Bside caught up with the cast of Netflix’s first Nigerian original TV series Blood Sisters for an exclusive chat.
Blood Sisters, Netflix’s first Nigerian original TV series, is rousing, refreshing and tense, and it is exactly the kind of storytelling Nigerian audiences have been clamouring for years. The action thriller embodies the market potential that could eventually put Nollywood on a global stage. Featuring a story centred around best friends Sarah (Ini Dima Okojie) and Kemi (Nancy Isime), the project is directed by Biyi Bandele and Kenneth Gyang.
Kola (Deyemi Okanlawon), Sarah’s betrothed, physically abuses his bride-to-be a day before and at their wedding ceremony, marring what should rather be a happy occasion and eventually devolving into a heated exchange and Kola’s death.
Domestic violence, familial rivalry and friendships are very prominent themes in the project, which offers a somewhat authentic picture of the relationship between Nigeria's bourgeoisie and the lower class.
While in a conversation with the breakout star of the series, Genoveva Umeh who played the role of Timeyin, a member of the powerful Ademola family, on how she felt after seeing the script for the first time she was quick to say; “So after getting cast, I thought oh what a thrilling journey this is going to be, not only for the character that I played but also for all the characters in the script”.
Umeh’s character in the series developed into becoming a major catalyst for the story and her performance has been heralded by many and rightfully so.
Asides from Genoveva Umeh, Bside also caught up with two other lead characters in the film Deyemi Okanlawon who plays the role of Kola, as well as Gabriel Afolayan who plays the role of Femi, the Kola’s peevish elder brother who fights for his place as the rightful heir of the family business.
The screen siblings discuss specific themes in the series and how they managed to prepare for their different roles before and during production.
Bside: When you got the script to play your respective roles, what was the first thing that came to mind? Afolayan: For me, I love good stories and that was the attraction. And it has plenty of themes; love, friendship values, family rivalry, and domestic violence. So it was a compact type of energy and I think that was what sold the idea to be a part of it for me. Umeh: So after getting cast, I thought oh what a thrilling journey this is going to be. Not only for the character that I played but also for all the characters in the script. So it was just mind-blowing and extremely exciting to be doing Blood Sisters. Okanlawon: For me, when you get a call from EbonyLife, you answer it first and then I read the script and I was like wow and I started asking questions. Who is directing, who are the other actors, and all these boxes I started to tick but the icing on the cake for me or let me say the core of my decision was my character Kola Ademola and how I fell in love with this character and I mean there was one point there was a conversation of, we are going to flip you over to do another character? I fought tooth and nail to maintain that role. I was in too deep.
Bside: Genoveva, let's talk about your relationship with Deyemi and Gabriel before Blood Sisters.
Umeh: Absolutely, I have worked with Deyemi Okanlawo, he played my Dad in one film and it was great. But then I reached out to him in 2015. So we were aware of each other before the film but Gabriel, I have never worked with him but he was super amazing. His reputation precedes him, so walking into the table read, I was like I can't believe I am here. It was easy. We could run lines together so easily and when it got to a place where I needed hugs, he gave me. That was such a blessing to have. Bside: How were you able to navigate scenes that included two or three of you at the same time?
Afolayan: It works better because we have this solid relationship with the camera, so it was easy to feed off each other's energy even if we were trying to play different characters. For me, the dynamics of the Ademolas kind of speaks to every family. Trying to make sure there is a particular standard the family upholds and if anybody is not doing it, your mum won't like it regardless of your age. So I think this script speaks to this dynamic and also for parents to know that look, you can set whatever standard but kids are ultimately different even if they are from the same source. Umeh: Qualities are different and just need to be nurtured. Afolayan: And be supported. Whatever you want to do, you should get that massive support whether you are part of the legacy or not. And like I said, relationships off-camera help in front of the camera. Bside: Deyemi, in the scene where you had to physically assault Sarah, what kind of conversation did you have with Ini-Dima Okojie before the performance?
Okanlawon: I didn't have any conversation with them. I prepared for months but I didn't know what exactly was going to happen. And we didn't want to preempt ourselves, we needed it to be in the moment. Every move I made needed to be the first time I would make it and the first time she would feel it.
Umeh: Was she comfortable with the moves?
Okanlawon: Because we are both professionals, we read the lines, and we discussed a few things. This is what I am going to do here, this is what I am going to do there, are you comfortable with this? I wasn't sure what I was going to do but even how I was going to hold or touch it, I showed her and she said this is fine, that works. So we went through the little process and then the director Biyi Bandele, as he always does right before action will whisper something into your ear and then action, it was magic.
Bside: What was the actor-director relationship like for all of you? Was it the same? Did they make you so comfortable for a Nollywood film?
Afolayan: They are big-time magicians and they know they would have lots of people on set, different emotions, people who were raised differently and you as an anchor to a show be ready to take lots of jabs. Trust me they were there for every one of us. We didn't default because there were guidelines, they made it happen for us and we also rested so much on whatever they had to share with us to pull a scene through. The minute they whisper one or two, it changes everything and then you come to the firm side of yourself as an actor.
Umeh: Let me say this is the first time I am working with Gabriel Afolayan, he was so warm and so welcoming and he was open to my ideas and of course having known Kenneth Gyang before filming was thrilling. I could bring up ideas to him and he would spur that. He was an easy director to work with. I count it as a big privilege.
Okanlawon: I think 2 directors, very different people, one with the beard, tough guy, he says something and then leaves you to it to make the magic happen because he trusts you. But Kenneth is the homeboy, we are in the trenches together, he eats with you, he tells you his vision very clearly and merges your vision to get effective results.