Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, has an output of over 1000 films a year (except for the year that wasn’t, due to lockdown), coming in at second place in the world, comfortably between Hollywood and Bollywood.
On the tail end of a long week that included celebrating her 26th birthday, Juliana Olayode, one of Nollywood’s dear young darlings, is glowing, as she shares her surprisingly humble celebrations with me. “I’m not really big on birthdays. I like the idea of having a birthday party, but I never follow through. I had a Thanksgiving session with my dias — what she calls her fans — during the day and I had dinner with my bestie in the evening”, she smiles before adding, “and, I got a lot of gifts”.
In London for the premier of a film she starred in, Maggie’s Shoes, she was fortunate to spend a couple of months in the UK during the stricter part of Nigeria’s lockdown, returning home once restrictions had eased up. She acknowledges that she was one of the lucky ones with an appreciative smile, “During the lockdown, I had a lot of time to reflect, relax, and more than ever I realised that life is a gift from God”.
Born and raised in Ogba, Nigeria, she takes me on a trip down memory lane as she relives fond childhood highlights. “The very first thing that comes to mind is building sandcastles”, she giggles before adding, “the innocence of childhood, living a carefree life, having no responsibilities…”.
Growing up with four older sisters and one younger brother, she reminisces about when she was ten years old as she recalls life with her siblings. “I am very thankful for my siblings. My younger brother was and still is my buddy”. She flashes me the cheekiest grin as she confesses, “I remember eavesdropping on my elder sisters whenever they were talking about boys — sweet memories. I also recall wearing my older sister’s clothes for an outing without her consent, and I got caught at the bus stop”.
Proud of her heritage as a Yoruba (one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria) woman, Olayode’s excitement grows as she elaborates on her people, “I love the Yoruba culture, I love the diversity and depth in our dialect. I love the art, the music, the food, the folktales — there’s so much to say about Yoruba culture”. She tells me that respect is at the core of their being, and even teaches me a warm greeting for me to use the next time I see her: Eku ojo meta (It’s been a while, my friend).
Accidental actress & being vulnerable
Olayode’s foray into acting was almost accidental, a friend signing her for, and encouraging her, to attend an audition that she was very unprepared, and totally under-dressed for, she laughs, recalling, “I was so nervous, but the judges were really nice to me, they said they’ll get back to me. I wasn’t expecting to be called back, but I got a call back”, she says and somehow still seems surprised.
Check her out on a movie set below.
Between a string of successful television shows and many movies, hers has been an incredibly fruitful career. But experience in the fickle entertainment industry has taught her that in order to be financially stable, you need to have a couple of side-hustles. Her hustles include: MC, motivational speaker, singer, influencer and author.
In 2017, she published her autobiography, Rebirth: From Grass to Grace, a confessional where she bares her soul and speaks her truth on sexual abuse, career struggles as well as her personal life. I wonder about the driving force behind what could not have been an easy project to see through. “Those who know me know that I keep things to myself, I prefer to deal with whatever it is that I am dealing with alone. I don’t know if it’s a good thing… but I’m just saying this to let you know that I never thought I would share my story. I mean I was open and vulnerable in my book,” she confesses, “Only God could have made me share my story”.
Mess to Masterpiece
Olayode’s relationship with God is evident as she elaborates, “When He told me to write Rebirth, it was a struggle, I was scared. To me, it was like God wanted me to be naked before the world. I thought about the backlash, and I had different emotions while writing it. I revisited my past, old wounds were reopened, I forgave some people again, and I healed again — I am thankful to God that I obeyed”.
There is something so genuinely beautiful about Olayode’s heart and mind, and something so inspiring and humbling about the inspring way she shares her truth and has built a media empire from the ground up—and at such a young age too. Olayode adds, “Rebirth has given people hope, it has helped people heal and it has made people see that God can turn a mess into a masterpiece”.
What’s certain is that she’s done enough resting for now and as the entertainment world slowly kicks things back into gear, you can be sure that that Nollywood’s darling has got big things coming real soon.
Words: Alden Clapper @got.the.clap
Editor: Nikki Temkin @NikkiTemkin
Production: ASA Magazine @asa_magazine_
Patriarch & creative director: Reynold Agge
Model: Juliana Olayode @olayodejuliana
Stylist: Teni Oluwo for @style_territory
Makeup: Tolulope Agge @tnf_studio
Hairstylist: sunmola oluwatoyosi for @oludavid