Desmond Elliot: Why I Hid My Yoruba Identity From Nollywood

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When actor Desmond Elliot came out with Sola as his Yoruba name ahead of the 2015 Lagos State House of Assembly election, it was largely seen as a deliberate move to win sympathy from the electorate. But he carried on and won as a representative of Surulere Constituency. OLUSHOLA RICKETTS met with the actor turned-politician recently at a filmmakers’ forum in Lagos.

A fortunate child
Luck comes the way of some people easily and Desmond Elliot sees himself as one of those fortunate people in life. His journey into acting was rough, though he says; he has always been a lover of movies right from where he grew up in Jos, Plateau State. Growing up in the north perhaps better explains why his Yoruba language appears half-baked and the reason a lot of people didn’t think he is one when he came out publicly to say so.
He says, “They wanted to know where the name Olusola came from, but all that is gone now. It was an election to be determined by people in my constituency and those were the people who know me from home. So, I wasn’t really bothered by what people were saying.

I am born of a Yoruba father, my mother is an Igbo, I grew up in the north and my wife is from Akwa Ibom.” The beauty of having a mixed background, he notes, is that it allowed him to appreciate different cultures and see everyone as the same even in our diversity. “It is also helpful in the field of filmmaking and acting that I choose.”

From Sola Elliot to Desmond Elliot

A South African soap opera, Egoli challenged Elliot. He would always say to himself “I would love to be like Steve.” Steve was a character in the production. Being a church boy too, he was in the drama group and people got to notice his acting skills. They thought he was excellent and a good friend kept advising him.

He narrates, “He would always come around when the move was playing and he would say Sola you can do this. They called me Sola at home, but I realised most producers then were from the east and I felt that using Sola could make things difficult. I didn’t really understand why I decided to use Desmond at that point.

It is not a stage name; it is my English name. That was how Sola Elliot changed to Desmond Eliot. If anyone calls me Sola now I know the person knows me from home, but if I hear the Desmond I know it is when I started acting.”

Becoming an actor

Elliot’s degree was in Economics at the Lagos State University, so he didn’t have a background in films. When he started acting in 1999, almost 16 years ago, it took him about eight months to get a job. His mother kept wondering where he was always going every day, from morning till evening.

After about the eighth month, she queried him. He remembers, “My mother said Sola you go out every day, we’ve not seen money and we’ve not seen films. What do you go out to do? I just kept telling her it would be fine. But my father had serious faith and confidence in me.”

While he kept looking for opportunities in movies endlessly, he tried other things, including modelling. And in 1999-2000, he got a Tom-Tom (candy) commercial job. “I was picked last. I was very skinny and rough; it was obvious I was hungry. I saw that as a favour from God and that actually gave me hope because I was paid well. It was a Tom- Tom’s zebra crossing commercial.” Although he concedes, he wasn’t good as others, he kept pushing on with the mind-set that he would get his chance.

Then, the popular audition grounds were at Surulere, Lagos, and that was like a bonus for him because he resided in the neigbourhood. Every morning, Elliot was often among the first five to arrive for auditions. He tried this for a year without any meaningful gains.

When he got a chance to star in his first movie produced by Emeka Ani, there was still a dilemma. Ani told Elliot and his friend, Tuvi James, to decide who between them should be part of the production. The character was to play about three scenes.

When actor Desmond Elliot came out with Sola as his Yoruba name ahead of the 2015 Lagos State House of Assembly election, it was largely seen as a deliberate move to win sympathy from the electorate. But he carried on and won as a representative of Surulere Constituency. OLUSHOLA RICKETTS met with the actor turned-politician recently at a filmmakers’ forum in Lagos.

A fortunate child
Luck comes the way of some people easily and Desmond Elliot sees himself as one of those fortunate people in life. His journey into acting was rough, though he says; he has always been a lover of movies right from where he grew up in Jos, Plateau State. Growing up in the north perhaps better explains why his Yoruba language appears half-baked and the reason a lot of people didn’t think he is one when he came out publicly to say so.
He says, “They wanted to know where the name Olusola came from, but all that is gone now. It was an election to be determined by people in my constituency and those were the people who know me from home. So, I wasn’t really bothered by what people were saying.
I am born of a Yoruba father, my mother is an Igbo, I grew up in the north and my wife is from Akwa Ibom.” The beauty of having a mixed background, he notes, is that it allowed him to appreciate different cultures and see everyone as the same even in our diversity. “It is also helpful in the field of filmmaking and acting that I choose.”
From Sola Elliot to Desmond Elliot
A South African soap opera, Egoli challenged Elliot. He would always say to himself “I would love to be like Steve.” Steve was a character in the production. Being a church boy too, he was in the drama group and people got to notice his acting skills. They thought he was excellent and a good friend kept advising him.
He narrates, “He would always come around when the move was playing and he would say Sola you can do this. They called me Sola at home, but I realised most producers then were from the east and I felt that using Sola could make things difficult. I didn’t really understand why I decided to use Desmond at that point.
It is not a stage name; it is my English name. That was how Sola Elliot changed to Desmond Eliot. If anyone calls me Sola now I know the person knows me from home, but if I hear the Desmond I know it is when I started acting.”

Becoming an actor

Elliot’s degree was in Economics at the Lagos State University, so he didn’t have a background in films. When he started acting in 1999, almost 16 years ago, it took him about eight months to get a job. His mother kept wondering where he was always going every day, from morning till evening.

After about the eighth month, she queried him. He remembers, “My mother said Sola you go out every day, we’ve not seen money and we’ve not seen films. What do you go out to do? I just kept telling her it would be fine. But my father had serious faith and confidence in me.”

While he kept looking for opportunities in movies endlessly, he tried other things, including modelling. And in 1999-2000, he got a Tom-Tom (candy) commercial job. “I was picked last. I was very skinny and rough; it was obvious I was hungry. I saw that as a favour from God and that actually gave me hope because I was paid well. It was a Tom- Tom’s zebra crossing commercial.” Although he concedes, he wasn’t good as others, he kept pushing on with the mind-set that he would get his chance.

Then, the popular audition grounds were at Surulere, Lagos, and that was like a bonus for him because he resided in the neigbourhood. Every morning, Elliot was often among the first five to arrive for auditions. He tried this for a year without any meaningful gains.

When he got a chance to star in his first movie produced by Emeka Ani, there was still a dilemma. Ani told Elliot and his friend, Tuvi James, to decide who between them should be part of the production. The character was to play about three scenes.
He states, “I and Tuvi were not too close, but I pleaded with him because he had been featuring in productions. We struggled about it a bit and my promise to him was that in the future I would pay him back. It was just the hope that someday I would return it and that was a sincere promise. The tittle of the movie was The Challenge and I went to set every day to see how things were done since I had no idea how it worked.”

Meeting Ramsey Nouah

From the bit role he played in The Challenge, he started introducing himself to people, including Nouah. Recalling vividly his first interaction with Nouah, he says his look when he attempted to shake him wasn’t pleasant. According to him, Nouah was playing one Jamaican song in his car and he left where everyone was seated to meet him.
“Now, it is funny how I see other young actors come to me. They call me by character name and try to explain the role they are playing just the way I introduced myself to Nouah then. It is now a conscious effort to be nicer because truth be told he wasn’t really nice to me.
He just said okay and he continued listening to his song,” he narrates. But, Elliot maintains that one shouldn’t be quarrelsome, stressing that one should be prepared to meet people with different ideas, characters and spirits. “Don’t be quarrelsome because message spread faster. The fact that people felt I was humble worked for me, though they would never give you a bad or hard man’s role.”

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