Whilst I was still fiddling with a broken tripod, the beautiful Eku Edewor arrived poolside at the Maison Fahrenheit, our location for the interview. She's the girl that makes all heads turn when she walks into the room and in just under six years, has ascended to the top of the African entertainment industry. TV presenter, actress, and with numerous brand ambassadorship deals under her belt in a society that tries so hard to force you into a box and pressures you into taking a more conventional career path, I had to sit down with her and discuss some of the secrets to her success.
Top Girl is a stylish woman who is living her life with intention. She is making things happen and building a great career, whether in employment or as an entrepreneur. Here we celebrate these awesome women, and most importantly learn from them. These women who inspire us to quit the mediocrity and chase our dreams. To live with purpose, for ourselves and by ourselves. An avenue for them to share with us their experiences, so that we can know the blueprint; their fears; so that we can imbibe their “do it afraid” spirit, their successes; so that we can celebrate them. But most importantly, their mistakes. If we can learn from their mistakes, maybe we won’t have to make the same ones. Finally, Top Girl isn’t only about the destination, it’s also about the journey.
Did you always want to be a TV presenter and actress?
TV presenting, no. But acting, yes. I wanted to act ever since I was a child. I always put on productions at home and I always wanted to be on TV. Almost six years ago when I moved back to Nigeria, TV presenting was what was being offered as a job. Acting wasn't as advanced as it is now and having studied at Warwick university and being at the New York Film Academy, I wasn't ready to take on roles that I felt wouldn't do justice to what I had learnt. I decided to go for this audition which I thought was an acting project but turned out to be a TV project and that was how I got into TV presenting.
I wasn't always a natural because it's easier to take on a character and much harder to be natural and likable as yourself. You always have to be cheerful as yourself- it's a really difficult balance to master but once you get in to it, it's good. It's been such a career-changing opportunity for me in Africa. It's opened a lot of doors and given me so much access into the entertainment industry.
Wow! In under six years, you've made it to the top of the game and you're still here!
Well, I'm trying to be. I'm going through this phase where I know that change is inevitable. I'm trying to decide what to focus on and what to change. For my personal journey, I feel like I've done everything that I could have in entertainment presenting. I have achieved everything that I set out to achieve, and can achieve right now in this environment. Maybe I'm being a bit premature but I want to start focusing a lot more on production and film. I would love to start creating art that is more of a reflection of who I am as an artist, academic and intellectual.
That makes sense. You've sort of reached the pinnacle of your career as a TV host and want to conquer the film industry. You're already getting good roles!
I've been very lucky in the sense that the roles that I've done have given me a lot of attention. I've been nominated for like four different awards and I even won the Ghana movie award which I was so shocked to win. Ultimately, I would love the global recognition of winning an Oscar. I'm very picky with the roles that I take and I'm so particular with what I do.
What did you want to be when you were 16 vs. what you are today?
At 16, I didn't know that I wanted to create film. I knew that I wanted to act but not produce. I think that everybody has a voice and a point of view. And I really want to share mine.
How do you feel that being in Nigeria has enhanced or hindered your career?
I think that being in Nigeria has been the biggest educator because it's a developing industry. More than anywhere else, you have to educate yourself constantly and be very self-critical as you recognise that the other markets are so much more developed. I'm a lot more diligent at everything I do and I have learnt to do everything myself.
There is a lot of freedom here because it isn't as saturated as other developed markets and there is an opportunity for you to put your stamp on the industry. There is a place for me here that is bigger than anywhere else. In Nigeria, my stories are authentic because I'm telling stories for my people. Yes, I am half British but the roles for Black and Bi-racial actors abroad are limited. I feel more authentic here and I hope that the stories I create and tell here will cross over.
Do you seek to be an international force to be reckoned with?
I feel like if the world recognises what I am creating here in Nigeria, then that makes it very valid. As opposed to just 'Oh! I'm a big fish in a small pond' and celebrating mediocrity. I feel that art should be universal. I want my films to be watched anywhere in the world and for the human element of them to be relatable. I don't want to go anywhere- I want to stay here in Nigeria. But, I want to create films that are globally celebrated. I want hollywood to come to us, and I want them to recognise how much talent we have here in Nigeria. I don't want Americanized stories- I want to be authentically Nigerian.
What's the best advice you've ever been given or received?
My dad is very proper. He always says never put off until tomorrow what can be done today. Because of him, I get a lot more done. Don't always talk about it, just do it!
What do you think is wrong with the world today?
I feel that what a lot of young people aspire to be is sad. Young people aspire to be an instant Nicki Minaj. There's nothing wrong with being Nicki Minaj but now people just want to take instagram pictures in little shorts and think that's what it takes to have made it. No, Nicki went to drama school. She went through years and years of hard work and hustling.
