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Ini Dima-Okojie on bodying broken characters and finding balance eight years later [Pulse Interview]


“When the show got cancelled, it hurt more than a heartbreak. I cried for at least a year. I would think of Oga Pastor and literally start crying. I thought about the point of giving so much of myself to a character that no one got to see, then swore never to go that deep into a character.”

A couple of years later, Ini is opening up about playing Sarah in Netflix’s new limited series ‘Blood Sisters’.

Undoubtedly, the heartbreak of playing Laitan lingers, but “being an actor and being able to be a storyteller feels bigger than me,” says the New York Film Academy alumna.

In the below conversation, the actress talks about finding balance between Ini the actor and the individual away from the lights, camera, action! Getting over the heartbreak of Ndani TV’s Oga Pastor series and finding the courage to once again give herself entirely to a character.

My Nollywood journey has been an interesting one. By the time I decided to tow this path, there was no looking back for me.

During the hard times, I found strength to persevere because just being an actor and the opportunity to be a storyteller feels bigger than me.

Going back to when I got back from film school, I didn’t know where to start. It so happened that a family friend was about to become a first time producer for a series called ‘Before 30’. This was in 2014.

When I reached out to her, they were done with auditions and had started filming. However, there was a spot for a Production Assistant. I did not mind. I needed to get my foot in the industry. So I joined Nollywood as a Production Assistant while still auditioning.

My major break came a few months later when I got a supporting role in ‘Taste of Love’, another series with Blossom Chukwujekwu in the lead role. I hurriedly quite my Assistant job.

Which has been your most challenging role yet?

Sarah definitely was a hugely challenging role on different fronts. There was the physical aspect to it, and it was a different kind of physicality cause it is not an action film where you train and stuff. It was a physicality where she had to struggle in that journey.

It was crazy what we did. We were in Makoko, jumping canoes, going for hours on the run. In Epe we were barefoot half the time. But even more so challenging was the emotional aspect to Sarah.

It was challenging for the character and for me. As an actor, I am unable to emote from the surface. I am not one of those actors that can get their eye ducts to produce tears at will. If I am going to break down, it has to come from within. It is how I am able to perform.

Plus I was in a place as an actor where I had sworn never to break myself for any role and this stemmed from Oga Pastor (The 2019 Ndani TV series was unceremoniously cancelled after its first episode).

I remember that character like it was yesterday. Laitan was the most beautiful, intense character ever and as an actor, I unlocked the door to the character. It felt like a drug, being able to be there but not really be present. There is no way that doesn’t impact your life. There were scenes where I just wasn’t there to a level that it was almost scary.

When the show got cancelled, it hurt more than a heartbreak. I cried for at least a year. Like I would think of Oga Pastor and would literally start crying. It really shattered me. It just didn’t make sense to me. I thought about the point of giving so much of myself to a character that no one got to see, then swore never to go that deep into a character.

So when I got Sarah, I was like Wow! Not again! I knew I was going to have to break that wall and give it everything I could cause you see, Sarah is broken on every level. She’s bullied by her friends and family so much that she is unable to stand up for herself. There are a lot of layers to her which is why the scene when she finally tells Kola no is so monumental.

Do you remember how many takes that scene required?

The ‘Kola murder’ scene was shot for hours because we shot from several angles. There was my angle then Kola’s and Kemi’s. I don’t quite remember how many takes but I know it took hours with director Biyi Bandele opting to focus on my character first as he didn’t want me to burn out. We filmed the series for two months and didn’t go more than four scenes daily because of how intense most of the scenes were.

Do you remember any other emotionally charged scene that took a lot from you?

Do you recall the scene where Kemi and Sarah are talking about running away to avoid prison? That scene was written completely different. The entire script was in English by the way. In fact it was more like American English so we broke it down to a lot of the pidgin and the authentic Nigerian flare that you see. We would discuss the scenes with the directors and they would let us insert Nigerian Pidgin or not. But that scene was crazy.

It played out completely different to how it was written. They were having a conversation and Sarah was more like her gangster self. However when we were filming, Nancy and I burst into tears. We were crying and they just kept rolling. When they yelled cut we just kept crying.

I remember Adeoshin, our amazing AD. He cleared the set out so that we could just finish wailing and then we came back and took the scene again. We still cried but it was more like controlled sobs.

Have you got projects in the works post ‘Blood Sisters’?

Wow! It’s open. Literally a flood gate of opportunities. We are in talks for a number of projects but the very next thing I’m going to be filming is the next season of The Smart Money Woman. I get to play someone light and happy for a change!

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