What comes to mind when you think of Mo Abudu? We will say Media and high-grossing Nollywood spectacle. The CEO of EbonyLife TV, EbonyLife Films and soon-to-be-opened EbonyLife Place has been buzzing not only because she recently became the first African to chair the prestigious International Emmy Awards Gala but also as the executive producer of “Your Excellency“, a movie set for its grand world premiere in Lagos this weekend and what many in the Nollywood industry arguably believe is going to be another blockbuster.
The film stars Funke Akindele-Bello who makes her movie directorial debut while also playing the wife of a bumbling businessman and failed Presidential candidate Akin Lewis who is determined to win the elections through amusing antics and social media. Can’t wait to see her performance in this one!
In “Your Excellency”, Abudu delves into the power of social media and the part that it plays in shaping lives and Nigeria’s future. Perfect timing you would say in Nigeria, perhaps it will shed light on the pros and cons of the social and communication tool at a time like this when some of our law makers are pushing for a bill to ban the use of social media in the country.
In an exclusive one-on-one interview with OnoBello Media, media mogul Abudu talks about how the production is bringing something new to this story, what the public should expect from the movie and details of her most talked about soon-to-be-opened resort “EbonyLife Place” that we hear cost over N4 Billion in development.
OnoBello Media: The title “Your Excellency” paints a very vivid picture. Did you guys consider any other titles or was that it from the start?
Mo Abudu: You know, we wanted to make a film that had layers. We wanted to make a film that spoke, primarily, about social media and then we were looking for the anchor. We weren’t sure that the anchor was even going to be political at some point, but then we found it through brainstorming and it became very much the anchor is going to be politics, also again, it’s satire. It’s really about sitting back and saying ‘Is this how we are in politics, is this how we conduct ourselves, are these some of the things that could possibly happen behind the scenes.’
So for me, it just drives through the message that this could be anyone yet again. By the time we decided that it was going to be a political satire, it made a lot of sense that Your Excellency should be the title. Which is a title, we’re very familiar with on the continent when it comes to being in a political space.
OBM: How is this production bringing something new to this story?
MA: It’s bringing you the Queen of comedy. Funke and I have never worked as a director or lead actor in any of our projects and last year, I said ‘Funke, this story, I’m introducing it to you, I would you like to direct, would you like to lead,’ She said, ‘Okay, let me think about it.’
She looked at the initial scripts and said she liked it so we came together to work on the film. Having Funke on board, I think has been a true God-sent. She really gets the beats of this film. Each time she directs a particular actor on set, you can see that everything is carefully planned and well thought out and that’s what I really appreciate about her. Also, the rest of the cast was truly incredible.
OBM: What should the public expect from this movie?
MA: They should expect to laugh, laugh and laugh again. It’s just one of those films that gives you a nice warm feeling in your tummy. It’s a family movie. From the little kids of 5 to your grandma to mum and dad, uncles and aunties. It’s the kind of movie you can take absolutely everyone to go and watch. You know, there’s no nudity, there’s no violence, there’s nothing that’s un-Christian about the movie so to speak. It is a proper family film and what we’ve promised every single Christmas is to make a film that just gives you a laugh from your belly, makes you feel good and makes you feel proud to be a Nigerian.
And really, it’s a time to bond the family and say, ‘let’s do something together as a family’ and that’s what we love about making these Christmas movies and again it’s very accelerational. It’s a film that if it can happen to this person why can’t it happen to you. Again, I think it’s always very, think big. What’s the big idea, put yourself in that person’s shoes by saying, ‘how could this be me, could this be me, this is me, this could be my story.’
OBM: If you had a time machine and could only go back to talk to your 21-year-old self only about your work-life for only two minutes, what would you tell yourself?
MA: I would tell my 21-year-old self to focus, focus and focus. Dream big, never have any fears about the things that you want to do, just feel capable and know that you can achieve them. It’s just really about giving whatever it is that you want to do a hundred percent and just putting it out to the Universe. I believe God has a purpose for all of us and we have to find it out there, match it to ourselves and then just go for it knowing that if you truly do find the purpose everything else is going to come together and is just going to fall into place, and that falling into place you’re going to give it a hundred percent.
