Interview by JANA LETONJA

British-Nigerian actress Weruche Opia is best known from her BAFTA nominated breakout performance in HBO’s acclaimed series I May Destroy You‘. Most recently, she starred in Disney+ and National Geographic’s anthology series ‘Genius: MLK/X’, and can be currently seen in Disney+ series ‘Iwájú’, the first original long-form animated series produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios.

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Weruche, for your role in HBO’s series ‘I May Destroy You’ you got a BAFTA nomination. How has this role changed the trajectory of your career?

It’s safe to say that ‘I May Destroy You’ was the job that changed things for me. I knew it was a special project the moment I read the script, but did I know it was going to change television as we know it or amplify the voices it did? No. Having the opportunity to be part of such a life changing project has taught me that it is my choice to pick work and projects I do or don’t do and I have the privilege to choose the work that moves me or I feel will make a difference.

How did your passion for acting and performing develop?

I’ve always enjoyed performing, for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory is forcing my sister to put on a performance of ‘Humpty Dumpty’ for my mum at 5 years old. All through school I was involved in every school play, did Drama at GCSE and eventually received a degree in Drama and Sociology. I knew from an early age acting was something I enjoyed, but equally as important, it was something I was good at. I’m a big believer in focusing on and feeding your strengths, and that’s just what I did. I took any opportunity to act and perform and kept feeding that passion and strength, and here we are.

This February, we were able to see you in Disney+ and National Geographic anthology series ‘Genius: MLK/X’, exploring the formative years, pioneering accomplishments, dueling philosophies and key personal relationships of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. How important was being a part of this project for you?

It has been one of the greatest honours of my life so far. In all honesty, I still don’t think it has really sunk in, the magnitude of it all. When I was given the opportunity to audition, I knew it was an important role, but I think it was when I accepted the offer and started doing the research when I understood its significance. We know a lot of general facts about Dr. King, Ms. Coretta, Malcolm X and Dr. Shabazz, but getting into the research and preparation for this project highlighted the fact that, although we may have general knowledge and think we know about them and how they have contributed to civil rights and modern society as we know it, there is in fact so much more to learn. And knowing that I would be part of an education or re-education for this generation about these four, was and is a huge honour and privilege.

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earrings SUSAN CAPLAN

While Luther King advanced racial equality through nonviolent protest, Malcolm X argued forcefully for Black empowerment, identity and self-determination. How important are these topics in today’s world and how could we as society do more to change things?

I believe both men had the same goal and fought for racial equality, black empowerment, identity and self-determination, and black dignity. The only difference between the two was their methods. As much as we can identify that things have changed and improved to an extent, we are yet to achieve this utopian society of equality we so desperately want. I believe having respect and love for every human being is a starting point. Two bible scriptures come to mind when I think of the woes of society and how they can be changed. The first is Matthew 7:12, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, and the second is Matthew 22:37-39, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, which is the greatest command, but equally as important is to love your neighbour as you do yourself’. As idealistic as it sounds, I believe a little love can go a long way.

These two hisoric figures became synonymous with the civil rights era and the fight for justice, with their wives by their side. How important was the role of the women in all this?

Women have been at the helm of any great movement in history. Whether it be wars or civil rights and social justice movements, women have always been involved. Have they always been given their due recognition or celebration? Maybe not to their full extent, but it is impossible to ignore their contributions. In terms of the roles Coretta and Betty played in the civil rights movement, I would be bold enough to say their husbands would not have made the impact they did during their lifetimes and left legacies they had after death if they had not aligned and partnered with their equals in Coretta and Betty.

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jewelry ALEXIS BITTAR

With March being the Women’s History Month, who is in your opinion the most notable female figure in the history and why?

That’s a tough one. Apart from my maternal grandmother, my mum and my sister, who are all my heroes, there are so many notable women to mention. How far back do we want to go? Shall I mention Nanny of the Maroons or Funmilayo Ransome Kuti? Miriam Makeba, Queen Nzinga Mbande, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, or Diane Abbott? I could keep going, but we might be here all day.

How important do you think is the role of women today, in all aspects of our lives?

As important as we’ve always been. As essential as the very air we breathe. Without women, there would be no life, no order, no future.

You’re currently starring in Disney+ series called Iwájú‘, which marks the first original long-form animated series produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and draws inspiration from the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Tell us more about it and its importance in the industry?

Being the first of its kind, it’s a huge leap in the right direction. Nigeria is full of brilliant, enterprising creatives, and for the guys at Kugali Media to get the attention of Disney and both parties to follow through to bring us this beautiful piece of art and culture is a dream come true. It brings me great joy to see African stories told on the world’s stage at home and in the diaspora. We’re constantly talking about representation and its importance, and projects like this and their success so far highlight just how important it is. I’ve had people message me, as well as tell me in person, how much ‘Iwájú’ means to them, their children, little black girls and boys seeing themselves in animation and some hearing accents and voices that are familiar to them. Such a treat. I’m hoping this will be the first of many and that more African stories are told on the world’s stage. 

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ring ALEXIS BITTAR

Being Nigerian yourself, why does this series hold such a special place in your heart?

I got to see it for the first time at the PAFF (Pan African Film Festival) in Los Angeles in a room filled with people of African descent and of different ages, and I shed a tear of joy for young Weruche. Watching it, I saw myself and my niece in the main character Tola, a young Nigerian girl curious about the world around her. 

One of the most enthralling things about the project is its authenticity. The imagery and language is 100 % accurate. I grew up in Lagos and there’s a bridge called Falomo Bridge that takes you from Ikoyi to Victoria Island and it is shown in the show. They speak with authentic Nigerian accents, as well as in pidgin English and Yoruba, using proverbs and sayings I know and have grown up hearing. 

Another special part of the project is the young actors who play Tola and Kole, especially the brilliant girl who plays Tola. Her name is Simisola Gbadamosi and she is incredible. She’s represented by Road 14 Studios, a drama school and agency for African children in Lagos, run by Keke Hammond. Keke having the dream to create this haven for young Nigerian performers gives me so much hope and excitement as I didn’t have any knowledge of anything like that when I was growing up. Now I can only imagine the type of talent we can look forward to coming out of Nigeria, with people like Keke making space for young performers to grow and develop and nurture their talents.

What can you share with us about your upcoming projects?

All I can say is I’m very excited and the possibilities are endless.

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TEAM CREDITS:
talent WERUCHE OPIA
photography EDDIE BLAGBROUGH
styling MO OGUNSAN
makeup BERNICIA BOATENG
hair JULIET ABIOLA
styling assistant KOSI KINGSLEY KOSIJKINGSLEY
editor TIMOTEJ LETONJA
editorial director and interview JANA LETONJA
location ST MARTINS LANE HOTEL