By Sheryl Aronson
Lagos, Nigeria- I never thought I’d be on the other end of the camera – meaning in the front, on a set, playing a foreign banker. I had booked a commercial for Fidelity Bank in Lagos, Nigeria, when I visited last year in July 2015. I, who interview the talent became the talent and felt all the excitement and boredom an actor faces when shooting a commercial.
I decided to interview myself …
So, Sheryl Aronson…how was your first acting job?
“I think I’ll leave the acting to the real actors, who live and die for the camera.”
“My day started before the African sun rose in the ever present gray sky that hangs over Lagos like a swamp…the humidity sits on my skin providing a sauna-feel. I must leave the house early enough to get to a 10 am call, because the traffic in Lagos is quadruple the Los Angeles’s freeways. One is constantly sitting for long periods before the taxi moves to the next hole in the flow…what should take 30 minutes can take 3 hours, so leaving early is the only option.”
What other challenges did you face?
“Did I mention that where I slept the night before, a religious ceremony was being conducted next door? The church members began at 10 pm and continued on until 3 am with singing, chanting, dancing? No one complains because this is life in Lagos.”
Very interesting. Now how did you get this acting job?
“My contact in Lagos, Mr. Henry Gee, who is a model and actor, recommended I go with him on the audition for Fidelity Bank. They were looking for a foreign woman to play the role of a female banker. For once, I was a foreigner. I was curious as to what an audition in Africa was like compared to an audition in Los Angeles. When I arrived, there were hundreds of people waiting outside: mothers with their children, male actors dressed up in suits or casual attire, and the atmosphere was very social. Mr. Gee’s agent was on the premise, and I was escorted inside immediately. I looked around and saw that the two other women auditioning were Chinese. Standing next to me was a very tall white man dressed in a suit. I was then asked to pose for some pictures. I was asked to wear a corporate looking outfit which I didn’t have since I was on vacation. So I pulled together an orange dress with a very colorful silk blouse over it and wore sandals. I then how to pose for the camera to take a few pictures. Well that was easy enough. Presto, I got the call the next day I had been chosen.”
What did it feel like to get your first acting job?
“I must admit I felt exhilarated, which I’m sure every actor feels when they are picked for a role. But I chuckled to myself too, because I realize how hard it is to get chosen for a commercial and how hard actors work everyday to make it in the entertainment business. I had to do nothing. Probably the reason I was chosen was they had very limited choices for foreign women in Lagos. I really never see any white women when I visit there. However, I was grateful for the opportunity.”
How were you dressed for the commercial?
“Here’s the other funny situation. I had no corporate looking clothes whatsoever in my wardrobe. So I had to borrow black pants from a woman who was the Pasteur’s wife from Henry Gee’s church. She happened to be the exact size as me. But I had no blouse or jacket. The stylist for the shoot told me he would bring me something to wear when we had talked on the phone the night before. My measurements were taken by Henry Gee and given to him. When I got to the shoot, the Producer was unhappy with what I had put on, and the stylist hadn’t really brought me appropriate clothes that were my size. It even looked like I might not be able to participate in the shoot. I was first given a purple blouse that was very tight. The Producer nixed that top, because it wasn’t corporate looking enough. Luckily the stylist and Henry Gee searched further through the wardrobe and came up with a jacket and white tank top to go underneath. The Producer finally gave a thumbs and I was then approved.”
What was the environment like for the shoot? How might it be different than Los Angeles?
“First of all people kept arriving at all different times and it seemed a bit chaotic. The stylist ran late, so costuming was running behind. We were told it would be a two-hour shoot from 10 to 12 and yet I was still there at 4pm. The room was quite warm although the air conditioner was on. I had to sign a contract promising me payment, but my money would be in Naira (the Nigerian currency.) Actors in Lagos do not receive residuals for commercials and sometimes the percentages changes as to what the agent receives. It could take up to six months to get paid and that’s considered normal.
I got my makeup done but not my hair. My hair looked like a big puffball from the humidity. Everyone was very professional, but there was a party atmosphere as well, because fantastic rhythmic African music played throughout the room the entire time.
“I heard some interesting comments about the acting industry… there seems to be actors/models that are “auditioning celebrities” because these people get a lot of auditions and are recognized by the other actors as being very popular. It doesn’t necessarily mean the celebrities get the jobs, but they are known for getting a lot of auditions.”
What was your shoot like?
“Waiting…it was like waiting… and waiting some more…and did I mention that I waited. Of course everyone’s phones were out taking pics and looking up their text messages and everything else people do on their phones. My phone stopped working as soon as I hit Lagos, so I spent my time watching all the activity.
Lunch was served just as I was called for my turn in the shoot. The Spicy chicken and rice was put to the side until further notice.
“The tall white man I had seen on the audition was the male foreign banker. We each were told to stand on opposite ends of the group of people. We smiled then smiled some more being instructed not to close our eyes. We took group shots then individual. It was so easy; Even this reporter could follow these instructions. I played my role with such pizzazz, happiness, and authority!”
Let me be the one to determine that…how would you sum up your experience overall?
“Besides the fact that the rain came down outside like the heavens were crying for thousand years…I will be happy to see my face on some Lagos billboard, or print ad knowing I gave it my all…even if that just involved putting up with a tight fitting blouse and jacket plus puffy hair.”
Would you do it again?
“Like I said at the beginning…I think I’ll leave the acting to the actors and stay on the other side of the camera.”