You started quite early, featuring in a film titled Money Power (Owo Lagba), that was in the early 80’s. How has it been since then?
Yes, the journey has been quite eventful. I featured in Money Power in 1982, I was just 14 and since then I have done several other plays. I appeared in Mirror In The Sun, a soap opera produced by Lola Fani-Kayode. Again, I have featured in a couple of home videos. It’s been quite interesting. I have equally featured in two stage plays, Yemoja and Idemili, both by National Troupe of Nigeria
Could you compare the level of professionalism and production quality of works then with what obtains in the industry now?
Money Power is a far cry from what we have today, as far as movie production is concerned. Money Power was shot in form of a film(16mm), and not in video format. So, the quality is higher.
You did call me after Sunday Punch published the story on the glut currently being experienced in Nollywood, and said you wanted to make some other revelations on how the industry got itself entangled in this mess. Let us have your view...
So many things are wrong in Nollywood. First, the industry has become an all comers affair. The Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), other guilds in the industry, the movie marketers (distributors) and even the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), have their own share of the blame.
Could you please be more explicit...
When one talks about the glut in the movie market, there are many salient points that need to be stressed. First, the marketers and their mafia network have rendered the guilds ineffective in every single area. This is due largely to poverty and the need to put food on the table. Instead of the heads of the various guilds in the industry to fight back, they sold the industry wholesale to the marketers. Much more so that even the areas that the marketers are not concerned, they are making incursions into them. The areas such as professional qualifications, and procedures for becoming an actor, a producer etc. The guild exco are not doing anything to regulate the creative aspect of the industry. So, you discover that the marketers are 70 per cent responsible for the glut in the industry and the professional guilds are responsible for the other 30 per cent.
What is the problem with the AGN?
If you can pay the registration fee, you can join the Actors Guild, irrespective of whether you have the qualifications or not. If you want to hold an audition to recruit for movie production, you don’t need a paper certifying you as professsionally capable to hold such audition. The situation is such that people who are themselves failures in the industry sit at the auditioning table to cast people for roles.
That is why casting is now being done on the basis of who you know, which village you are from, who has slept with you, or who is interested in sleeping with you. This is wrong.
What is the way out?
The Directors Guild in a proper movie industry is responsible for the training and issuing out of casting directors for the casting of any movie. Rather, you have the movie directors sitting with the marketers to do casting for a movie. That is why you find repetition of faces, people being cast on the basis of which part of the country they come from, which village they are from. All these biases have contributed a great deal to the mess the industry has found itself.
Any other measures you think can be helpful?
There should be a level of professional training that an actor, a director, a make-up artiste etc should have before the person can be deemed qualified enough to become a member of the Actors Guild. Also, before audition could hold, the Actors Guild should certify the person or organisation holding such audition as capable or otherwise, and only the registered members of the guild should have authority to attend such audition.
What blame for the NFVCB?
The NFVCB have their own share of the blame. They fail woefully by censoring any and every movie that comes their way, irrespective of whoever produced it. They don’t care about the message of movies. All they are interested in is the censorship money, which they keep increasing, so that they could make more money for the board.
Could you share with us the progressive pattern of the censorship fee?
In 2001, it was N10,000. By 2004 and 2005, it jumped to N25,000. Right now, it is about N35,000. I believe the censors board has made enough money from Nollywood, from which they can set up a fund for the independent movie producers. They did say two years ago when I visited their office in Abuja, that they were going to broker some funding arrangement with some banks to help independent movie producers, but we haven’t seen evidence of any such arragement. Now, the existing market structure is what they claim has to preceed with that arrangement.
Unfortunately, the existing market structure was set up by men who put their blood on the line, to create what is today known as Nollywood. And by their nature, they will not comply 100 per cent with the censors board’s directive. These are men who over the last 15 years created loopholes with which to beat the system, as they did with their initial various merchandise before they came into movie making.
Let’s get a little bit personal. You have been in the limelight and obviously you have had your own share of scandals...
(Cuts in) Scandals characterised my career up till last year December. But right from January this year, it all started getting civilised. Up till last year, everything I did was put under a scandalous headline. Whatever I said was misquoted to sound somehow scandalous or sensational. Whoever I dated would have some crazy stories told to him by people who claimed to have known me from a kid, those who claimed to have slept with me, or would claim they were in the other room while I slept with another actor in another room. These were people I didn’t know, or people who would have greeted me at a function, who wanted attention, and I had given them just a side glance in return.
Are you saying those things they said about you were all lies?
Some of those who wrote about me and were quoting the specifics, as to quoting the time, place and mentioning names were right. But some others were mere gossip, which were all lies.
Now, you have been twice married and twice ...
(Cuts in again) No, I have only been married once. I was only married to Tunde Abiola. That is the only person I was legally married to.
But there was a story of another suitor, Femi Egyptian?
I was never married to Femi Egyptian. We only had a traditional introduction in my parents’ place in Onitsha, and we did not move it further from that stage.
What really happened that you could not carry the marriage process through?
I don’t think I want to talk about that. It is purely a private affair.
Do you wear perfumes?
Yes. My favourites are Kenzo, Provocative Woman, Estee Lauder and Yves Saint Laurent.