Femi Branch is a prolific writer, actor, singer, song writer and a stage director. He is also an award-winning artiste that has effortlessly combined his God-given gifts in a way that one complements the other. Femi who calls himself a ‘jack of all trades and a master of all’ in this interview with SEGUN ADEBAYO, speaks about his passion for writing, movie, success and why he can’t have enough of his wife, Ibitola. Excerpts:
Your name Femi Branch does not sound like a Yoruba name, did you actually create the name your self?
I really don’t know why my name should bring confusion because I have heard it from different people over the years that they don’t know what it means. Femi Branch is my name, my family name is Osunkoya and I come from Ijebu North East Local Governm-ent in Ogun State, Odo- sembora town. When I became an active Christian, and I became aware of certain things, I started asking questions about the name Osunkoya and I know we are not worshipping any Osun in our family to the best of my knowledge. But after much questions, I didn’t get any satisfactory answer, and I knew Osun was not doing anything for me, so, I decided to go for something positively impacting. I believe name has some kind of spiritual influences, it was better for me to change my name to something meaningful.
So, I adopted the name from the Bible, which describes Jesus Christ as a faithful branch.
What was your parents’ reaction when you changed your name from what it used to be and how were you able to convince them about it?
I believe it was God’s plan. I prayed earnestly about it and God made it very easy. So, I got Branch from the scripture in the book of Isaiah—which simply was one of the ways Jesus Christ was described in the Bible. I have been answering Branch for a very long time.
Were you that religious back then that prompted you to have a change of name or were you influenced?
You don’t have to be religious to be aware of certain things in your life; to be aware that a name has a certain impact on your life. I know a lot of people don’t believe in that, but it was purely based on personal conviction and nothing else. That was my conviction then and it worked for me and it is still working for me.
What was it like when you first had your face on the camera?
I actually started with the stage as far back as my University days, 1991 to be precise. I did a movie in school then, it was called Orirun. Although, it was not a serious one then, it was organised by the Acting Company of the Dramatic Arts Department. That was the first movie I did. After that, I also did Women of Love, directed by Weaver. But the first movie I did that shot me into lime light was Iwalewa, and that was in 2005.
I had always wanted to do the stage thing since I was in school, at the Drama Department, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. It was later I became conscious that I could actually act in movies and I did not really act on that until 1997. I was more interested in stage plays then; I love live theatre. It was after Iwalewa that I got convinced, because the experience was very illuminating. I saw it as a wider medium to express myself in a different way entirely. And, as at that time, live stage was somehow fading away in Nigeria, especially in Lagos. So, it was a very good time to go into movies.
Did you just jump into acting after graduating from school because we learnt that you studied Religious Studies in school?
Let me break it down for you, I got admitted to study Religious Studies, but my course was Law. English was cancelled the year I did JAMB and English was my main subject then, so it affected my cut off mark and I had to study Religious Studies. I encountered Dramatic Arts and I said to myself this is what I want to do.
What was your parents’ reaction to your change of course?
Initially, I had a problem with my dad but later he finally accepted and we moved on. We thank God for what we have been able to achieve.
So, basically your inability to pass English then changed your plan…..
It was destined to happen like that. Even if I had come out with a degree in Law, if it was destined that I will still be an actor, nothing is going to change that. I have a lot of colleagues that studied Law and ended up being an actor. Somebody like Femi Adebayo who studied Law in school, he’s now an actor today. I don’t know how much law he practices today. It is destiny and nothing else.
Quite a number of Yoruba speaking movies actors have threatened to pull out owing to poor remuneration from producers, a development that has forced many of them to become producers over night, why do you think producers don’t pay actors well?
I am trying to remember if there was anybody I know that has pulled out of the stage because of poor payment.
But are you aware that a large number of them have voiced their discomfort at this disturbing trend?
The reality on ground is that it applies more to the Yoruba genre. You can’t really predicate a livelihood on acting as a Yoruba actor because the remuneration is rubbish. The reality on ground for any Yoruba actor or actress is that you need to have an alternate source of income, if not you are going to die of frustration. That is why you see the so called stars and celebs out there still jumping in and out of molue, BRT or Okada. That is the sour reality on ground and I am aware that it took a lot of our people a long time to realize that they needed an alternative means to survive in the industry.
