MY DEGREE IN ENGINEERING COULDN’T GET ME A JOB –OSUOFIA
Why was your music, The Masters, banned?
Nobody gave me a circular to that effect. It was just that some people came to my office one day and asked me one or two questions. It was in the papers that I read that all government media houses should not play the music. So, as far as I am concerned, nobody told me anything. They probably issued the circular to the media houses.
Is The Masters in the market now?
It is in the market. People are buying it.
Do you feel sad that it is not being played on air like most other musical works?
The only thing that will make me feel bad is if the thing is not selling. I don't have any reason to feel bad at all.
What motivated you into music?
I have been playing music for a long time. In fact, I sang virtually all the theme songs in all my movies. It was not something I just started. At a stage, I decided to compile all the songs and put them in an album.
But we hear you got into music when you were banned from acting….
No. I decided to publish my music within that period. I don't like to call it 'banned' because nobody banned me. I would rather call it disagreement. That period was the most appropriate time for me to publish my music because I was less busy.
Talking about being banned, what actually was the problem?
If I tell you I know, I would be lying. It was so decided by the marketers. No circular was given to me to that effect. It doesn't necessarily me I wouldn't have acted with anybody else. The marketers said they didn't want to work with me any longer, what could I do?
We learnt your fees became absolutely ridiculous; and then, if a movie is in three parts, you charge for each part. Then again, there was the indiscipline problem…
If my fee is high, why not allow those who have the money to come for me? God did not give me the talent to make people rich while I remain poor. If I am making you rich, at least I should be comfortable. I doubt if that was the reason for the ban.
As for charging for each part in a movie, it is a normal thing, it is like that all over the world. We have not grasped the structure of film production. There should be a format; it is not a haphazard thing. We decided to keep cool on certain things because of the development level of the society generally. If not, anybody you do a film for will also have to pay you if he wants you to do a calendar for him. It is not so here, they use you for key, for exercise book and many other things.
Now, the ban has been lifted….I have had meetings with them and we have reconciled.
Is it true that on set, you don't follow the scripts; you say your own thing, thereby throwing your colleagues off the cue?
I believe the script is just a guide. When you get the script, you will know the essence of what you are going to do. The interpretation is now left for you. That is actually what I do. I get the scripts and I interpret them. It looks like my interpretation is always good; if not, people will not acclaim me like that.
The thing is that whenever they bring a script, I have to stay on location and re-work it entirely. Comedy is something else. If the script is comedy, we have to sit down together – the producer, the director and I – and put our heads together to improve on the script.
Why did you choose comedy in the first place?
When I was working with television, it wasn't really comedy. Somewhere along the line, I grew into comedy. That was in the 80s. I was given a star comedy corner on their youth forum, I was given about 15 minutes and I used to perform like a drunk and all that. It was just stand-up comedy. That was how the thing started officially.
From there, New Masquerade came and I was a script writer for a very long time. I was a scriptwriter for Bassey and Company as well.
But you see, when you write, people out there don't always recognise you. When people finish watching a movie, nobody takes time to read the credits. They don't even know that there are some other people who made the movie to be a success other than the actors.
I have been writing for a very long time. That was dragging me closer to comedy.
So when this home movie thing came out, I was informed. Already, I was with Bassey and Company. I was the operations manager.
When they came, that was during the first movie, Living in Bondage, I said I wasn't going to be a part of it. At that time, I was planning some other things. But somehow, it didn't work out. At the end of the day, I had to join in the second movie, which was Circle of Doom. Some of my friends there probably realised I had something to offer, so they called me. I had to go because at that time, they were closing up Bassey and Company because of the fracas between Ken Saro Wiwa and the government then.
After that, I went back to writing Memorial Hospital in Lagos. I moved base to Lagos.
From there, I have not stopped. I found out that many people were doing more of glamorous movies; refined comedy hadn't come out then. So I decided to stick to comedy.
Your parents allowed you to become a comedian?
The only thing that can give parents a major disappointment is when they finish training you in school, you come out and you are not able to feed yourself. If I had continued with Engineering, and probably teach in one school or the other and not able to make enough money, my parents would have been worried.
I looked at it and found out that the basic thing is comfort. I decided to use my talent to get to where I am.
