Meet Ade Laoye: The Leading Lady On Netflix's #1 Hit 'The Black Book'
As the lead female in the Netflix sensation, The Black Book, which has soared to the coveted #1 spot, Ade Laoyeーa name now echoing through the entertainment industryー is captivating audiences worldwide with her remarkable performance. Ade Laoye, however, has a captivating story of her own. With a background rooted in the world of theatre, film, and television, she brings a unique blend of passion, versatility, and dedication to every role she embraces.
Her portrayal of the lead female characterーVic Kaluーhas left audiences intrigued and engaged, as she skillfully navigates the complexities of a role that initially had her questioning, "Oh God, what is wrong with this girl?" In The Black Book, Ade's character comes across as someone who initially appears to lack boundaries. However, as the story unfolds, viewers will delve into the intricate layers of her persona as she grapples with a haunting past, striving to fill the immense shoes left by her mother's legacy. In her pursuit of self-discovery, she seeks answers and, along the way, confronts her anger and grief.
In her own words, Ade offers us a glimpse into her fascinating journey and the extraordinary experiences that have shaped her into the powerhouse performer she is today. From her formative years to the glittering present, let's uncover the secrets behind the rise of a true star.
How did you get interested in acting, and why did you choose to study Theatre Arts at Pennsylvania State University, USA?
I come from a very artistic family. The late Timi of Ede - Oba John Adetoyese Laoye, popularly known as “The Drummer King” was the older brother to my grandfather on my dad’s side so I guess you could say performing is in my blood.
I did my first play at 5 years old where I played Mary the mother of Jesus in my nursery school’s Christmas play. I grew up watching Disney cartoons and movie musicals and developed a love for musical theatre and Broadway. I was that girl with her hairbrush in hand who sang her favourite songs in the mirror and had sold-out concerts in her bedroom. I have memories of me, my sisters and cousin Nikki Laoye rehearsing and putting on performances for my parents in our living room.
I won ‘Miss Nightingale’ at my awards night ceremony in Queen’s College in SS3. Whenever there was a sing-a-long happening or dance number to be choreographed, I was there. Everyone knew I loved to sing and had a flair for the dramatic. I never had the desire to be a singer or musician professionally though. I never intended to study Theatre either. I went to America after secondary school and wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to study because I had so many interests - the curse of the generalist.
Thankfully, I had somewhat liberal parents so it wasn’t “study medicine or die”. I attended Penn State and took a few general classes in my first semester. While exploring options for a major, I found out that the Theatre department was holding auditions and so I decided to try out. I had no idea what I was doing because I had never really auditioned on that level before.
I guess they saw something in me because I got into the program and graduated with a BA in Theatre Arts with a focus in Acting. I didn’t have any prior classical dance training but I took a few musical theatre classes for fun and combined singing and acting (and some dancing with lots of rehearsal!). The rest as they say is history.
You have worked with prestigious theatres such as The Walnut Street Theatre, The Arden Theatre Company, and TheatreWorksUSA in Philadelphia and New York City. What were some of your notable performances on stage?
I got my first professional job at The Arden Theatre Company right after I graduated university. I was so excited to be a working actor straight out of college. 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. It is such a powerful piece and absolutely one of my favourite musicals till date.
The Walnut Street Theatre is the oldest continuously operating theatre in the US. I was a part of their Acting Apprentice Program and it was there I developed a love for teaching and educational theatre. The bulk of my work there involved touring around to schools in the area performing educational shows and teaching acting classes and workshops for kids and young adults. For many of our students, it was their first experience with live theatre.
I got to witness first-hand how the arts and creative expression impacts lives and I will always hold that experience close to my heart.
I toured a few states in the US with off-Broadway company TheatreWorksUSAin an original children’s musical called We The People and that’s how I earned my Actors’ Equity union membership. Other shows I’ve done are Hairspray, Once on this Island and Cinderella. In Lagos, my stage performances include Saro the Musical which we also performed in London, Wakaa the Musical which we also performed in Abuja (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).
