Discover more from In Nollywood
Efe Irele on Hey You: “We Did Something We've Never Seen in Nollywood.”
In Hey You, Efe Irele lives a double life as Bianca, an everyday girl who works at an orphanage during the day and is a cam girl at night.
As everyone exited the IMAX theatre after the screening of Hey You!, the racy rom-com directed by Uyoyou Adia for Anthill Studios, I hung around the lobby waiting for the woman of the moment. Fans, friends and members of the press littered the room waiting too.
Efe Irele stepped out to loud cheers. She looked every bit of a rom-com star in a two-piece lacy gown that showed some skin. “A lot of people didn’t realize how exposed I was,” she says about friends who thought her outfit was not risque enough.
Anniet, her assistant, had come up with several ideas, but this one felt the most right for the night. It was classy and stayed true to the theme of the premiere. I caught a guy staring like he’s never seen a beautiful woman. Every media house present wanted a piece of her. Ditto friends and fans. She smiled for a selfie with some fans before she was stolen by another set, then dragged to the afterparty, which had strippers.
I stayed behind because I was intrigued about this lascivious dimension to a film premiere. There was booze and the air smelled of carnality. Younger filmmakers and actors were fully involved — it was a glimpse into what Nollywood nights could be if the industry leaned into the debauchery of Lekki. Amidst the madness—slapping Naira notes on bare bums—Irele and her director had a moment that caught my interest. They shared a hug that lasted over a minute before returning to the party.
When I asked Irele about that moment, she sighed and then explained what working on this film entailed.
“Everyone worked hand in hand [on set],” she tells me. “Uyi would want to make a decision and she would come and speak to the actors about it, even down to our costumes. For an actor to feel like you have input in the production and the character’s outcome is amazing.”
In Hey You, Irele lives a double life as Bianca, an everyday girl who works at an orphanage during the day and is a cam girl at night. Her life is complicated when she realizes her favorite client is her favorite neighbor, whom she’s developed feelings for. Like all romantic comedies, there’s a happy ending.
Irele rises to the challenge of both characters, capturing the essence of an everyday girl in the morning and delivering a sensual show at night. It is quite the performance, never has a woman looked this sexy in a Nollywood film, and while much of the praise goes to the actor, her director’s framings show an understanding of the female body and its power.
“I am sure there’s a reason he [Niyi] decided to get a woman to direct this film and the sexual aspect was a huge part of the film,” Adia tells me. “But one thing I wanted to show was, this was a woman in control of her feelings and emotions when she was dancing or when it was time to go further with Timini’s character, Abel. She needed to be vulnerable yet strong.”
When you got the script, what precisely about Bianca excited you?
Initially, the entire story was supposed to be in an autism center, and my brother is autistic. I've spoken about that my entire career. That was one of the first things that drew me to the story. I wanted to know more because if you're portraying a character who works in an orphanage and the child who has her heart is living with autism, then there's so much depth to that character. That was one of the things that drew me to Bianca. she’s not just the girl who has a day job and does camgirl at night.
That was a major thing for me with Bianca and then going for the read, Uyi was telling the story and I'm like, "so we're going to open body, like, open, open?"
Was it easier because it was with Timini who is a friend?
I wouldn't take that out of the way completely. I would be a liar if I said it wasn't easier, but at the same time, it was harder because this is my friend. It's both ways.
At many points during the shoot, we'll just break character and laugh because "omo what the fuck is the nonsense?" But we got to a point where we had to let ourselves go. It wasn't just about being Timini and Efe on set, it became about being Abel and Bianca on sets. Once the cameras are rolling, we switch off and Timini is an amazing actor. There's so much professionalism, and we talk to each other through every scene; we would read our lines, have conversations and discuss the characters.
Hey You! was a delightful surprise because when a film is promoted the way it was, you're careful with expectations. Is it going to be all about the sex or are we going to have a story in here? I like that it was not all spectacle. There's a humane story in the film…
The film portrays how humans are. We kept having these arguments on set on how each character is judgmental, manipulative or just being a human being. Like the owner of the orphanage, she was judgmental, but she [still] collected the money, and that's human nature. That's one thing we did with Hey You!, we just portrayed real life. We're hypocrites, and Hey, You! just showed it in the light that it should be shown.
I spoke to Uyoyou about prepping for the film. She said Niyi told her to watch films with similar themes. What about you? How did you prepare for the role?
When we started talking about Hey, You!, Niyi, Vicki and I went to see a movie at the cinema. What’s the title of this movie? Oh, I’ve totally forgotten … It was in cinemas. I can't remember right now. But we watched that movie together, and Niyi was like, the way these two characters played, this is what we want to see, this is our vision with Bianca and Abel.
It wasn't only about the sensual parts of the film. It was the chemistry and how we're able to put the characters in that projection, take them up and down in their relationship. Abel's shyness and Bianca's confidence. That movie portrayed it for me; that was one of my references.
Also, I just watch more Hollywood movies. That was one of the things that I did and always do before I start a movie. I just go to the genre I'm about to do, watch different films and interpret them my way.
You are a star on ROK, and it feels like you have taken so long to become a mainstream star making cinema films.
I get those who say there are mainstream stars in cinemas, but what makes you a cinema star? Is it just by doing cinema films, isn't by people knowing you? I'm not a star on ROK; I've been a star. I would say that. The moment when I felt like I became a star was the moment when I would go places and people would scream and shout. I went on a worldwide tour with stars like Desmond Elliot, Annie Idibia, Mercy Aigbe and Mary Njoku. This was four years ago, and people knew my name in South Africa. They knew me. They were screaming, shouting, crying, seeing me. So I wouldn't say that because I haven't been in many cinema films, that doesn't make me a star, or being in a movie in cinemas makes you a star. Nah.
This chat has been condensed for clarity.
Thanks for reading Inside Nollywood! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support the ministry.