He’s a renowned and consummate actor who plays all kinds of roles effortlessly and with finesse within and outside the shores of Nigeria. In the 80s, he featured in the hilarious sitcom Mind your language. It was a distinctive statement of his acumen and stagecraft. Jacobs’ passion for acting started quite a long time ago.
In the days of Hubert Ogunde. There’s another side to Olu Jacobs which is noted by all and sundry. It’s his devotion to his family which has survived all kinds of situations through the immense capacity of both him and his wife to love. Jacobs, indisputably is a good husband and father.
He doesn’t have any scandals haunting or trailing him for instance. In this interview with Samuel Olatunji, Jacobs lays it all bare revealing how he handles female fans who sometimes call him when he’s in bed with his wife.Excerpts:
You seem to maintain your ‘evergreeness’. What’s the secret?
I’m what I have always been. I enjoy the company of people. I like to make people feel welcome . It’s much more enjoyable to be honest with your feelings about people. That’s why, when I’m angry, people know it easily but when I’m happy they know as well and for me, that is what life is all about. You can’t hang on being miserable all the time or trying to hide your feelings.
What’s it like when Uncle Olu is angry?
Watch some of the parts I’ve played.
What is it with you and the masterpiece of acting?
Well, thank you for putting it that way. All our lives, we were told that men should not shed tears and that is usually why men should not shed tears in public. Nobody can say that men don’t shed tears in private. So, that’s what the public sees. When they are outside dealing with people, they are strong. They are different from what they play in the movies. They feel very strong but at the same time, they do not show their emotions in public but we get it mixed up when we’re watching them in movies.
We assume that we are watching them in public, but we are not watching them in public at all. So, a man can allow himself to feel like any other human being and that’s why it is easier when you understand that they can go through whatever the script says very well. I believe in total commitment. I don’t like to do things half way. Once I understand what a play is about, because I hardly read a play twice, I read it once and I do some work on it and then fine-tuning continues until it is recorded.
I enjoy the work, I find it interesting. There are some that are quite obvious and you don’t need to do any research, because they are too obvious, but there are intricate ones that you have to research . You have to dig for them , because they really put the icing on the cake. I try as much as possible to put new experience in every play and also try not to underestimate any play.
Even at this stage, with all the plays you’ve done?
I know they say that the reputation of an actor makes his performance almost automatic. The more you do something, the better you become. That is why some things are automatically understood. Once I see them, I can understand them, but there are intricacies to each part .
You must respect that , if you want to get the truth in that play and I try as much as possible not to lie to my audience. I don’t cheat, not with a role. I go as honestly as possible with the role to portray what has to be portrayed. If it’s something I think I won’t be able to espouse, then I will tell the producer I can’t take the part. But once I take a part, I read it and it’s what I want, then I’ll do it.
But people are saying that Uncle Olu appears in almost every movie and perhaps, you want to make all the money?
(Laughs) How much money is he making that he wants to make all the money now? I don’t know who these people are. I don’t know their reason for saying that. If they want to know, let them go and ask the producer how much they are paying and they’ll know whether I am collecting all the money. No, it’s not that. It is the job that we have in hand and I always try as much as possible to give it the best shot within the circumstances that I find myself.
I don’t pretend to be doing what I am not doing. When a part is given to me, I look at it honestly and scrutinize it thoroughly so that when I come out, I know what I am feeling for the role. I know where the character is coming from and where he wants to land. Now, how he lands there, for the two of us may be something different. You may think he lands this way, while I’m thinking he lands that way. It doesn’t matter, he’s still going to land.
So we must be professional enough to look at our different opinions. If they just assume and do things the way they want, then I don’t have time for them. I don’t have time for anyone who does that or thinks that way or say that about me. Without boasting, I think I am the best manipulator of words as far as this industry is concerned. I believe strongly that each line must mean something; each word must mean something; each paragraph must mean something; each theme must mean something. So, until I find out what the entire play means, I may not proceed and I think I am the best at that.