Can you give us some insight into The Real Deal for Actors Workshop, which you co-founded? What is its mission, and how does it benefit aspiring actors?
One of my best friends, Diana Yekinni and I birthed the ‘The Real Deal with Ade Laoye & Diana Yekinni’ one random afternoon in January 2018. We both had very similar training and teaching backgrounds and wanted to start a side hustle of sorts that would add value to the industry. After a quick brainstorming session, we came up with The Real Deal and taught our first workshop 2 weeks later. In 2021, we rebranded to “The Real Deal for Actors” with a virtual version of the workshop.
We wanted to create a space for people who were interested in acting but have never had the opportunity for professional study to learn some basics of the craft and also provide a space for those who were already working in the industry to build on their technique - an acting crash course if you will. A few hours per session of focused intensive work that would help elevate their next performance.
We covered topics like acting 101, character development and scene study, audition technique and monologue breakdown. For each session, we would invite some of our respected colleagues including actors, directors and producers to engage the students and give some first-hand industry advice. The students would also get to perform their monologues and get real-time feedback from the guest directors. Acting, like any craft, requires consistent study and practice and we wanted to create a platform to support that.
The Black Book: What can viewers expect from your performance?
When I first read the script I was like “oh God, what is wrong with this girl??” On the surface, she comes across as this annoying character who clearly lacks boundaries. At the time we meet her, she’s trying to make sense of her past. She believes she has big shoes to fill because of who her mother was so she keeps trying to prove herself. I hope they can sympathize with her as she processes her anger and grief on her quest for answers.
Vic comes across as a character with both endearing and challenging qualities. What aspects of her character did you find most challenging to portray, and how did you tackle them?
I’d say finding her physicality as a character was probably the most challenging part for me. What does the emotional chaos going on within her look like physically? The script described her as “rebelliously dressed”. Her look is conspicuous - the red hair, the bold accessories, the nose ring, the brightly colored clothes, the tattoo. The eclectic way she presents says “look at me I’m here!” She wants to take up space and be noticed. She probably just woke up one morning and decided to cut her hair off and dye it red! She’s impulsive like that.
You see that in the way she barges into situations without thinking about the consequences. While shooting Vic’s first scene, Editi felt like there was still something missing and we explored some ideas. On the next take, I decided not to overthink it and allow my body to do what it wanted to do at that moment. What came to me was this playful, almost childlike energy. Editi’s response was “yes that’s it!” So we built on that going forward.
Vic grapples with anger, grief, and a quest for answers. How did you approach tapping into the emotional depth of the character to convey these complex emotions authentically on screen?
Like Vic, I’m experiencing the grief of losing my mom so that was an immediate point of connection between us. I say “experiencing” because the pain never goes away, you just learn to live with it. I’ve questioned why God would allow something like that to happen to me and my family. I can’t say that I have any answers yet either. The scarf Vic is wearing when she visits Father Omotosho at the church actually belonged to my mom. The plan was for Vic to cover her head before entering the sanctuary. I happened to have my mom’s scarf with me on set that day so I decided to use that instead. Vic and the circumstances are imaginary however the truth of those emotions were/are very real to me. I know exactly how she feels.
Do you have any favorite scenes or moments in the film that you believe define Vic's character or showcase her growth?
There are two moments that come to mind. Towards the end, we see a clip where Vic confronts her editor and says “Goodbye Judith” before grabbing some documents from her desk. The actual scene leading up to that moment didn’t make it into the final cut but there we see a Vic that has now come into her own. It’s interesting that Vic calls her editor by her first name “Judith” as opposed to “Ma” the way she did in the beginning. It’s a small moment but it symbolized a loss of respect for someone she admired and looked up to who not only betrayed the integrity of the profession, but betrayed her mother’s memory as well.
The other moment is when Vic shows up while Paul is burying his son. They’ve been through this very traumatic experience together. We don’t know what becomes of their relationship afterwards, but there’s the hope that they might both finally find some peace and closure.
Are there any upcoming projects or roles that Ade Laoye's fans should look forward to?
