In celebration of African storytelling reaching global heights, we got a front row seat to chat to the creator (Kemi Adetiba) and star (Toni Tones) of the highly anticipated Nigerian Netflix Original, King of Boys: Return of the King.
King of Boys: Return of the King makes history in Nigeria as the first Netflix Original. Kemi Adetiba and Toni Tones are authentic, beautiful, intelligent and pioneers, in their own right, in Nollywood. The women gave us insights on their work and what inspires them to keep moving forward as an industry.
Here’s what the ladies shared with our writer John-Otto Phike…
John-Otto: Congratulations on King of Boys: Return of The King and it being the first Nigerian Netflix Original. I am excited to see African talent shine and rise on a global scale.
Kemi: I know right! I am so excited. I am excited for the world to get a taste of our own type of stories.
John-Otto: Ladies, how are you feeling about the release of King of Boys: Return of the King on a global scale?
Kemi: I am absolutely excited and my anxiety levels are high. It’s a perfect dance. I was telling someone about the premiere, look at all of the buzz that is happening. I could tell you that there will be flying horses in the film and you would believe me and get excited but at some point it’s going to come out and I will be marked based on what everybody sees. It’s a very scary thought but one thing that I am very happy about is that I emptied my vessel, I tipped over my cup, I did not leave anything behind. I know that I worked hard, that I did my best and I can’t hold onto it because I didn’t make it for myself, I made it for the Universe, so it has to be released to everybody. This is the point, we had the baby and now it’s time to show everyone the baby. This is the moment that we have to show the world what we have done.
Tony: I am terribly excited and anxious at the same time. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this project. The trailer was released recently and the reaction to that was insane and that was just the trailer, can you imagine when the actual series comes out on Netflix? I am just honestly excited.
John-Otto: Speaking about giving this to the world, what are some activities that you did to get yourself and the audience excited for this series?
Tony: Everyone is excited and I think they have been trying to get me excited. My fans have been insane since the trailer dropped, you would think that the actual show had dropped. Everyone has been complimenting the trailer and I am shocked by the response. It reminds me of the mayhem that the first King of Boys (KOB) caused, it was crazy and I had never experienced something like that before. KOB had a crazy cult following, we call them the KOB Army, that were very passionate and we could just feel that. I can feel that again with King of Boys 2, from the moment we dropped the poster and trailer. The thing about KOB 2 is that it’s bigger and better than KOB 1. Everyone has been saying that KOB 1 is the little brother of KOB 2, but I think that KOB 1 is the cousin that was born in the village. When I watched KOB 2 for the first time I was literally in tears. I cried at the end, just because it was so emotional. It was very emotional seeing everything come together. We had shot KOB during End Sars and it was quite a chaotic time, there was so much happening. It impacted our shoot quite a lot and we spent double the time shooting. I cried a few times, I think a lot of us cried a few times on set. I know Aunty Shola cried, I know Kemi cried and I know I cried. It was quite a stressful time. So to watch all of that come together and see that magic that we created was overwhelming for me. It really is magic, it made me emotional and that’s the truth.
Kemi: We have been having press junkets and releasing teasers/trailers. Since I am known to be a tease on social media, I go out there and interact with followers of the title but something that is important to me is to back up the teasing with something. One thing I do not want to do is trick anyone. I want to tease you, I want to draw you in but when you open the door, I want you to have a feast. I think that is what KOB does for people. I think we have all of that, a perfect medley. I am quite confident about it. What did you think?
John-Otto: I actually really liked it, but we will get there. Speaking about your confidence on the show, I recently watched an interview of yours, Kemi and in your own words, you said, “Everything I touch, turns into Gold.” You are a pioneer in Nollywood as the first Nollywood filmmaker to create the first Netflix Original. There are a lot of aspiring filmmakers that come into the industry and a lot of them don’t know about the realities of the industry. How has the journey between King of Boys to King of Boys: Return of the King been for you and what are some lessons you have taken from it?
