Eyiara Olugunna: “Why I write down three things that I’m grateful for just before going to sleep”

Just before going to sleep, I write down three things that I’m grateful for. Doing this has made me pay attention to even the little events that occur during the day. So even if a rejection email has come through my inbox and it seems to cloud my mind, I remember those moments during the […]

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Just before going to sleep, I write down three things that I’m grateful for. Doing this has made me pay attention to even the little events that occur during the day. So even if a rejection email has come through my inbox and it seems to cloud my mind, I remember those moments during the day that made me smile or made me appreciate the life that I have.

As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eyiara Olugunna.

Eyiara is a film and TV actress based in London, England. She is also a singer and self-published author of the book This is Wonder. Eyiara desires that through her work, people become more empathetic human beings.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was quite shy growing up but being part of school plays was exciting for me. It gave me an opportunity to embody different characters other than being the quiet, brainy kid. As I grew older, watching a lot of my favorite shows on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel, I was like, ‘Wow this is actually a job?! I want to do this when I grow up!’ However, this dissipated once I got to secondary school. I still had drama class at school but the acting was not a career I was striving for anymore. I wanted to become a translator. I did very well in languages (I studied French and German) and thought that would be a more stable career path for me. I finished secondary school, then went to university in Paris to study French; it was there, after watching the film Divines by Houda Benyamina, that the turning point came. The film touched me in several ways. The rawness and depth of the storyline and acting opened my eyes to the harsh reality of the world but at the same time stirred something in my heart — a desire to be more compassionate with the people in my world and those I come across. The film rekindled the fire I had for acting, but it also made me realize my ‘why’; I want to use my gift not just to entertain but to help people recognize our humanity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

I was in an acting class and I was doing a scene with my acting partner. In the scene, we were sisters who had run away from our father and were lost in the woods. My character was the older sister and was angry with her younger sister for getting them lost. Our teacher gave me a note — to imagine we’d been walking all night and the reason why we hadn’t found our way out of the woods was because of my ‘know it all’ younger sister. So, what would I say to her? I knew what I wanted to say but I kept censoring my words because I felt like, as Eyiara, I would never speak to anyone like that. Then the teacher asked me to do an exercise, and whilst doing it I burst into tears. This was not because I didn’t want to do the exercise but because that moment revealed to me just how much-repressed emotions I had, under the guise of always wanting to keep the peace. I will always remember that scene because it was such a liberating moment. Who would have thought that an exercise in acting class would be so empowering and allow me to be free of people-pleasing and excessive self-censoring?

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

So, it was my first audition and it was for a play. I walked into the audition room with the sides in my hand. The casting director asked me a few questions — how I was doing and my thoughts about the character I was auditioning for. I was not expecting that at all! I thought I would walk in the audition room, do the scene and that would be it. So, all I’d done was learn the lines. When the CD asked what I thought about the character, because I hadn’t done the work, I started making stuff up on the spot. I don’t even know if it was related to the scene, but it felt like random words coming out of my mouth that didn’t make sense. After that conversation, I kept forgetting the lines and just messing up. That audition didn’t go very well at all!

It taught me many lessons. One, do your research. Research the casting director and what kind of projects they cast. Two, preparation is key. It’s not just about learning your lines, who is this character? What are their likes and dislikes? Build a backstory for that character, whether it be for a one-liner or three pages, and that backstory can inform the choice you make in the audition room. Three, don’t judge the character. I thought that I was nothing like the character I was auditioning for so I felt no connection to her. Now I ask myself the question, what would I do if I were in this situation? Then I bring parts of my own experience to create my version of the character.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been able to work on projects for a few months. However, the last project I worked on before the government enforced lockdown was super fun. It’s a short film called Jupiter’s Plum and I got to play an interesting character — an upper-class woman who enjoys the privileges her status gives her. We got to use amazing props created by the company Sugavision (they made the flower props for Jessica Hausner’s film, Little Joe and the cannabis forest in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen).

Now that the industry is picking up, I’m very excited for what’s to come!

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

One day, during the days that I worked as an extra, I met an elderly lady on set — she too was an extra. There was a lot of downtime before we were called to set, so the lady and I started having a conversation. She was very happy to be part of the production and her presence was so warm and calming. After a while, we were all transported from one location to another. It was evening, and we were still in the waiting area for extras, but this lady never complained. Rather she told us all stories of her time in the industry. What the casting process was like before there was the Internet and when people still had those phones with cords. She told us of the films she had been part of, the people she had met on set and the adventures she’d been on. Just seeing her enthusiasm reminded me never to take the opportunities I have and the spaces I inhabit for granted. Also, listening to her taught me that if you love something well enough and are fully invested in it, you will do whatever it takes to keep doing it no matter the changing times or upgrade in technology. You will always find a way.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Don’t take rejection personally. There are other factors, apart from talent, that cause you to be cast or not get cast.

You are enough — your height, your weight, skin color and the way you speak is enough. You don’t have to change who you are to fit the idea of what you think the industry wants.