Nobody is looking at the process anymore. People think that you no longer need a process to get to your end goal. Social media makes it seem like it's so easy, and everything is so much more superficial. I've been working at my career for six years and I don't feel like I'm where I want to be at all. I even feel like I'm back to square one now. I don't feel like I've made it. I'm still asking myself who I am and searching for my next opportunity. I'm constantly asking myself how I can be better and how I can be the best at what I do.
When will you feel like you've made it?
When I make my first film and do my first screening, I will feel like I've achieved what I set out to achieve 25 years ago when I was putting on performances in my parent's home.
I think it's really interesting that you don't feel like you've made it yet. You're famous for what you have done so far but you're willing to embrace such a big change to get to where you want to be.
I think that change is scary because a lot of people think that if I'm so successful in this field then why would I want a change. I really do think that this part of my career has been what I needed to springboard myself into what I need to do because I don't think I would have the same opportunities if I hadn't gone through this.
What do you do when you're not working?
I stress about work and think about how to make smart investments with the money that I've saved. I made some investments last year that have allowed this year to be calmer in terms of TV and film roles and it has been more about developing the Eku brand and trying to diversify it beyond just who I am as a person.
I hang out with my boyfriend, watch TV, eat a lot of take out, cook, read and just try and relax. Apparently I have a problem with stress at the moment and I think that's because I'm constantly thinking about what to do next. There are a million things that I could do with my platform- I could start a beauty line, I could start a fashion line. Focus is hard when you have a lot of options. But I'm not complaining- it's the good type of stress and I know that things will work out.
What's your favourite place in the world?
I love New York City. I've always been a city girl. NYC has this way of making me feel like I'm missing out if I'm not there. I always have FOMO and it always just seems so enticing. And when I'm there, I just feel so alive and happy. Every corner feels like a set and I think that because a lot of my favourite movies and TV series have been shot in New York, I just love it. The longest time I've spent there was when I did three months at the New York Film Academy. I lived in Soho and even just walking to school with my coffee, made me feel so inspired.
Who would you like to meet that you haven't met yet- dead or alive? Who inspires you?
I really would love to meet Meryl Streep. There was a film I worked on a little bit that she was the star of but I was already handing over by the time it went into production. The only reason I want to meet her is to be inspired by her. There's something about her dedication, her craft, her radiance. She's always happy and I feel like she would give me so much wisdom about life and not sweating the small stuff. I have heard that she's so dedicated and focused and I'm so jealous of that, maybe because I'm searching for focus right now.
What would you have done differently?
I think when you're young, you're always afraid to say no. I have said yes to lots of things that have made me feel crap about myself. I just feel like I was taken advantage of or I didn't stick to my guns and went along with things because I didn't want to upset anybody. I used to be a people pleaser. Now that I'm older, I don't care. Knowing how and when to say no is so important. You only really have yourself in this world and you have to protect yourself.
[Tweet "Protect your heart, protect your mind. If you're not comfortable, then what's the point? "]
A lot of young people tell me that they move back to Nigeria with big dreams but end up just settling into a job that pays the bills. What made you stick to chasing your dreams?
I think having goals bigger than I can ever reach has kept me inspired. It's so important to have a plan and stick to it.
[Tweet "Don't think that you will be a CEO straight away and learn to be a servant to your career."]
People don't want to work hard for their success and they don't want to suffer at all. When I first moved back, I wasn't being paid much at all compared to what I would be earning if I was working in America but I knew that it was all part of a bigger journey and I had faith that consistency and dedication would grow me. Just keep going- nothing is achieved in a day. Even if you're working a 9 to 5 that you hate, if it's going to get you to where you want to be, just keep at it. And remember that everyone lies! Everyone lies that they are so much better off. And that they have more money than they do. Even before instagram, people were lying. Stick to your own story and create your own journey. There is so much time ahead of you.
What is one thing that you want to do before you die?
I want to get married and have kids! I want to raise a family. I think that family life is one of the biggest goals I've ever had. A career is all fine and dandy but it's like, if you've got no one to share it with, then, what's the point?
The thing about career achievements is that as soon as you achieve something, it kind of dissipates. It's on to the next thing. I always wanted to host a live show that was for Africa and show the world that I was young, free and exciting. And then I did the Channel O Africa Music Awards. I killed it, and at the end of it, I was like- how do I feel? I was happy, but it was like, what next? If you want to have kids and a family, do it when the time is right biologically. And evolve your career to be able to accommodate it. I look forward to doing that.
Keep up with Eku on twitter, instagram and facebook.
Thank you to Maison Fahrenheit (my new favourite spot in Lagos located at 80 Adetokunbo Ademola St, Lagos, Nigeria) for hosting us! Their cocktails are divine- and very strong too.
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