In 1982, when Taiwo Hassan popularly called Ogogo, starred in a stage play, entitled: Nkan Omo Olu Ibadan, and received a standing ovation, he knew he had a calling to be an Actor.
But he veered into the Civil Service and worked with Lagos State Water Corporation. Yet, his passion for the make-belief world made him resign to follow his dreams. Movies such as Wicked Boy, Atitebi, Owo Blow, Legal wife and a host of others stand him out as a role interpreter.
Fate had another thing in store for him when he took ill and many thought the end had come for the artiste. In this interview with BUKOLA BAKARE, the Ilaro, Ogun State indigene, recalls his journey through the rough turf of life, his acting career, travail during his ailment, how he bounced back and recently released an album, entitled: Appreciation, which is a way to tell his story and appreciate all those who stood by him in his time of need. Excerpts.
What led you into the acting world?
I think in life, every one has got a path they have to tread. I didn’t just stumble on acting. Earlier on in life, I worked as an auto mobile mechanic and trained at the Yaba Technical College. That was in 1992. But before then, I had been involved in stage productions with my boss, Ayo Ademola Fabunmi.
I am very passionate about stage productions because I believe that artistes are preachers. We are just like Muslim and Christian clerics who preach to their followers and I’m very passionate about my job.
Why did you to leave your job as an auto-mechanic?
Nothing happened, I retired from Water Corporation and by 1988-90,I decided to go into acting and since then, there has been no turning back. By 1990-93, I had become so popular as an actor that, it became difficult to even board a bus without being noticed. I recall that it was just about N4 that would take me to my office in Ilupeju. I was making more money as an actor than as a civil servant because I would have made six months salary at a movie location.
I called my boss and told him that I wanted to leave the civil service to pursue my acting career. He advised me to stay until I had spent 15 years in service. That was in 1994 but I told him that I could no longer do that.
At the time that you retired, was there a pension scheme in place?
I got my gratuity and was given a letter by the corporation back then stating that I would be eligible for pension when I clocked 45 years. I couldn’t go there because it was during my trying period when I was seriously ill but I intend to do so soon and be eligible to collect my pension.
How did you come about the stage name, Ogogo?
It is just an appellation from my home town and what Yorubas’ will call ‘oriki’(praise name). That was what informed Ogogo,omo iku lodo. At the time I was involved in stage productions, people were fascinated by my role as a chanter for the king (Akigbe Oba).This was slightly different from the usual Ewi and if those cast in the role of chiefs want to give me a response, they would usually say, Ogogo iku lodo, olohun iyo meaning one with a sonorous voice.
That was where the name came from. It is actually my appellation from my father’s house.
Can you recall your childhood?
I hail from Ilaro in Ogun State, Yewa South Local Government to be precise. I started primary school at the Christ Church Primary School in Ilaro. After the death of my father in 1970, I had to come to Lagos to live with my elder brother where I completed my primary school. Afterwards, I found myself at the Yaba Technical College.
For how long have you been acting ?
It is very close to three decades now because I started out professionally in 1981/1982.
Casting your mind back, how challenging has the job been? Has there been anytime when you felt like going back to work at the Water Corporation?
(Cuts in)I have never for once regretted leaving the Civil Service because I believe that God called me for this job. So, no regrets.
Obviously, you started out as a stage actor. Can you recall your very first stage production?
It was titled Nkan Omo Olu Ibadan and it was in 1982. I was still under my boss, Ayo Fabunmi then. It was a story about empires, Oyo, Owu, Ibadan, about five ancient cities. It was really an interesting story And if I had the funds, it is the kind of story that should be developed into a film today. Though some other persons have tried to develop the story into a film, I discovered that they didn’t get it right. My boss then was a herbalist so he knew his onions when he wrote the story.
In terms of modern day productions (film), I recall Atitebi which was one of my first set of movies in 1989.I vividly remember my mode of dressing as we were on location in Meiran, Ogun State.
You seem to have carved a niche for yourself, portraying a forthright person, hardly will you be seen acting the bad boy role?
I am not stereotyped and can fit into any role perfectly but some times, directors cast people based on their individual habits.
Are you saying that casting is based on personal traits of the artiste?
Not really, for instance within our caucus (Odunfa), we study each artiste before we cast them for a particular role. There is no big deal in acting a bad boy role if that is what my director wants. I’m a great role interpreter but it’s just that people have got so used to seeing me play positive roles and are surprised when I play a con man for instance.
One of my earlier movies was Wicked Boy and it was a crime story which also starred my good friend, Yinka Quadri, the late Kokonsari, Muyideen Aromire(Alade) and others. The late Bimpe Adekola was also part of the cast.
Most of your fans believe that the movie; Legal Wife shot you into the limelight?
(Cuts in)Oh no, that is a mis-conception. Wicked Boy had been released before Legal wife. It was well accepted because the story portrayed happenings within the institution of matrimony and the home.
Who are your mentors in the industry; certainly you have people that you look up to?
I can’t really pin-point who my role models are because I learn a bit of everything from most of my senior colleagues. However, the late Hubert Ogunde,Ishola Ogunshola(I sho pepper), Ade Love all stand out and have made a great impact in my life. In terms of those still alive, I can’t really mention names because I hold all of them in high esteem. Worthy of note is also Late Ray Eyiwunmi who mentored a lot of children in his life time.
