The Road To Ade Laoye’s Big Break
While Ade Laoye was building a career in the US, news of the renaissance of the Nigerian entertainment industry began filtering through to Nigerians in the diaspora. So she moved back.
The journalist in Editi Effiong’s The Black Book takes you through a range of emotions but you are mostly quite annoyed by her choices as the tension builds. It does not matter if you understand her decisions or not, you really want her to be safe as the devices of the underworld threaten to close in on her.
The actor who plays her is a lot more put together and quiet.
On the journey to this film, which she describes as her major break, Ade Laoye toured Nollywood in length and breadth from television shows to box office films, web series and streaming platforms. She has delivered amazing performances across these mediums with the intensity of a true artist and the quietness reminiscent of a movie star.
Before the lights and cameras, Ade was a young girl who loved musicals and theatre, often play-acting and dancing, improvising a hairbrush for a microphone with her sisters. With parents who loved to sing, her family always had music in the house, and although the children were encouraged to read books, it was also okay to watch television and sing if they wanted to.
“But it was mainly for church. I never quite saw any of this evolving into something beyond a hobby. I am one of five girls and we sang in church growing up. It was for fun. You sing in church and use your gifts for the Lord. That kind of thing,” she told In Nollywood.
It was not surprising that she got into university — Pennsylvania State — to study something else. “As a science student, I said I was going to study Computer Science because my dad was a Computer Engineer and I didn’t have the patience to study Medicine for long years. Fortunately, I could explore different things in my first year so I took different classes including random ones like Poetry.
“When it was time to pick my major, I just went through the brochure and asked myself what I could do or was interested in. [I] Saw Theatre and was like ‘ah, I am a bit dramatic, I love music and I love singing, so let me check this thing out.’ So, I auditioned, wrote about my creative experiences, did my monologues and shockingly got in.”
The seemingly random choice led to an interesting career path as Ade went on to work for prestigious theatres such as The Walnut Street Theatre, The Arden Theatre Company, and TheatreWorksUSA in Philadelphia and New York City.
Ade got her first professional job at The Arden Theatre Company right after she graduated from university. It was a musical by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori called Caroline, or Change—a show set in 1963 Louisiana about a black woman working for a Jewish family and the complicated family dynamics and state of the world at that moment in time.
She was part of the Acting Apprentice Program at The Walnut Street Theatre, the oldest continuously operating theatre in the US where she developed her love for educational theatre and toured schools, teaching acting classes for kids and young adults.
Following that, she toured a few states in the US with off-Broadway company TheatreWorksUSA in an original children’s musical called We The People and has gone on to do other shows including Hairspray, Once on this Island and Cinderella.
While Ade was building a career in the US, news of the renaissance of the entertainment industry back home in Nigeria began filtering through to Nigerians in the diaspora.
“In August 2009, I moved to New York to live my big city dreams and news from Nigeria was coming through the blogs. Afrobeat was starting to cross over and there was this whole Naija energy in the air which increased our sense of pride in Nigeria.”
The next year, a series of random events fueled her return to Nigeria, where she had attended secondary school. Her mother died and Ade moved back to Philadelphia, where her family lived, for the support system. More news about the growth of the Nigerian entertainment industry continued to inspire her curiosity and she remembers asking, “what is happening in Nollywood?’
“This was interesting to me. The growth and everything,” Ade said. “I saw a trailer with Osas Ighodaro in it and we actually were at Penn State together. We did a play together. She had moved back to Nigeria, done Tinsel and was making waves. It really inspired me.
“I remember thinking ‘okay, Nollywood is making waves. Looking at my former schoolmate doing it’. So, I started researching Tinsel.”
The Africa Magic show can be described as a rite of passage for the wave of Nollywood stars who came into the industry from 2009. Over the years, Tinsel has served as a major launchpad for many of Africa’s best-known faces on television, including Gideon Okeke, Osas Ighodaro, Damilola Adegbite, Chris Attoh, Timini Egbuson, Joseph Benjamin, Blossom Chukwujekwu and Femi Jacobs.
Ade, like many others, was inspired by the show to explore the filmmaking scene in Nigeria.
When she came to Nigeria for her mother’s funeral, Ade reconnected with some old friends which fuelled her nostalgia and some of her friends moving back from the UK and the US signalled that maybe the news reports about the boom of the entertainment industry was worth the experiment.
