There are few that can juggle studying creative writing, and co-running a production company, whilst also playing the lead in a series. Then again, Jeiel Damina is not your average Gen Z actor. With a role in the popular teen web series “Best Friends in the World,” Jeiel has quickly made a name for herself as someone to watch. Her natural, relatable acting style has won over the hearts of people.
In the series, Jeiel Damina plays Olive, a fiercely confident but also humble, caring, and relatable young lady. Just like Olive, Jeiel says she’s protective and possessive of the people she loves.
She released her first book, “Honey Eyes” on Wattpad and is currently working on kickstarting her solo music career. The one-third of Triple J Plus, and co-founder of Neptune3 Studios, has catapulted herself far beyond her years.
We caught up with the budding actor to discuss her acting career, her role in BFW, and what is next to come.
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Hey Jeiel, How are you? Where are we speaking to you from right now?
Hi, I’m doing amazing. Thanks for asking. I am doing this interview in the comfort of my house in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.
Tell us about your year so far! What have been your highlights?
This year, where do I even start? It’s been a hectic, long year. I honestly don’t even remember the things that happened at the start, lol. But it’s had its ups and downs. I think for me, a major highlight will be the shooting and wrapping up of Best Friends in the World: Senior Year. This reboot of the original show has been in production for about a year now, and it’s been a beautiful and growing journey.
So, let’s start at the very beginning! How did you first get into acting and what sparked your interest?
My start in acting was quite unconventional. I’ve been asked this question a lot, and I always say that acting was not my original life plan. Five years back, we were shooting “New Girl.” A short film that introduced everyone to the world of BFW and kickstarted the Best Friends in the World Series. On the morning of the first day of shooting, our actress playing the character “Olive” and her understudy called us to say they would not be able to do the film anymore. Mind you, everyone else is on set, in costume, the cameras are set, and we’re all ready. So we cancelled shooting for the day, went home and panicked. My mother then suggested I play the role of “Olive”. She said, “You have a teenager in your house who looks the part and won’t give you any problems. What more are you looking for? ” Luckily, I’d learned the lines because I’d occasionally helped the actors rehearse. My sisters were super excited. They put me in a uniform and I played the role. Honestly, I was scared and nervous that I’d make the film flop because of my bad acting. Lol. Acting wasn’t my thing, or so I thought, and it wasn’t part of my plan.
My interest or love for acting didn’t blossom until we started shooting the BFW series. I realised I loved being in front of the camera, and the ability to step into another person’s figurative body and be that person and bring that person to life excited and intrigued me. I could be anything: alien, human, or cyborg; born in any period, living in any profession, and that was a dream come true for me.
Photo Credit: Brian Umoh Photography
And do you ever get nervous before the camera rolls?
I only get nervous when we’ve taken a huge break from shooting and we’re doing the first scene on the schedule. After that, I calm down and get back into the flow. I also get nervous when I’m not as confident in my ability to execute a scene, which should never happen… hypothetically speaking. But over the years, I’ve had the chance to get used to the world of BFW. I’ve grown and become close to the characters, especially my character “Olive,” over the years.
Interesting! But what is your favourite type of character to play? Do you lean towards any specific character profiles? Or do you just take whatever comes?
I don’t have a specific favourite type of character that I’d like to play or that I’d lean on in my career. Of course, every actor has a type of character they play better than others, but I’d like to explore all kinds of characters and be versatile. I think that’s where the excitement and adventure lie. Of course, I only take roles of characters in stories where the morals and values don’t conflict with my personal beliefs, but once that’s checked off the list, I will play anything from a crime-fighting green-skinned alien to a no-nonsense detective to a regular teenager who goes through regular everyday life. I’m up for any role that’s challenging and exciting.
You and your sisters, Jemima and Jesimiel, created Neptune3 Studios together, to tell stories that they would want to see. How has the journey been so far?
