I’m Deeply Spiritual -Peter Fatomilola
: You are a veteran actor as well as a lecturer. How have you been able to practise both professions effectively?
A: Well, you know that theatre or drama has different category of lecturers. There are some called the instructors. The instructors are mainly concerned with practicals, while the classroom lecturers are concerned with theories. So, it happens that my own category falls among the instructors. We teach the students the practical aspect of theatre arts. You must have been hearing of the Obafemi Awolowo University Theatre, which serves as a laboratory for the department of Dramatic Arts. The university's theatre department has been in existence since 1967, but the department for Dramatic Arts came in 1977, ten years after. As a theatre practitioner, I have been working in the university for almost ten years before the department of dramatic arts came.
Q: So, Peter Fatomilola stands as a practical lecturer?
A: What I am saying in essence is that it is not easy for a novice to know the difference between the instructors like me and other theatre lecturers, because, at times, you'll see the lecturers teaching the students in the classroom and sometimes you see them on stage with the same set of students.
So, how have you been able to combine your profession as a theatre instructor with location commitments as an actor?
A: You know I told you earlier that I have been working in the university for ten years, before the birth of the department. So, it is not easy for the university authorities to place embargo on my movement because they know that I know the genesis of the university as well as the theatre department. And the department is just like my baby, just as I'm being treated like a father. So, if I want to go out and I inform the authorities that I have a commitment somewhere, they will respectfully approve it. And they also know they won't lose anything for approving my going on set to either record a film or perform in a stage play, because it is like going for a workshop or seminar that can help the school. They know I'll definitely bring back something for the school in form of knowledge. And knowledge is power!
Q: Since you started, can you tell us some of the popular actors that have passed through your tutelage?
A: Though, I have lost count now, they are many. I can only remember a few of them like Dr. Ahmed Yerima, who is the present Artistic Director of the National Troupe, Yemi Shodimu, Olumide Bakare and Becky, who now coordinates the production set of Wale Adenuga and others.
Q: How do you now feel acting with people that passed through you?
A: Since they passed through my department and I had to contribute to their progress in life which I have done, I feel very happy, because now, they are making progress and I am also fulfilled. I want all the students that pass through my department to be greater than me.
Q: So, who are your contemporaries when you started acting?
A: Majority of my contemporaries are now living abroad. But I still can mention the likes of Kola Oyewo, the late Professor Ola Rotimi, Laide Adewale, Olu Oketanye and some others, who are professionals to the core.
Q: How would you describe your experience when you just started?
A: I started as a stage actor with people like Ola Rotimi and initially, they did not call me an actor, they called me a free-lance artiste/performer in training. After a few years, they called me a performer before I got a permanent appointment with the University of Ife. Before then, I worked with the late Ola Rotimi before Professor Wole Soyinka took over and he also trained me for another ten years. So, my experience under the two masters has contributed to my success today.
Q: Are you not concerned about the present status of stage performance in the industry?
A: Nobody can be blamed for that because stage performance gave birth to the movies, but all the same, people now believe that funding a stage play is not an easy task because the expenses, such as transportation and other things, would gulp a lot of money. You have to feed the cast as well as house them under a good condition and in a good environment. I don't think it is easy to do without coughing out a lot of money. So, whoever is ready to fund stage shows must not expect profits from it (laughter). But it is easier to shoot movies than stage performance.
Q: Since it is easy to produce movies, why have you not produced any?
A: I am a professional actor and I don't want to be a jack of all trades and master of none. For me to be an instructor in the Department of Dramatic Arts in a university and at the same time, a free-lance artiste and a producer, I won't be able to concentrate as a professional actor. That can cause a division of interests and I may not be a commander in any of them. Going by the roles you play in movies as an Ifa priest, most people perceive you as a traditionalist.
Q: How true is this?
