Ace actor, producer and Film maker, Wale Adebayo is famous for his lead role as Sango in the epic movie “Sango, The Legendary African King”. Also known as “Corper Francis” because of his role in Wale Adenuga’s Super Story, Adebayo is a law graduate from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. In this interview with our Correspondent, FRANCIS OGBONNA, he speaks on his foray into acting, his grudge with DSTV and other issues. Excerpts…
You said you studied Law?
Yes I studied law, but I am not a Lawyer…
How do you mean, what is the difference between being a lawyer and a Law graduate?
A lawyer practices in the court, but I am an actor now…
So why did you choose acting as against practicing law proper?
It wasn’t really as if I settled for acting, I was already acting before I decided to go and study Law. The legal profession for me has always been a passion, because I am one of those human beings who is so particular about justice, fair play, you know I care a lot about people. So the only way I think or rather the two ways I assume I could help people is when I make them happy by acting or by defending them when their rights are being trampled on.
What informed you decision to start acting?
Funny enough I won’t use the cliché that my father or mother was an actor, I didn’t have that pedigree. I actually stumbled upon the profession while I was in secondary school. I was a member of the boy scout society, then in Satellite town Secondary School in Satellite and there was this Wednesday during our usual meeting, I was actually reading a report and then I saw a lot of people going gaga and crazy in another classroom and I was like, when did all this happen, is there another society in this school? So when we were leaving I asked a few people what was going on then and they said it was the Dramatic society having their meeting. “There was a dramatic society in that school? I asked and they said yes. But I didn’t know and that was my third year in that school. The next Wednesday instead of going for the boys scout meeting I went to the dramatic society meeting and at that point they were planning a play for the Literary and debating society day and all the members were asked to audition for roles. And they said they needed a male act, but none of their male members could get up, so I got up and went out and did it, without even knowing what it was all about, but I read a lot. So I not only got the role, I also became the vice president eventually and when even was even now joined with the cultural society, the president of the merger society, I continued as vice president. It was at that point that I felt I had something to do with acting, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t practice law again, I will someday. You know, I would like to waste all that sacrifice made while studying law.
When do you hope to start practicing law then?
Well I don’t know, however I would do that eventually…I am not fifty yet (he laughs)
What were your folk’s reactions when you told them you were settling for acting?
No I never told my folks that I was settling for acting. In fact you are the first person I am telling now that I am settling for acting. My parents do not know that bit. Do you know how much it takes to send you kid to school to study law?
Have you been to law school?
No I haven’t been to law school yet, in fact that was part of what I was talking about. Don’t talk like that, you are very lucky that my mother is not alive, she would have fought you (laughs again). As far as they are concerned I am going to practice some day. I am sure in her grave she is still wondering why I am not practicing law yet, but I have grown, it’s been about fifteen years and I wouldn’t like my kids to do to me what I am doing to my folks. So eventually, I am hoping that someday, I will day a year off, go to law school and take another four years off and practice law, so that my mum (God rest her soul) will be happy. That will make me fulfilled as well.
All along you have only been talking about your mum, what about your dad?
Yeah I love my dad extremely well, but I am an only son to my mum and had several sisters, so I grew up loving women. Those women were Angels and I was like the devil in their midst, you know their Angel realm. I think it is one of those few things that endeared me to not just my sisters alone, but to the female folk all over. I always have this soft spot when I deal with them, not necessarily physically or sexually. I just feel that they are an integral part of every human being’s life.
When did fame begin for you?
It began with “Sango”! Basically Sango, I mean I had done something with NTA in 1989/90, but not everyone stayed up all night to watch the programme. It was good for me, though it wasn’t the kind of fame we see now, those days it had more value, you know in terms of worth. Now anybody can be famous in Nigeria, for example if you have enough money to shoot a movie for yourself, all you need do is just shoot 3 or 4 movies and you just dump it at the foot of a marketer and then they put your face on a poster. Or you take it to DSTV and they show it for 7 or 8 times, you become famous.
I thought the DSTV thing is supposed to be a blessing for our actors?