You’re going to be more or less obsessed with what you’re trying to achieve. You’re going to work hard, you’re going to focus. You can’t be distracted. You just have to then, go for it. Finally and most importantly, it’s about finding the right team. Because nothing can be achieved by you just dreaming big and having a dream by yourself. It’s about surrounding yourself with the right people to ensure that you can achieve that perfect dream.
OBM: What is the hardest thing about your job, and how do you approach it?
MA: I think the hardest thing about my job, really, is that I juggle a lot of different things. I’m the kind of person that as soon as I have an idea, as soon as I dream, I believe I’m almost going to do it. As you know I said earlier ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’.
I’m always thinking about new projects and new ideas and how I’m going to roll them out as soon as I have this great idea. I’m like okay, ‘how do I make it happen, but the thing is that one has to be careful of that because you can’t always do everything that you dream about doing. You know, I think I’m getting to a point when I say to myself; dream, but it’s important to maybe share some of those ideas with others who may be the ones to birth it. You don’t have to be the one to bring it to life.
One thing I have found in Nigeria is, I call it the trinity brand. There are many things in our society that needs fixing, that need doing. Not that I see it as a challenge, but I see it as an opportunity and see how we could make these things work and pretty much all the different things we have done has been around that. For me, making movies, it’s like telling those stories that we didn’t feel needed telling before. And on opening EbonyLife Place, it’s about fulfilling a dream, about creating a space, that is for fun lovers, film lovers and people in the creative sector.
Give them a place where they can relax, where they can network, where they can be opportunities for them to watch movies in a luxurious environment, eat, drink, be merry and at the same time have those network business meetings that they need to do to get ahead of the industry.
OBM: Talking about the EbonyLife Place, when will it be opening?
MA We’re going to have a softer opening on the 8th of December for our premiere and sometime in the first quarter of next year would be the big grand opening. So the soft opening is really just to get us open, and for people to come in and tell us what they think about the space. You know, and start to enjoy it whilst we’re still busy snagging and still looking at whatever thing we need to do to make better.
OBM: What should we expect from it?
MA: EbonyLife’s Place is Nigeria’s first entertainment and lifestyle boutique resort. It right on Adetokunbo Ademola on your way to Eko Atlantic. It has five luxury cinema rooms. It has three VIP lounges. It has an event hall called Victoria Hall, a fine dining restaurant, a rooftop casual bistro, a poolside cafe and it has a 20-bed highly curated hotel that has butler service. You can imagine coming in and just feeling like this is really where you wanna be. You can even spend the whole weekend. Check-in the hotel, watch all your films and have the best time of your life. So it’s fun to stay and be entertained all in one place.
OBM: What is something you do every day that is essential to your career?
MA: I pray. I thank God for everything he’s done in my life and continue to thank him for the things he’s not done. Also, talk to my children and work, work, work. I don’t get enough sleep.
OBM: What is the weirdest, most unexpected skill you bring to your job, and how did you learn it?
MA: I have this knack of spotting talent. You know Funke hasn’t directed before, and many other people have worked with us and haven’t done this particular skill in their life. I mean most of our presenters haven’t done their jobs before, some have never acted, some have never done the incredible things they are doing. But I just say to myself I think you’re capable and that’s one thing I find one of my weirdest skills. Spotting unusual talent or finding the right person for the right role, just like a puzzle. That’s one thing that I really love doing and participating in.
OBM: Who in the film is most like their character?
MA: They are all so their character. This film fits like a glove, every single person in it was made for the role. Every single person in it.
OBM: If a film was made on your life, who do you wish should direct it?
OBM: What would your ultimate cast be (four actors)?
MA Viola Davies, Denzel Washington, Funke Akindele-Bello and Akin Lewis.
OBM: Complete this sentence: “If I couldn’t make movies, I would __________.”
MA: If I couldn’t make movies, I would start an Aviation company.
OBM: Favourite EbonyLive TV show?
MA: Moments with Mo
OBM: AMAA, AMVCA, or City People Awards?
OBM: What fashion trend do you just not get?
MA: I never got sneakers, but I do now. I think when I was wearing sneakers, ten years before really became popular, I never got the sneakers trend but now, you can see (shows off her bedazzled shoes).
OBM: Gold or silver?
MA: Gold, but white gold.
OBM: Who has the best costume?
MA: Hmmm… Kemi Ajadi (Funke Akindele-Bello).
MA: Because she’s just such a character, you know every time I see her on-screen, she just cracks me up and it’s really just an entire vibe.
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