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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I dread November

Today, my son, will be exactly 3 years that you left me. A day hardly passed by, without remembering you, your memory still lives on. I dedicated this blog to you, and true to my aim, it has received a wide acceptance.
Today, as if your sibling sense your death anniversary, he was awake all night with bout of malaria, and crying uncontrollably. I missed you so much my son. Continue to rest in perfect peace. Adieu.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Getting Personal with Olu Jacobs of Nollywood

Jacob is no stranger to Nigerian movies. His charisma and manner of delivery of lines are legendary – drawing him admiration from fans.

His infectious baritone and interpretation of roles are a director’s delight. Having been in the industry for over 37 years, he is now a bridge between the old and the new, a motivator to the youths. Jacobs attended a drama school in England called The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. “After I finished, I worked with various repertoire theatres in Britain and I’m a member of National Theatre of Great Britain. I worked with some of the television stations in London and at a stage, I decided to come back home because I felt I have reached a certain level in my field and that my country had the potential of being so great too. So, I came back to Nigeria in early 80s and we started Third Eye”. Like many of his colleagues, his family was not happy with young Jacobs when he chose to study Dramatic Arts. But even at the age when actors were seen as never do wells of the society, he knew what he wanted and stuck to it. “ I left Nigeria in 1964. Then, there was nobody in Nigeria to look up to, all the people I looked at were people outside the country. The entertainment profession was not professional as such in Nigeria then and the only professional company we had was Ogunde and he inspired me a lot. Before then, my brothers used to take me to cinemas and I used to enjoy myself a lot. I was also taking part in school plays and drama. But when I said I was going to study drama, my parents did not like it and my dad said, ‘no’. When I got to England I wrote him a lengthy letter and said, sorry, I was going to study Drama. And because I had already started, he gave in. when I came back, there was no home movies in the country, it was stressful and the fees of artist was very low. NTA was only beginning to increase the fees of artists and people were only getting interested in acting. Meanwhile, my own company was doing stage plays and documentaries. Gradually, series on television started properly before we entered the home movies. It was stressful then.”

The Ogun state-born actor would not say how much he was paid for his first role but said it was very low and not encouraging at all.
“The first movie I did was produced by AA production and it was called Vigilante. We were paid very little for it and starred RMD and Mama D.

We had problems then looking for locations because people were not used to giving out their homes to people. They were very suspicious and we had to write letters to the Association of Landlords telling them what we were doing, where and when we would do it, for them to be aware.

Jacobs also disclosed how his friends tried to discourage him from acting because they believed acting was not a profession and should only be taken as a hobby. “People enjoyed it then but did not respect it. They enjoyed it, yes, but you have to get another job, they would tell you it’s not a job. But all my life, I’ve done nothing else except acting and productions. It is a profession, that is what I want people to understand. I had a friend who actually wanted me to help run a company, then. I asked him if he wanted me to be happy and he said, yes.

I told him to invest in a company for us to do productions. But, unfortunately, the company did not see the light of the day. I also had few friends that believed in me and gradually the society started catching up with the fact that it is an honorable profession and not for dropouts. But when I want to do something, nobody stops me and that was why I went to England to learn how to do it properly and help my country.

“Before I left secondary school I'd made up my mind to study the performing arts. I grew up in Kano and I saw Ogunde's troupe the first time they visited Kano. I pestered my father to the point that he agreed to take me to the performance. It was very vivid and it affected me. Everybody member of the audience was happy. People were laughing and it was coming from the soul and it was genuine. I decided that I was also going to make people happy. My father objected to the idea but my mother supported me. I lost him when I left for England and unfortunately, he never saw me on stage professionally. My early years were busy. We were eight and we had cousins and house helps. It was a very boisterous household and our father had control of things. He was working with SCOA as the regional manager in Kano. I like to contribute to people's lives. We were encouraged by our parents to be involved in people's lives. I grew up a devote Catholic. I was an altar boy before my voice broke. I used to polish all the brass in church. It was something I found very fulfilling. Our father was strict, very in control of things initially but later he made up for his strictness with humor. He was a master dancer and enjoyed the accolades that people heaped on him for his proficiency. He taught us to be upright and to help people. I was a member of The Boys Scouts. None of my other siblings went into acting however. But they gave me the support when I was starting and saw every play that I did.