I am not going to get into that argument. No let me go into it, I don’t like DSTV anything, whether it is Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo or Africa Magic. I am not a racist, neither am I a tribalist, I love everybody. But I feel that the short coming in our movie business is what Africa Magic is showing. Have you ever seen a South African Movie on Africa Magic? Is it not supposed to be for Africans? Why? But you watch Movie Magic and you see South African movies being shown there. What does that tell you? It tells you that DSTV/Multichoice are disrespectful of the African movie industry and they have the rights to be, but I am just angry. I am not saying that they have done anything wrong, don’t misquote me. The way you lay your bed is the way you will lay on it. We have disrespected ourselves and we have opened ourselves up to ridicule and that’s why anyone can just take a swipe at us. Now what we are hearing is Nollywood at 20, this is crazy. What is Nollywood at 20; what is Nollywood, would someone please define what Nollywood is? Are they saying that the Nigerian film industry started 20 years ago? Common! Please you are a journalist, please define Nollywood, is it not the film industry? Now are you saying that the Nigerian film industry is just 20 years? Are you saying that a country of over 170 million people started film making 20 years ago?
I have had people say that you Yoruba speaking actors (ANTP) are just being jealous that’s why you are raising so much dust over the “Nollywood at 20” issue?
Who said that, the Nollywood people? I am not Yoruba, but not a Yoruba actor. What would we be jealous of? Most of this people you call English speaking actors don’t know how to speak English at all. They were just lucky because they had marketers who were also illiterates, who could spread their films. No! No! No! I don’t owe anybody anything; I struggled so hard to get to where I am today, I have really struggled in this industry. I didn’t get anything I have today on a platter of gold, ask any of them. There was a time that they were so scared of the height that I had gotten to that all they did was to try and bring me down to their level, so they could be able to work with me, but God was with me…
Who were those people, can you mention their names?
No, I wouldn’t want to do that, but God had been gracious towards me, that the first film he made me do, none of them could ever attain that height of what it is, even though it wasn’t done properly, because when I look at it now and judging by my capacity as a producer and film maker and with the benefit of hindsight, Sango was scrap, in terms of production. If I were to do it now, I would have done it differently that people would say “wow, so this could be better”. But there is still no movie that will come out that comparing it with Sango; they would say Wale Adebayo doesn’t know how to act. They take swipes at it (Sango) all the time at most of this movie academies, that is schools for film making, because they knew that it was the SI Unit of movie making in Nigeria around 1989/90-2000. Now I am taking a swipe at the same movie that brought me fame, then we didn’t even do it well. There are parts of the move that I could show you that I wouldn’t do the same way now, but it was one of the best when it came out as at when it did. Let me even ask, why Nollywood? We are creative people for God sake, why should we be called the name of somebody else who created his own industry. So anybody that says the Yoruba speaking actors are jealous because the English speaking actors (who don’t even know how to speak English, go and listen to them again, their dictions and pronunciation are scrap. Majority of NANTAP members, (NANTAP the theater people) never wanted to join Nollywood when it started, because they knew that it was scrap. Uncle Bayo Odunneye will tell you he doesn’t know what the Nigerian film industry is all about. Wole Oguntoku will tell you the same.) So the first question these Nollywood promoters should ask themselves is what are they celebrating? Is it the birth of home video movies? If it is, I would have been there myself. If it was the birth of Igbo speaking home videos, that would have been understandable. 20 years would be 1993 right?
What was the name of the film they shot in 1993 that gave birth to Nollywood?
“Living in Bondage?”
Then what are they talking about? Was it not an Igbo movie? How did Nollywood get in there? Bollywood is the Indian film industry; Hollywood is America’s version and what is Nollywood, is it no Nigeria’s version of Hollywood? So why should you now use the release of Kenneth Nnebue’s “Living in Bondage” in 1993 to know decide that it is the platform of what the Nigerian movie. Common anybody that tells you that the Yoruba speaking actors are jealous…
Have you acted in any “Nollywood” movie?
Yes, I have been to Enugu twice to shoot. I just finished one a few days ago. So if you call e a Yoruba actor, I will be very angry with you or even fight you, because I am not a Yoruba actor! I am an actor and that is their mistake. It is because they do not know what they are doing, we are all actors. Language is just a medium. Americans act like Russians; Forrest Whitaker acted Idi Amin in the “last King of Scotland”, who is Idi Amin? Was he not African, so why didn’t they say Forrest was an African actor? Today we watch Mexican films, but they don’t speak English, however they take time to transliterate. They do voice-overs over it and now a lot of Nigerians are addicted to it and adverts agencies make a lot of money from them. When anybody makes a dichotomy using language, what that means is that such persons do not know what this beautiful job that I love so much is all about. Please quote me and quote me well on this one. Any Nollywood actor that feels he/she knows his/her onions should step up to the challenge. I would like a debate with such person about Nollywood.
Are you doing anything to merge these factions within the film industry?
