In the words of Kendrick Lamar, “If I’m gonna tell a real story, I’m gonna start with my name.” What’s in a name that makes it so significant in the stories of our life? A lot of people identify with their names through the traditional meanings and all the better when you need a name that motivates you as an individual. For Toyin Abraham, formerly known as Toyin Aimakhu, it was more than a fresh start as she says, “Yes, changing my name signified a fresh start.” Initially, it was a family decision to change the name but Abraham resisted because of her brand. With the controversial events associated with her in the recent past, she finally made the decision to go with the family change. What’s different now? “Toyin Abraham is a different and better brand and I’m here to stay and break new grounds,” she says.Abraham’s journey to stardom started in 2003 when Bukky Wright scouted her in Ibadan, while she was helping out on set, and she eventually had to fill in for a missing actress. In her own words, “I was not there to act, I just went there to help out but I acted well and I was paid.” Since her introduction to the movie industry, she has grown from an actress to a producer. Describing her motivation to stay in the industry, she says, “I love the fact that for every role or character I play, I get to be another person and that is so exciting. I also get to make people laugh.”
Although she had no formal or informal training in the field before her first break, she describes one of the unique factors that aided her career thus far to be her life experiences. “I didn’t have a privileged childhood, so, growing up, I had to do different things to make ends meet and all these experiences have helped to shape me into who I am. The experience of my past helps a lot in many of the roles I play.”
Laughter they say is music to the soul and Abraham has been dishing it throughout her career. The third movie in her comedy series, Alakada Reloaded, reportedly grossed twenty-five million naira in three days. Abraham credits her environment for the idea: “The story idea was also inspired by our environment, the whole fake life that a lot of people seem to be living now; lying and living a lie. So, I just decided to tell a story of a girl that represents these set of people.” With premieres in Odeon Cinema Greenwich in London and Filmhouse Cinemas in Surulere Lagos, Abraham credits the growth of the franchise to God and adds, “Sincerely, I am overwhelmed by the franchise and how far it has gone. It honestly went beyond my expectations. It’s bigger than me now and I thank God.”
Speaking of the mixed reviews which Alakada Reloaded got, she says, “My fans are the best in the world, but we can’t all agree all the time. So, the mixed reactions are normal and honestly expected and this is because we can’t all see something the same way.”
Abraham is one of the very few actresses who feature and act quite convincingly in both the English and Yoruba genres of Nollywood. And more and more English Nollywood movies premiere in the cinemas week in, week out these months. The life of an actress is hardly boring as she reveals, arriving our cover shoot from one production set while working on her coming movie titled, M.M. Admitting to leading a very busy life, Abraham responds to the popular work-life balance question saying, “I create time, and so my work and personal life do not clash.” Adding, “The kind of work I do as an actor, I decide what to do and what not to do, what job to take on or not, so my schedule is in my hands. But for now, I have decided to channel all my positive energy to my work and it has been working for me.”
Drugs and depression
Being in the limelight, we assume, can never be easy. In a recent interview, Abraham spoke of her battle with depression and drugs, and what landed her there. Here, she sheds more light: “Depression came as a result of the negativities around me at the time. Like I said in that interview, I didn’t plan for a broken marriage and after the marriage ended, I was down and I didn’t give myself enough time to heal before jumping into another relationship. I lost touch with things that used to work for me, things were just spiralling out of control, it felt like I was no longer in control of my life and so when a friend introduced me to drugs, I embraced it and tried to find solace with it.”
Abraham didn’t wallow in self-pity for long and rather quickly snatched back her life. “It was like an awakening. I realised I deserve more and that I needed to keep looking at the bigger picture. So, I sought for help, I changed my team and the people around me. I changed some of my friends too and here I am today. All in all, I thank God for the grace and for a new me.”
For the love of acting
Working hard in the industry as a producer and actress, when asked to choose between acting and producing, she picks acting saying, “I will pick acting because acting gives me this rare opportunity of playing different people. I get to be a different person for each role and that is both exciting and fulfilling for me.”
If acting hadn’t come calling, this Ibadan-raised Polytechnic graduate would have chosen Marketing for a career. “I like to think my mouth is sugarcoated enough to sell. Again, I am a very friendly person who likes to meet new people and marketing will give me that opportunity.”
Trivia with Toyin
If you were a musician what will be your stage name?
Oh! My stage name will definitely be Toyintitans
Which is your best physical feature?
What did you want to be when you were much younger?
A physiotherapist; I just really loved it then. Well, the interesting part of being an actor is that any day now, I could be playing the role of a physiotherapist.
What is your greatest achievement?
The fact that other people look up to me as a role model and I make people laugh, those are the greatest things I have achieved. It’s very humbling knowing that a lot of young people look up to you and want to be like you.
Would you say you have a hidden talent?
Yes, I do. I can sing.
If you were a flower, which one will you be?
I will be a hibiscus flower. Hibiscus flowers, though come in different colours and sizes, have a delicate beauty that draws you in. That flower just fascinates me and I think it best describes me.
“I realised I deserve more and thatI needed to keep lookingat the bigger picture.”