Goodness Emmanuel has featured in several theatre, TV and film productions: Kongi’s Harvest (in commemoration of Wole Soyinka at 75), Tribute to Broadway (Lagos Theatre Festival, 2016), Still Single in Gidi (Lagos Theatre Festival 2017 & 2018), Mammy Water’s Wedding (Black Heritage Festival 2014), , Eyimofe, (AMAA awards serial nominee), Crossroads (Jungle Films), Rumour has it, Pushing 30 (Africa Magic) The Griot (Which she produced), Forbidden (MNET Africa), Ajoche (MNET Africa), Soul Sistas (Royal Roots production). She is currently amongst the cast for Nigeria’s first Netflix original production. Also a proficient singer and producer, Goodness can be said to be the total artist. The Griot, her film production debut, had a trailer that caused quite the stir and is set for a release very soon.
Some weeks ago, Film rats club hosted Goodness Emmanuel to discuss her craft and more. Fellow actor, screenwriter and rat,Temi Fosudo, sparred with her in what became roughly two hours of matured and insightful dialoguing.
The transcript below has been edited for publication.
Q: Miss Goodness Emmanuel, what attracted you to the profession of acting?
Goodness Emmanuel: Sheer fascination, to be honest. Growing up, I watched people become something different on screen and stage and I was always in complete awe. I was interested in knowing how they did it. So the first time I had the opportunity to audition, I jumped at it.
Q: When and where was this?
Goodness Emmanuel: In 2007, I was with my friend at the Theatre Arts department in UI and she said to me, “Goodness you know how to sing, you should audition for The Sound of Music”. So I wrote my name down and just walked into the hall. I remember being so scared because they kept screaming at me and asking me to project my voice, but I guess I went on to do something right because I got a call back. Prior to that time, I was already taking some courses in Theatre Arts, even though I was a law student.
Q: Oh nice. So, you started your journey from the university. Is this where you received your professional training as a thespian and do you still train today or have learnt enough?
Goodness Emmanuel : Yes, this was where I got my first professional training. You can never learn enough. I still attend Masterclasses and take online courses whenever I can. I enjoy learning and getting better, so I jump at any opportunity to get better.
Q: So clearly you started out as a stage actor and then branched into acting for screen. Do you prefer one medium over the other or you just adapt to their peculiarities?
Goodness Emmanuel: I have a soft spot for stage acting, mainly because of the increased theatrical freedom and being my much freedom and being my first no love. However, screen also has its peculiarities and I’ve learnt to embrace them. I’m an actor and I love performing on whatever medium. I take work wherever I see it. Camera, stage, radio, anywhere.
Q: Do you use any technique or have any philosophy that guides your acting? Whether popular of self designed?
Goodness Emmanuel: I’d answer this question with one word: “Honesty”
Q: But do you know of popular teachers of acting and their techniques? Have you bothered to examine their research into acting?
Goodness Emmanuel: Of course. There are so many popular teachers of acting: Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, Stanislavsky, Meisner, etc. And as any good student should, I have studied all of them. Ofcourse I have reservations about some of them, but that’s why I am actor, I question things.
Q: Unlike a writer who can keep working without being hired, an actor is bound to wait for that call. What should actors do before the call comes?
Goodness Emmanuel: First of all, let me say you are not exactly bound to wait for that call. I understand that in the traditional sense, we may feel like we are bound to wait, but we really aren’t.
Q: Okay, so what do you do? How do you ensure you are not just waiting for that call?
Goodness Emmanuel: One, I always say that the waiting period is an opportunity to discover who you are. Two, it is a period to hone your skills. If you haven’t improved between your last job and the new one, then what’s the point? Thirdly, find your tribe. ‘Your tribe’ is a group of people who share the same drive and passion bubbling within you. A community of people you can rely on. Number four, be honest. Five, be intentional. And finally, expose yourself shamelessly in ways that are bound to garner all sort of responses. This is how you learn how to deal with the wide spectrum of responses when they come as you progress in your career.
Q: I see a lot of our actors use the phrase ‘working actor’. In essence, they are suggesting a delineation from other actors who, I guess, are ‘unworking actors’. How does an ‘unworking’, but prepared actor cope with the work drought and the feeling of uselessness? Does he stop calling himself an actor? I learnt that a great like Morgan Freeman didn’t get his major break till he was a bit old, that is why he has been old since we all knew him (I saw him in a very old Malcolm X movie though, playing Malcolm, funny sight it was) I’m sure he must have been an ‘unworking actor’ for very long. Does this phrase, ‘working actor’ make any sense to you?
Goodness Emmanuel: Waiting is an art form. As actors we are always waiting. Waiting for that job, for the next scene, for your fellow actor, for many things. And we have to embrace it as part of the process. Many of these “working actors” aren’t honestly working all the time. They just want you to believe they are. As an actor, while you’re not “working”, you can still be working. Read! Read! Read! Get new materials and work on them. Work on your range and your voice. Make sure you’re ready to be hired.
