When Zainab Balogun made her way back to Nigeria some years ago, there was only one goal on her mind: to push her love for media and entertainment beyond a hobby and to make it work. The brave move paid off, as she is now one of Africa’s accomplished media professionals and actors. Zainab chats with LLA on her journey to showbiz and shares why it’s important to stay focused and remember that it’s business. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
How would you best describe Zainab Balogun, using your own words?
I am a media professional and actor.
Awesome! You’ve got a law degree, but obviously never practised; what influenced that decision?
I’ve always loved the law even as a kid. I studied it every chance I got from college to university. It was important for me to get my degree because I hadn’t fully decided which career path I wanted to venture down. I was stuck between becoming an entertainment lawyer or a career in the arts. Securing my degree was also a way for me to pacify my parents into coming to terms with my creative desires.
So would it be right to describe you as an arts body of some sort – acting, singing, modelling, TV hosting, etc.?
I wouldn’t quite describe myself as such now considering I have been fortunate enough to streamline my career. As a young creative, you find yourself being good at acquiring most artistic skills from those listed. Each level was preparation for the next. Singing in a group gave me confidence and a voice. Modelling taught me about role playing and prepared me for dramatic arts. There’s a common thread that simply links you from one art to the other.
Nice! So tell us, how did your journey to television begin?
In 2011, I developed an online entertainment web series with a friend in London. I didn’t know what it meant to be a presenter and producer at the time but I was doing everything the role required to push my weekly show on YouTube. I didn’t necessarily want to be a presenter but I enjoyed the process. The show crossed over to Nigeria on a summer trip in an effort to bring a taste of Africa to London. I caught the entertainment buzz in a few weeks of being in Lagos. I suddenly wanted it more and was determined to make this thing more than a hobby. I returned to London and a year after, came back to Lagos to give things a go. I went to a lot of auditions, networked and eventually got an opportunity to audition for a new channel at the time called Ebonylife TV. The rest is history as they say.
Nigerian parents are not usually receptive to careers in the arts and media; how did you convince yours to support your ambition?
I gave my parents what they wanted which was a degree. I had dipped my feet in the creative world at an early age from 16 through modelling, therefore, it wasn’t a complete shock to them. It took a while to understand but the moment they could see my work on TV every night, boast to family and friends, I knew I was free!
After a successful modelling and film career in the UK, you decided to move back to Nigeria. Why did you make that choice, and did you wonder if you were making a good choice?
I decided to come to Nigeria and pursue TV because I thought it would be easier for me to get my foot in the door with my own people than in the UK. I didn’t think about the consequences of my actions or the magnitude of the risk I was taking. I kept facing the goal and was determined to make it work regardless. The shame of going back to London and telling people I failed was enough to motivate me.
And how was the experience settling in? What are some of the life lessons you’ve learned?
I had lived all of life in London and spent the occasional summer/winter in Nigeria where people spoil you with entertainment and life seems easy. Coming back for good was a huge culture shock. I had to adapt quickly to the rules in town from transportation, work, attitudes and even my role as a woman in Nigeria. I learnt quickly that there were a lot of opportunities around but only for sharpest people who hustled for it.
How would you describe your work ethic, and how has it translated to your career?
I work extremely hard. A little too much sometimes. I am constantly chasing the next opportunity to create something that adds value. I want people to recognize me for my work and contribution before anything else. I believe this has been beneficial in the business relationships and success I’ve had over the years.
Now that The Spot has aired its last episode on EL TV, what’s the next project you’re working on, or should we say, series of projects ?
I have been busy shooting movies and will continue to hit the big screens with more projects this year. In between that, I am currently working on a few treatments for TV on the lifestyle angle.
You have very strong opinions (which we love), on certain aspects of pop culture and general Naija living. How do you create a balance between your on-screen persona and real-life? And is it a challenge?
I was fortunate enough to work on a show at Ebonylife TV that was 100% real. Real opinions and unfiltered thoughts. I never hid who or what I thought on TV and I believe that’s part of the grace that got me where I am. In addition to that, I keep work and my personal life very separate. As I mentioned earlier, I want people to know me for the value I add as media professional rather than my personal life. I’ve made conscious efforts to ensure that message speaks volumes in all I do and say.
Okay, so we absolutely adored you as Wonu in The Wedding Party. Tell us about how you got into character, and how that experience was for you.
Prepping a character requires a lot of quiet time and script analysis. I had to create a person with a background and story in order to make it believable. Wonu has a family, goals, fears and all of these things helped to design the person on screen.
The stereotyped African notion about being a media personality is ‘all glam and little work’. What’s the back-end story to all that gloss?
There’s a reason why the stereotype exists and it’s because it’s true for many. Showbiz is all about being “showy” however some forget that it is still a business. In the midst of this, there are people who are incredibly talented and monetizing their efforts. It’s not as easy as it seems, but it can be extremely rewarding if you put in the work.
We are in an age of women doing extraordinary things and taking centre stage. Which 3 women strongly inspire you?
Ibukun Awosika, Viola Davis and Jessica Alba.
When you’re off the screen, what’s a typical day like for you?
I’m often stuck on my laptop or running to meetings. You’ll find me writing treatments, developing brand proposals, reading scripts and preparing for my next production.
Now let’s talk about your brilliant fashion sense. What informs the choice of what you wear, especially to red carpet events?
My mood is probably the most important factor. I wear what I’m currently feeling. If that’s excited and alluring then it comes out on the carpet. If its comfort and hidden, I’ll do just that too. Being comfortable also plays a huge role. If I can’t stand and look effortless in a particular outfit for hours, it doesn’t leave the house.
What would you want to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as a woman who added value others. The next phase of my life is all about creating a space and opportunities where people can create value for themselves.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we just might feature her.