NATIVE Exclusive: Ini Dima-Okojie Was Made For This Moment

"For me, when playing any character, the first rule is not to judge."

What does it feel like to be backed against the wall, and to go against what feels like the whole world in an elusive pursuit for freedom? This question was the rich backdrop against which Ini Dima-Okojie played the role of Sara Duru in ‘Blood Sisters,’ the first Netflix Naija original series which was released earlier this month. The intensely churning series sees Sara Duru’s character stand up to her powerful abusive fiancé, leading to her best mate Kemi ending his life hours to their wedding. The pair spend the rest of the limited series on the run from his powerful family, the police and the world at large.


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While Ini Dima is a standout in her role for ‘Blood Sisters,’ as she has continously done in her recent string of releases including ‘Day of Destiny,’ and ‘Namaste Wahala,’ she’s a far cry from the timid young girl she once was. Speaking to the NATIVE a few weeks from ‘Blood Sisters’ release, Ini Dima-Okojie shares that she was an introverted child who lived under the shadow of her star sister. While her sister may have been the outgoing one, Ini Dima-Okojie spent years nurturing her creative and illustrious imagination.

Back then, she would conjure majestic stories, daydream about mounting dazzling stages to receive coveted awards and dream of touring the grandest cities of the world with her electrifying band. Being a shy child, she would often recruit the chickens in her yard to play pretend with her. On some days, they were part of her band, on other days, they were fellow co-stars in a blockbuster she was putting together, while sometimes they played the role of earnest listeners to her grand tales. She shares that she dabbled with film from as early on as highschool. Here, she played powerful roles that would evoke tear-jerking reactions from the crowd.

However, Ini Dima would put her creative side on the back burner once more, and pursue a professional career as an investment banker. In 2014, she got her wake-up call. After a close friend shared a film titled ‘The Island’ by Urban Vision, Ini Dima-Okojie found herself transfixed by its storyline and the depth of the characters. It was there that she began nursing her own ideas of acting. Eventually, she plucked up the courage to quit her job and enrol in acting school, a move that drew no raised brows from her close friends and family. “That was when I really knew that this was something I love and the feedback from my tutors was amazing and they really thought that I had something,” she shares.

Fast forward to 2022, and now, she’s the protagonist of the most significant and evocative Nigerian series in the past few years. Far from her gloomy aura in ‘Blood Sisters,’ in real life, her ambience is overwhelmingly sunny and infectious. Her sentences are punctuated by visceral spirited laughs that function to drizzle her positive energy around.

It’s this infectious energy that she brings to her role as Sara Duru in ‘Blood Sisters,’ which finds her expertly conveying emotions of fear, hope and misery. When she cries, you can’t help but feel pangs of pain in your chest, and when she’s unaware of the next step, you are also glued to your chair, eagerly watching her mould and meld her voice, facial expressions and mannerisms to convey the weight of her character’s plight.

Now, following her mercurial performance on the sizzling ‘Blood Sisters,’ Ini-Dima Okojie spoke to The NATIVE on her childhood, her switch from investment banking to acting and the story behind Blood Sisters.


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Our conversation which follows below has been lightly edited for clarity.

NATIVE: What was growing up for you like?

INI DIMA: I had an amazing childhood. I’m the last child of four children. I always wanted to be exactly like my mum. She’s a retired banker and a lawyer, and I thought that she was the coolest person ever. She was so fashionable, and I think that’s where I get that from. Then my dad is a retired Air Force soldier but he’s also a doctor who is still practising in the UK. Growing up, I was very shy. I would live in my head most of the time but one thing I loved was award shows. I’d watch award shows even as a kid and almost daydream about receiving awards, or being in a band. I always leaned towards the creative side, but I couldn’t really express that, and it was actually my sister who was a child-star. She was in this show called ‘Children Of The World,’ and she was the outgoing one.

NATIVE: You mentioned that you were pretty reserved as a child, how did you get to acting?

INI: I remember a friend of mine, Mimi sent me a trailer for some show called The Island by Urban Vision. This was 2014 and I thought it was such an exciting trailer. I was so intrigued and I started to read up on the profiles of some of the actors. I noticed that a couple of them had gone to film school. Ever since that day, I just realised that I couldn’t sleep well at night, like every time I closed my eyes, I imagined being in that show or just acting. Eventually I went to film school, and fell in love with acting. That was when I really knew that this was something I love and the feedback from my tutors was amazing and they really thought that I had something. That’s how this journey started here.

NATIVE: How difficult was it convincing your parents to let you make the switch from investment banking to acting?

INI: It was easy, it was literally that one conversation. What was difficult was getting myself to be able to tell them because I thought they’d flip out.

NATIVE: How did you convince yourself to make the crucial career switch you made?

INI: I don’t know about it being difficult convincing myself, it was more the journey. So obviously, there’s that fear of what am I doing? Because at some point it felt like, if you leave your job, then there’s no going back. It almost like I was leaving my comfort zone and leaving something that felt certain for something that’s so wild and uncertain, but that’s the beauty of it.


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NATIVE: How instrumental was film school in mounding you into the actor that you are today?

INI: I think film school was everything, I know not everyone goes to film school, and not everyone who has attended is an amazing actor, but for me, it really made a difference in my life. It’s what makes my process the way it is today. There’s just a fundamental approach to acting that I learnt from film school that is so valuable. I would do it over and over again if I had the opportunity. I’d go to film school again. I don’t think you can ever stop learning.

