by ‘Chukwu Martin
Long Sleeves (2021) a film by David ”Gee” Ahanmisi is a protest film, a controversial social commentary that traverses the justified hysteria of police brutality. The film imagines an underground justice system where ordinary citizens take action against the erring government workers. It is a revolution of sorts but is this their intention? Amidst this, ‘Chukwu Martin inquires about the actors process and their work in this short protest film:
I’m very well aware of your backgrounds in theatre and now to film and I’ve been impressed by the journey so far. What has been the biggest challenge as actors in this industry?
SIMI: Personally, for me right now, the major challenge has been finding work. It’s one thing getting into the industry, it’s another staying in the industry, and how do you do that if you don’t find work? So for me, right now the major challenge is getting booked. Right after that is finding what has enough content to showcase your talent. Yes I know there are no ‘small roles’ and all, but then you can’t keep playing small roles your entire career.
UCHE: I am not saying I have attained the impossible but I must always acknowledge the work I have put into my craft. The major challenge for me is getting people see that this thing is serious business and should be treated as such. Pay me what I’m due and when I’m due.
The mentality of “no small roles” sometimes make the actor less ambitious with his craft, I mean with the devotion to characters.
UCHE: I concur. It does little to build capacity.
SIMI: True. Just because you want to keep working, you subject yourself to roles that end up marring your career in the long run.
The excuse of having bills to pay make many actors engage in too many productions in order to earn more.
SIMI: It’s no surprise when these actors give the same performance in every work. They look the same, talk the same, and act the same.
UCHE: True, they say no one ever pays you what you’re worth. I get that we live in an “unfair world”. It all boils down to negotiation. But even at that, you can do right by artistes. Stop pricing them like pepper; they have mouths to feed as well.
What would you say makes a true artist?
UCHE: I’d say TENACITY. The staying power required to be a true artist in this world is immense. It shields you from unsolicited/uninformed critics; it helps you get back on your feet after a hard NO.
SIMI: Truth is subjective, but there are universal truths. In the world of make-believe, a true artist is one who makes the audience believe in what they do onscreen. If an artist cries, laughs, moans and sighs onscreen, and the audience cannot connect or ‘suspend their disbelief’ for that very moment then there’s a problem.
UCHE: That is not to say that informed criticism does not hurt too but the will to control your EGO keeps you in check. It is about the work, not you.
SIMI: It’s not such an easy task, especially where the environment might not be so conducive, but a true artist must try.
UCHE: In the moment, a true artist only has to BELIEVE. I am a sucker for the Meisner technique. Once the actor can believe the given circumstances, there is no height or depth too great to conquer. Emotions become fluid and rhythmic.
You were both actors in LONG SLEEVES by Director “Gee”. How has been the comments so far?
SIMI: Generally, the comments have been favorable. Apparently, the viewer’s feel the character got what he deserved, so I can say I did my part, in my own little way. Going beyond that, people were able to identify with the atrocities being committed by rogue police officers in the country and the need to do better.
UCHE: Oh my gosh! The response has been heart-warming. I do not think people saw us coming. More importantly, the lessons were not lost on them. The police need to do better and fast. A few of them thought it was pro-jungle justice but hey, what is art if not subjective?
Yes. It’s very identifiable. And in corners we’ve heard young people threaten to do certain things to officers of the force. Implementing the threat is one I haven’t seen in the News. What do think about “the method” suggested in the film?
UCHE: Actions will always speak louder, isn’t it? Making a movie like ours in this dispensation is a great responsibility. Where do we go from here? I personally do not agree with my character (Temi) but there are thousands of women who would gut their molesters like a fish if they had to. For me, it is the same vicious cycle. I believe in the fire that has been ignited by the #EndSars movement and the magic of it rests with the fact that we remained peaceful.
SIMI: Hmm…Well, that’s a tough question. Little drops make an ocean. Hopefully, it’ll get to the right channels and it’ll move up the chain of command.
UCHE: Judicial and legislative reforms should be at the fore so that offenders are duly prosecuted under the law. Now that 2023 is on the horizon, we can mobilize forces to demand the change we want. Silence is no longer an option.
SIMI: Besides that, we hope that ordinary citizens can stand up and ask questions for themselves. Don’t always let things slide. You see something wrong, say something. Talk about it.
The film is one that sparks controversial dialogue. But let’s look to the artistic journey. How did you get the roles and what inspired your characterizations?
SIMI: I’d worked with the producers Victor and Chike, on another project which was a police procedural TV series. So they had a fair knowledge of what I could do as an actor with the role. I’d also worked with the director Gee, so it was more like a reunion for me. The inspiration came from the personal experience I’d had dealing with rogue police officers years back and also from videos I’d seen online. Most times I play the ‘good guys’ so it was fun for me delving into the character.
UCHE: Victor and I met when we worked together on #AMUnbroken. He approached me shortly into the COVID-19 lockdown with the script. This gave me ample time to really focus on how Temi should be expressed. There were times when I had to be sure I was not judging her because of how different (in ideology and temperament) Uche is. I guess in a lot of ways, Director Gee wanted me on the project because he’s always talking about how easy I am to work with. I like to think I am as malleable as can be. Temi needed to find room to breathe in my vessel in a way that couldn’t be stifled.
The opening scene required a specific action. Did it take any extra convincing to get it done? As I’ve discovered some actors would rather not “act that part of them”.
SIMI: Not really. I’d read the script a couple of weeks before, so I knew what needed to be done. Still, I needed the director to push me in the right direction, so we didn’t lose the shock value of the scene.
