Have you ever woken up thinking damn it’s Monday morning time for me to start the same routine once again? Doing the same 9 to 5 job (or any different type of hours) wishing you did something else? Well, what is stopping you? Alex Igbanoi had the same frustrations. “I stopped living someone else’s dream and decided to live my own.”
Alex’s dream is to be an actor, but this wasn’t always the plan as he was studying to become an architect. Being of Nigerian heritage Alex was encouraged to have a traditional job by his family, as they wanted what they believed was best for him. Although he was studying to be an architect Alex had a strong passion for acting. When watching movies, Alex always thought to himself he could act just as well or even better. “I’m tired of taking a back seat; I want to be front row” that was his mentality. Alex received a life-changing text in the summer of 2005. The text invited him to come to an acting audition for a prestigious acting academy. Alex’s audition went well, “170 people got called back, and they were only going to pick 4 per class, and I got in, so I thought to myself I could actually do this.”
The dream didn’t end at acting – In 2007 a friend asked Alex to become a production assistant for a film, which he was also acting in. Alex realised he had a love for filmmaking once he was behind the camera. This led to Alex changing his course from architecture to film production and directing. Once changing courses, his new goal was to be a filmmaker. The prospect of becoming a filmmaker wasn’t daunting, the thought of upsetting his parents was. Once he had overcome that thought, he realised, “The destination wasn’t important, the journey was.” Endless networking and having a pang of hunger to learn was part of the journey. Alex dreamt about being a filmmaker but never rested on his morals. “I have met a lot of professional actors and them making it isn’t being an actor, it’s winning an Oscar, making it, is winning a Bafta. Their goals are a lot higher, so I had to set my goals, I had to change them. I told myself I want to win a Bafta.”
Although Alex is an actor and a director his strongest passion is coaching actors (this guy is talented) “a director is here to tell a story, an actor is here to sell you the experience” having that knowledge, coaching actors of a certain calibre naturally fell into Alex’s path. Not only does coaching these Actors help Alex with regards to his productions but he also enjoys it as it gives him the opportunity to help others. “When you help other people reach their life goals, that is truly a blessing. To be a blessing in someone else’s life, to help them achieve their goal and their dream is an honour to me.” Alex has gone through many transitions in his career, and it hasn’t fazed him.
He isn’t scared of making mistakes. Trying something new, thinking out of the box is something that has helped Alex get to the stage where he is today. He isn’t scared of rejection. “The more rejection you face and the more you accept rejection and controversy the more you will become successful.” Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela are three of Alex’s role models and they all faced rejection, they are a source of inspiration for him.
Some of Alex’s students have gone on to act in television and film, starring in productions such as Marvel’s action film Thor. As a teacher, Alex feels very proud when he sees his students progressing. “When these actors find themselves in shows such as Holby City, they write me letters and emails to say thank you so much for your training Alex; it has taken me to a certain level. That feeling is better than the prospect of directing something next week.”
Alex’s students are not the only ones to have gained international success. He has also worked outside of the UK as an assistant director for a Nollywood film. Observing and communicating with people within the Nollywood scene has been fascinating for Alex. “Nollywood has opened doors for so many people, and it has the potential to become a bigger force in the film world,” but he also witnessed something which he feels could be Nollywoods downfall. Alex realised how rushed the product could be at times, “It takes 3 – 6 months to write a script for a reason and Nollywood are renowned for having an idea on Monday, a script on Wednesday and by Friday having the release.” If the product wasn’t rushed and handled with more care, the quality of the films could be better. Yes, people do watch it, but it does lack a certain quality compared to other films around the World. If Nollywood is to get a bigger audience, they will have to change their mentality. “A microwave mentality which is when you put food in for 2 minutes and expect to have a finished product. People will still eat it, but they won’t go to a restaurant to eat microwaved food.” Directors are very concerned with the way the movie is shot but not with the quality of the story. Alex can see similarities between Nollywood and certain short UK films with regards to there being a lack of depth within their storytelling.
There is barely any comparison between Nollywood movies and UK full feature films for Alex as he believes the UK film industry is one of the best in the World, but that could change in the future. “I don’t think Nollywood is up there with British standards at the minute because it is still a new industry. The British film industry has been going over 100 years. Nollywood is only 30, but the thing about us Africans is that we learn very quickly”. A lot of British actors have also learnt that there are more opportunities to work in America. Idris Elba, David Harewood, John Boyega and Aml Ameen are some of the most well-known British-based actors who have worked their trade across the pond. “Some of the big names had to go to the States first so that they could be recognised in their back garden, Britain.” But the UK has one of the best film industries in the World. You would imagine there to be more leading roles for our actors.
“America has an enormous racial problem at the minute and yet there are a lot more opportunities for black people in America than the UK which says one thing, there is a racial issue in the UK industry” There are roles for black actors in the UK but do they adequately represent the community? The majority of parts, which are made for black actors in the UK reflect on street life. Films such as Kidulthood, Adulthood, Anuva hood and Bullet Boy represent stereotypes within the black community. However, this isn’t a full representation of our community. Not all black people are musically talented or get involved with drugs. “I find it very worrying how we are portrayed; I can’t blame it all on the writers and producers, sometimes I have to blame us for always taking these roles.” The actors and fellow writers within the black community do have a role to play.
If you’re offered meat but you’re a vegetarian are you going to eat it? Or will you go and make your food? This is food for thought to the actors who carry on reprising these roles. “I have written a film called Champion, short films, and theatre plays. I’m going to cast actors from all backgrounds because they’re a representation of people across society.”
Alex is committed to the cause. He is committed to anything he wants to do because he sees himself as a professional. Once you have decided what you want to be you conduct yourself in a professional manner, if you behave like an amateur you will be labelled as one.
“I know people who have been in the industry for ten years and they still consider themselves to be amateur, it’s nothing but an opinion, it’s so subjective.” Working in his craft fills Alex with a lot of passion, frustration, and commitment. “My passion always leads to frustration, but my commitment is what keeps me going. I don’t believe I am going to get there; I know I am going to get there.” With this mentality, Alex’s vision is to one day own an acting school and to win a Bafta.
If you’re interested in taking part in Alex’s acting classes here are the details:
Free classes for anyone over 18
To book click here and join the East London Actors Studio Group
Subject – Alex Igbanoi
Photographer and writer – Cris Blaize