Unarguably one of Nigeria’s most talented thespians, Joke Silva, speaks about her award-winning career, marriage and other related matters
What do you remember of the time you began acting?
What I remember was that it was incredible fun. It was at the University of Lagos and I was part of the cultural centre. We used to rehearse plays directed by the late Prof. Bode Osanyin, and we performed at places like the Goethe Institute and British Council. We were always performing.
Why did acting appeal to you?
I enjoyed performing for people. I think I had more fun before I went for my training than I did after training. I performed with the University of Lagos, went to Nigerian Television Authority, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria and from there, I went to perform at the National Theatre. Soon after, I went to train in England. I went to the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts, London. When I completed my training, I returned home after a stint at The Royal Court Theatre. I also did a little bit of work with the British Broadcasting Corporation.
How and when did you notice your flair for acting?
My parents were the ones who enjoyed watching me perform. When I was in primary school, we had a stage production called The Merry Peasant or The Stranger. It was a musical and I played the Merry Peasant. This was something I did in my final year in primary school. Years later, someone saw me and said, “Were you not the Merry Peasant? You were excellent.” I continued performing in secondary school, Holy Child College, Obalende and when I went for my A levels in Bournemouth. I also sat for the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts examinations. I did that up to gold medal.
How come your parents encouraged you to pursue a career in acting at a time when most parents frowned at such?
I think part of it had to do with the fact that they were both professionals. My late mother was a medical doctor, and my late father was a lawyer but both of them also enjoyed the arts. My mother played the piano and when my father was at the London School of Economics, he would join his friends who were on film sets in London. My mum did her A levels abroad and studied Medicine in Liverpool. My mother had a schoolmate who became a very successful actress and she used to watch her on the big screen. For them, it was what I loved doing. However, they also tried to caution me because they knew it was a hard profession. My father’s cousin was the late Uncle Jab Adu of the Village Headmaster and Adio Family fame. He was very good friends with the Olusolas. My parents knew it wasn’t really a piece of cake to be an actress in any country and becoming an actress in Nigeria, was doubly difficult. For them, they would have preferred if I had a fallback plan. My father was interested in me having Law as a fallback plan. I think with me, there was an understanding of my nature very early on in life that if I should had a fallback plan and things got difficult, I would just quit. I think that was part of the reason I was pretty stubborn with them about not wanting a fallback plan. Also, when I had my gap year, they saw how much I flourished and thrived as an actress. They both felt that since acting was what I had been wired to do, then there was a need for me to get proper training.
Did you read a theatre-related course at the university?
I did not go to university until years later. I had been working for quite a couple of years, I had been married and I was expecting our second child when I went to UNILAG to study English.
How is the industry different from when you started out as an actress?
Then, there wasn’t that much work. I could function on the various platforms of theatre and television. At that time, there were not many films. The films that were being done at that time were few and far between. It was usually with the late Pa Hubert Ogunde, who I really wanted to work with but never got the opportunity to do so. I was really upset about not being able to work with Pa Ogunde, Ade Afolayan and Baba Sala. I did more theatre and quite a lot of television. Now, there is a lot more work. Once you are a good actor and you have been able to network properly, you are rarely going to be out of work.
When did you get your career breakthrough?
It was probably in the early eighties and in three different films; Owuro Lojo, which did exceptionally well and brought me to the notice of the Yoruba audience. There was Violated, which brought me to the notice of the English-speaking audience and then, there was theatre which sealed my professionalism and acumen. That was The King Must Dance Naked by Fred Agbe.
Have there been times you felt like quitting?
I have been acting for about three decades and I always feel like quitting until the next job comes.
What have you done to remain relevant over the decades?
I think a good actor is one that continues to learn about their craft and is always willing to learn. You can’t say because you have been acting for years, then you know everything. A lot of times, you are working with a different director, so they bring something new to the table. Of course, because you have experience, you can think along with the director on some things but I think it also important to be open to the experience, learn , see where the character is taking you. No two characters are the same.
Do you have retirement plans?
What for? Acting is one job that you don’t need to retire from because you have people in real life who live to be 100 years old and above.