I honestly and sincerely believe that this doesn’t stop me from working harder. When it comes to manipulating words, analyzing situations, I still think that most people are not getting it right. For most people, their experience is limited. Some on the other hand are lazy, while some cheat. I try not to cheat when it comes to looking at a character, looking at the play, looking at what he’s saying and why he’s saying what he’s saying and with whom. All these things I put together when I get a script and I do it for every single production that comes my way.
What has kept you in this game that you seem to be the only one left to play the Igwe, head of family or an elder’s role despite the fact that some of your colleagues that you started with are not seen anywhere near the screen anymore. What’s your staying power?
Hmmm, well, this is something I find very difficult sometimes. After all these years, I suppose I’m calm enough to understand why you are asking these questions but before I go further to answer this question, I would like to let you know that there’s always a character for the father, mother, brother, uncle, and a cousin. They are there and they will always be there.
They have to be filled. Do we get them filled by the young stars or do we get them filled by people of the right age. I have noticed in some productions that they use somebody who’s hardly thirty (30) playing an old man of sixty (60).That should not be allowed professionally . There are enough roles for husbands, for uncles, for brothers and sisters and friends to play; for men and women without having to play the role of fathers when they are still young. Though, they can play young parents but they want to add the grandfather role and thereby getting it all mixed up. I think that’s ridiculous, that’s not natural.
If God wants it that way, He would have created it that way. A father is father and that’s what we are and that’s what we must remain and we have to be seen as such. When you say father, you must respect a father, believe a father. I get calls all the time. People are saying, Uncle Olu, you are like my daddy, some will say, I want you to be my daddy. All these things are involved in the play that one is doing and they think, one should become their biological father. It’s very moving when you hear them talking about such issue.
A young man and I wanted to act and I was lucky that somebody like Hubert Ogunde was alive then. I saw him at the Olonde in Kano. I was born in Kano actually and I was excited to see the singing and the dancing at that event and I went home with so much joy . Ogunde was organizing a concert party, so I told my mother that my brother and I wanted to go there and act.
She said she would think about it. She gave us some work to do and we finished everything so they had to take us to the concert. When we got there, it was wonderful. The atmosphere was absolutely electrifying. To see a hall meant for a thousand people or thereabouts jam-packed with over three thousand people was amazing and people were sweating.
The show had not even started. But they didn’t mind, they wanted to sweat. Then, the curtain was lifted and Ogunde showed up and they sang and people were crying. Somehow, I was able to get away from the crowd and I was watching them from outside and I saw the total joy of these people. By now, I was in tears and I said to myself at that time, that’s the job that I am going to do.
Has acting put food on your table?
Well, we thank God. It’s not easy. It’s been hard. You have to get to a certain stage. For example in England, every city has its own theater subsidized by the UK government. So, you can imagine how many theaters they have. They all have shows every night. So, they employ electricians, actors, stage men, cameramen and so on. So, you can’t compare that with Nigeria.
We don’t have that here. It’s about communicating, bringing children together, talking to them at a very tender age, going to schools, creating awareness within the school where the children can understand, use and learn from all these things so that they can have a wider experience of life instead of one-line thoughts. So, for me, I don’t see it any other way.
When I saw what was happening in England, it got to a stage where I was only attending interviews, not auditions per se and I was not given anything challenging. All I was asked to do was to support a white actor who may not be as good as expected. So, I said well, I can do better here and there is much to be done. If at the end of the day I leave the stage and I am able to help people build structure and make them stars, then it will be worth it.
Is it true that you must be from a particular tribe before you can play a character from that tribe in a movie?
No. As long as you can do it well, there’s no problem and don’t forget that there is a director and a producer and it’s their decision regarding who plays what role. At any point, they can always change the person if they think they have made a mistake.
So, I don’t think you have to be a Yoruba man before you can play the role of Oba in a movie, as long as you can interpret and play the role as expected, I don’t think there is anything wrong with it at all. I have played Emir and other roles in other tribes, but I am a Yoruba man. I am from Abeokuta.
Pete Edochie once said you destroy the Igbo culture the way you act the Igwe in movies?