Adebayo Salami whom I fondly call Uncle B was one of those who advised me earlier in my career not to be stereotyped and up till the year 2000, I still combined my earlier role of a praise chanter with acting.
One notices that you haven’t starred in English movie, do you intend to do this sometime soon?
No and I don’t think I will partake, if a script comes my way.
There was a time Chico Ejiro approached me to partake in a Nollywood production. It was at a time when some artistes were banned. I told him bluntly that I wasn’t interested because I felt that they just use and dump artistes. This is just a personal opinion of mine.
I was fortunate to meet one of the veterans of Nollywood, Late Joe Layode aka Garuba(Village Headmaster) and he lamented on the poor treatment being meted out to some artistes, after being promised heaven and earth. Papa Lai Ashadele also said the same thing. He was even on the set of one of my recent productions. My colleague, Prince Jide Kosoko released the movie,The Ultimate Prize and it was the same thing with Saheed Balogun.
From your comments, there seems to be some form of discrimination between English and Yoruba actors.
(Cuts in) Not at all. As I said earlier, this is just my personal opinion as an individual and artiste.
What else do you do apart from acting?
I am not involved in any other thing. Acting is clearly the only thing that I do now.
But you recently released an album?
Yes and its titled Appreciation. It was my own way of saying thank you to my numerous fans who stood by me when I was ill.
That means, you do not hope to pursue music?
No, that album was just a way to appreciate my fans and nothing more. It contains praise songs which is synonymous with what I used to do as a chanter for the king(Akigbe Oba)with a slight difference.
Like you pointed out earlier,one of your most trying times was when you took ill. Many of your fans thought they end had come. What was going through your mind then,surely you thought the end had come?
(Pauses) God is really a merciful God and whatever situation we find ourselves, we must be thankful to God. It is not an easy thing to be ill for over four years but God had other things in store for me.
The Rumour mill was agog that perhaps you carried drugs and was suffering from the consequences?
I heard all the rumours. In fact, a certain Journalist(I won’t mention his name)who brought my plight to the attention of the media. Some people even insinuated that I had the deadly HIV!. I just laughed. He called me one day to find out what exactly was wrong with me. I remember that I was driving at the time and I told him that I was okay. He went to press with all sorts the next day and people started calling me that I had to sue that particular newspaper.
Afterwards, I was invited to an Award Ceremony in the United Kingdom in company of my colleagues, Yinka Quadri and Abbey Lanre. The organizers pleaded with us to attend the event as the turnout was not impressive.
During my speech,I thanked all those who stood by me during my time of need and told the world that they should not think that that reporter tainted my career. Rather, he helped me by telling them I was in dire need.
Was there no help in sight through the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) and Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practioners (ANTP)?
(Cuts in)They did nothing to help me. Quote me anywhere. Though one or two persons like Iya Awero and Madam Saje came to check me at home.
All I had was ulcer and I thank God the worse is over. My children didn’t have to stop school so I thank God. I lost so much weight and people couldn’t recognize me as I was so lean. Worse still, I also had surgery for appendix which complicated matters.
Insinuations that I carried drugs or had a terminal ailment are not true.
Your work schedule as an actor must be very hectic. Does it take its toll on your family?
They have no choice because they know what I do for a living. Sometimes, I mat be gone for weeks or months. We are different from musicians who can easily be replaced if one is not available. In acting, if a Director requests for Ogogo, I have to make myself available because I can’t ask someone to fill in for me.
I remember when when we were about to shoot the movie,Owo Blow,I had Typhoid then and I sent someone to the Director;Niyi Wuraola who was my colleague at Water Corporation that I was unavoidably absent.
He told me that he will call off the production until I am much better as he wanted me to play the lead role. I didn’t know that I was that important to some persons.
I had to tell my doctor to discharge me voluntarily, I had to sign, left for home and promised to come every morning for treatment.
Myself and Kura were allowed to come to location from home and shooting took two months and six days.
My family understand the nature of what I do and sometimes, I send someone home with money or leave location of Fridays and return Sundays. Thank God for GSM so we can now communicate.
Looking back now, you must certainly be fulfilled. Do you have any thing in the kitty?
I will leave that in the hands of God. I am glad my children are doing well, I already have a Graduate of Business Administration and the rest are doing well.
In your spare time, what are your hobbies?
I love playing the game of draft and watch movies.
Do you watch your own movies?
I may not be able to watch those(chuckles)
Why, are you scared of seeing your mistakes, if any?
I watch my movies after they have been edited and I get a preview copy. I hope I don’t partake in an un-successful movie. I also enjoy foreign movies and I love the game of boxing.
Recently, the industry lost Ishola Durojaye aka Alaasari to the cold hands of death. What was your re-action when you heard the news?
I was really shocked and surprised that he died at the same spot he earlier had an accident. I just couldn’t understand. We were in London recently for an event. It is a big blow to the industry as he passed on at the tender age of forty-eight.
Last word for up and coming stars?
In the past, Theatre Practitioners were looked down upon. We were put in the same category as drop-outs and motor dealers.
There was a time Olu Jacobs said he was some where and some persons labeled artistes as unserious and he answered them that these are the people who entertain and educate the populace. God has a different purpose for everyone. We can only hope our children will be better of than us.