After I left Secondary I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts London(RADA) which was and still is the Premiere school for the performing arts in the UK. School was fun but after l left school things became rather difficult. I was caught in Catch 22 situation. I couldn't get a job unless I had an agent and no agent would accept me unless I belonged to the union and I couldn't become a member of the union unless I had a job and of course if you were not a member of the union you could not work. It was a no-win situation until a friend told me about an audition at the BBC Studios, so I went. I think I was the first person to arrive that morning . I got there and met the assistant director who was still putting things in place. He gave me a piece of paper to write my name and my agents number. I used my friends agent, a lady. Immediately I left the audition I called her up. I told her I'd just got a job with the BBC and that officially she was my agent. She burst into laughter but accepted to play along with me. They rang her up and held negotiations with her and that was how I broke in. unfortunately I can't remember the title of the production

There were a bit hectic times because there was an unwritten law on racial discrimination. Several times I was confronted with racism openly. The film the British Council shows in this regions about life in England is absolutely misleading. I can tell you that there is no place like home. I remember in trying to secure accommodation I went to places were I was categorically told that blacks were not allowed. I went to a house and knocked on the door and a lady said “can't you see? No blacks.” I had to sit myself down and decide what to do. I locked my door and removed the phone and reflected. I had to make up my mind that if I was going to function in that society I had to learn and be useful to my people. I squared my shoulders and decided to bear the discrimination. I registered with a sports club, a horse riding club. I already had access to horses having grown up in Kano. I had a positive attitude concerning all that was happening around me which was how I grew. As I also grew in the industry I attended less auditions and started getting more appointments. I got to the point where I was headlining shows getting jobs where I was promoting white actors. If I were white there was no way they could touch me. I would have probably been the greatest now. The journey back home started in 1980.

I almost lost a job. Roman Polanski the great Polish and Hollywood Director wanted me to play in his movie Pirates. That was also the time the NTA wanted me to come and develop Second Chance. I told Peter Igho I had to go back to London. I got to London on Sunday went to the French Embassy picked up my passport, went to Paris and met with Roman but that wasn't my first. My first International movie was Ashanti which came before Dogs of War. But Pirates was the most challenging. It was shot in Rome, Seychelles, Malta, Tunisia and Morocco The experience of Seychelles was beautiful. There was one whole week when I was the only actor working. It was stressful but the kind of experience that one cherishes.

My wife is my jewel. Most people think that we met in England but that wasn't the case. We were rehearsing the play to celebrate Nigeria's independence and we were having a production meeting when she walked in. I took a look at her and told them, “Gentlemen behold my wife”. That was how we met and started. She'd gone to another prestigious school in England Weber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts.

It was like the ground opened and was removed from under someone's feet. She went in for a routine surgery to straighten her bow legs. Three hours later nothing. They called us and said the operation was fine but she went into a kind of coma and stayed in coma for four days and on the fifth day she died. I was performing in the stage play Ovarehwhen Nogbaisi by Ahmed Yerima of The National Troupe then. I still performed on that night before telling the stage manager. She had come to watch the play before going in for the surgery. We saw her go but we never saw her come out. This was in 1996 and after about a year or two years we decided that we should try for another baby. And he would be nine this September his name is Olugbenga. He has an elder brother Olusoji who is in Cameroon University Oklahoma in U.S.A.

Nollywood is something that must and will remain and grow. It is the beginning of a greater movement. For the first time in the history of the black man we have our own things to relate to. We are not living a life that has been designed for us by somebody else. We are not telling stories that have been given to us by Caucasians but our own stories, based on our culture and tradition. We now have our own “gods” and not the White Man's God. It is gratifying that the entire continent of Africa has been re-colonized by Nigeria. We have been invited by different countries in Africa to kick start their own film industries. It is most exciting. What we have not done is to put ourselves on a proper footing. The artistry and techniques that run a film industry was not developed. We need the right infrastructure. We need a government that should understand the power and influence of culture. In this regard, the government has not done well. We need money. The marketing and distribution side is vital to the industry. We are running under our own steam. It is imperative that when a movie is coming out, it comes out everywhere at the same time. You know must people think that Nollywood is a thing for now but I was here before the beginning and I am an eternal optimist. The fire that is burning inside me is still as hot as it was when I started. We must have a proper structure to build for our children. Our leaders did not have anything to sell this to us it started with us so it is our own thing, something that is originally and genuinely Nigerian. Our youths now have Nigerian stars Instead of foreign stars to look up to. There is a lot of work to be done but we are not afraid of the work.