UCHE: Also, like Simi says, the excitement of playing a “bad” character also helped. I watched Hocus Pocus for just the laugh but the rest of Temi came from my sister and a rather eccentric aunt of mine..
I found the opening pleasing. I had used a scene like that in one of my shorts and an actor who was going to “masturbate” had no problem with it but a co-actor had reservations. What would you say about artists like this? Should artists have sentiments to the characters they are called to perform?
SIMI: Well, I don’t think artists should have reservations, as long as the act advances the story in the long run. But every artist to his own though…
UCHE: The opening for me was brilliant! Artistes generally have their inhibitions and I am not going pretend I don’t have mine. But altogether, the fewer you have, the better your work gets. Quit judging for a second and you just might learn something new from/ about the character.
SIMI: Absolutely. I remember the scene where Uche’s character was going to rub my character’s crotch in the torture scene. It wasn’t originally stated in the script, but the director thought it would help the scene and we did it. And that was that.
UCHE: I concur! This speaks to the level of trust co-actors should have between or amongst themselves. Teamwork is key.
Solid points. “The fewer you have, the better your work gets”
SIMI: Teamwork makes the team work
(BE WARNED: sensitive content).
Charlotte Gainsbourg starring in most Lars Von Trier film would go this far. What would make you go this far? Would you? Can your art take you this far?
SIMI: 1. Does it truly advance the story being told? 2. Would the intended audience appreciate it? 3. Can I weather the storm, when it eventually comes?
UCHE: Interesting point. For me, the crux of the matter remains “How relevant is this to the big picture?” I would hate to cast pearls before swine because whatever risks I take seem redundant. Also, like Simi says, can I deal with the aftermath? Bottom line, if it is not worth the trouble, I will not do it.
The society’s tongue. It has killed many actors. How can actors who decide to put in the work to portray controversial characters survive this?
UCHE: I think you survive by weighing your options. Every artist has a scale. There was a time in my life when I could not kiss or wear a bra onscreen. It is 2021 and I have done both. As time progresses, inhibitions peel off like an onion. I think it is a tad bit pretentious to fault us for considering the society before building momentum for it.
SIMI: Understand what exactly you’re doing as an actor and be able to defend it artistically. Also, make sure you get paid well.
Who are the filmmakers you’re looking forward to working with? And what do you think actors should do to procure more jobs?
SIMI: Rogers Ofime, Kemi Adetiba, Tade Ogidan, Tunde Kelani, Kunle Afolayan . Well, they have a portfolio that has not just artistically viable films but also big budgets as well. Keep working. Do monologues. Attend workshops. Take headshots. Speak to fellow actors, directors, producers.
UCHE: Izu Ojukwu, Mildred Okwo, TUNDE KELANI and Kemi Adetiba are chief on my list. Izu Ojukwu: 76! Need I say more? Mildred Okwo: I really like the role she played in re-inventing Rita Dominic and I would love to glean as much as I can. Tunde KELANI: His authencity is second to none. Kemi Adetiba: She is bodacious and her PR wave wouldn’t be so bad for a girl. To up-and-coming actors: – Take risks, lots of them now. It is a luxury you won’t have when you “blow”. Network horizontally as well. Collaborating with your peers can be very helpful in achieving your dreams. – Put stuff out there constantly. Monologues and dialogues alike. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for your money!
About rehearsals for Long Sleeves, what was that like?
UCHE: Honestly, there could have been more time for rehearsals. We made do with what the resources available could accommodate. Yes. A couple of days before shooting, we had meetings and readings to understand the motivation for the character and the direction of the director.
SIMI: Yes. A couple of days before shooting, we had meetings and readings to understand the motivation for the character and the direction of the director.
UCHE: Exactly. It was amazing that we pulled it off in such short time for meetings and readings.
Have you been offered any job you had to refuse? If yes Why?
UCHE: In plenitude! I like to think that I say NO almost as much as I get it. Most recently, I rejected a job because it involved throwing a colleague of mine under the bus. I never want to be that guy. It was very obvious that the money was paltry pay and I wasn’t going to be the more economical choice and make her look like she was overpriced. I politely turned it down on the same grounds.
SIMI: The few times I’ve refused is due to the fact that I was trying to avoid being typecast early in my career.
UCHE: Ditto! This is my second reason. Too many domestic violence roles and I had to put a cap on it.
How was it working with Director “Gee”?
SIMI: Gee sets out to do things differently and that’s what I like about him. Has a vision of what he wants in his head and makes sure you understand too. Then he gives room for the actor to work as well.
UCHE: I like Gee, in terms of how he works, to a striptease artist. He is deliberate and very focused even to the minutest details. He watches every move the actor makes and is very particular about the relationship between actors and their immediate environment. He takes his sweet time and that’s what I love most about him. He is a real Gee.
What did you find most commendable about the project?
UCHE: I loved the TRUTH in every frame. The locations were as relatable as possible. Of course, a few issues were raised about the checkpoint being only manned by Emeka but overall, it was honest story-telling. Gritty, plain honesty.
SIMI: The fact that the producers were trying to make something for themselves, rather than waiting around for someone to come along. This was their first work together and by all counts, it worked.
I’d like you to say something about working with each other.
SIMI: Uche is a consummate performer. Deeply researches her characters and brings them to life as much as she can. Always willing to collaborate with her co-actors to bring the scene in every scene.
UCHE: For Simi Hassan, he may have an idea of how much I respect him but it is far deeper. His work ethic is top-notch and I particularly loved how he uses his entire body to tell a story. I’m always grateful for his team-playing skills.