Nobody pays Nollywood actors millions
Consumate actor and dramatist, Sola Anthony Fosudo is many things to different people. He is also a theatre director, scholar and critic. Currently, he is the Head of Department of Theatre Arts, Lagos State University, Ojo. As a versatile artiste, Fosudo has registered his mark creditably on stage and screen.
As a dramatist and theatre practitioner, Fosudo floated Centrestage Productions essentially to discover and nurture budding talents. While his exploits on stage speak loud, the prolific actor has equally made his mark in Nollywood having featured in chartbusters like True Confession, Glamour Girls I, Rituals, Strange Ordeal, Iyawo Alhaji, to mention but a few.
At various times, Fosudo was trained at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the University of Ibadan where he encountered great scholars who prepared him for his pioneering role as a theatre scholar and for introducing Theatre Arts as a course of study at LASU. In a chat with Daily Sun, Fosudo reflects on his foray into the theatre, the fame and glamour of Nollywood, and the present state of the industry:
Coming into the theatre
My coming into the theatre was by divine providence than a calculated desire to choose drama as a career. The journey was marked by a series of events spanning my primary school days, through secondary, college of education and the failure of some initial plans to materialise. All these factors combined to see me picking up Theatre Arts as an option. Once that decision was made, it wasn't long before I realised that the theatre was the place I was destined to be.
I would recall that way back in my primary school days, I was so humourous that my colleagues used to call me Baba Sala. I was very active in the end-of-year cultural and dramatic activities. By the time I got to secondary school, I did not relent in taking part in such activities. I could also recall that in 1973, my school took part in the Lagos State Arts Festival which served as a platform for the selection for the state contingents to the National Arts Festival slated for Kaduna the following year.
At the festival, my school came out third. It was next in position to the two troupes tutored by late Chief Hubert Ogunde. By virtue of that position, we ended up representing Lagos State in Kaduna. In the course of our preparations, Chief Ogunde became the coordinator of the Lagos contingent and he had to visit my school from time-to-time to make inputs into our preparations. I feel that, somehow unconsciously, these events were the earliest tonics that moved me towards the theatre despite the fact that I had no keen interest in becoming one.
The biggest influence came after my secondary education when I enrolled at the Muslim Teachers Training College in Surulere for a one year programme. While I was there, Mrs. Ajike Osanyin, wife of Associate Professor Bode Osanyin who is also a playwright produced a play written by Zulu Sofola titled Abiona in Love. The title was later changed to Memories in the Moonlights and I played a major role in the drama. Something happened at the end of the performance that I believe served as the major propelling force that finally got me into the theatre. After the production, Prof. Bode Osanyin formally congratulated me for my outstanding performance and said ' young man this is a brilliant performance and I think that the theatre is for you' I did not know much about theatre then let alone knowing what to do to become a Theatre Artiste.
I thought about this advice for a while but carried on with my life. But when my other plans failed to materialise, I went back to Bode Osanyin. I offered myself to him and he was excited to see me. Immediately, he drafted me to the troupe at the cultural centre where he was a fellow. I joined the troupe as an associate member and I was employed as a Cultural Officer. At the same time, I registered for a one-year certificate course at the O.A.U. Ile-Ife. Bode Osanyin was quick to advice me to go to Ife and acquire the training.
How Ife changed my life
No picture can best paint the serenity that was Ife in those days. It was a campus to behold with its array of lecturers. I was thrilled by the stimulating and challenging academic environment; the structures; the unending rehearsals; the songs; drama and so on. It was indeed a very great experience.The first play I took part in was Ola Rotimi's Kurunmi. After Kurunmi, I found myself picking lead roles in most other productions that probably showed that I must have impressed the lecturers in Kurunmi.
The lecturers in Ife back then were some of the best anyone could ever pray for. We had the likes of the Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, eminent theatre director, Chuck Mike and a host of others who gave all they had to the theatre. After the training, I was retained by the troupe for another two years. While there, I often craved to be like my lecturers, and I realised that the only way I could become a lecturer was to go for further studies.
When OAU refused to allow me into a degree programme with my certificate, a friend advised me to go to University of Ibadan where I later ran a diploma programme, I followed up with a B.A and later, a masters degree.