Some people that pulled out according to you, honestly I don’t know because acting is like a virus, once you have it in your blood, you can’t clean it. What I know some of my colleagues have done is that some took up some other vocations to pay the bills. I am aware of some of my colleagues that are lecturers; many are into business and other things just to keep them going.
You seem to have a good command of English, but you feature more frequently in Yoruba movies, why?
The thing I believe is that an actor is an actor. I believe that the language is just the medium of expression. It is just like a doctor that practices medicine in an English speaking country is a doctor and the one that practices it in a French speaking country is equally a doctor. Whether I am acting in Yoruba or English or Hausa, I am still an actor. That is why I hate it when people call me a Yoruba actor, because I am not. I am an actor and I am not restricted to any particular place. I can act in any language that I have a level of command in. I didn’t go into acting with any vision to change the world. It was just by happenstance. It was when I got into the industry that I saw things differently.
What do you look out for in scripts?
Being a writer myself, I am first interested in the story. I read the scripts like four or five times upon receiving. After reading the story, I would want to look at the execution of the story, the screen play; the director and even the set. Most of the time you have people who are untrained picking up something they can’t handle. Somebody who thinks he can direct because he has followed the director to locations four or five times. Somebody who thinks he can handle the camera because he has worked closely with a camera man for two years, he can direct. These are two different disciplines. I want to know whether I am being directed by a qualified director or a want to be. I consider all those things before I pick up the scripts. I need money o, don’t get me wrong but I am more concerned about what people would say after the production.
So even if the fee is very poor, but the technicalities are perfect, would you still take the role?
I just said now that I need money. That one happens a lot, most of the job you do, you don’t do it because you are satisfied with the money. If anybody tells you anything contrary, it is a lie. Every actor at one point in time or the other has had to compromise. This is Nigeria, even our country is laden with compromise on every side. So why won’t we? I can compromise because I love the scripts.
I can compromise because you are my person.
Let me come to that last sentence, why would you compromise your stance if you are really a professional, don’t you think this is killing the industry?
It is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is somewhat universal. We will speak of our own here because we know of ourselves. I can’t really say of the intrigues and all that happens in Hollywood or Bollywood. This is the reality on ground, if you say it is killing the industry, you are absolutely right. But at the same time, it can be seen as a necessary evil. The truth of the matter is that the only way to make any sensible money is to produce. That is why seventy per cent of Yoruba stars are producers. If you want to rely on just acting, you will die hungry. There is nothing wrong in an actor directing or producing, as long as you are trained and you have the experience. But when you now do it because of economic downturn, it becomes a problem. If we are friends and colleagues, and you want to produce a movie. We both know the situation of things on ground; you want to do a beautiful job. I will tell you that instead of paying me three hundred thousand, I will take a hundred thousand or instead of putting me in a five star hotel, I will manage a two star or I will tell you don’t worry, I will even take care of myself. The technical aspect of the movie matters a lot to me, because at the end of the day, nobody gives a shit whether you slept on the floor or a mat during the production, what they care about is a fantastic job. So, if you have that kind of situation, I will support you because I know you want to make money. I will take a cut fee because you are my friend and also because you want to do something that I like. It’s time for my job now, even if I have more money to do my job, the fact that I did your job for you and you paid me thirty thousand instead of hundred thousand naira, I won’t pay you fifty thousand naira even if your worth is hundred thousand naira.
Why do you think there is more money in Nollywood?
It is because of the people that are at helm of affairs in that industry. The people that started Igbo movies back then were traders and business men who were venturing into a different field. They were mainly diverting their funds into a new investment and even till today, they still have that trader mentality. This is movies, the intrigues of movie production is different from that of spare parts selling or electronics selling. In movies, you can put in two million and get fifty million if you go through the necessary channels. That is why there is more money in their industry because there are traders who have a better business sense than Yoruba men. They know that you have to put in money to get money, but Yoruba marketers want to invest little money and get more money. It is a simple logic. Igbo marketers understand what their audience want and they give it to them without any form of manipulation. You will see in igbo films where exotic champagnes will be popped for a party, exotic drinks and props worth seventy five thousand naira each. But an average Yoruba marketer will bring ten empty bottles on the table and they will pretend drinking. The audience is not stupid, they are not as gullible as we think they are, they see these things. They have something to compare it with. So, why would people not favour the other movies. No doubt, Yoruba movie people have better scripts, give it to them but we love glamour and colour. That is the edge the Igbo movie makers have over their counterparts in the Yoruba genre.