NATIVE: You’ve got a vaunted reputation in the industry and you’ve worked on a number of projects. Which one would you say is your favourite so far?

INI: That’s an impossible question. It’s like choosing your favourite child. I can’t pick one at all. There are some that are special to me. ‘North East’ is the first feature film I ever did, and it’s engraved in my memory forever. ‘Battleground’ is very special to me because it was a very different experience. ‘Daily Show’ is very different and it was such a wild ride. ‘Oga Pastor’ didn’t get released but as an actor, I walked a door with it and still hurt that it was cancelled. ‘Namaste Wahala,’ there were people that loved it, there were people that didn’t love it but, it represented so many firsts for me. And of course there’s ‘Blood Sisters,’ I’ve not come back on earth since the day ‘Blood Sisters’ was launched. This one, the stars were so aligned, from the production to the cast to every crew member to the director, like everything came alive.

NATIVE: How did you secure your first acting gig?

INI: So I got back from film school and didn’t know anybody. In 2014, I remembered that I had a family friend that was a first time producer in a new show called ‘Before 30.’ So I call her and I’m like I’m just from fresh from film school and willing to work and she told me that they had already cast the show but there’s a role for production assistant, if I didn’t mind that. I knew it would be a good opportunity to learn. While this was happening, my mum had introduced me to Kiki Omili, and I was going for auditions. Then I got this audition for a show called ‘Taste of Love’ and that was my first non-open audition. They called me to the office to audition, and I got the role.

NATIVE: How did you get recruited for the Blood Sisters project?

INI: So, I got an email with the sides from Ebony Life, and it was the role for Sara. I remember reading the script and feeling like the role was made for me. I auditioned for the role but then a few days later, I got another call for the character of Timeyin, who I equally loved. I just knew that, whatever this show was, I wanted to be a part of it. I auditioned for other roles including Kemi which Nancy Isime played. Eventually, after the auditions, the casting director said they want me for the role of Sara and Nancy as Kemi. So they swapped our roles because Nancy auditioned and actually read for Sara.


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NATIVE: Would you say you personally resonate with the character Sara?

INI: You have to get yourself to. For me, when playing any character, the first rule is not to judge. Even if the things that the character does are not what I’d do, I find something that connects us.

NATIVE: Your character Sara was essentially on the run for the entirety of the series, she also acted in a lot of emotionally charged scenes. How difficult was it playing the role of Sara?

INI: Sara is very challenging, and I think for me, it was three things: the mental, emotional and physical aspect. The last time I played such an emotionally charged role was ‘Oga Pastor.’ ‘Oga Pastor’ was crazy, I unlocked a door that I didn’t even know I had. There this balance [in acting] between being present and getting to a point where it feels dangerously real. But you’re still seeing lines, so your brain is still functioning but you’re so emotionally there that it’s almost (real). After ‘Oga Pastor,’ I promised myself I would never dig that deep into a character again but when I read Sara, I knew I had to go there. I could not two-face this at all.

NATIVE: How was the experience working with Nancy Isime on set? Are you friends outside of the camera’s?

INI: It was amazing. Nancy and I, we worked together about 8 years ago on ‘On The Rail’. The characters weren’t as closely tied as this one though. From the moment they paired us, it was so special. From day one, we bounced off each other very well. I get very intense when I’m working. She was literally my Kemi on set. We show each other love on social and off social. If I’m doing something, she’ll come, if she’s doing I’ll go. We’ve always had great energy but this has even made us closer.

NATIVE: What would you say was the most difficult aspect of working on Blood Sisters?

INI: I don’t know if I can pick that one scene but certain moments were very heavy. I like to divide Blood Sisters into two in my own head. There was episodes one and two, which was like the emotional journey for Sara and there was three and four which were the physical parts of her journey. Some particularly tricky scenes were when Sara had to have that conversation with her mum about her husband’s abuse. Then there’s the scene where she finally tells her abuser no and refuses to marry Kola, that’s another heavy scene for me.

“After ‘Oga Pastor,’ I promised myself I would never dig that deep into a character again but when I read Sara, I knew I had to go there. I could not two-face this at all.”

NATIVE: On the flip side, what was the most enjoyable aspect of working on ‘Blood Sisters’?

INI: It was so beautiful to be on a set where everything you read on a script came to life while you were acting. Whether it was a plane, a helicopter or a building burning in Makoko, everything you saw, it was not CGI. They built a building in Makoko and burnt it to the ground.

NATIVE: Who is your favourite character of the series?

INI: That’s a hard one. I loved everyone so much. It’s so crazy, even down to the extras, everyone pulled their weight on set. For that, it’s hard for me to pick, but gun to my head, I’d pick Timeyin.

NATIVE: Why is that?

INI: Because asides from Sara, I remember reading those sides and thinking that whoever gets to play this character is amazing because it was such a well-written character. They were all well written but there was just something about Timeyin’s that stood out to me.

NATIVE: What’s next for you?

INI: There are so many exciting things down the pipeline, the next thing I’m doing is season two for ‘Smart Money,’ which starts filming in June, by the grace of God. Get ready for that.

Watch ‘Blood Sisters’ and revisit our review here.

Featured image credits/NATIVE