Taiwo Ajai Lycett is an acclaimed international actor born on the 3rd of February 1941. Having contemplated acting as a full-time profession after being spotted at the Royal court Theater London in 1967, she launched into an intensive training programme in singing, dance, voice production and acting technique at the City Literary Institute, the Ac-tors forum, the Dance center and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, all between 1968 and 1974.Since her stage career resumed in 1971 at the Bublin Theatre Festival with her appearance in Conor Cruise O’Brien’s Murderous Angels; Taiwo Ajai Lycett also pursued a varied stage and Television Career in the U.K. Some of the world’s famous theatres she appeared included the Royal Opera House, Convent Garden; The Hampstead Theatre Club; The Palace Theatre, Westcliffe; The Mercury Theatre, Colchester and the Bristol Old Vic. Enjoy this outpouring interview with her:
How does it feel to be over 70 because you don’t look or act it?
Thank you. I’m alive. I’m living my life and enjoying living. it would never occur to me that I act differently at over seventy. I was 73 in February and I enjoy being alive and having young people around me. You went into acting over forty years ago.
Can you say you’ve really lived your dream?
All our lives, everybody wants recognition for what they stand for. I’ve had this recognition for forty years and that’s extraordinary. In Weekend Times in like 43 years ago, I was interviewed when I just came from England enjoying success in some plays I’ve done. So, I’ve done well in life and in a career and people have consistently recognize me and that’s major for me. Even at over seventy, Tinsel still came for you.
How does it feel acting on same set with younger people?
It’s energizing and fulfilling. It makes me very proud that I’m still relevant in the business and can still work with the team. Working with them makes me learn from them and they learn from me. But you went into acting by accident. My life is an example of how our lives are already destined. Nothing we do is through our power. We were given gifts to rule our world so I just surrendered. I have no doubt I would be a cracking good lawyer if God had chosen me to do Law. But then, God pushed me into acting.
What made you want to study Law in the first place?
When we were young and that was during the pre and post colonial eras, anybody who had a look into some-thing back then were lawyers and so I wanted to read law. I liked that people like Awolowo was a Lawyer who had a commanding presence. And I thought that at post colonialism, we were going to need more lawyers because things were complicated and we were going to unravel so many things. But then, it was decided for me that acting was what I would do and to tell you the truth, if I came back in another life, this is what I’ll do again.
So did you go to any acting school as soon as you decide to act?
Yes I had to go for training so some people wouldn’t look down on me as an unprofessional actress. So I attended the Guildhall School of Mu-sic and Drama, between 1968 and 1974 which is one of the top drama schools. And in fact, I had private tutors who taught me voice training, singing and dancing. I danced at the Royal Opera House. It was huge. I also attended City Literary Insti-tute, the Actors forum and the Dance centre.Obviously you started with stage acting.
Which was you first play?
It was Wole Soyinka’s ‘The Lion and the Jewel’ in 1967. Later I did ‘Some Mothers’, Do ‘ave Them’ Again, and as at that time, I was working. They contacted my agent, Alan Jeffery then checked my professional diary and saw that I was qualified.
You were once a journalist too. Didn’t you find the profession interesting?
Oh yes why not! I enjoyed Journalism as much. My journey into journalism is like my journey into acting. I did voiceovers and modeling for the BBC and writeups. The late publisher of ‘Africa magazine’, Chief Ralph Uwechue called me after a stage play and told me to join his team of writers as an Associate Editor. Then, ‘Sunday Times’ was owned by the Thomas family. That was in 1975. Africa Magazine is an economic, political, and social journal, based in London.
That same year, I launched ‘African Woman’, a political, economic and social magazine for Black and African men and women in the Diaspora. I covered the inaugural Conference of the International Women’s Year in Mexico and the then Germany’s East Berlin, as a photojournalist, for both Africa magazine and African Woman. Then, I interviewed great personalities like the former British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, it was a wonderful experience.There was a time you didn’t want to join Nollywood. That was because I had issues with their standard. There was a time they called me to come over but I didn’t want to because their stories are too stereotyped and you can know the end from the beginning.
They started with fetish stories where juju and shrines were involved. Also, the love stories are not psychologically balanced. Some of the love stories try to copy their Hollywood counterparts and they don’t do it well. They don’t spend enough time to research and gather good scripts and the technicalities in their production were just below average. They think it is just about commercialisation. Professionalism is key! When I was on set for ‘Some Mothers Do ‘ave Them’, they provided all the costumes from my head to my toes, including bras and panties. All the costumes were in my hotel room waiting for me.But you are now with Nollywood!Yes, that’s because ‘Tinsel’ is one soap opera I give credit to and they just know how to treat their actors and actresses. It’s an international standard soap.