I’m surprised Peter can say that. Olu Jacobs is an actor; he’s a fine actor, he’s the best analyzer of character and the best manipulator of words. If some people, for whatever reason, say that the hundreds or thousands of fans who phone and come to applaud me everyday don’t not know what they are saying, that they don’t know what they are doing… I’m talking about real Igwes who meet me, not in their palaces but at airports, outside and they call me to tell me how much they appreciate what I am doing.
This happens everyday, even today. Do you want to tell me that those people don’t know what they are doing? Do you want to tell me that it’s only Pete who knows what he’s saying? What about the producers who commissioned this story, do they not know whom they want for what role? Is he saying that those producers don’t know what they are doing? Whatever he says about me, he must say about them because I didn’t write the script myself, it wasn’t my film. I want to end this topic by saying, I, Olu Jacobs respect and admire our way of life and I will do anything to propagate it, honestly and sincerely.
Our children watch us, what we present to them, what they thought they never had. Our children thought they didn’t have a past, we are the ones letting them know that we had a glorious past. We may have our hiccups at the moment but our present is as good, if not better than our past. We don’t live on trees. We live where every normal human lives and we shall continue to work hard. I want to tell you that Pete is my younger brotherbrother, forget the red cap.
If we meet outside he must show respect. He can think whatever he likes, he has every right to his own opinion but I don’t have to agree with him. In this case, I totally disagree with him. I believe that in this case, he should have re-educated himself well enough before making any comments. I don’t know what’s behind what he has said, but I know he’s not being honest.
When you use extreme words like destroy, it’s a sign of desperation. Is there anything that Peter is desperate about that we don’t know? I don’t know why he should go to such length to talk about me. When he went to play Oduduwa, did it sell, did they make their money back? What did they achieve there, nothing. The story of Oduduwa, we all know.
Someone said there is a feud between two of you. Is this true?
As far as I am concerned, I don’t have anything against Peter. His two children are my children and we’ve being working together. We both have a working relationship. He called me some three weeks ago; somebody wanted an interview and he wanted me to grant the interview and I did. I don’t have anything to hide and I see no reason why I should . I would rather advice that his questions be directed to the marketers who bought and commissioned the play.
Some even said, perhaps it’s because you get the Igwe role more than he does?
(Chuckles) I think that question should be directed to the owners of the movie. I don’t know what’s at the back of their mind. All I know is that, I get called to do movies , I do them to my best. Maybe Peter knows something I don’t know.
Why are marriages breaking down these days?
Our country has been through a lot and so have our children. Our children did not get the kind of support they should have gotten because we parents don’t even have the support, the confidence that a child needs. So, what you discover is a few families that are doing business and have succeeded. They were trying to show off, they wanted to use their money to buy what they could have been able to by themselves. You’ll find that a lot of poor people who got married are still happily married but majority of the rich people who got married are no longer married.
Are you saying that money is a culprit sir?
Of course. They were using money to cover those areas they should have touched by themselves . They could have educated, guided and loved their children. Instead, they spent that time trying to amass wealth. The driver was the person who knew where they needed to go to. The housemaid knew everything else. If there were three housemaids, the children knew what to do. The mentality of a child at that age will be the mentality of a housemaid or a driver. Even when you speak to your children, they’ll seek approval from the housemaid before they could say yes to anything you say. Then, you should know you’ve lost it.
So, the reason why we have broken marriages is because most of these children were raised by housemaids?
Yes, because we tried to buy them with our money but they were not brought up with that money. Later, you’ll hear the father sobbing and saying, “after all I have done, after all I have worked for”. What have you worked for? Nothing! Nothing to do with the children, it’s all about you. You were trying to justify yourself. That is what our problem is.
So, what has kept your marriage intact?
Well, to God be the glory. I have been married for about twenty-five years now and I am married to this girl, Joke. (Laughs). She’s so troublesome, she’s so wonderful, ah that girl, she’s my best friend and you know that when you have a friend like her, you talk, you play and if you need to quarrel, you quarrel a bit and that is the same way we have brought up our children too.
