It wasn’t easy hiding my backside
Joke Sylva is largely adjudged the undisputed queen of the Nigerian movie industry. Aunty Joke, as those who look up to her call her, was groomed in the UK before returning to Nigeria.
She had a stint with acting in the TV soap 'Mind Bending' in 1990, but shot her profile when she starred in the Yoruba film entitled 'Owurolojo' in 1993.
Ever since, this mother and wife of renowned thespian, Olu Jacobs has upped the ante in the industry, making it difficult if not impossible for others to reach. Joke Jacobs, nee Sylva, displays her dexterity and acting prowess beautifully to the delight of her fans.
As a role model, she remains one Nigerian actress that is near controversy- free. Her countless works both on stage and in Nollywood are sublime and always professional. In this chat with Vanguard Showtime, the delectable never-aging actress speaks on her career, on Lufodo and how she met her husband: renowned actor, Olu Jacobs.
Enjoy the excerpts.
How is life?
Life is good, we thank God.
You feature a lot together with your husband in films these days. Do you feel as normal as when home together with your husband when you play wife to him on set or stage?
It depends on what part we are playing. We don't take advantage of the fact that we are husband and wife. We do make the conscious effort to give each other professional space. The only time that you are likely to see us as husband and wife is when we come back together after work.
What is the secret that has kept you both together away from the usual scandal and rumours associated with your profession?
It is the grace of God. There is nothing like the wonderful grace of God and his manifold mercies. That much, I can say with total confidence.
How do you feel when people refer to you as their role model?
I have read quite a number of such myself and it makes me feel proud that one has made such an impact on the younger generation. It also gives one a sense of responsibility since you make such an impact in the professional lives of these people.
How far has Lufodo gone in helping to better the Nigerian movie industry?
We used to give training to upcoming actors basically for those who want to train. We went on one-on-one training. Now we are moving into a full blown programme where we'll be having classes and the first set of classes will be coming up in the second week of October.
We shall be concentrating on acting for the stage with camera and for the video. We are looking at all the skills that you need to make you a well rounded actor. That is all we are going to be looking at in that training programme and it shall be consistent and we hope to groom it into a school.
Has it been accredited by the NBTE?
Yes, we have the accreditation already and we are now starting with the eight weeks training programme. It is not long-term training; rather they are short-term courses for now.
So how has it been faring?
I believe it is something that will do very well because the curriculum we are using and have created is from our experience in working in the Nigerian terrain as actors. We are trying to see what areas need emphasis and strengthening from what we are seeing and from other people's work.
That is one aspect and the other is that we have always been distributors; we are the foundation members of FCON, the Film Cooperative of Nigeria, that was set up a couple of years ago. Now the new framework of distribution has come and it is being spear- headed by the D-G of National Film and Video Censors Board, Mr Emeka Mba. What is interesting about this new framework of distribution is that it has the backing of the Senate, the full weight of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it also has the backing of forces like EFCC and all. So Lufodo is one of the new national distributors.
What will now happen to the existing marketers and distributors?
Well, quite a few of them have also been licensed as national distributors for those who are interested. But for those who are not, they will now have to go through the license of National Original Distributors. Not only will it reduce piracy drastically because there is no way you can totally eradicate piracy, but it will help curb the effects and it will also improve the quality of film products that come into the market.
How will it improve the quality?
It will improve the quality of the films in this sense that with the new framework, anybody can get his film classified but only the licensed distributors can get the films distributed. Once it has been classified to a particular group and you go outside that classification, your license will be revoked. So in that way, the classification will be protected.
When we are talking about standards, of course there will be some distributors who will say 'oh bring it, I will distribute your films' but there will be others who will say 'I am sorry, I cannot distribute this level of quality. For me to distribute your films, this and that have to be in place, otherwise it will affect my own brand.' In that way, people will like to be seen with quality brand to be part of a quality buying and so they will improve their quality.
How do you feel when you watch yourself on set?
Sometimes I watch it and I say 'okay, that was well done,' but most other times, it will be like, 'oh you could have done that better or there was another take I did and that take was better than the one they used.'