It is one industry, Kunle Afolayan shoots film al different Languages. I challenge any supposed English speaking actor (I am not challenging RMD neither am I challenging Uncle Olu Jacobs nor Pete Edochie. Not even Norbert Young. I would forever respect Thespians like that because they know the job.) I was in NTA to act in 1990, half of the people who are talking about Nollywood are those who became popular because they became popular doing that. That is not Nollywood, except they are telling me that Kunle’s “Figurine” is not Nollywood. I want any one of them to show me any Nollywood movie that has gathered the kind of accolades “Figurine” had gathered all over the world. He is Yoruba speaking for the records, so now I would want all the supposed English speaking actors to tell me, which one of their movies have been to the Sun dance festival. Jeta Amata is not a member of Nollywood, he is a good friend of mine and he would not open his mouth and say that Nollywood is 20 years. Are they saying we were not shooting any movie before 1993? I mean they say that it was only Yoruba movies we were shooting before 1993. Language is a medium and what the Yorubas are saying is that they choose to use Yoruba language as a medium to showcase their works. The Indians did it for a very long time and nobody could say they were not actors, but today they are in America, they shoot in Europe everywhere. What we do here is go to America and gather, 2nd or 3rd rated actors, shoot with them and come over here and shove it down our throats that we went to America to shoot. A lot of Americans are in Bollywood today because they practically respect the Indian movie industry. Instead of trying to package our industry so we could get better, we are celebrating Nollywood at 20…please ask me another question.
You said something earlier about DSTV, as a follow up to that question, what exactly do you mean by DSTV showing our worst movies?
Have you not seen movies aired by DSTV where a Ghost looks left and right before it could cross the road? Haven’t you seen stuffs like that?
So what are you doing to correct things like that, I mean you are a producer?
I cannot do anything to correct that; I can only do my own stuff and portray in it the proper thing.
Is there not a general body that can help uphold professionalism?
It is the general body that is promoting Nollywood at 20. If they are making mistakes what can people like us do?
What about NANTAP and ANTP?
You don’t understand. I am first a producer, a film maker, I am me, Wale Adebayo, a practitioner in the industry, but I am not a partaker of the so called handlers of the movie industry. They have got their own sets of rule and regulations and I don’t want to tackle them on it. The only way that you can tell people that you are better is by doing things right so they could all see it. That’s what Kunle Afolayan and the rest of them, all young people are trying to do. They are not talking to anybody, they are just doing their thing and they are getting international accolades, while we old people are struggling with Nollywood at 20.
So what is the future of Nollywood?
First of all, I do not believe in word Nollywood, I am a creative person so let us call it something else.
So what name would you suggest?
I don’t know, in fact I have never thought about it.
So what is the future of the film industry in Nigeria?
It is beautiful! It should have been beautiful before now, because we are an incredibly educated country and we have had a lot of exposure and we have learnt from these exposures, so I don’t see why we should be 2nd rated to South Africans. I don’t hate South Africans or the country itself. I am talking about what we should have achieved and them coming over to Nigeria to teach us what we do know. Now they are taking all the credits. For something we started even before they got independence. They got independence about 20 years ago, isn’t it? Our Nollywood is 20 too, isn’t it? Basically, I thank Multichoice and DSTV, they have done extremely well. Whatever it is that I am accusing them of, it’s just my own spit, but in all sincerity, if not for them all of this Nollywood at 20 we are talking about, we won’t be celebrating it, because we won’t know. DSTV is there to show movies upon movies and they have made us plentifully rich. Because before DSTV all we did was rent films or borrow and watch, but now we can sit down and watch all these films on DSTV and watch our stars. I thank them.
Did you have a pleasant upbringing?
Yes! You know what you don’t know can’t hurt you? I wasn’t a rich kid by any means at all; my folks struggled really well to raise us. People are actually surprised when they hear me speak, because I can talk British or American. I didn’t go to any Ivy league schools or get raised around where rick folks lived, I was blessed with the power of hearing and I saw a lot of cartoons while growing up and I picked a lot from them. I developed myself, I thank God and that’s why I tell everybody that they have the power to become anything they want to be. It was pleasant growing up.
Is there anything from you past that if you had the power you would like to change?
Yes! I would like to redo Sango. Imagine if was now that I did Sango, with all I knew now and the experience I have gathered over the years? By now all these multinational would have running after me trying to endorse me. But I live the job, so I have got no regrets. I may not be where I want to be, but I am happy that I am here today, you know? As long as I am still alive I can still get to where I wanna be.
You are married, how long have you been so?
I don’t talk about my home from.
So if you were not acting, what would you have been doing?
I would have been in court.
Thanks a lot.