Known as Rabiatu, Faderera or Iya Rainbow, Chief (Mrs.) Esther Idowu Philips needs no introduction to patrons of home videos for her feats in movies. In this interview with Yejide Gbenga-Ogundare and Bunmi Obarotimi, she speaks on her career, the movie industry and sundry issues. Excerpts:
How did you get into acting?
I did not intentionally veer into acting. Osumare Theatre Group was having rehearsals for their anniversary beside my house and I was picked as their matron. That was how I and the patron became involved after the anniversary. We became intimate; this shows that the will of God could not but come to be.
How did the name Iya Rainbow stick above other stage names?
About 15 years ago, I was on location for an English speaking producer and along the line, I was asked what the name of my husband’s theatre group, Osumare, means. I told them it was the Yoruba name for Rainbow, that was how the name came into existence and it stuck till today.
How many English films have you featured in? Can you name them?
So far I have only featured in three of such films but I can only remember the name of the last one which is The Vow.
What are the challenges you have faced in this profession?
The challenges are numerous. Some I faced when my husband was alive and the rest after he died in 1984. At the initial stage, you will go on location not having food to eat on location, not to talk of being paid. We usually go to Meran here in Lagos at that time, so I hardly got roles as I cannot recite incantations and they used to insist that it was the criteria. The training I had then from my husband, late Femi Philips did not include incantations since he was educated, so we staged more civilized plays then but later when God heard our pleas, he changed it to what we can do.
At the time you got into this profession, stage plays were the order of the day, how easy did you find it moving into motion pictures?
You are right, we started with stage play and in my opinion, if you cannot perform well on stage, you are not a complete actor or actress. Concerning the issues of motion picture, it was very easy. On stage, there are lots of things you will put into consideration; you have to change your clothes fast, you have to change setting from one scene to the other and many such things you have to do in a limited space of time, but in motion picture, you have all these things already on ground. You just need to go there after you have memorized what is in your script and act.
Films were shot on celluloid at the initial stage of the Nigerian film industry, which do you think is better between video and celluloid?
My problem with celluloid is that it is too expensive, though those who have their films on celluloid are not too eager to convert it to video as they make more money when they take it to the cinemas, but I choose video ahead of celluloid as the people could easily have access to it. If the celluloid was re-introduced, I would also love to still feature more prominently in any film shot with it.
What is your view on the gradual death of the cinema in Nigeria as against what is obtainable in the west?
This is still the issue of celluloid because there is money in these places you are talking about. It is easier for them but in Nigeria, we do not have enough money to finance all these. If you shoot your film on celluloid, you will take it to the cinema to make more money and that is not even enough. If it is revived, it will help our children to know the process of stage plays, as the preparation is almost the same as that of stage play. If there is money, the cinema culture will be resuscitated.
What is your greatest disappointment?
That my husband with whom we suffered for the cause of the industry is not around when it is now profitable. This is an issue that I talk about every now and then. I have even talked about it today, it is the greatest disappointment I personally have had till today.
What are the impacts of the ANTP on some old artistes?
We made an arrangement that from time to time, these old artistes (Agba Isepele) should be featured in films by the young ones so as to give them a source of livelihood. The president of the ANTP, Prince Jide Kosoko even said he wished the association could do more to better the lives of these older generation, the main problem is that the association is not that rich. If there are means by which old artistes are cared for, I am supposed to have retired.
What were you doing before you deviated into acting and why did you leave that job?
I was a Nurse and I did this job for 20 years. I retired in 1986 at IBH Hospital Yaba, here in Lagos. As I said earlier, God knows the best. I would not have been this popular if I had remained a nurse. My husband also instructed so many people to tell me not to let the name go down, this we did not by my singular effort but with the assistance of Tajudeen Gbadamosi, popularly known as Coach. He was the one in charge of the group when I was going from one location to another before moving on to establish his own group and all thanks to God.
Do you have any of your children in this industry?
I have three children in the industry. In fact the five of them are in the industry, it is only that the two that are married could not be actively involved as they have to take care of their husbands, though their husbands still release them whenever we need them but the other three: Rotimi Phillips, Femi Phillips and Bisi Phillips. Most people were surprised that my son Femi Philips could also go into the industry because he is a graduate of Business Administration from the University of Ilorin. He is today the one writing all of our scripts. You know children cannot be forced against their will to do what they are not willing to do, my belief is that for him to join the industry shows that theatre is in the blood.
Like how much does it cost to produce a film?
It depends; it ranges from N1.2 million to N2.5 million
How do you get back the huge investments you commit to various projects?
That is left to the marketers, they are the ones that drop the money but of recent they are not giving the old ones money for projects and the reason behind this we cannot say precisely, though we have our names to protect. For example, my marketer, has been avoiding me for quite some time all I know is that God will feed us.
What do you have for your fans?
They are the best set of people; most buy some works because I am there. I so much appreciate them, they are not tired of watching me for the past 40 years, I pray God will bless them always because without them, there will be no us and I say thank you to them for always being there for us.
For how long have you been into this profession?
I have been in this profession for more than forty years.