When they saw how people were appreciating me, they didn't have any reason to feel bad.
You act the drunk so well that people would actually think you are always drunk in reality…
It depends on the interpretation the audience gives. If they said I did it so well that I might be a drunk in reality, remember that I have played the role of a Reverend Father. Does that make me a monk? I have played the role of an armed robber, does that make me one? If I am all these things, then I must be a genius.
You studied Electrical Engineering, how does that relate to your present profession?
Even before I had my degree, I was writing scripts for TV stations. During my youth service, I still wrote for Ogun State Television. I found it difficult to let go.
So you don't regret not making a profession out of what you read in school?
No. You see, you have to check the situation. When I went for induction at Phillips Electronics, I was the best student. If things had been good in Engineering, I would have continued with it.
But when you finish it and you have to beg for a teaching job, you have to look at yourself seriously. You have to browse through your head and know if there is any other way by which you could make it.
I found out that I have this talent for drama. So I had to be an Engineer by certificate and a showbiz man by profession.
Were there times when the roles you played made people not to take you serious?
Many times. There was a time we went for a function. I was asked to pray and I got up to do that. Immediately I said, 'In Jesus name,' people started laughing. I exploded because I take my prayers very seriously. Do people think I am so unserious even when praying to God?
You will come into a shop and ask the price of an item; people will start laughing at you. They will say, 'See, Osuofiah wants to buy something o'. I get embarrassed, but what can I do? I have left a lot of shops because of that.
How have you been able to cope with stardom?
That is another serious thing. People don't realise that it is one thing to be a star and another thing to manage stardom. Often times, it is more difficult to manage your stardom than to be a star. You can dabble in stardom by luck. But to manage it, that is where you begin to sieve the chaff from the wheat.
Because I passed through the mill, it was not difficult for me to manage stardom. I didn't dabble in it. If I had not gone through the steps, I would have managed it wrongly.
You have to accommodate a lot of things when you are a star; yet you have to divorce your personality from the one in the show because, if you behave the way you behave, people will think you are a mad man.
There are some so-called stars I know who don't even give people a handshake. If I do that, I would lose my fans.
For you to be a star, you have to stomach some things. At times, a man would be walking with his kids and when he sees you, he will tell you, 'Osuofiah, make my children laugh.' It may even be at a time you have some serious things to do. Ordinarily, any star who is temperamental would get annoyed, but I would try to make light of it and accommodate them..
In all, you don't have to stoop too low to make people recognise and respect you. But don't have to go so high to be out of circulation.
How do you relate with your fans outside Nigeria?
To be honest with you, the first time I went to Cameroon, I cried. At the airport, I saw a mammoth crowd. I didn't know what they were doing. Well, since I was just a visitor, I thought that was how people usually gather at the airport. When I got to know that all those people came to see me, I couldn't believe it. Me? All these people? How come? I was dazed. The security aides they assigned me were almost 20. I shed tears. I told God it was just too much for me. But now, I am used to it. I appreciate all that.
What do you consider lacking in the home video industry?
In terms of distribution, we are yet to get anywhere. We really need to do something about that. Directors and producers should try to stick to one job at a time. That is called professionalism.
Then again, the best people should be used for movies. It is improper for a sponsor to tell you whom to use for a movie.
Are you saying some marketers choose artistes who don't merit to feature in a movie?
Yes. Some call and tell you that they want their girlfriends to play the lead role, even when she cannot live up to the billing. But since the producer has to eat, he will obey. He will begin to panel-beat that artiste to suit the movie. To me, that does not make sense.
I have failed my wife in many auditions. If she cannot play a role, I will not put her there because she is my wife.
So your wife acts?
She used to. She has stopped now. If she had continued to be in acting, she would have been a guru. She started quite early.
How come she stopped?
She was in school. When she got to her final year, she had to stay back and study. When she finished, she got pregnant. We had to go for traditional marriage. After that, we wedded. Then she went to do her masters. One thing led to another, she couldn't continue.
How does she cope with your constant travelling?
I praise her. Anyway, having been in the industry for sometime, she knows what it entails. At times, she comes on location. We have been managing. I give her kudos for enduring me.