Crime and Justice: Lagos, the Showmax series which premiered in December 2022 is beautifully executed. However, the show would not have stood out without amazing actors, such as Ibrahim Jammal, who deliver their performances excellently. In the show, he plays Danladi Dikko, a member of the SSCU, a special unit of the police force responsible for solving crime cases. He saves the day with his partner, Kelechi Farasin (Folu Storms) as they navigate other aspects of their lives.
Jammal began his acting career in 2016, when he played Baba in Abba Makama’s Green White Green. He has featured in both independent films and mainstream films, as well as feature films and series. The versatile actor also has a background as a Production Manager, and in TV production.
In this conversation with Bside, Jammal talks about his experience on the set of Crime and Justice: Lagos, and how his other backgrounds have influenced his acting, amongst other things.
You started out as a Production Manager. How has your experience with this influenced your acting?
During production generally, you get to work with people behind the camera. You get to see different actors when they are corrected by directors on set. You also see these actors when they are at their lows and highs. Production helps in a whole other way because you see the raw talent of every other person. The directors help in moulding these actors to embody their characters. I have learnt by just watching people be themselves.
You also have a background in TV production. Did this have any influence on your role as Danladi in Crime And Justice: Lagos?
Being on set and watching other people do their own thing has morphed me into the person I am today. Yes, it informed my role as Danladi in Crime and Justice: Lagos.
You once said in an interview that as an actor in Nollywood, one has to have a side gig. Do you still stand by that? What are the things you would like to see changed about the industry that would make it more conducive for actors?
In Nigeria right now, you can’t rely solely on acting. Personally, what has worked for me is having other things going on. I have businesses that I run, and I code as well. Acting doesn’t really pay the bills right now. I am hoping that actors can start getting their flowers and getting paid for the right amount or getting royalties on the films they feature in. Most people don’t know, but acting is a lot of work; bringing out these characters is not easy at all. I hope it gets to a time where someone can say, “I am an actor”, and it is a full-time job that enables them to eat and feed others.
What do you love the most about playing different characters?
For me, it’s the act of embodying these people and becoming someone that you’ve never met or known, learning from their experiences. Basically renting them your body for that moment and allowing them to make their choices. I think the most interesting thing for me is being anybody without judgement or criticism. I have access to their emotions and the things they know. When you allow a character to take your body for a particular time, it is a different experience and an amazing feeling. It’s like an out-of-body experience, and I can’t really explain it. It’s beautiful.
Crime and Justice: Lagos paints the Nigerian police force in a new light, unlike we are used to seeing in many other Nollywood films. Did you have to study anybody in the force?
I didn’t study anyone particularly, but I studied about the police generally. A lot of people have been saying that Crime and Justice: Lagos does not reflect the police we know, but I’ll like to tell everyone that it’s what we hope for. We hope for the Nigerian police to even be more than this. If we keep looking at the past, we’re never going to move forward. We can only hope that the Police force can get to the level where citizens can trust their method of fighting crime.
In the need for this positive portrayal of the police force, there are scenes that show too pristine autopsy rooms, surveillance tools, tracing phone calls, etc. The average Nigerian isn’t familiar with any of these because we don’t see the police this effective.How do you think Nollywood filmmakers can tell our stories whilst still sticking to originality?
I think we can still stick to the originality of our stories even if they are fictional. Stories are about people in their environment. Crime and Justice: Lagos is fictional, but it revolves around real stories and real people. I mean, if you have to tell these stories, they have to be relatable stories that Nigerians can understand. We are all part of these experiences, and if you are telling the story, then you can never run away from originality no matter how fictional it may be. So, as long as you can tell a story and everybody can relate to it, that’s the most beautiful part of it.
You once stated that one of the directors of the show pushed you to a really dark place in order for them to get the desired result whilst filming the fifth episode of the show, and you found it difficult to get out of “that place”. This obviously worked for you, but it wouldn’t have worked for another actor. As an actor, when does a director “cross the line”?
I think that is between the director and the actor. The actor should always say when they feel uncomfortable. There were amazing directors on the set of Crime and Justice: Lagos; they never crossed a line. They would tell you on set that if you felt uncomfortable by anything around you (the co-stars, environment, etc), you needed to voice it out. I feel that is one thing that we don’t have on a lot of sets. People are not allowed to talk or voice out their emotions. In order to be creative, there is a need for openness. I feel both the director and actor would know when a line has been crossed. We are creatives, and it is a collaborative effort at the end of the day. I was pushed, but I was lucky to have been able to get out of the dark place. After the scene, they gave me time to go and get some air, and that definitely helped.
What kind of characters would you like to play in your future projects?
I see myself as a vessel and I wouldn’t want to put myself in a box. I would rather play anything that I gravitate towards. As long as I am comfortable with the themes and the message, I will play that character. I do love a lot of action, and that is something I would like to venture into. I still love drama as well because of the emotions. I am flexible.
Which actors (home and abroad) inspire you?
For me, I don’t really have one person that inspires me. I just pick out different things from different people and absorb knowledge. I take what works for me and throw away other things that I don’t need.
You’ve worked in independent projects like Abba Makama’s Green White Green. What are the differences between acting for mainstream films and independent films?
Mainstream films usually have a bigger production: more shoot dates, and a longer production time. Indie films have smaller budgets, so everyone looks for more creative ways to execute things well.
What, in your experience, is the difference between acting for film and acting for TV?
Acting for film, which I really love, has given me enough time to really learn and break my characters down. I find out what their back story is and who they really are, but it’s just a one time thing; when you’re done, you’re done. With TV, you are the character for a very long time, which even gives you more time to understand the character. I think the difference is just the timing. I do enjoy both of them.
You play Tokunbo in Adesua Okosun’s Contact, a short film for “NBA Films for Fans”. What was your experience on the set? And what material (books, films, etc.) did you have to study to play a paralympic?
Tokunbo was a very interesting character. I love Adesua and her direction, and how she pushed Tokunbo to be the character that everyone gets to see. For the preparation, I had to use the wheelchair for like 2 weeks. I was also training with the paralympics team at Surulere every other day for those 2 weeks, just to get into character. I found it really amazing because I feel it’s not everybody that would be willing to give that time and effort to make sure that an actor actually understands the character. This is why I respect Abba Makama who was the producer, and Adesua, the director. They made sure I had every tool necessary to bring the character to life. I had a coach in Surulere as well, who was amazing. My paralympic team members inspired me in so many ways, because I never knew how important it is to have your legs till I started training. Hearing their stories really pushed me to become Tokunbo. It also made me realise how much I miss basketball, because I used to play basketball in college.