Kemi: First, yes that is definitely something I would say. It does not come from a place of hubris, it really is a place of belief in the work that I do. As I say, I empty myself, I throw my entirety in, I cry on my projects, I love on my projects and I will cut myself and spill blood. When we were shooting this series, I had an arm brace on because I couldn’t move my arm, I don’t know what happened. I also had a brace on my knee and I had to use a walking stick. There were many times where they would check my BP and I told myself that “Even if they had to bring me on a stretcher, I will finish this project.” I don’t make any excuses but it does not mean I don’t get slapped in the face when I am on set. There are many times that I would walk on set and I would see a crew of a hundred or so people looking at me to lead and in that moment, I am blank. There are moments where one still feels like a baby in the industry even though people are looking up to you for guidance. There are moments where things go wrong and people are freaking out and I want to also drop onto the ground and start crying but I try to be logical and strategic about the panic so I can fix the situation. I remember in the first King of Boys I would go to my brother, Remi Adetiba, who produced both the movie and series, to tell him about my creative block and he would encourage me, and he would say, “If nothing comes out of that, I can shut it down and go home.” When I try that one shot, I find myself just flowing from one shot to the other and then we wrap for the day, to my suprise. No one ever says you are not going to struggle. Anyone that shoots any movie, whatever genre, is going into a very difficult terrain to bring fantasy to an audience. I promise you, you are going to battle lions, tigers and bears, but what would differentiate you would be your attitude towards your problem. Do you give up when things get tough or do you arm yourself with the necessary armour and fight the battle? You might lose here and there but you will still win at the end, that is the way I focus. When I go to set, it’s as if I am going to war, if you stand in front of me, I am going to take you down. I always see problems as obstacles, like road bumps, they are not supposed to stop the journey. When I see all of these things happening, I just have to slow down to get over the bump and just keep going.
John-Otto: As a follower of KOB, I completely understand the craze behind it. This has set a huge tone in our industry in Africa. Speaking about the process of what you had to go through while filming during #EndSARS, such an emotional time for everyone. How was the process for you to reconnect with your character Eniola, because KOB 1 was 4 years ago?
Tony: When we were done with KOB 1, our director Kemi Adetiba had said she wasn’t making a part 2 because KOB 1 took so much to make and she was just tired. I didn’t think there was going to be a part 2, so when I got the call that there will be a part 2, I was excited because I was ready, but I thought about the fact that I have to put on weight again, then I have to lose the weight again, I am going to have to crack my voice again and honestly those things were not easy to do, I took a deep breath and centered myself, can I do this again? I have to because young Eniola set a precedent. I was not expecting the mayhem that came with that kind of character and now the pressure was high and I had to live up to it. So I went through the whole process again. This time it was more challenging because Young Eniola speaks 90% Yoruba in part 2 and my Yoruba is not good at all and she is not just speaking Yoruba, she’s speaking proper Yoruba. When I got the script I had to ask my mom for help with translations and she agreed but when she saw the script she said “…no, I’m sorry, this is like my great grandmother’s Yoruba”. To put things into perspective, my mother speaks Yoruba fluently and couldn’t even translate it. That is how old school it was. But Kemi Adetiba’s father, Dele Adetiba, was our Yoruba coach and he was amazing in coaching me through it, it took a lot of work. To be honest, I did a lot of cramming, I made sure I had the words right and the pronunciation. I had to practice until I became perfect and deliver it in a way that seems seamless, I am not going to lie, that took a lot of work. At some point I didn’t think I could do this anymore, I even called Kemi to ask if I couldn’t say the parts in English and she just said no and encouraged me to do it. Somehow I did it and when I watch it, I am in awe. I can’t believe that this person I am watching is me because I cannot even understand what she is saying. It’s so unbelievable and I am grateful for this opportunity. Films like this don’t come around very often. We got to do part 1 and that was amazing but to be able to do part 2 is a blessing. When Kemi said there was going to be part 2, I was not even meant to be in part 2, which is fair because my character was in flashbacks in part 1. We had spoken about a prequel but I was ok with not being a part of it. Then she called me out of nowhere talking about a script and my character in part 2. She did not even remember that she told me that I was not meant to be in part 2. I just had to stop her for a second to ask her to clarify because I could not believe it. I was super excited and I am happy to be able to be a part of it. I just want to cry thinking about it.