Keep learning about the business side of the industry — it will help to put many of the decisions that are made into perspective.

Have an outlet — boxing, painting, writing — something that fuels you during the times when you are not working.

A support network is important, not just for your development as an artist but also as a person.

Can you share with our readers any self-care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

I have dedicated one day each week as my self-care day. It is a time for me to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. Depending on how busy or stressful the week has been, that determines how I spend my self-care day. It could range from going for a walk in the woods nearby, painting (mostly abstract ideas depending on the way I’m feeling), putting on a purifying clay face mask, to spending the day in bed.

Also, I try my best to journal — thoughts, ideas, prayers, concerns. Journaling has been really helpful for me in pouring the emotions out of my body onto a page.

Just before going to sleep, I write down three things that I’m grateful for. Doing this has made me pay attention to even the little events that occur during the day. So even if a rejection email has come through my inbox and it seems to cloud my mind, I remember those moments during the day that made me smile or made me appreciate the life that I have.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

This career will require you to invest a lot in it — time, energy, money, and resources. Your investments will include, having headshots and updating them regularly, casting website subscriptions, equipment to film self-tapes or voice-overs, taking acting classes, voice lessons or dance lessons. Then factor in transport costs traveling to and from auditions, callbacks, and rehearsals.

I started out doing acting jobs that weren’t paid just so I could get the experience, but after doing them for a while I started to ask myself whether all my effort was worth it, since my expenses were so much more than what was coming in. So, you may want to consider another stream of income that can supplement your acting career.

Auditioning is a skill you need to develop. Yes, you can act, but auditions are so quick — you go in the room, you do the scene and then you go out — that nerves, or not knowing what to expect could hinder you from booking jobs.

Casting Directors want you to book the job. I was listening to a casting director’s panel recently and that was one of the things they wanted actors to know. It surprised me to hear them say that because a casting director may bring you in to audition for different projects and you may not book any of them. Yet you’re wondering why they’re still calling you in. They see something in you, that’s why they keep calling you back.

It takes time. Sometimes we see actors, and the media portrays them as an ‘overnight success’ and so we dream that our career will be just as glamourous. However, what we may not know is the time it took them to get there — the continuous process of honing their craft out of the spotlight. So, treat this journey as a marathon, not as a sprint.

Enjoy the journey. Since this is a marathon and not a sprint, there may be times you want to give up because let’s say you haven’t had an audition in eight months, or you keep getting rejections from auditions you do get and you’re questioning whether or not you’re talented. A perspective I’ve tried to have is, what opportunity is there at this time? Maybe I can spend more time with family, or explore my neighborhood, or use what I’ve been learning in acting class to dissect an actor’s performance from a tv show and create my own process.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The grass is always greener where you water it. Most of the time we compare our lives, our journey with someone else’s, wishing that we could have what they have. However, you don’t know what they have been through to get to where they are now. All their ups and downs have been ‘fertilizer’ for the soil of their grass. They have also put in the work for their grass to look the way it does. So, in relating this analogy to myself, the question I ask is, ‘Am I willing to pay the price?’ In other words, am I willing to do what it takes for my grass to grow? This will involve digging the dirt, uprooting the weeds, planting seeds and watering them regularly. As long as I’m tending to my garden it will grow, no matter how long it takes. This is also teaching me that I can admire someone else’s garden but not desire to have what they have because I know mine, too, has value.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Christine Horn has been such a great help to me. She’s like my big sister, aunty and coach all in one.

She too is an actress, and she is much further in the industry than I am, yet she is generous with her time and the knowledge she has gained along the way. She will let you throw a pity party but won’t let you set up camp there. With her encouragement and advice, I have seen my confidence grow as a person and as an artist, and my desire to learn has increased. Her book, Playing Small, came at a time when a lot was going on in my family and I was contemplating giving up this whole acting thing. However, her words transformed my mindset and my whole perspective on life, and I am very grateful to her.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement about people embracing and harnessing their uniqueness. I spent most of my teenage years comparing myself to other people, but it wasn’t until I started writing my book This is Wonder that I realized that there is power in my uniqueness.

I believe that every human being reflects a part of the Divine Nature. This means that we each have so much value because the beauty of it all is in the difference. It may take some time to navigate and accept, but once you fully sit in that space, and operate from that knowledge, you begin to flow in alignment with that thing deep inside of you that only you can do best.

I like to think of us humans as linked together, meaning my actions or inactions can impact someone’s life trajectory. Maybe what I feel is a weakness or an oddity is actually what I have been gifted with to share with the world. You never know, someone may need to see your style of expression and as a result, they are empowered to step into their own uniqueness. This then causes a chain reaction; as that empowered person flows in their lane, someone else witnesses it and is encouraged to live authentically.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Ava DuVernay. As a writer, producer and director, she is such an inspiration to me, and I love the way she tells stories. She has such sensitivity and a way of portraying the humanity of the characters in her work. So, it would be an honor to sit and learn from Ms. Ava.

How can our readers follow you online?

On Instagram and Twitter, @eyiara10

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

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