My Grandmum Agreed That I Become Actor After She Saw 4,000 People Behind Me -Segun Arinze
Segun Arinze has come a long way, from music to acting and now a little bit of politics. He speaks with ADUNOLA FASUYI on a number of issues. Excerpts:
HOW would you describe yourself?
I am an actor, movie producer, musician, and film director. Currently, I am the president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN).
Tell us about growing up and how it influenced your choice of career?
My father is from Badagry in Lagos State, while my mum is from Anambra State. I came from a family of seven and I am the first, the reason I had to be well-focused and serious with decisions I take because my younger ones are there looking up to me for moral support. I was born in Onitsha but I practically grew up in Lagos.
In fact, my primary and secondary education were somewhere off Bode Thomas in Surulere. My father was a soldier/businessman, so he traveled a lot and liked to move with his family. So, we found ourselves moving from one place to the other with dad but it got to a point I told them I was not moving again. Then I stayed back in Lagos where I started my career and later went to University of Ife where I studied Theatre Arts.
Did you school abroad at any point, because people admire your spoken English and accent and wonder if you studied abroad?
Well, that is the kind of training you get working with people who are versed, intelligent and who are professionals. I did voice over with a lot of good hands, like Sonny Irabor, Bisi Olatilo, Osaze Iyamu and others. The speech, diction all has to do with training. Besides, English was my favourite subject. I loved it while in school, it was my best subject, so maybe that also explains why I'm versed in it. I attended one of the best schools around in those days. English, like other languages evolves, so I move with the trend, with the dynamism and evolution. I developed myself. Also, with the kind of directors I have worked with, the kind of books, and influences around me, I can't but be good.
How did you come about acting, was it by accident?
For me, acting is not by chance, but by choice. I demonstrated traits of acting right from early childhood, and the instinct later stuck till today and has brought me thus far.
My acting career was driven by passion and as a student back then in Ilorin, I featured in drama and Ripples on NTA and this caught the attention of my dad who tried to probe my interest in acting, but later gave up.
I was greatly influenced by some gurus in the industry back then, people like Professor Femi Osofisan, Dr. Bayo Ogunaya, Olu Jacobs, Segun Ojewumi who is now a professor, Mafi Effiong, Backley, Sam Loco and so on.
For me, it's really interesting and I'm doing this because I have passion for it not just to make money.
At times, I think I am suffering from overtalent, because I play multiple roles. I sing, I write, I produce, I direct, I am a trained actor. So, in the early 80s, when a friend, Ayo, introduced me fully to acting, it did not take me time to shine brilliantly and rise to stardom.
At what point did you discover the acting talent in you?
Since my childhood days when I was in the secondary school, which was on the outskirts of Ilorin. I used to hang out with friends in the Arts Council back then and they said I have a good voice and acting potential.
So, they tried me out and that was it. So, it worked and I started singing. It started some 20 years ago when I met a friend way back in Ilorin, Kwara State. His name is Ayo Orowale.
He introduced me to the theatre and we formed a play group called Palm Players. Ever since then, there has been no going back! I knew I loved acting and I was going to be an actor. So, when the opportunity came, I went on to study drama at UniIfe now Obafemi Awolowo University. I thank God for blessing me with so much talent. I mean I can sing, act, write scripts, do voice over, produce and direct. Sometimes, I do PR work when I find the time.
So, you started off as a singer?
Actually, I started the two together i.e acting and singing. I was impressed with myself and I loved doing it, then, I decided within myself that this is what I was going to do and take up as a career.
When was your first professional act?
I had been doing some stuff but my first professional performance was in 1984.
Being the first, how was the experience like? Were you shy or nervous?
Not at all. Of course before then, I had done some stage plays, though this was a larger audience of more discerning minds. Besides, I have always been a bold and courageous person. So, I was not shy or nervous. Ever since, I kept shooting up and I just knew there was hope for me in this career.
