London actor Aki Omoshaybi goes home to Leigh Park to shoot first film
From walking the pavements of Leigh Park to treading the boards of the West End, Aki Omoshaybi’s childhood feels like a world away from his life now.
At 18 months old he was one of hundreds of children from Nigerian families living in London who were privately fostered by people at Leigh Park.
Aki lived with his brother, Bummi, and Ann Clifford – who he affectionately calls ‘nan’ – in a house in Summerlands Walk, West Leigh. He was one of half a dozen Nigerian children Mrs Clifford fostered over the years.
Aki, now 35, says: ‘I still visit Portsmouth and when I do, I always make a trip to see Ann.’
With such strong ties to the region, Aki, who now lives in London, felt it was only appropriate to shoot his first feature film – one he has directed, produced and starred in – within the familiar territory of Leigh Park.
His film called Real, which will be released in cinemas and streamed through SkyStore and BFI on September 11, follows the lives of two 20-somethings navigating their past struggles and growing feelings for one another in an authentic love story.
The 76-minute-long film is set at a Portsmouth newsagents which sits between a courthouse and a business centre.
This is where sparks begin to fly between well-dressed Kyle, played by Aki, and the equally poised Pippa Bennett-Warner as Jamie.
The synopsis reads: ‘Yet despite their composed outward appearances, both are struggling to move from hardships they would rather keep hidden.
‘As their feelings for one another blossom these difficult pasts resurface, threatening their relationship before it has really even begun.’
Aki explains: ‘I am feeling excited about the release because it is my first time producing.
‘We only had a budget of £50,000 which is tiny compared to some feature films which have a budget of a couple of million.
‘I am proud because it all started as an idea and it has transformed into this.’
Aki admits when he was growing up in Leigh Park, his primary focus was on football as he played for Havant and Waterlooville Football Club and hoped of transforming that into a career.
But when Aki got his first gig in the football play Zigger Zagger by Hampshire Youth Theatre, acting became his main focus.
His nan couldn’t afford to pay for drama school auditions so his friends had to loan him the £40 audition fee.
He was offered scholarships from several drama schools and chose to take up an offer from the Arts Education School.
Aki’s extensive portfolio as an actor started in the West End starring in West Side Story, Hairspray, Hair, Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Chariots of Fire.
His recent film credits include Burning Men, released in cinemas last year, and Faces, for which he won Best Actor at the British Urban Film Festival.
This year, Aki also won the Rising Star Award at the Screen Nation Awards.
As a writer and director, he previously made the short film Spilt, nominated at the British Urban Film Festival and The Groucho Film Festival in 2016.
He is currently writing his second feature Cubs and has written the TV series Little Faith which is in development with the Emmy award-winning production company, Me and You.
‘Real was a personal project,’ says Aki.
‘It was extremely hard to shoot something in 12 days but it was all shot in Portsmouth.
‘It was different because I was in it too.
‘I had to think on my feet a lot of my time.
‘But as I have been an actor for such a long time, I could understand both points of view from actors to producers which was helpful.’
And, of course, the location was very important to Aki as he hopes to put Portsmouth on the map of British cinema.
‘I chose to shoot in Portsmouth because I have grown up there and a lot of British feature films are shot in London,’ he explains.
‘Portsmouth is a lovely city and not many films are shot there.
‘Some of the people who have seen it actually thought it was in London.
‘I know the area so knew what I was looking for. I also wanted to include some locals and some local places.
‘People were very excited because not much happens in Leigh Park.’
Playing the role of Kyle’s love interest, Jamie, is actress Pippa Bennett-Warner, who starred earlier this year in the BBC2 political drama MotherFatherSon alongside Richard Gere and the hit Sky series Gangs of London with Joe Cole.
Aki also asked his friend Jordan Duke, from Havant – who he used to babysit, to write music for the film.
He adds: ‘Jordan produced the song called The Path which is featured at the end of the film.
‘He is such a talented musician.’
And of his aim of Real, he explains: ‘I wanted to make an authentic film about how people navigate through the world of dating when they’re struggling to make ends meet.
‘I also wanted to make a film with two black protagonists where race and violence weren’t the main calling cards.
‘I wanted to show them not just as humans living everyday life, but the struggles that come with that – something which happens very rarely for black people in British cinema.
‘Real would be classed as a romantic drama but most of the feature films you see of this genre are of the affluent kind.
‘I wanted it to feature normal people because they too should be portrayed as deserving of love.
‘Especially single parents, it’s important to see them forge relationships too.’
Although Aki is grateful for the childhood and experiences he had, he also wishes he had a role model to look up to.
With the release of Real – which has so far had four-star reviews – he hopes his story will inspire hundreds of children in the region to chase their dreams, whether it’s acting or any other vocation.
Aki smiles and says: ‘I would like to be a role model for other people and for the film to inspire people.
‘When I was growing up, I didn’t have a role model, especially in the industry I am in now.
‘This industry is quite hard to break into, especially when it’s so London-centric, but if you have an idea you have to chase it.’
For more information and to watch the trailer, stream the film or find cinemas which will be screening Real, go to vivaverve.co.uk.