Q: What problems are you facing in the industry?

We are working with virtually nothing in place. This is unlike the situation abroad where everything has been put in place for actors and actresses to act conveniently. I must confess to you, this is making us to lose a lot of money because a producer must have spent all the money and when such film is eventually released, the producer will be faced with another problem of pirates, who are ready to reap from where they did not sow.

Q: As a versatile actor that acts in English and Yoruba films, which one will you regard as more rewarding?

A: I enjoy working in English movies because of the good use of the language. Making good use of the language is what brings joy to me whenever I am acting in an English movie. But Yoruba is my language and I cannot run away from it. Although I speak Hausa a lot, the language I prefer most is English because I am used to it. I have problem with Yoruba because for a while now, I have not been speaking it, although I am trying to adapt to the language because it is my language.

Q: How will you assess ANTP and AGN?

A: In ANTP, they are giving practitioners the best opportunity to showcase their talent, but in AGN, once you believe you are good, you can just come in anytime, but I want to believe the two bodies are doing fine. In ANTP, there is a lot of discipline and it is well organised because they deal basically in culture and they have come of age, but in AGN, because they are still young, a lot of things need to be adjusted.

Q: You are married to star actress Joke Silva, what really attracted you to her?
A: In 1981, when I came home from England, I was invited by the management of the National Theatre to help direct a film. So, we were having a meeting in an office, when the door was suddenly opened and a beautiful lady came in. Instantly, I was bitten by a love bug and I said ‘ladies and gentlemen, this is the lady I’m going to marry.’ She looked at me closely and just concentrated on what she came to do and after that she left and I did everything to make sure she became my wife.

Q: Since you are both acting, how do you manage the family?

A: We manage the family very well because we are able to understand each other. For instance, when I travel, she will be at home and when she travels, I stay back to keep the family happy. The children understand the kind of job we do. Thank God, there is no problem at all.

Q: As a veteran actor, should we now say you are fulfilled?

A: No, my fulfilment is still coming. I will only be fulfilled if the industry is at the right place, where it is expected to be. I can’t say I am fulfilled when a lot of things are still lacking in the industry, when we cannot say we proudly have a studio of our own, when actors and actresses are still suffering. I will only be fulfilled when the government comes to our support and give us what we need to survive in the movie industry.

Q: Should we now say acting is a dream come true?

A: I don’t know what you are actually saying but all I believe is that I have always aspired to be an actor since when I was seven, because then, I used to watch Hubert Ogunde acting. What came to my mind then was that I could do more than the man, so this led me into acting in school, as I was always confident of whatever role I was given to act. So it was then that I knew I was going to be there and nothing would stop me from being there.

Q: What joy has acting brought into your life?

A: I feel on top of the world when people see me and say they appreciate what I am doing. In fact, I derive a lot of joy when I see that what I have done has made people to be happy.

Q: How will you assess Nigerian awards?

A: Nigerian awards are based on sentiment and money. People in Nigeria are not giving awards on merit but purposely because of what they stand to gain from it. A lot of people have contributed greatly to the development of this country in one way or the other. These are people I believe should have been given awards, but here in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. This is one of the reasons that I said I am not fulfilled yet. But thank God, we are getting there gradually.

Q: What advice will you give the younger ones?

A; Though one is really depressed, we still need to encourage the younger ones. What I will say is that they should be steadfast and always believe they will get there. They should also take this job as a professional job like those in the banking industry. They should also try to protect their name because it matters most in whatever they are doing and they should please seek the elders’ advice because they need to learn from those at the forefront.

Dedicated to the memory of Teslim Olamilekan Suleiman (1992 - 2005) [Click Image to read about him]