When you decided to take acting as a career, what was your parent's reaction?
Of course, my dad didn't like it at all. Every step I took towards acting was rejected vehemently by him. He wanted me to be a lawyer. I think what changed his mind was when I was still in Ilorin, we did a film and they were showing me on TV and my dad saw it and came to wake me to see myself on the screen.
That softened him a bit but not totally. Of course, when he got to work, a lot of people told him they saw me on TV. But my grandmother didn't like it and wanted me to be a lawyer. Even when dad had softened, my grandmum was still adamant about me becoming a lawyer. They said theatre was not a paying job and that it was for rascals.
What about your mum?
My mum was very supportive, she was behind me all through.
So, what changed grandma's mind on your choice of career?
Yes, that was when I went to see her in Suleja and a large crowd followed me shouting Black Arrow. It was serious, the entire neighbourhood was agog. When I say crowd, I mean crowd of over 4000 people and believe me, I'm not exaggerating.
So, what was her reaction? Did that change her impression of the arts?
She was dumbfounded. She couldn't believe her eyes and she was really proud of me and my chosen career.
Then she now gave you her full support?
At that point in my career, I didn't need any support again because I was already rising and shining like the star. Right there, she gave me her blessings.
Are you the only one that is into acting in your family?
Yes, for now, I am the only one acting in my family. Though, very recently, my kid brother is into television production, another one loves music and is studying Mass Communication at the Lagos State University University (LASU). He plans to be a broadcaster. My son is into acting too.
If a child of yours decides to take up acting as a career, will you support him/her?
Why won't I? See, it is not about the money but about passion, talent and determination. If that child is ready to face the rigours and challenges and has the talent for the job, why not? But that child must be ready to be a true professional and not just a cosmetic actor/actress. It entails a lot, it entails focus, tenacity, determination and discipline.
Every Nigerian is praying for a credible election in 2011. What role is AGN playing to ensure free and fair elections this year?
Well, to have a credible election in Nigeria, it requires a collective effort of the people, including actors, actresses and entertainers in general. What AGN will do is that as the president, I charge them to ensure they go out to register and see to it that their votes are guarded jealously to guarantee credibility at the polling stations.
I call on my members to demonstrate their civic rights and obligations by going out to register and vote for credible leaders that will move the country forward, noting that when Nigeria has credible leaders, piracy will be fought to a standstill and government's commitment to developing the entertainment industry will be evident.
Do you see yourself going into politics in the future?
I am a political animal, so I can be politically involved in matters concerning the Nigerian people. But for now, I don't have any intention of going into full time politics but anything can happen in the future, nothing is impossible. The fact is that all hands must be on deck to make Nigeria a better place to live in.
Recently, a lot of Nigerians are taking their movies to Ghana. Can you make a comparison between shooting and producing movies in Nigeria and Ghana?
Lately, a lot of Nigerians have been flooding Ghana to produce their movies and that is because over there, you are given value for money. Yes, people talk of patriotism in Nigeria, forget patriotism now, there are no infrastructure on ground in Nigeria to give you any financial value for now. Is it electricity? The ministry is not doing much in terms of making locations available. For instance, you can't just use major tourist centres to shoot movies in Nigeria.
There is a known fact, whether we like it or not, there is a standard in Ghana. Movie is big in the country, even in Nigeria, but we don't have enough support from our government.
We have shouted ourselves hoarse on the problem of piracy, yet we've not seen anything from our government. To even think they are only to formulate policies that will improve the industry, and also put in place enforcement agencies, are the reasons they are heads of parastatals.
If we had the infrastructure, do you think Nigerians would be taking their movies to Ghana? It costs millions to produce a movie here, even with stress, but much less over there and the quality of job is twice what you get here. However, Ghana is benefitting from our roles in their nation's development but until a lot of wrongs are made right in Nigeria, the brain drain will continue. Take it or leave it, but it's the truth!