She bought a one-way ticket in December 2012 and her Nollywood journey began.
“Has it been worth it? That’s your question, right?” Ade asked right back as she reflected on her journey since then. It’s the last quarter of 2023 and she is in the most expensive Nollywood film yet streaming on Netflix and breaking records in different countries around the world. She took a beat and began listing the work she had done prior.
Africa Magic’s Hush, Box Office’s Ayinla and Finding Hubby, EbonyLife’s Castle & Castle and several Netflix originals including A Naija Christmas and Collision Course are just some of the notable screen projects she has been featured in through the years.
Her Nigerian stage performances include Saro the Musical which was also performed in London, Wakaa the Musical (both produced and directed by Bolanle-Austen Peters for BAP Productions), the second edition of For Colored Girls (produced by Keke Hammond for Flytime Productions and directed by Wole Oguntokun) and Ada the Country (directed by Kemi ‘Lala’ Akindoju for Doyenne Circle).
She reflected as she listed and said, “I’ve worked…I’ve worked in Nollywood but this is the specific moment that is my big break.”
The Black Book, which has been heralded as a career-defining project for many of the actors on it including the veterans Richard Mofe-Damijo, Sam Dede and Shaffy Bello, is Ade’s biggest film yet.
The Editi Effiong-directed thriller has received global acclaim since it was released on Netflix in September 2023. In less than three weeks post-release, the movie has already been watched more than 70 million times and ranked highly in countries such as South Korea.
Ade and Effiong met at a Netflix event in 2020 before the pandemic and during their conversation about the film, he mentioned that he’d like her to play Vic Kalu, the journalist. In fact, she was the only one he had in mind for the role. He sent her the script and kept an eager ear out for her thoughts.
“He was just so eager and so excited about this project. So, I read it and I was just like ‘oh my goodness. This is incredibly ambitious.’
“I’m very intentional about the projects that I accept and I just love when people just want to do something that hasn’t been done before. I was sold and that was how the journey started.”
Effiong has frequently praised Ade’s performance in the film, describing her execution of “an annoying character” as pure talent. “Her character was the hardest to write for me, and she brought the performance,” he tweeted.
The project has received wide acclaim for its ambition, scale and global impact with praises still pouring in months later. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Effiong said, “I think the biggest validation for me was that a film made by Black people with Black faces, and 100 per cent Nigerian money went on top of the world’s biggest streaming platform. It was in the top three in the world, top 10, and number one in about 20 countries.”
Ade could not fully grasp the scale of the film till she was on set. The director mentions frequently during the press run that it was true for some of the people who worked on the project as the ambition and scale were never-before-seen in the Nigerian film industry.
“I don’t even know that the script fully captured how ambitious the project was going to be,” Ade told In Nollywood. “I felt like it was ambitious in terms of like the actual story but I don’t think I got the sense of what the real world of it was actually going to look like until we got on set.
“The first day, there were so many moving parts. I was in hair and makeup and we couldn’t shoot because Uncle Pat was still working on the details. It was then the scale dawned on me.”
(Pat Nebo was the art director who sadly passed before its release. The project is dedicated to him for his invaluable contributions to the film industry spanning decades).
But Effiong did not initially set out to make Nollywood’s biggest film. “We didn’t go out there trying to make the biggest film, do the biggest logistics or build the biggest sets in Nollywood history,” he had told In Nollywood. “I don't think my ego is that big; we were just trying to make a film and the film became what it is.”
Ade’s character, Vic Kalu, is an impulsive journalist who crosses paths with former hitman-turned- preacher Paul Edima (Richard Mofe Damijo) after the murder of his son. It turns out that they have an even deeper history than she anticipated.
From the actress’ perspective, her character is at a crossroad and is in the middle of an identity crisis. “She comes from this legacy of journalism and her mum was a famous reporter who was eliminated because of the work that she was doing. And then I think for any child who has famous parents, I do think that there is that pressure to sort of live up to the legacy that your parents have built. I feel like there’s just this big question mark about her past.
“She is an incredibly curious person but her curiosity too is really about trying to connect the dots for her own self.”
The film’s global reception was a surprise to her and is really a career-defining moment she hopes brings bigger things her way. “I’m hoping I can explore opportunities outside of Nigeria as well. I’m hoping the global success of The Black Book translates to working more in Africa and even outside of the continent.”