HOW did you begin your acting career?I can’t actually say how the whole thing started but the story of my life has been so interesting. I have been through a lot in life because the journey has been rough and smooth, so to say. I was born in the early 60’s. I attended St. Catholic School, Idumagbo for my primary education and proceeded to Christ High School, Ebute Elefun. When I got to class three, I dropped out of school but this has got nothing to do with poverty. It was not connected with money because my dad was a very influential man, and when I say influential, you can imagine what that means those days. I opted out of school to learn business so that I could take over my dad’s business
YOU are often addressed as Kura or Fagbamila by your fans. How did you come about these names?
Fagbamila came before Kura. In those days, if you didn't partake in traditional theatre performances, you were not a force to be reckoned with in the Yoruba theatre industry.
How long have you been acting?
I recall that I started in 1977 under the umbrella of theate Taiwo Olayinka, a.k.a Agbodorogun. Back then, only artistes who starred in theatre performances were recognized; so, that was when I chose Fagbamila as my stage name. As time went by, I became the leader of a travelling theatre known as Adetutu and I wrote a play titled Olaniyonu for the Lagos Television, the known LTV 8, Ikeja, Lagos.
What year was that?
That was in 1985 and I played the role of Fagbamila, meaning a herbalist who helps people in need. I remember that there was also a character called Ifadare who was always using his powers to carry out evil acts. After Olaniyonu, I produced so many other serials for LTV8. These productions were a huge success and that was how the name stuck.
In 1989, I was called again to come and present a special programme for the festive season and at that time, an artiste lived solely on productions, stage performances and radio programmes. There were a couple of films then, but nothing like home videos and productions were done on celluloid, which was very expensive. These special productions were aired in series on television for about two hours during such festivities.
This particular story was a crime story and towards that time, my father; a native of Igbomina Owomeje in Kwara State and a member of a club that brought about development in the community. Usually, during a meeting at any member's house, there must be some form of entertainment (food and drinks).
I recall that about six of them were eating and someone had already eaten two pieces of meat out of five. He was on the verge of taking a third one when my father said,' No way, Kura ni wo yi o.’
Obviously, that meant the person was a thief?
(Interjects) Oh, no! That was not what the statement meant. Thereafter, I asked my mother for a translation and she said that it was a Hyena that the Yoruba call Kura. She said the animal is such a wild one and the Yoruba often call it 'Ajekujeran'. It’s so powerful and loves eating meat. I felt that it could be a metaphor for someone that's tough, not necessarily wicked.
This was at a time when I was writing a crime script and I adopted the name Kura, and it was a widely accepted production as well. The movie was titled Kutupu and I played the character, Kura. In 1992, I wrote another story which I titled Kura and that was how the name stuck till date.
You started out in 1977 as an actor and that is over 35 years ago. Would you mind taking about some of the challenges you have faced in the past years?
There have been challenges here and there, but I thank God that I have been able to overcome them. In anything you want to do in life, challenges abound, but the most important thing is that God has helped me to pull through.
The greatest challenge is that as an artiste, you cannot be your real self. For instance, I was born on Lagos Island and relocated to the mainland in the ‘80s. Sometimes, I desire to pay a visit to the Island to see things that have changed, but I'm scared of the crowd that my presence will attract. It pains me that I have lost that kind of privacy.
At times, I just feel like going sight- seeing just like any normal person, but the thought that one may be mobbed creeps into my mind and I can't go. I could be coming back from a location and feel like going to the market to pick up some items but, you suddenly discover that even the traders would almost scare you (chuckles). Sometimes, this is uncalled for, but what can you do? Apart from that in this industry, you have to be respectful, loyal and dedicated, despite all the limitations I mentioned earlier. Sometimes, people misinterpret your good intentions. There are hypocrites, talented people, God-fearing people and devil-incarnate in this industry, so while you are trying to be a good person, some people will hate you for not dancing to their tune. The Englishman would say, 'If you cannot beat them, join them', but it’s not possible to join bad people. These are all challenges in the industry.
