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What motivated you to want to act?
My father was more or less an actor, though not for commercial purposes. He used to make people laugh. So, I took it up from there and decided to do it professionally.
Your dad more or less showed you the direction, but who else, in terms of actors would you say motivated you?
For the young ones I would say Ramsey Nouah, my very good friend Odeola Olaniyan. And for the older generation I have people like Jide Kosoko, Olu Jacobs, Oga Bello (Adebayo Salami), and Sam Loco Efe.
What was your growing up like, because you just said, you were not surprised that your son was stubborn?
Yeah, my father loved me so much like I love my boy. He allowed me to do the things I wanted to do and that is why I am doing the same to my son. I am trying to give him enough freedom to do as he chooses. As far as my father was concerned, once you were brilliant, educational wise, and very honest, then there was no problem
What have you really gained being an actor?
I have gained a lot of things. People get to know you and respect you for your job. Well, one of such is when I run into the Police check point. They donít ask you who you are because they already know and treat you with respect. So, if someone calls you an armed robber, they will think properly before they charge you, because they know what you do and wonder whether you are capable of doing what you have been accused of.
As one of the popular crossover actors, how would you rate both sections of the industry in terms of technicalities and professionalism?
You see, I respect both sides. What Mr A has got, Mr B doesnít have and vice versa. Both parties are trying to make ends meet. There is a Yoruba adage that says, "A o ni rin ki ori ma mi," which translates, You canít stop the head from shaking when you walk." You see. the English language movie is broadened, but the Yoruba movie is basically for the Yoruba and if well-subtitle can then be generalised. Same for the Ibo and Hausa movies, but, you see, we are all coming up. That is all I will say.
Will I be right if I say you started out as an English movie actor, because the first time I saw you on screen was in a soap opera that you played the caricature role of a Hausa Mallam.
No, I had done a lot in Ilorin, Kwara State Arts and Culture with Dr. Stella Oyedepo but my breakthrough to was that Soap, Winds of Destiny, followed by After the Storm on the network. So, after that, you go for auditions, maybe roles donít come and sometimes they have a better person. The Yoruba came in and, as you know, that is my root. They taught me a lot of things so I had to stick to them. But once in a while my very good friend, Charles Novia, my senior in secondary school, Chico Ejiro, a lot of people do come to invite me for English language movies.
Have you had any friction whenever you have to shoot a Yoruba film and English movie simultaneously?
Let me tell you one truth, each time I have an English production, the Yoruba producers are professionals and I love them for that, they understand you and let you be, because they know you are going to a world that is not basically yours. I once had a Yoruba production running at the same time as I got and English movie role. And after the day for the shoot had been fixed, I called the Yoruba producer to explain myself and he was like, "Ah donít worry. I will postpone mine till next week. Go for your English production. You know it is not your terrain and I wonít want you to mess up. Let them know that we are professionals" you see, that is the kind of understanding I am talking about. So for me there has not been any conflict.
I loved your role in Omo Alhaja. But which of your many movies will you say is dearest to your heart?
The one that is dearest and I wonít lie to you, you have just mentioned one, Omo Alhaja because I suffered and laboured too much. Well Omo Alhaja is a revolutionary film to the Yoruba movie industry. I just wanted to come out with something new. You know, we the young artistes, myself, Tony Tetuila, Father U Turn and many other young talented artistes, we just wanted to turn things around. We wanted to change that Yoruba orientation. We brought in Sandra Achums. And another movie is Gbewiri. This is a film I have been shooting for three years. Each time I shoot another idea comes up. It has been highly tasking. Those two films are just too hard to be forgotten, even though everyone of my movie is dear to my heart.
But I thought you said you are still working on Gbewiri?
Yeah, for three years now I have been shooting that film. I shot about twelve scenes and packed it aside to re-shoot again. All my money, time and devotion have been going into it and as man is nothing without God, God has really been helping me.
You sang Atlanta, were you into singing before you took up acting?
Yes, I was singing before I came into acting, but, you see, let me correct one impression: all those actors and actresses that are now singing knew how to sing before. Ramsey is a very good friend of mine; he sings R&B so well. But, you see, he allowed himself to be choked with this acting thing. So, if he wants to do it now, people will say it is now that he wants to sing. But I didnít get carried away. As much as I was neck deep into acting I was still singing because I knew I had the talent. Even Omotola can sing very well too, but because they got carried away with acting they just could not. So, they want to do it now that they are less busy, people feel that they are looking for a way out.
The Actors Guild president Ejike Asiegbu has said they would fight for royalties. You are a member of the Yoruba end of the association. What is your association doing to address the issue?
Somebody told you that he is going to fight for royalty but he has not finished fighting for his brothers that were banned to be unbanned. He couldnít face the same people that were banned. Ejike is a good friend of mine and I am not afraid to say anything. You want to fight for royalty with those people that banned your colleagues; that they are your members or not, that doesnít matter. You didnít fight for them. Till date, we have not seen anything in the papers to say that you are trying to see that it could be settled. I believe that for royalty to come, it would not be in the movie industry alone, but the whole entertainment industry in Nigeria. Do you know how we operate? We have the so-called Arewa, Yoruba, Ohaneze and the English producers; four segments in all, which should not be. And all this segments operate on individual levels.
But is the Yoruba segment doing anything to ensure that its members get royalties?