Since you are a Nigerian with a wide range of acting experiences, why didn’t you try to impart in Nollywood instead of criticize them back then?
But that’s why I’m here now. Yes, I have some problem with those bad producers who don’t know their right from their left but then, we have producers and directors like Kunle Afolayan and Tunde Kelani and they are doing excellently well. I personally give credit to those that are trying their best to change things in the Nigerian film industry. That’s why I also starred in Tunde Kelani’s new film, ‘Dazzling Mirage’. These are people who have decided to come up with brilliant ideas over the years. I don’t blame this brilliant director, Kunle Afolayan for wanting to relocate to the United States. He has worked so hard to produce wonderful evergreen films, but the Nigerian system and pirates haven’t made life easy for him. Sincerely too, I actually wanted to wait to change some irregularities but some years back, robbers came to my house and carted away everything I had. I was devastated and got tired of everything. I had to relocate to the United Kingdom. It was ‘Tinsel’ that brought me back to Nigeria and I have decided to stay. ‘Hear Word’ is another very wonderful theatre performance I featured in. I costarred with Joke Silva, Iretiola Doyle, Bimbo Akintola, Omonor Somolu, and Dakore Akande. Mr Rasheed Gbadamosi, the owner of Ragolis water came to watch me.
So what’s the solution to all the mess in Nollywood?
The government of Nigeria should see that art is very important to the world at large. If the United States of America wants to project a par¬ticular image about them, they use art. The government needs to do more by investing in the sector and pushing the art sector to the fore because we have the voice.
Personally, what steps are you taking to ensure changes?
That’s why I now have a foundation which is doing very well at the moment. It’s called TAL House Academy where we are training people in acting. I’m getting very good responses. Professor Segun Ojewuyi who recently came back from the U.S. He’s been on ground. The aim is to bring people from across the world to take seminars, workshop, master classes for the young people that we have been training. So Prof. Ojewuyi is teaching in an American university and knows everybody. He’s also a member of the board of our director. I also have prof. Uduka Ochionor the Poet and a Professor in Canada, Professor J.P Clark, Sir Steve Omojafor, and Barr. Mc Anthony NdukaEze. We are training people who will be able to go home and abroad to speak clearly and eloquently. People who use words very beautifully to persuade people and command attention. People who use words to elucidate and illuminate issues. A lot of our politicians just go around mumbling, screaming and shouting. A lot of them don’t know how to put their views across. I’d like to be able to grab one or two of them in order to teach them how to inspire people with their words.
Is that why you went into motivational speaking, how did you get into it?
People call me to come and speak from a long time even abroad. I talk on Nigeria, marriage, health my favourite is talking to people about how their thinking affect what they do and how they feel. I talk to people on how to receive issues and see things from other people’s point of view, and that’s what acting has afforded me; the ability to put myself in other people’s shoes and not get too apathy and fraught about everything. Incidentally, king Sunny Ade is also an investor, and that’s wonderful.
Why do you like wearing hats most of the time?
Because it’s elegant and finishes off your dressing, the same reason why I don’t wear minis. I think for a woman, it’s much more elegant to be covered from head to toe, not for any morality or religion. It’s just that it’s nice and fluid whether it’s a gown or trouser you wear, just to remain and retain the dignity. So I am traditional like that and the way I dress is old fashioned but elegant because the thing with fashion is that it goes up and down and if you are consistent, it will meet you where it left you.
What else do you do aside acting and the foundation?
I write out my mind all the time as I see my life and exploring it. I have a big place at Ikotun Egbe under rehabilitation for the school we are going to be making television and film, and I’m hoping to eventually have a television station myself. So I’ve only just started.
So how have you been fairing since you returned to Nigerian from England?
I’ve never been alone. No big deal. All the people I act with take me and treat me like their mother so I don’t feel like I don’t have a family. So all these young people take me like their mother and grand mother so, I’m not alone. I’m on Facebook, twitter, name it. I’m also computer literate. So I share life with younger people and see life through their eyes. I left everything over there and came and since then, I’ve had no reason to regret it .You once said you’d give marriage another try.
Are you still willing to do so?
I wouldn’t say it can never be possible because I’m still alive. After I lost my husband, I could have remarried if I found someone worthy of my attention but things happened differently.
*this was published in the Daily Times newspaper dated: Friday, December 19, 2014