Q: Interesting. This leads to my next question “Ready to be hired”. There is the school of thought that proposes that actors, while waiting to get that desirable ‘major break’ should jump on just about anything to stay sane and busy? A small play at a local theatre? A low budget film? An amateur film? Anything to clear the webs of rust and actually be busy with something on an actual set. What is your take on this?
Goodness Emmanuel: I’ll still refer back to honesty. True Actors, heck, great actors don’t lie to the camera. How do you become honest if you have lived a lie all your life? Learn to live honestly, you won’t suddenly learn it when infront of the camera. It is actually really important. And when you don’t have a paying job, still try to put something out there, no matter what it is. You can’t accommodate that droning voice of fear looking to deter you. As artistes, it’s pertinent to “JUST DO IT” and watch for what they would say, and learn from the process of dealing with responses.
I’m not in support of just staying and doing nothing. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean do anything that comes your way. This is why it is important to know why you’re acting in the first place. Your answer to that will guide your steps. For example, if you’re an actor because you want to be popular, then by all means do anything. If you’re an actor because you want to make great art, you know not to do just anything. Like I said earlier, while you’re waiting, work on yourself and hone your skills. Do that low budget production if it makes your soul dance. Do that local church play if it keeps you sane. Call your friends together and do that experimental piece. And it is also important to note that not everyone will get that “big break”. Finding out what that means to you as an individual is key, and you have to be okay with that.
Q: What if it doesn’t make your soul dance, but you haven’t worked in seven months and none of your friends want to do your ‘stupid experiment’ anymore? Would just slip into being an actor that does no work and doing only monologues, mirror acting and auditions that never work out?
Goodness Emmanuel: Well, now that’s up to you. Personally, if I’m not getting paid for something, then it should at least make my soul dance. I believe that as an actor who wants to do only this job, you have to be prepared to cope with the nightmare of not knowing where the next pay cheque is coming from. Monologues that you do and keep to yourself will not give you any work, no matter how good you are. People need to see your work. Reach out to that casting director, that producer, that fellow actor. Send them a link to your work and let them see that they need to hire you. Also, don’t post monologue and start tagging them on it, that can be pretty annoying. Find a decent and more official way to send it to them. I want to add, that the waiting period is also a period to network. This show business is oiled by whom you know, and thus the most likely source of employment is meeting possible employers and future allies in unlikely circumstances. In between jobs, do all you can to put yourself out and keep your skills sharp. If there’s something going on in a little theatre or a workshop, or even a rehearsed reading, take it – you never know who might be watching or participating. I’ve lost count of the gigs and invitations I’ve gotten through meeting directors and actors who just remembered me, sometimes months or years after first contact and are now in a position to offer paid employment. Also, watch movies!!! This can not be overstated. As an actor, while you wait, watch movies and learn from them.
Q: How do you charge?
Goodness Emmanuel: How do I charge producers who hire me?
Q: Yes. Do you have a system? A standard fee, an agent that does negotiations for you?
Goodness Emmanuel: Okay. I’m signed to a management company so they do that on my behalf. Prior to that, I charged based on the work, the producer, the amount of days, and also the value I’m bringing.
Q: Being an actor involves putting yourself out there. By gaining popularity you also garner, attention, admiration, hatred, criticism, prejudice and less privacy. How do you deal with all that?
Goodness Emmanuel: I don’t put anything personal out there, so that’s one way I protect myself. Also, I have learnt to grow a thick skin over time, so negativity doesn’t get to me. When I get criticized, especially about my work, I first consider who or where it is coming from, and if there’s any merit in it. If there is, I take it, if there isn’t, I move on. I take the attention and admiration as gracefully as I can. I try to stay grounded because at the end of the day, I know what my goal is and that’s all I’m after.
Q: You play a role and the audience attaches the character’s character to you, negative or positive, as the case may be. They assume the kind of person you are. How do you deal with this prejudice? Especially for actors that have been stereotyped. By the way, do you have any problem with ‘actor stereotype’?
Goodness Emmanuel: To be honest, this doesn’t bother me. I’m called to do a job, to become. If you can’t differentiate between me and characters I play, I can’t help you. Typecast or stereotypes?
Q: And Typecasting actually.
Goodness Emmanuel: Assigning an actor repeatedly to the same type of role, as a result of their “rightness” or previous success in such roles, isn’t a bad thing. Like I said at the beginning it’s all about honestly:Was it honest? Was the character believable? If the answers to these questions are yes, then you’re great. I understand the need for us to want to try different roles, and that is very good if you get the opportunity and can do those roles believably. However, not all actors can be versatile. If you’re good at only that one type of role, make sure you do it well, that anytime I think of that role/character, your face is what I see. I remember one time I got a role and even though I knew it didn’t “look truthful” on me, I still did it because I wanted to be “versatile”. It was a colossal failure. I was so ashamed of myself that day.