We are trying, but it is not working. You see, sometime last year, marketers couldnít think of banning Yoruba artistes but it is gradually happening these days. They are working their ways through it because they see themselves as capitalists. They are putting their money into productions, thank God for that. But except we have a voice that is not selfish from both the marketers and producers endÖ
Canít you be the voice?
I can. If God says I am going to be the voice, I will be. We donít decide for God. I am still looking forward to the day that we will have a head of the marketers or producers that not selfish. A head that will tell his members to stop churning out rubbish so that the people can respect your work. Even some producers collect money from a marketer and delay his job that he had said would be ready in three months, only for it to take three years. Obviously, the marketer wonít be happy with you. So, it is time that both parties sat down and discuss like professionals.
You are married, handsome and popular, how have you been able to manage your female fans?
You know, my own marriage is the type that has promo every other week. It is the only marriage that is being advertised on billboards like Coca-cola. Each time you switch on your T.V set and you see my wife, that moment you will remember me. So, that marriage has publicity everyday and women like guarantee. If I was not married now, I can have up to six hundred girlfriends, with each thinking that she might be the lucky one.
Women can be unpredictable, despite the fact that you are married. I still believe that they come, so how do you manage their advances?
Hmm, they come, but I have not been that lucky to meet the adamant ones that will say they want to stay.
You were once said to be dating a lady that was instrumental to your success but whom you eventually dumped. What is your present relationship with the woman?
She had a baby for me and, if you must know, she was pushed to saying all she said that time.
Pushed by whom?
Friends and journalists made money out of that story. But Nollywood magazine is like my companyís paper because we artistes own it, so I can talk (freely). But you see, those soft sell magazines turn things upside down. They can push you because they know that if there is no scandal in their papers about a particular person, nobody will buy. So, she has apologised.
In the media?
No, to me personally. If I say she should go to the media, that means I am trying to make money for them. I am too big for that. I just let go. We had a baby and that was all. The media over blew the issue.
What is your relationship with the woman now?
My daughter is being taken care of and the woman is happily married, too.
How often do you see your daughter?
I see her whenever I want. We are close.
And what is her relationship with your wife?
Fine. She loves my wife so much because sometimes when she sees any of her movies, she chips in one criticism or the other. You got to meet this girl. She is a lovely girl. Her name is Zainab Balogun as in ZB, Zenith Bank (laughs).
Celebrity marriages are known not to last. What has been your own magic?
We learn from others. The papers were writing their usual nonsense, that my wife was dating this person and that I was sleeping around. But we knew all this would happen. We learnt a lot from the people in the past. Have you ever heard Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva fighting? No! They wrote a lot of rubbish about them in the papers, but they donít care. If you want to succeed, you donít care. We have to pay a price for stardom. Those are the types of price that we pay and we donít care what they write.
But have you had any regrets being a star?
No! There are certain things that have happened, some abnormalities. There was one day I was surrounded by some area boys numbering about thirty demanding that I must pay the sum of ten thousand before I would be allowed to pass. But, I said to them "If I have that kind of money I wonít be driving a Mercedes Benz 190, rather I will be riding a Hummer Jeep." Everybody sees us like we are very rich and I pray we get to that level.
With your stardom and the popular demand for you and your wife, sometimes two of you might have to be away on different locations somewhere. With all these movement up and down, how do you run your home?
One thing I can say is that we are very selective. Like today now you can see that she is not around. We try to work things out. When she is not there, I am. If I go for five days, although might miss me physically but he is seeing me on television. So he doesnít really feel it. At least he can see his dad on TV. That is one thing God did for us.
He will grow up to need your company and you will improve to be higher in demand. How then will you manage it?
When we are in Lagos, no matter where we are, we sleep at home. So, he is always there. We take him to school. We are always together. We donít sleep outside.
What about when a night scene has to be taken and you canít make it home?
It happens in few cases because I am a producer myself and I know what it takes. But, most of the time, I am home. If you give me a major role, I give you a condition to it. We know when to start and when to close. This holiday I am making it a must to be home most of the time. His school is presently on vacation, so I am on holiday myself it is me and him, father and son and mother, too.
Saidi Balogun seems to be the lead character in almost everyone of his movies.So also are many other artistes in most of their productions. Why is the trend that way?
Everything has to do with time, money and the director. For example, have you seen Eeku Ida? Tunji Bamishigbin handled it and was co-produced by Liz Benson, its a Yoruba film. Enough time was devoted to the film and the outcome was a success. So also Efunsetan Aniwura. These films were good because there was time and when there is time, youíve got to put in money. I was still shooting a movie when the promo was being aired on the TV. So, what are we saying? And one funny thing is that, a producer sees a character in a movie killing somebody and he goes, "Ah that guy is good at that role. So give him that killing role and the same producer is shooting for four days. And these producer/director have to put food on the table for their families.
There have been low sales record for films. As an actor, how do you feel when a movie you featured in does not sell? Do you think the industry is dying?
The industry is not dying. We are in the best of times. Time when you do things and people are complaining and you have to rethink, reshape and refocus.
What are the lessons you have learnt in marriage?
Sweet, nice. It makes me to be a man and it prepares me for the future.
And what is your advice to would be couples?
They have to be disciplined, determined and focused.
A word to your fans?
They should please keep praying and keep buying our movies. I promise to continue to do my best and may God be with you all. On behalf of my lovely wife, son, my daughters, and myself I say thank you very much for your love and God bless you.
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