John-Otto: Having come back for part 2, you were playing a character that is being played by 2 people. Did you feel any pressure to act the same way as Aunty Sola or did you find your own voice in that character?
Tony: I am the sort of actress who sits down and thinks of everything they need to do whenever they get a new character. I want to bring my characters to life as authentically as possible. Whether we like it or not, all actors are going to bring themselves into their characters because you really can’t help it. However, when I was told that I am going to be playing the younger version of Sola Sobowale, I immediately researched her. In part 1 I had never met her until we shot together, which was the last day. Youtube was my resource, luckily she had a lot of content. From the moment I got the script, I did not take any other roles, I just studied her everyday. I studied her to the point where I would fall asleep watching her and I would hear her voice in my dreams. I studied everything about her from her voice to her mannerisms. In KOB 2, Aunty Sola was like my mom, we are really close so I had access and I disturbed her life. I was a pest. After shooting, I could go to her dressing room and ask her questions about the character. The only thing I probably didn’t do was watch her sleep. I would shadow her, watch her, ask her questions and even ask her to act out some of my lines. I definitely feel like whenever I play the younger version of a person, I want it to be believable, I want people to see as little of Toni Tones as possible, and really believe that they were watching a younger version of this woman. So I did all the things that I thought could help, I put on the wig and cracked my voice because aunty Sola’s voice has a husky tone. I thought if I cracked my voice, I could sound more like her. I studied her mannerisms, movements, facial expressions, everything and after I did all of that, I put it together and young Eniola is what you got. Mind you, when I did all of that work, I was not expecting the frenzy that came from it. When I get a character, I just do whatever I think needs to be done to give me the best impression of that character. If you look at actors like Jamie Fox who played Ray and Will Smith who played Ali, these people become the people they play and that was the precedent I was trying to follow. I think it is an understatement to ask if I felt pressure because I wanted to become her, I don’t want people to see me at all. It was a lot but I think the work was clear, I think people saw the work and appreciated it, which was all the reward for me.
John-Otto: From watching the show, I noticed a lot of spiritual and political influences. Kemi, was this story inspired by the Nigerian political climate, or African in general?
Kemi: First of all, I am going to put a disclaimer out and say that the series is a fictional story. I think the important thing in creation, for me, is being as authentic as possible. As a storyteller, I am naturally inquisitive of what people have to say. I talk quite a bit but I don’t really like to hear my voice all the time. I am naturally curious about other people. In the course of an exchange, people exchange experiences and situations with me. I do not actively think about them or memorize the experience but subconsciously I am filing it somewhere, then 5 years down the line, I find myself creating something that is close to that experience. When I identify the connection, I find ways to elevate that experience to fit the narrative. I read a lot and I watch a lot of things, so I am constantly inspired. I am a creative, so sometimes it feels like I am going through information overload with my environment, so I am constantly soaking in. I never necessarily soak in to regurgitate visuals but it’s just who we are, we take stuff in. When we happen to be placed in a situation where we are faced with questions about the world we want to create, we need to see authenticity between reality and that fantasy. That’s the thing about King of Boys, Eniola’s personality is just like anybody’s aunty and people have come to me to tell me that. Eniola is a mixture of 5 or 6 different inspirations and one of them is my mom. When I write and create my characters, I am very authentic to my vision. When someone reads the script, they should be able to take out the character’s names and when they read the dialogue, they should be able to identify the characters in the dialogue because only that specific character can say a certain thing.
This was a great conversation with the ladies of King of Boys: Return of the King!
They outlined their journeys to making history and the creative process to give viewers an authentic offering. We went onto a rollercoaster ride, getting into the highs and lows of making KOB 2. Productions like these are a constant reminder to the African storyteller, that anything is possible when you believe, just do it!