Watch The Black Book. If you’ve watched it, watch it again. Please and thank you! There are a few unreleased projects in the pipeline. I can’t share details yet but I will make noise when the time comes.
Between your role on Dowry (2014) and now The Black Book, can you talk about how you've evolved as a performer over the years?
Dowry feels like another lifetime my goodness! I’m not sure how I would describe my ‘evolution’ as a performer to be honest. As a creative, I can be very critical of my work. When I look at my career as a whole, I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and I’m proud of my body of work. I try to be intentional about the projects I accept and I’m excited when I get to play characters that stretch me outside of my comfort zone.
A role that immediately comes to mind is Blessing from Knockout Blessing. I had to train as a boxer for a few weeks and work on my pidgin. It was hard but it was so cool! I wish that process was the norm in our industry. I used to get so frustrated about a lot of things early on, but once I started to understand the limitations and peculiarities of our industry, I started to navigate things differently. I see each project as an opportunity to grow as a person, potentially learn new skills and hone my craft in spite of the principalities and powers we have to fight every day to make things happen. I’ve gotten comfortable with doing the best I can with the resources I have at my disposal.
Acting experience is life experience, the more life I live, the more I have to draw from. I feel more confident as a person and so I feel more relaxed as a performer. I have a deeper understanding of human behaviour and why people do what they do. If I wasn’t an actor, I’d probably be a psychologist. Experiencing life through the lenses of the characters I play allows me to deepen my compassion and empathy, especially for people who may not be like me. I’m also learning to accept that no matter what I create, there will always be people who will not resonate with it, and that is perfectly okay.
Who are some of your artistic inspirations in the entertainment industry? How have they influenced your work?
When I moved back to Nigeria 10 years ago to continue pursuing my acting career, I had one goal - to be on Tinsel! I just knew that if I could get on that show, everything would be alright. Well, that never happened. What did happen though was I got to meet one of my biggest collaborators - Victor Sanchez Aghahowa who was a director on the show at the time. I’ve gone on to work with him on many projects: T.A.B.L.O.I.D., Dowry, Hush, Flat 3B: Aunti. Victor is a fantastic writer/director who has created these wonderful, quirky and complex characters for me to play over the years.
In addition, I’m grateful to those who saw my potential and gave me a platform to shine. People like Kemi ‘Lala’ Akindoju and Open Mic Theatre, Mo Abudu and EbonyLife TV, Bolanle Austen-Peters and Terra Kulture.
I can’t talk about my work without mentioning the influence of Keke Hammond, Kenneth and Brenda Uphopho, Kunle Afolayan, Dolapo Adeleke (aka LowlaDee), Femi Ogunsanwo, RMD and Editi Effiong. As far as artistic inspirations go, the theatre kid in me will always love the Broadway queens. Anika Noni-Rose, Cynthia Erivo, Heather Headley and Idina Menzel are some of my favourites. Nicole Behari is another actor I admire. Her range is incredible and her characters feel so lived-in.
Do you actively support any particular causes or organizations outside of your acting career?
Nikki Laoye’s Angel 4 Life Foundation is an organization I’ve supported over the years. It’s a non-profit whose mission is to support Nigerians living with disabilities. I’m so proud of her and the work she is doing.
Outside acting, do you have any behind-the-scenes talents or interests in the entertainment industry, such as directing, writing, or producing?
There’s something empowering about taking ownership of the stories you want to tell. It’s a natural transition for an actor to want to become a producer. I’ve dabbled in producing - in 2018, I produced a play with Keke Hammond at Muson Center titled “High”. It was written by my dear friend Osang Abang for Road14 Studios and tackled themes of drug abuse among teenagers.
In 2019, I co-produced a short film “The Audition” with Demi Banwo and directed by Ayomide Adeleke. I’ve produced and starred in two “one-woman” shows at Freedom Park as a part of the Lagos Fringe Festival, the most recent being a cabaret-style autobiographical peek into my life called Fine, I’ll Sing!
I’m currently developing some ideas so watch this space.