Q: As an actor myself, when I perform on stage or play a role in a film, at the end of the experience I hardly or never even ask about my performance. I think it’s unnecessary. As a writer, for example, you are still looking to make your work better before it gets to be made so asking for feedback is necessary. But as an actor you have done the work already. You should go to acting classes and get feedback on your progress, get all the criticism you need while preparing to be a character some day, read acting books, participate in some master classes, watch great actors do their work and learn from them, watch other actors who aren’t so great, do their work and also learn from them. But the moment you have done your work and it’s out there don’t go about asking people how was my performance? This is my opinion. For example, if someone says ‘your interpretation of the scene was poor’, it’s not going to help me because I’m not going to need that interpretation for my next project because the character or situation will be different. I also am not very keen on hearing you did great in this scene or this move was good etc. So I’m not a fan of the idea of feedback. What do you think about this? Maybe for a play with a reruns that makes sense?
Goodness Emmanuel: I totally understand where you’re coming from and I agree. However, sometimes I ask for performance feedback for different reasons. For example, a play that has multiple runs. Feedback can improve performance. Yes, you may never get to play out that exact scene again. But now you know not to raise your hands too much when acting because of that feedback you got and it will help you next time. Feedback (positive and negative) motivates me. If the feedback is good, I know I did something right and now I want to do better. If it is negative, I try to see what I did wrong and see how I could have done it better. What if,years later, I’m given that material again? There are times I don’t ask for feedback too, but most times I do. Especially from my acting coach or other great actors I trust. Feedback is not always to validate your talent. It is for learning and motivation.
Q: I also want to know why you said it’s not nice to tag producers and directors on monologues online!
Goodness Emmanuel: No producer/director wants to be disturbed like that. It is a job like any other and there are organized ways to do this. You don’t see people trying to get the attention of company directors by tagging them on anything they think might be connected to them. Make a monologue, record it, post it on your page if you like, but send it to them personally and politely let them know. That way you look serious. There are so many people who do monologues on Instagram and many are bad, imagine having to see this on your page every other day. I guess the lesser evil could be to mention them on your comment section, but don’t tag. Also, It is impersonal. You’re bidding for a job, you have to come correct. You need them, you can’t tag them and 10 others like they are in a competition. Send to the 10 of them individually. It is like a personalized proposal.
Q: How do you get out of a character?
Goodness Emmanuel: Acting is a very spiritual exercise so it can be really draining. I’m not going to lie, here in Nollywood, you don’t have the luxury of going away to detox after playing a certain character before you play another. So, you have to devise a plan that works for you. We spend many years learning how to become a character but we are not taught how to “de-role” Personally, if I have the time, I rest a lot, change environment and even do something as simple as getting rid of a prop I used for that role. It is a ritualistic way for me to get rid of that role. Some people do things as mundane as shaking it off through exercise.
Q: I bet there are people you’ve worked with and know you’d never have to work with again. If yes, could you share the experience.
Goodness Emmanuel: Okay. I was on a project that had a certain director two years ago. From the moment we got there, he didn’t have a conversation with the actors until we got on set. I had questions to ask about certain scenes and he shut me up when I asked a very important question about the way he wanted a scene to play out. He went as far as saying if I had anything to say, I should go ahead and direct my own film. So, till the end of the shoot, the actors didn’t have any freedom to be creative or to even ask questions or give suggestions. One month after the shoot, we were called back to reshoot because the client was not happy and had to change the director. I know I’m definitely not working with that director again.
Q: “…go ahead and direct my own film”. So ever directed a film after that?
Goodness Emmanuel: No. I’m working on directing a 5 minute film though, so if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just take my L in peace.
Q: Okay. The pandemic has been a huge challenge for creatives. As an actor, what are your fears and what would you say to your colleagues at this time?
Goodness Emmanuel: While the effects of the virus in the entertainment industry may pale in comparison to the clear threat to human life, those of us making a living in the arts, especially in production and distribution, are feeling the ripple effects of the virus. As a producer, I have a film that was supposed to come out, but got shelved because cinemas are shut down and we don’t know when they’d reopen. As an actor, I had already started the Netflix project that has also been shut down as well with no resumption date in sight. I’m still trying to figure a way out myself, to be honest. I’ll just say we have to think outside the box and think of more unconventional ways to market our arts. Someone mentioned something yesterday on a live session about some artists simulating a club in their different cars and created a whole performance on the street. That is doing something out of the box. Also, let’s be hopeful and stay safe.
Goodness Emmanuel, thank you so much for a beautiful interview. We appreciate you.