Was your decision to act a spontaneous thing or were you influenced by some events that had happened in the past?
It all happened on the morning of July 16, 1977. At that time, I was with one of my bosses, an architect whom I worked with when I dropped out of school in class three and my dad asked me to undergo apprenticeship.
Why did you drop out of school?
(Pauses) It's a long story! A cousin of mine was working with my dad, who was a very established trader on Lagos Island. He worked with him for 16 years. In my town, it’s just like someone who goes to school, so he or she would be expected to graduate someday. Consequently, his parents wanted him to leave. But he was very loyal to my father who wondered was bothered about who would look after his business for him.
It became a serious issue that dragged on for over four years. It got so bad that people murmured in some quarters that my father was 'using his destiny, as the Yoruba would say. And I wasn’t happy about it. At that point, I told my Dad to allow him to leave and I voluntarily dropped out of school to take over his business. It was a difficult decision and my father reluctantly accepted. My cousin thought me the basics of running the business for about three months before he left.
Didn't you nurse the idea of going back to school after you had established yourself?
In truth, I ought to have gone back, but acting has become a passion for me.
I had already started out from school, but I joined my Dad's business in 1978. My Dad felt that rather than drop out of school just like that, I should go to Alhaji Lawal who's an architect to learn some form of handwork, which was an addition to acting. It was during this that I met one of my friends, Fatai Alabi.
We joined forces because we liked the Theatre as we were inspired by the late Ade Love, Hubert Ogunde and Kola Ogunmola. Glover Hall was the only hall on Lagos Island then and our Uncles used to take us along to watch stage shows. We had a meeting at Moshalashi Street in Obalende and we took off from there.
That means you started off with stage performances?
It's funny because we went to buy drums and we called a few friends to join us on July 16, 1977. We went on for about a year and after wards, somebody introduced the late Taiwo Olayinka to us because he noticed that we were interested in acting. But he didn't go about it the right way. This man (Olayinka) used to be under Sir James who was a Floor Manager with The Nigerian Television Authority and also doubles as an artiste. He's still very much alive.
Where is he now?
I can not say precisely, but I know he later moved to LTV8.Taiwo Olayinka was a printer and he accepted to be our leader so as to give us a sense of direction.
In other words, you were like a moving theatre?
Yes, a travelling theatre.
Did you give your group a name?
We used to be known as Afopina before Olayinka came and he changed the name to Isale Oro. This further put us in the limelight for another two years. He trained us well. Thanks to him, we knew how to commercialize theatre, how to book a hall, sell tickets for stage productions, how to dance and other things. In January, 1981,Taiwo Olayinka decided to form his own group and had to leave ours. He said he wanted to be his own boss. It was at that point that we also decided to change the name of our group to Adetutu Theatre Organisation.
What was the first stage play from your stable?
The title is so long such that I may not be able to repeat it here. In those days, if your title wasn't strongly worded and laced with Yoruba idioms, you were not recognized as a theatre practitioner. That's why till now, most people think I studied Yoruba due to my rich interpretation in movies, but I often tell people that if you are very passionate about what you do, you'll be improving as the days go by. My first television series was Agbodorogun followed by Egberin Ote, which was an adaptation of a book that secondary school students used for Yoruba Language in the O’Level examinations in 1984.
Yes. We staged it throughout Lagos State in schools. I sought permission from the author of the book as well as The Ministry of Education and we were given the go-ahead to stage it. It was later adapted as a television series too. Araba, Olaniyonu and a host of others followed suite.
As the world keeps evolving, the theatre industry was also growing. It was around 1988 that home video came about and as such, there was no time for a moving theatre any more. You could become an independent producer and call people to partake in your production.
How were you able to transit from a stage performer to acting in movies. Was the transition a difficult one?
The transition was quite an easy one because it showed that there's an improvement in the industry. It's not easy to perform on stage because you need to keep moving with costumes and other props. But in the case of movies, it goes round the world and gives you less trouble in terms of production.
What was your first home video?