I am always criticizing myself. In the early years, I used to watch what I did to improve on what you are doing, but after a while, it was more like I had the technique. I had that down part but there are other things that I am now looking at. A lot of the times now, I don't watch my movies because I don't want to spend the whole time criticizing myself. Right now, the flaw I find most is that I need to do something about my make-up on set. Sometimes they look too whitish.
Thinking back in retrospect, have you ever been faced with any embarrassing moment for playing a particular role in a movie?
There is one that I am expecting a backlash for but it is not out yet and I hope it never comes out.
What is the title of this last one that you said is yet to be out?
Do we ever know the title? They send you a script with a working title, by the time you see what the new title is, it is a totally different kettle of fish.
But is it supposed to be so?
Who are we to dictate? There is nothing we can do about that because it is usually a marketing strategy on the part of the writer, the producer, and the distributor. They come up with a title that they feel is going to sell. So you the performer, will not have the foggiest idea.
Having travelled far and wide professionally, is this the way it is done in advanced countries?
What happens there usually is that if they have not gotten the title yet, they will let you know that they still have not gotten the title yet. They will let you know unless you are one of the stars in the film and they got money from the film because you are in the film.
I also know that with White Water which is also doing very well in the market, we all came up with the title whilst we were filming and we thought the film should be called Farin ruwa which was where we shot it. Farinruwa is in Nassarawa State and it means white water. The water there is so white that it looks like milk.
How did you meet your husband?
We met at the National Theatre during the production of Jehu's Metamorphosis. That was our first time of meeting.
So when did the chemistry click?
It was not as if there was any heavy chemistry. I was in rehearsals with everybody, I just knew that this big time actor was coming in from London and everybody was expecting him. I went in to call the artistic director of the National Theatre that we were ready for her to come and watch the rehearsals and she was in a meeting with Olu Jacobs
I didn't know. I just knocked, walked in and told Miss Enem, the director, that we were ready for her. I remember, this man just looked at me and said, 'this is the woman I am going to marry,' right there and then.
There were quite a lot of people there. I just looked at him and I said what a common lie and I walked out. Like he later told me, he said he knew he said it and he did not know why he said it and we met afterwards and became extremely good friends, we used to have a blast in rehearsals. We were not going out at that time, we were just very good friends. We used to tease each other a lot and then a couple of years after we started dating, we got married. We dated for five years.
Has any of your children showed any interest in acting yet?
One of them is studying Petroleum Economics and Politics, that's the older one. The other one is still young. Today, he wants to be fire man; tomorrow he wants to be an actor, the day after, he wants to be a lawyer.
But whatever it is they want to do, just like we were allowed at the time we wanted to be what we are, I will allow them.
So did you have the support of your parents when you started out?
Oh yes I did. When I started out, they let me know what the pitfalls were and they let me see the various aunties and uncles who had wanted to go into this profession and what a struggle it was for them until they had to move to other areas in life.
The beautiful thing about my parents is that, they let all of us do whatever we wanted. But the truth is that they enlightened you and let you know so that at the end of the day, you cannot come back and say that you pushed me into this. No, you are on your own and it is mainly your decision. They were always there for me, even at times of distress.
Of all the movies you have done, which ones do you find challenging the most?
So far, each role comes with its own challenges but I know working with Baba Wande in Gbogbo Ero was very challenging. First of all, I had the challenge of having to speak in Yoruba and then I also had the challenge of working with a three-man cast. I am not that confident in Yoruba language, what I speak is Yoruba Eko.
Also the movie, The king must dance naked, was challenging because I had to dance myself off as a man on stage. I had the challenge of hiding my backside which was not easy for me at all. It is not easy for a man to get away with such a backside but I managed to scale through the challenge.
What advice do you have for younger ones that are coming up?
If you want a job that will give you a steady pay cheque that at the end of the month you will have so much in your account, then acting is not for you. For us, work is precarious and our industry is anti-social because when everybody is going for one function, that is when you are on set and when you are on set, you can't see anybody, you can't visit anybody.