You are not a bad guy in terms of your looks and voice, how do you keep admirers at bay?
The truth of the matter is that I have always been someone that has a lot of confidence. I know what my flaws are and I have a very good idea of what my strengths are, so I don’t deceive myself. I won’t call myself as the most handsome man on the face of the earth. I believe I am a very rugged man. I have a very good idea of the endowments God has given me. So, I don’t over appropriate myself or my talent. I don’t fool myself; I know who is better than me and I know who is not in my class. So, there is nothing you can tell me about myself that will make me feel flattered.
But there is a kind of special attraction between sexes…
You can’t deny that but if you think because you are a star, it gives you an edge over a lady that means you are stupid. That means you have no self confidence to start with. I don’t have to be a star to catch women because why, water get level. Monkey no fine but him girlfriends like am. I don’t believe that because I am a star, every woman that comes to me is interested in something.
Some people have argued that you are proud, and we learnt that you don’t relate well with your colleagues while on location?
None of my colleague would ever say that. I don’t believe that I am that kind of person. When you are in public view, there is always this tendency to want to create a story. Nobody would say I am egocentric. If anybody tells you that, tell that person that I am sure you have not met the guy. I am just me; I believe that life is so simple. I understand that people tend to scrutinize everything you do as a celebrity. Which means you have to be more careful.
The MTN commercial gave you a big break, how did it happen?
It was just God. At that time, I ran a modeling outfit, and a friend of mine was casting for a commercial. I didn’t even know it was MTN that day. He said he needed some babes for the commercial, so I took my girls down there. We did the screening and the whole thing went smoothly. But at a point, she ran out of guys to pair. So, she asked me to pair with two or three girls. But there was this particular person that I paired with that day and we had this flow. So, we were told that they would get back to us. The following day, I was called by the agency and when I got there, they told me that they loved what I did and the rest is history today. I was really shocked when I was told the advert was for MTN.
We learnt that the lady you paired that day is now your wife, how did you go about that?
It was a wonderful experience. I paired her during the commercials, we became so close and every other thing fell in place.
Is it true that you are quitting acting for pastoral work?
For sometime now, I have been off the camera. I had to take time out to sort something I considered to be more serious and more life impacting, something that I am a little more passionate about than acting. It is something about my foundation, it is something a lot of people would be shocked when they hear I am doing it, because I will be wearing uniform and it is going to be very funny. I believe that as some one who have been blessed to be known it is something that I’ve to do For me, I am not giving back to the community in any way, what I am trying to do is born out of personal conviction, which is to help people who do not have the advantage of formal education. I have seen certain situations that I saw people getting into problems, especially with the police because they couldn’t reador write a statement. It is a scourge that has eaten so deep into the society and the government is not doing anything about it. I can say it authoritatively without apologies to anybody.
Recently, when I heard that the government or CBN is introducing e-banking, I felt bad. Who is going to do the e-banking? Is it the old man that is still struggling to cope with the normal banking operations? I really felt that was really stupid, in fact, whoever brought up that idea should be tested to be certified if he’s mentally okay or not. Every society has what is applicable to it. What percentage of our populace is educated? What percentage of the educated public is computer literate? I also heard recently that over 1million students failed WAEC, this is saddening. We know that the government can not do everything but that is even if the government is doing enough to help subdue the problem. God told me to use the gift he has given me to raise enough funds for the execution of my project. This is the ministry that I am doing; I don’t have to go behind the pulpit before you are seen to be saving lives. Kanu Nwakwo is a minister because he’s saving lives through the Heart Foundation Project. We need to get to a stage in our lives when we have to think beyond ourselves. The project is not about Femi Branch, it is about helping people.