A: Oh, because I play the role of Ifa priest? (Laughs). Well, if you see me play the role of Ifa priest in any production, it is because some talented producers discovered that I am an Ifa descendant. I am from a family where Ifa is being worshipped and my family was a popular herbalist. As a growing child, I was reading and understudying my father and by the time I grew up, I had acquired enough knowledge to practise as an Ifa priest or herbalist because I inherited the knowledge of herbs and curing of ailments from my father. But my profession as a dramatist has not allowed me to practise as an Ifa priest or herbalist. Meanwhile, movie producers, especially the Yoruba ones, managed to discover me as an expert in Ifa divinity. Unknown to many, Ifa is a knowledge. We are supposed to acquire the knowledge just as we have Bible and Qur'anic knowledge. Everything that tells us about heaven, faith and love is a religion. The person that brought Ifa into this world is the one we can call Orisa (deity), which is Orunmila and not Ifa. But the knowledge he left for his descendants is known as Ifa knowledge. So, I have been able to inherit that knowledge from my father and that was how they discovered that I am the only one who can play the role of an Ifa priest perfectly.
Q: That means you have been stereotyped in the industry?
A: Stereotyped or being a stalk character? Well, I refuse to be called a stalk character but they refused to leave me because they have been saying they want an authentic character and materials for their stories. So, when you write your own story and you just leave a blank space for the babalawo to say something where Ifa is being consulted, you wouldn't know the chapters or verses to put in your story. So, the best thing for you to do is to look for someone who can contribute to make the story look authentic. That's why I think they have always been asking me to play the role of an Ifa priest. But some others have also discovered that I can play other better roles. I am versatile.
Q: So, which religion are you practising now?
A: All the religions in Nigeria. The three most acceptable religions. I am Peter, which means I am a born-again Christian, while my last name is Fatomilola, which means I am an Ifa descendant. I also have a good knowledge of the Koran. I can say because I have acquired a religion or knowledge from a foreign land, then I won't practise my own traditional religion. That is why the Yoruba call Orirun or Isese (Origin).
Q: But Christianity refers to Ifa as Mammon?
A: (Cuts in). That's because they are novice. They don't know what religion is all about. Ifa, just like Islam and Christianity, is my religion. I can't throw it away and I can't condemn Christianity and Islam as well. I was born into an Ifa family and bred in its ways. I learnt about Christianity and the holy Bible as well as the holy Koran through education. So, I can't condemn any of them. We worship the same God but in different ways and languages. Anyone who condemns a religion is a fanatic!
Q: Are you now saying in essence, that you remain an Ifa worshipper?
A: No, what I am saying is that I worship Ifa, I go to church at times and pray in Arabic. You don't call me Ifa worshipper, but an Ifa believer. We have over 400 religions in this world, so, if I practise just three, who are you to query me?
Q: Okay, have you ever been spiritually attacked?
A: Do you think any spirit can attack me when I am a spirit myself? Because spirits will run away from anybody who carries the holy Bible. Anyone who is in company of the Koran cannot be spiritually attacked and in addition, my knowledge of Ifa, alone is enough to scare witches and wizards.
Q: Have you kept your beards long because it makes you get roles?
A: Is it too bushy? (Laughs). I am keeping it because I discovered that God created man and woman with different physical features. This is just one of he physical features of a man and that is why I am keeping it. So, there must be a difference between a man and woman, just as it is to a lion and lioness. You know, if a lion's beard is cut, it will become a lioness in its looks. Same as other animals. So, my beard is a covenant with God because for Him to have created me with it, means He is ready to make a difference between me and a lot of people in this world.
Q: Don't you spend much money by keeping it because an Igbo actor once said he spends a lot of money on his?
A: That's a lie. It doesn't take much for its maintenance.
Q: But does it really fetch you roles?
A: I don't know about that because I have not asked the producers. The producers are in the position to speak on that. But it actually makes me look natural as Peter Fatomilola.
Q: So, what is your most cherished possession?
A: (Pause). My mother and my children, because I am the only child of my mother. And my children, because they will ever remain mine, likewise my mother.
Q: Why are you not talking about your wife?
A: That's because I have two wives. There's possibility that I can change any of them if she is stubborn, but my mother and children cannot be changed.
Q: As a veteran actor, what legacy do you intend to leave behind in the industry?
A: The only legacy I intend to leave behind is professionalism as it relates to work and pray. I also want to transfer the ideology to my children