I woke up thinking of Tonia Orevba Roberts.
Tonia is a beautiful actor cum model whom I met in 2016 at the Royal Arts Academy, Lagos. I had gone to brush up my directing skills and she had come in as an acting student.
The first thing I noticed about her was that she was so well put together; her hair was so perfectly groomed, her face perfectly made up, he nails perfectly painted and her outfit? Yes! Perfectly selected. I knew this was a girl that loved to make a statement with her look.
Though we were polar opposites in terms of our style, we became friends. Soon, we were going home together and sharing ideas.
When it was time to do our class project – a collaborative short film by all script writers, directors, actors and editors in our set – Tonia was cast in a supporting role; something I stood firmly against. I didn’t think she was fit for role or could deliver well. She was just too pretty and too put together to deliver the kind of acting I wanted. To keep the peace, I accepted the casting and kept quiet.
On the day of the shoot, I was apprehensive. I am a perfectionist and it was important that my first attempt at a film goes well. I needed it to be just right. The entire cast and crew had slept in the school the night before and while it was a bonding experience, it served to increase my fears about Tonia. She didn’t do much of a rehearsal and when she did, it was always playful. I mentally prepared myself for a long day.
We got the actors in makeup and I told the artist, ‘Bad makeup for Tonia. She needs to look like a poor girl who has no money to buy good makeup products but tries to make do with what she has. Make Tonia’s makeup look ratchet.’ That was not in the script…or my original plan. But I wanted to see if she would let go of her ‘pretty’. As expected, Tonia rebelled. ‘Ha ahn! No oh! I cannot do that. I am going to look good. You can’t spoil my market?’
I was mad. She was my friend and all but I felt like it would be hard working with her. ‘Tonia, I am not saying poor girls cannot be fine. I am saying that I want to portray you as a girl who loves to look good but who doesn’t know how to.’ She protested some more and soon enough, I was visibly angry. I left the room to cool off. Most people didn’t know how mad I was because I didn’t lose my cool. I decided I would be better off at the location than overseeing makeup. I didn’t see Tonia until it was call time.
I was shocked! Not only was Tonia poorly dressed, her makeup was so hideous I couldn’t help but laugh. And she was laughing herself. ‘No mind this Ramat. She wan spoil my market.’
Even though she had accepted to wear horrible makeup, I kept my fingers crossed to see how she would act. I blocked the scenes and we did a dry run.
Boy was I shocked! I wished I had recorded the dry run. That was how good Tonia was! Not only did she drop her pretty, she became the ratchet character she was supposed to be. Turned out that while we slept, Tonia worked hard at trying to get her lines and in character. Never had I been so impressed with a character portrayal than I was with Tonia’s delivery in that moment. It wasn’t an Oscar-worthy performance but it could have been for how excited I was. I love to see an actor morph into a character and Tonia did that for me. Tonia was a delight to work with and all the other directors I worked with on the project said the same thing about her.
That moment, and her performance of one of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu’s speeches, forever endeared her to me as a performer. One of the hardest things a pretty woman can do is ‘drop her pretty’. To agree to become someone else, at the cost of changing the perception people had about her – and all this in the era of memes – is something I admire about Tonia. She showed me that when push came to shove, she wouldn’t let her pretty get in the way of getting the job done.
Many women can learn from this. I think we spend too much time worrying about how we look. There are times when we have to get down and dirty to achieve certain goals. If we worry too much about how we look – and as a result, how people perceive us – we stand a greater chance of losing out on so many things in life. A pretty woman is just that; pretty. But a pretty woman with an intelligent mind and drive is just… wow!
That performance opened some doors for Tonia. She has gone on to star in many other films in the past year and she is sure to rise to the peak she desires. I don’t know if she hears this a lot but I want to tell Tonia Orevba this; ‘You are a beautiful actor. Keep honing your art and soon, you will be where you want to be. Thank you for inspiring me’. For this, Tonia darling, you are my #WomanCrush. Contact her on Instagram @toniao_roberts.
Though my first foray into film making was barely average, I am so proud to have been a part of the making of Blurred. If you haven’t seen it, do so 👇.
PS: Don’t laugh oh! This is my start! I promise to make even better movies.