Life at Ibadan
When I got to Ibadan, I started all kinds of experiments. I was always going to NTA and BCOS to act. I got involved in a number of TV plays. It was quite interesting to move from the stage to the screen. At a point, I was opportuned to produce some programmes. I produced a dance programme for the BCOS called Disco Jam. It was fashioned after Soul Train. I was so busy in Ibadan. In fact, it became very difficult remembering some of those early productions now. But Koko Close was one T.V. drama that cannot be easily forgotten.
Coming to Lagos
When I arrived Lagos, I was invited to join the cast of Village Headmaster, The Third Eye, and later Ripples. Then I was invited for an audition in Sounds of Destiny in 1983 /1984 by Mike Enahoro. The programme lasted three quarters. After Sounds of Destiny, I was noticed by the producer of Koko Close. Koko Close was relatively popular too, but it was more of an Ibadan production. I think it was Ripples that did the magic because it ran for so many years. For someone to have appeared on television every week for five years was not a joke. Moreso, I played a very controversial role and it attracted so much interest from people such that today, people still call me Nnamdi several years after the programme was rested. From there, I moved on to Third Eye, Family Ties and several others. I was also doing shows at the National Arts Theatre.
Me and Nollywood
I got invited for my first video film in Yoruba that is, Iyawo Alhaji between 1992 and 1993. After that, I was invited to do Glamour Girls I in 1994, followed by True Confession. Then came the Yoruba classic, Ami Orun (Birth mark) in 1995. Those were some of the videos that put paid to my being recognised as a screen actor. People still talk about those films today.
Well, the process is not like 1+1=2. To be able to internalise a role and play it convincingly and believably, it is highly essential that you have to first acquire the acting skill. Then, you must be able to concentrate and be in a relaxed mood. When you are relaxed, your composure in front of the camera would be different from that of someone who is not relaxed. An actor must have what we call stage presence.
One of the greatest skills I acquired under Chuck Mike is that of spontaneity which is connected with the skill of flexibility. An actor must be very flexible physically and mentally. He or she must be able to swing from one mood to another. All these are possible through the ability to externalise already acquired internalised skills. Essentially, acting is second nature, hence it must be natural.
Coping with young actors on set
It could be very disturbing to find yourself on set with a green horn in acting because it takes such new comers a long time for them to deliver their roles to the satisfaction of the director. While they struggle to realise their roles, the experienced actors have to remain on set until shooting is completed. If the shooting is supposed to take about thirty minutes, you must be ready to spare about two hours of patience. I cope well with such situations because I was in that sort of position when I was at the Cultural Centre in Unilag. I had to learn too. I was also in Adio Family with Jab Adu with little or no experience. I believe the young shall grow.
I don't know how you people come about such a qualification. But in the US for example, before you describe somebody with such an adjective, there must be a scientific way of proving it. Here, people just throw titles around. Any actor that says that because he is a big boy or a big name, he wants to be selecting roles, if you go into the background of the artiste very well, he may not necessarily be a professional. A good actor should fit into any role. Naturally, there are some people, maybe due to their body frame are more suitable for certain roles than others, like me people usually cast me into lead roles, lover boy, family man, a top executive etc because of my frame. There are others whose frames would only fetch them the roles of a thug, house boy and so on. Anyway, the final decision is that of the director.
Relationship with Nollywood stars
I don't have any problem with anybody, I am free with all the actors they are all my friends. We are friends from a distance because nothing really brings us together. We don't fraternise on family levels but they are all my friends. But I must confess that I am very close to a few of them like Liz Benson. She has visited my family before and I returned the visit but that was a long time ago. Another person that I fraternise with at the family level is Jide Kosoko. Once in a while, he comes to my place and I also pay him visits.
It is not possible for a movie producer to treat me with disrespect or contempt. To a very large extent, he who pays the piper dictates the tune but I believe that whoever is holding money and wants to involve me in his productions has the intention of making more money. I am very crucial to his realisation of that dream. The major problem is that most people cheapen themselves by getting too desperate and by so doing, sell their liberty to the marketers. So, if you have self-esteem, no marketer should be able to mess you up. As for me, no one can play a god to me. It is all about your background and the kind of person that you are.
There has been only one major bad moment since I came into the practice. Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi used to be the chairman of my Centre Stage Productions. We joined hands to produce a film titled Strange Ordeal which was the first film that I produced. As soon as we completed the movie, some journalists launched an unsubstantiated attack on me that the film was produced with low quality equipment; I did not pay my artistes well and that I connived with some marketers to defraud my partner. They even criticized the content of the film.
