, has been working on the project with his company, Kugali Media, for some time now. When I learned about it, I contacted him and auditioned by putting myself on tape and the rest, as they say, is history. I auditioned like I would audition for a live-action project. I was given sides, and I recorded myself on camera performing them like I would. Usually, for voiceover work, you would need to send in a voiceover recording but for this project, they wanted to see what we looked like physically. I guess they wanted to look at something different that other voiceover productions might overlook.

Obi Maduegbuna | Afrocritik
Obi Maduegbuna

I imagine that being a voice-over artist helped in some way with voice acting in Iwájú. What are the differences/similarities between voice acting and traditional acting?

Voice acting and traditional acting have some key differences and similarities. In voice acting, you rely solely on your voice to convey emotions, characters, and the story. This means you need to use your voice to create a vivid picture for the audience without the use of facial expressions or body language. On the other hand, traditional acting involves using your whole body to bring a character to life, including facial expressions, gestures, and movements. Both forms of acting require a deep understanding of the character, script, and emotions, but voice acting allows you to focus solely on the vocal performance, which can be a unique challenge.

I’ve done a lot of voiceover projects before, but the Iwájú project was a different experience because I think they made me do everything I could humanly possibly do with my mouth, not only the dialogue and the script. I had to make all the noises I could possibly make so that they would have a range of sounds to put together when they were finally editing the animation. Though a lot of things didn’t make it to the final cut, they just needed everything. Let’s just say, it was a very physical experience.

Where did the voice recording for the project take place?

There were so many actors from different parts of the world who were involved in the project. But I recorded mine in Lagos at the studio at Lekki. We recorded this about three years ago, and I had a few sessions in the studio. There was a screen of the director, and a lot of other producers just watched me and gave me directions as I recorded.

What’s the difference between receiving directions for screen or stage acting versus being directed for voice acting?

As an actor, I approach any project the same way. I know what my character is and I give my own interpretation. And then it’s left for the director to sort of tell me, “Okay, maybe you can try it a little bit lower, or a little bit higher”. I went full out, so I was belting out my lines. I found out that gesticulations help, so not only am I moving my mouth, but also my hands while imagining that I’m acting live. It helped me bring out the inflections in my voice. I also take classes that help me to use my voice very well. You have to deliver your role without straining your voice. Because you’re just constantly speaking and talking more than you normally would.

What are other things you learned in the classes?

I studied at a drama school in the United Kingdom, and one of the courses in the curriculum is voice acting, so you get to learn. In fact, it wasn’t my favourite course out of all the things that I did at drama school. It was only years after graduating and working on voiceover projects that I saw the significance. I learnt breathing, warming up your voice before a project, and the things that you eat before a project. You can’t have chocolate or things that affect your throat.

You are a trained stage actor as well. How has your voice projection in theatre been affected by voice-over art and vice versa?

Having experience in both stage acting and voice acting has definitely influenced my voice projection in theatre. Voice acting has helped me develop greater control and nuance in my vocal delivery, which has translated well to the stage. Similarly, the training I received for stage acting has enhanced my ability to project and modulate my voice effectively in voice acting roles. The two disciplines complement each other, allowing me to bring a more dynamic and engaging performance to both mediums.

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

It’s a great experience because as an actor, you reach a certain level where you need management. A lot of people don’t understand what management is. It’s a collaboration between you and somebody else. Having Mr M (Mautin Olorunleke) as my manager has been such a blessing. He’s been instrumental in focusing on my career growth and providing valuable guidance. Managers like him play a crucial role in an actor’s journey by not only supporting their current projects but also by helping them create new material and strategising a career roadmap. This representation at Guguru Media is a significant milestone for me as it opens up new opportunities and avenues for my career, allowing me to challenge myself, expand my reach and explore exciting projects in the industry.

Obi Maduegbuna | Afrocritik
Obi Maduegbuna

Prior to this, did you have any managers?

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No, I would say that I’ve dabbled in it. I’ve had agents, and there’s a difference between an agent and a manager. Agents simply put you out for jobs. They take a commission of what you have and they try to get you work. A manager is more personal with you and focuses on your career development.

You have produced and co-written a stage play, Chapters, before. How did acting influence your writing for the stage?

Being an actor has had a profound impact on my writing for Chapters. My experience on stage allowed me to approach writing from a unique perspective. As an actor, I understand the importance of authentic characters and engaging dialogue. This insight helped me create more realistic and relatable characters in the play. I was able to infuse the script with emotions and nuances that I knew would resonate with both the actors and the audience. Overall, my acting background truly enriched the writing process and added depth to the storytelling.

Obi Maduegbuna | Afrocritik

What did co-producing teach you?

I’m used to being in a production where somebody else is leading and I’m just following instructions. Producing my own stuff made me see things from a business point of view. And I found that I’m actually hiring these people and putting this stuff together. I definitely got to understand things from a producer’s point of view. I learnt time management, how to put things together, give instructions, and handle tasks. I learnt different things apart from the performance aspect of the play, like the marketing and budget. For a long time, before I produced this, I had issues with some producers because I didn’t understand what they were going through. But after the experience, I learned to see things from their perspective.

You tweeted recently that you might create your own play and cast yourself as lead again. You also stated in a Bella Naija interview that you used to write your own stories as a teenager. Are you looking at writing films for screen anytime soon?

Yes, creating another play is something I’m really considering. Writing my first play was deeply personal to me, reflecting aspects of my life. Working with Paul  Udegbe, my co-writer, was a game-changer. He helped me bring my ideas to life and added layers to the story that I hadn’t even thought of. Together, we transformed a simple idea into a compelling play that resonated with audiences. Paul’s guidance and creativity truly elevated the script to something special. 

Not getting cast in theatre productions because producers weren’t looking my way was tough, and that’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands and create my own work. It’s true that I used to write stories as a teenager, and that passion for storytelling has stayed with me. It’s kind of weird because, at that time, I was just writing based on books I had read and just trying to form similar stories. But that was a whole different process because now I’m in the industry and a creative. I somehow second-guess myself and look at other people’s work and go, “Oh, I don’t think mine is good enough. I have to spend some time to really work on this”. Something I would take from back then is that before, I used to just write without limitation. I wasn’t thinking about the budget. I was just expressing myself with my imagination as a teenager. So writing for the screen is definitely something I’m considering in the near future. The transition from stage to screenwriting would be an exciting new challenge that I’m eager to explore.

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 the 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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