A day before Kunle Afolayan’s Swallow is set to hit Netflix screens all across the globe, I sit down with leading star and first-time actor, Eniola ‘Niyola’ Akinbo to discuss the highly-anticipated film. The drama-thriller explores the burgeoning drug trafficking trade in an 80s Nigeria, struggling under the weight of austerity measures and the infamous War Against Indiscipline. But more so, it tells the story of Tolani, a young woman overcome by obstacles as she tries to build a career and a life she will be proud of. Swallow highlights several social issues, including sexual harassment in the workplace, drug abuse and trafficking – issues that are as prevalent now as they were in the 80s. It’s a timely, hyper-relevant and well-told story.
Niyola, who excellently portrays Tolani, couldn’t agree more. “There’s a part of the film where Tolani was speaking about her frustrations [as a young woman] and it really hit home because [issues like this] are still a reality today, in Nigeria,” she says. “As much as the film is entertaining, I like that it’s very, very educational.”
Speaking about her first on-camera role, Niyola expresses nothing but positivity. “It was very interesting and also very intense. I always knew filming was an intense experience but being part of a film just showed me the level, and how much work goes into putting a film together. It was interesting and different for me, and I loved every bit of it.” There were darker moments though, particularly when the cameras stopped rolling, the Netflix star reveals. “I not only stayed in character after the director called cut, but when we finished filming, I had an emotional meltdown. It was difficult for me to switch back to who I was.”
Opening up further, she reveals, “I didn’t want to speak to anyone, I didn’t want to go back to normal, and not because anything was wrong with my life, it’s just that I had gotten myself so deep into the character, Tolani. That’s what it was for me.”
“Netflix’s emergence in Nigeria has done us a world of good. Before, you had to go look for Nollywood, but now, it’s at your fingertips. I’m very honoured to have been a part of the process.”
Speaking on her preparation process for the role, Niyola reveals she practised visualising the story and being in the moment daily, but also relied on advice from more experienced co-stars. “There were times on set when Deyemi [Okanlawon] would say to me, “let me tell you why you have to do this.” Naturally, there were certain terms that were jargon to me, but he would break it down. He’s such a fantastic actor. Ijeoma [Agu], as well, is an incredible actor. I have a lot of respect for her, and I admire her work and her work ethic so much. Everybody was especially kind to me and extremely professional.”
As our conversation draws to a close, the musician-cum-film star highlights her experience working with Netflix for the first time, describing it as “nothing but positive.” “I think it’s amazing what Netflix is doing in Nigeria. We have so much potential and so much to offer in the Arts, and I think Netflix’s emergence in Nigeria has done us a world of good. Before, you had to go look for Nollywood, but now, it’s at your fingertips. I’m very honoured to have been a part of the process.”
Swallow is out on Netflix now!