That would be Ekun and it was released in 1989. It was the late Alade Aromire's movie. I must state that I was the second person to bring out a home video in Nigeria. That was even before Kenneth Nnebue released the popular Igbo movie, Living in Bondage.
Not many people know this.
Well, I am telling you now. Before Nnebue brought out Living in Bondage, I was one of his pioneer actors because he started out with Yoruba movies. You can go and ask him. Not many people know this, but I really don't think it’s necessary to blow my trumpet. Fatai Adetayo( Lalude) and I used to work for Nnebue. Out of the 27 Yoruba movies he released, I can humbly say that I featured in 23. It was after the release of these movies that he did Living in Bondage. With that release, the Igbo part of Nollywood claim that they pioneered home videos in Nigeria, which is not true. I can categorically tell you that it's not true.
Most of the characters you portray in movies depict the rich proverbs and culture of the Yoruba'. Apart from the fact that you dropped out of school, how do you handle these roles so well?
I can only give thanks to God. You know, in anything you do, you need to put God first and that's just what I do.
There seems to be some sort of discrimination among actors in the English home movie sector and their Yoruba counterparts in terms of crossover roles. What is your take on this?
I am sorry to say this, but most of these actors in the English home movie sector are terrible. For instance, English as a medium of expression, is nobody's language, every one just speaks it. It is not our father's language anyway, but Yoruba is. The fact that there may be so many English movies around does not mean that they are better than their Yoruba counterparts.
This was seen as a challenge in the past and that was the reason why most Yoruba artistes began to do cross-over roles. But the twist is that when you get to the market, the Igbo marketers sell English movies and Yoruba marketers sell ours. These marketers refused to sell our movies and we decided to promote our own films worldwide in our own way. We feel that this is even a plus for us as artistes. This is because we would be selling our culture to the rest of the world.
If you look back, you will notice that Nollywood started off with Igbo films before English films. Most developed countries like America, China and India turn out films in their indigenous languages and we felt the need to do the same with our Yoruba movies. That is why we try to make the standard of our productions very high. From our research, we found out that it is even the indigenous language that viewers abroad enjoy. I think our indigenous films carry more weight than English movies.
The truth's that Yoruba productions can equally match up with the English ones. There has been a decrease in the sale of English movies now. Ghanaians have taken over in the continent and they have made it clear that any artiste that wants to come from Nigeria to shoot a movie in Ghana must pay some sort of fee. This is because they now have a well- established movie industry as well.
There was a certain Chinese movie that won an Oscar Award. How did this happen? It was simply because the entire movie was done in Chinese Language and it was subtitled. If they can achieve that feat, what stops a Yoruba film from doing the same? I am not making negative comments about Nollywood, but when we go abroad, some of our fans make us understand that if not for our indigenous movies, their children wouldn't have been able to learn the language. That alone motivates us to do better.
Does that mean you do not intend to do any form of cross-over production?
(Cuts in) I do not discriminate and I can say the same for most of my colleagues. You will have noticed that during the making of some Yoruba movies, we do invite our colleagues, either an Igbo or Hausa speaking person, for certain roles. But what I frown at is bringing in a neutral person who does not understand the language to partake in a movie; but we don't discriminate. We invite cross-over artistes when the need arises.
Do you have any English production to your credit?
Of course, I have. If you cast your mind back to the rested soap opera, Palace, I was part of the cast, but I didn't do a movie.
You have been in the make-belief world for over 30 years. How fulfilled are you? Have you ever thought at some point to delve into other things?
Looking back now, I really don't think there's any other thing that I can do that would have brought me fame and wealth like acting. I am fulfilled and I always thank God for His mercies.
My parents were very rich, but I if not for the industry, I would have ended up a trader. Even if I was one, would I be able to buy or quantify the honour I get now? Definitely no. Even if we get to the Presidential Villa today as artistes, I am sure President Goodluck Jonathan will surely recognize us because we have come a long way.
Do you have children who have decided to tread your path as an actor?