Five years after, the journalist that was behind that campaign saw me at the American ambassador's house and apologised to me. You could imagine an apology five years after the damage had been done. When I met his editor few months after my 40th birthday, he picked a quarrel with me that I did not invite him to my birthday. I told him that I only invited my friends and he felt offended, telling me that after they have made me, I was then shunning them. In fact since 1998, I stopped granting press interviews indiscriminately. I decided to rather do my things without too much media hypes. I want my works to speak for me.
I won't accept a million naira for a movie
I don't know those that classify actors as mega or super actors but I can tell you that one of the things that are wrong with us is that we celebrate people unduly in this part of the world. After a while, you would discover that some of the people you have over-glamorised are not worth it. I don't want to be involved in such mega celebration. I don't want anybody to celebrate me, I want to continue to lead a very humble, meek and steady life. I don't want undue noise around me, I want to be able to dash across this road and go into the nearest Amala joint and eat whatever I want to eat. Even though people stare at me when they see me in such places, but I don't care. I want to fit into any situation I find myself in. I often tell people that if they want to be a star, there must be the paraphernalia of stardom around them. Many of our people who claim to be stars can't even afford drivers and other staff around them.
For example, I can't afford a body guard.
If I am a star, then I should be able to employ guards to follow me everywhere. Some of them even claim that they are paid a million naira per movie, yet in a year they take part in over 50 movies and there is nothing to show for it. If somebody earns a million naira in 50 places then, you can imagine the kind of life such a person would be living. Some of the things they say are lies. I have never been paid up to a million in any movie and I wont even ask for it because I know that the industry cannot afford such a luxury for now. If a producer should pay N1 million to an actor, the industry will crash. In paying such a fee, you cheat on other actors in the movie. No Nigerian producer can sustain such a fee. I don't know which actor has earned such a fee, but most are white liars.
Combining acting and teaching
For now, my job as a lecturer takes precedence over any other thing at least for now, I am becoming more busy within the university system because of the fact that through God's infinite mercies, my profile has been rising and I am being given new challenges every now and then.
But what I know is that there is no way I can spend 24 hours in my office. So during holidays, If I am opportuned to go and do a movie, I can do so but in a busy period it is almost impossible. Of recent, I have had to reject productions due to the given reasons. Sometimes I tell them that if they can afford to wait till a certain period, I would be ready to work and if they do, I make sure I give such a person the best of me when I am available. I prefer those that are ready to wait for me like it was with Playing Game and Grace to Grass. I see them as really special because they saw with me and were equally determined to use me.
English and Yoruba movies
To me, it is more of the kind of background in which I was raised. First, I am a Yoruba man and I grew up among elders who speak Yoruba very well. I even speak my Ijebu dialect. Another factor that must have influenced my flow in Yoruba movies must be the university of training. We were trained both in Yoruba and in English languages. As a member of the Lagos State troupe, we performed plays in Yoruba and I played major roles. I was also a thorough village boy and somehow, all these factors helped my career as an actor.
No industry yet
I think we are confusing the concept. In America, there is a place called Hollywood where actors and producer meet for the purpose of making movies. In India, there is Bollywood where the business of movie making also takes place. Here, we talk about Nollywood, yet if an American visits the country and requests to be taken to Nollywood, where do we take such a person to? If we want to take this thing seriously, then we should begin to produce real movies shot on celluloid. If we shoot movies on celluloid, an actor can take part in about two movies in a year and still make enough money that will last him throughout the year. What we are doing now are television movies and should not be called films.
All the activities taking place now are only preparing the ground for a great future for the industry. A lot of people are investing money but it will not get to the promised land if all the things that are supposed to be put in place are not put in place. We will continue this unending trial and error approach that we currently practice.
For the industry to grow, we must provide training facilities for training and retraining of old and new talents.We should boast of investors that are ready to invest in the Cinema theatre because that is the only thing that can give us a movie industry. If you take your films to the cinemas you are bound to make more money before you put them in CDs and videos. Finally, we need government support in the same manner OBJ is talking about farming and setting up commissions on AIDS. If the president truly wants to turn around the movie industry, he should begin to make political statements about the industry. Let him call for foreign investors and stop talking about a film village. Rather, he could build one or two structures on a wide expanse of land and hand it over to movie practitioners stakeholders to do the remaining