The journey has been overwhelming, to say the least. It’s been exciting, eye-opening, growing, challenging, and so much fun. We never run out of ideas when it comes to stories, and the love we’ve received on BFW alone is unbelievable. I’m so grateful and still shocked. Lol. I’ve learned so much and met all kinds of people on set, and I can’t wait for more.
“Best Friends In The World” has some serious hype around it. Tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind this and how you’re feeling now that you’re in the second season.
Well, my sisters were fresh out of college and were looking for spaces where they could use what they’d studied. My mother brought up the idea of creating their films. (She has the best ideas, to be honest. (Thanks, Mom!) And so my sister Jesi (the writer) came up with “New Girl” and my sister Jemima (the director) began to pull everything together that we needed to execute it. The inspiration was quite simple. We wanted to show the lives of Nigerian teenagers in high school without the overly exaggerated, hyper-sexualized imagery portrayed in other high school series. We wanted it to be wholesome, fun, inspiring and engaging for people of all ages. It’s been a long journey, and in the beginning, I didn’t think “New Girl” would be a success, much less that we’d be doing Senior Year. All I can say is that it’s God and His amazing favour on our lives, combined with the incredible effort of the cast, crew, my sisters, my parents’ enormous support, and the unending love of our adoring fans.
You play Olive in “Best Friends in the World”! What did you do to prepare to step into her shoes? and do you think you share any similarities with her?
Prepping for Olive was a tedious and, at the same time, fun and enlightening task. I didn’t have a clue what actors did or how acting worked, so I just googled and absorbed all the information I could find. From watching YouTube videos to interviews of actors talking about their process to tricks and tips, if it was information on acting, I found it and absorbed it. Then I began to apply them and sift through the ones that worked for me and the ones that didn’t. Everyone’s process is different because everyone’s brains work differently. My process usually starts when I get the script. I’d read the script first, maybe 2 or 3 times, and then I’d start to visualise my character in my head based on the information in the script. Physical traits, behaviour, voice, personality. Then I’d write it down and start to go more in-depth into the character and her world. Building and figuring out her relationships with other characters; what drives her; her goal in the film; her motives, etc. It’s a lot, but it’s exciting once you get the hang of it. As far as similarities between myself and Olive go, I’m just as protective and possessive over the people I love, and I’m not very good at asking for help, though I’m working on that.
Are you still in school?
Yes, I am still in school.
Oh, nice! What are you studying and how are you balancing that with your evolving acting career?
I’m studying creative writing. I’m blessed to be working with my sisters because they try to set the shooting schedule to accommodate my school, and my school is quite flexible, so when I’m feeling overwhelmed I can take time off. But it’s not easy. However, I thank my family for the amazing support and endless encouragement.
You have so much going on career-wise. What do you do in your free time?
Sleep. Lol. I rest to recover from the late nights on set, and sometimes just because my body needs it. Acting is mentally taxing and sometimes even physical, so I listen to a lot of music and spend time with my family and friends to just de-stress. I read a lot, write, and I’m working on kickstarting my music career too.
What do you hope people watching the series “Best Friends in the World” will take away from it?
I hope people take away whatever they can take away. BFW has a lot of messages, so I can’t choose one particular one. If the fans could take away every message, it would be amazing. But one thing they should keep in mind is that this show is about the beauty of friendship, love, family, and growth. Whatever you take away should positively grow you in some way and make you a better person. Whether it’s a small habit or a big idea, it should enrich your mind.
What’s next for Jeiel? Any particular goals for the near future?
Honestly, right now, my acting career is what’s on my mind mostly. That and my music. I’ve always loved music and I always will. I’m excited to show my fans what I’ve been cooking up in the music part of my life. As far as goals go, I just want to keep working, keep putting out things I love, and keep pushing wholesome messages. The world needs more light in these dark times.
What is one fun fact about yourself that I wouldn’t be able to find in a press release?
Umm… I don’t know if this is a fun fact, but I’m obsessed with fried plantains. I could eat it every day for the rest of my life without complaint.