What does one need to build a successful acting career?
A lot of people say humility gets you a long way but sometimes humility can be a very interesting word to define. I think getting along with people, always being willing to try new experiences as long as they are not harmful help to build a great career. I think longevity in the industry also has to do with being aware that there are changes happening. Some changes are good and some are bad. There are some changes that you must help to nurture.
Are you impressed by the current generation of actors?
Yes, I am. I have worked with some of them on Gidi Up and they are an amazing crop of talents. I work with a lot of them in the theatre as well and they are totally dedicated to their work. Of course, you do find a few who come in because they want the fame. I am not interested in those, I am interested in those who are totally dedicated to their craft and continue to up the ante.
What brought about the Lufodo Academy of Performing of Arts?
I felt that there was a gap in the training of actors. You had either the Theatre Arts degree awarded by the universities or you had training that was informal in which you apprenticed with a company. We felt that the gap was the academy that you find in other parts of the world. The training is totally practical and it is usually between two and three years. Sometimes it might be less depending on your experience or level of theatre awareness.
The academy is going on to its fourth year, but right now, we are on a break. We are restrategising but we should back again on stream in January.
Do you consider yourself lucky to be married to someone in your industry?
I am very lucky to be married to the man that I am married to. Firstly, because he is my friend more than the fact that he is in my industry. That I would marry someone in my industry was not farfetched because I was always around people in my industry and I was not mixing with too many people outside my industry. He is somebody who has incredible passion for his work, believes in his work and he has so much respect for his work. I think that is my gain from being married to him.
How did you meet?
We met at the National Theatre whilst we were working on the production of Jero’s Metamorphosis.
Did you not entertain fears about getting married to someone in the limelight?
It did not even occur to me that there was likely to be that kind of stress until we started experiencing it. We managed it by God’s grace.
How have you been able to stay married for 30 years?
God is amazing because it is not as if we have a fantastic formula. We have had times when each party was like, “Lord, is this what this marriage is all about?”
Have there been times when your ego as celebrities got in the way of the marriage?
Not really. It is us as human beings finding it difficult to navigate whatever part of the marriage experience we are in at that point in time. Thankfully, God has been extremely faithful and we have been able to weather the storms.
How do you create a work-life balance?
I am not sure that any such thing exists. I think that is in people’s imagination. You just do the best that you can with whatever you are dealing with, irrespective of whether its work or family. If there is a balance, more credit to you.
How do you like to relax?
Watching television but I am more likely to relax watching foreign television than I will watching Nigerian television. Watching the latter is work for me because it is my industry, so I am watching it critically and I can’t get lost in it. For the foreign ones, I can get totally lost in it. Sometimes it is utter rubbish but I couldn’t care less because it has done what it is supposed to do, which is to relax me.
At 55, how you keep fit?
It is God’s grace again because I don’t exercise and that is really bad. It drives my husband nuts because as an actor, you are supposed to be really fit. Apart from moving around every single day, I am always doing something.
Have any of your children taken after you?
We do have a child who has taken after us except that he is not in front of the camera. He is a producer.
All of your years of being married, why have you retained your maiden name?
It was a decision my husband and I made for two reasons. Firstly, I grew up knowing some people who as celebrities were known by a particular name and then the name changed. Subsequently, the marriage did not work and they went back to their maiden name. I did not want that to happen to me, so if I am Joke Silva, I am Joke Silva. If the marriage works, I am still Joke Silva, and if it does not work, I am still Joke Silva.
Did you fear that your marriage would not work?
I was quite young when I got married but it also seemed as if these celebrity marriages were not marriages that worked all the time. Also, all my husband’s professional life before we got married was in England and over there, nobody changed their names when they got married. Sometimes you would not even know that this person was married to that person because they retained their identity. Most times it is a brand. My brand was being built and was doing well around the time that we got married, so why change it? That does not change the fact that I am still Olu Jacob’s wife.
How do you like to dress?
My style is elegant and easy. I don’t like to have too much going on. Probably because I don’t have the figure for it, I do not wear things that expose my body. I don’t believe in wearing clothes that are too tight.