Well, I have seen one or two indicate interest, but the agreement I have with them is that even if they want to become an actor or actress, education is key and they must study to a reasonable level before doing that. If that is done, I have no problem with them.
Apart from the late Ade Love, do you have other role models?
No. For me, it’s Ade Love and no one else.
What are your future plans?
I desire to become an international actor.
What advice do you have for your colleagues as well as the up and coming ones in the industry?
The future of the industry is really bright and if we improve in terms of production, story-wise, the use of techniques and most importantly, be good actors, the industry will uplift Nigeria as a whole. I would advise all of us to keep up the good work, be dedicated and loyal in this business and above all, be prayerful.
You seem to have reduced the number of acting roles you take, as you are hardly seen in home videos, compared to some years back, why?
I have reached a level in my life where I should not just take any script that comes my way. By the grace of God I have lived a comfortable life till date, I don’t believe in rush-ing to loca-tions to feature in every film because I want to live well. I am comfortable with what I have been able to achieve and I thank God for that. Believe me, I will be acting as special guest on set and transform into a big time producer, because I believe there is no age limit and there is limited stress in being a producer. I just took some time out to relax and pave way for the upcoming ones to grow and learn their lines well.
Sometimes ago, you were alleged to have fueled the dissolution of Saheed Balogun’s marriage to Fathia, what actually went wrong?
I don’t know anything about that; in fact, I am one of those who tried to make sure the marriage did not crash but there was nothing more or less I could do to salvage the situation when it was getting out of hands.
But he accused Odunfa caucus of ruining his marriage and you happen to be the leader of that caucus?
I am hearing this for the first time. How can you say something that has no element of truth in it? I don't know anything about his crashed marriage.
What’s your relationship with your friend, Ogogo like, how have you been able to live without a clash?
He’s my friend and we understand each other very well. I have known him for many years and we have never had any reason to raise our voices against each other. I believe our coming together was the will of God. We are thinking of holding a celebration of our friendship one day and we have had the chance to sit and talk over it. I can tell you that he’s a wonderful friend.
How did you feel when it was argued that his illness was connected to drug trafficking?
Honestly, I was outraged. As far as am concerned, his illness had nothing to do with hard drugs. Let me tell you that even when the going was very tough for him, he never partook in any illicit act, let alone now that God has blessed him. I don’t like the way our people react to issues sometimes. I told him that it is the price you have to pay for being a celebrity.
If you say Ogogo was not involved in drug trafficking, how would you explain Wunmi’s case, it was widely reported that she was caught in the act and these two are members of your caucus?
Wunmi’s case was an unfortunate incident and I felt so bad about it. She was just not contented with what she had and she has regretted her action. If you see her now, you will know that she is now a totally reformed person. We really felt bad about the ugly incident, it was highly disgraceful but it had nothing to do with our caucus.
What is the greatest sacrifice you have ever made to get to this level?
You know that if you are engaged in something for the love of it, there is nothing you won’t do to perfect it. Fortunately for me, when I started, with little gains in the trade, I was able to get money to fund my passion from another source. I remember in 1986, I sold a 504 car to produce a movie, Ojiji with Prince Jide Kosoko. In 1992, 1 sold a whole house to produce another movie, Oloruka - this was when home video came. But because my family is well to do, I didn’t really feel the economic constraints as such and I thank God, today, I am one of those reaping from the industry.
With what you have been able to achieve in the industry, would you say you are successful?
I am successful as far as this profession is concerned; I am one of the few that have benefitted from this industry. Despite the fact that I am not educated, I have three children studying overseas, I have a fleet of cars and I know it won’t stop there by God’s grace. My prayer to God now is that he should help me so that I can complete my house and move in before the year runs out.
How have you been able to live a scandal-free life?
Staying away from scandal has to do with being cautious with the people you relate with, where you are found and things like that.
Is there something that makes you feel sad each time you remember?
The day my father died. That was a day that has remained indelible in my heart. This is not because he died but because he died when I needed him so much. I don’t even want to talk about it.