We are very close to them. As a matter of fact, our youngest boy just started to live in boarding school. Joke and I were very lonely at home. We were learning that we have to release them and they must get used to being released so they can be on their own. Not relying on us all the time; but when they look back, we are always there. Even without looking back, they should be able to say we are there and that is the kind of life that we are trying to have with them. It’s not easy but we thank God.
Is it hard for men to ever be faithful, especially when they are famous?
Well it is true, believe you me it is true. Recently at 2:00 am , I got a call like I always do but this one was from a female I have never met in my life, who wants to talk to me, who needs my help. It’s true one tries as much as possible, like I said they call you anytime they are watching a film anytime from 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 3:00, 4:00. They are watching your film, they want to be with you, they want to know you. You should know them, you will find them very interesting, you will find them very attractive, they are beautiful.
Well at my age, what I try to do is I don’t dump them, I don’t scold them. That ability to show interest must not be killed because they are going to need it for the rest of their lives. What they have done to me is wrong, knowing that I am married. I say to them “ do you know me and my family are in bed right now?....Sorry, thank you it’s all right, I appreciate this thing you are doing, you calling, thank you. Please don’t ring this late, ring early, when you and I can talk, easy without being aggressive, what am I being aggressive for…, gbogbo wa ko la sewo ni?.
But they say, if you don’t go after men, they will still go after women.That’s their nature. What’s your take on that?
That is the law of nature. It is normal. Men are hunters and polygamous by nature. Apart from anything else, that’s why our forefathers married so many. Eyokan o to. We are changing our thinking, we are trying to reduce all these things; we are doing them because we have a society we have to relate to and we are trying our darn best to relate to them . Otherwise I will say it will be very difficult. Going back to the question you asked before, it’s one of the reasons why marriages fail. Some men don’t know how to cope with it , because when they get to that point, they need someone else. Their wives at home is perfectly alright, there’s nothing wrong but they need someone else.
But for a man, something doesn’t need to be wrong with the woman at all.
Let me put you on the spot sir. For 25 years, have you been totally faithful?
Yes. Once you are married, you are together. We learnt a lot together, then I traveled. I didn’t travel for long, three weeks, two weeks, ba se n travel ni yen (that’s the way we’ve been traveling)
But some men will be men whether in or out?
I didn’t marry young , so I didn’t experience that.
Tell us when things weren’t so easy
That one plenty. (both laughed). When we were down, with very little to eat, we explained to our children. This is what we have and this is what we are going to eat, and they ate and they were so exited because it tasted nice. But if we had not told them, we would have felt guilty that we were keeping things away from them. So, it was good, everybody was open and we ate what we had. I never thought that we were the kind of people that should be keeping things away from our children.
People say these days marriages fail , because women are demanding more independence. Is that true?
What I don’t understand is the mentality of men. We had a situation where men went out, the women stayed at home and looked after the children. The scenario now is that men and women go out to work and you have to employ somebody to look after the children and you still want the wife to play a subservient role in the house. So what does she go out to do?
Why does she need to go out at all? The idea of her going out is for the family to get enough funds to look after the children, to look after the family together. If the husband earns enough, he would have been able to convince his wife to stay at home or to stay as close to home as possible but obviously he doesn’t. So, if she has to come in, she is earning something and whatever she is earning is helping the family. So, if that’s the case, you expect her to get home at 9:00pm and go straight into the kitchen and the husband who is coming home around the same time, what right has he got to expect that? She has probably worked more than the man at work.
The mindset of men is the major problem?
No . The mindset of the family. It’s the mindset of the family. If you like, the husband’s family but some of the wife’s family too. They are equally guilty. You know they have forgotten that their children went out to work to sustain the family. I mean we all know, when the grand ma is coming lati wa ba won to omo (to take care of the children) she was going to be there may be for six months, may be for three months. Ewa lo ma je o ma ba won wa, isu, oma ba won wa, elubo, o ma ba won wa, eja gbigbe lo ma je, o ma ba won wa. Epo, ororo, everything oma ba won wa. So that family will not need to worry about anything to ba je area ounje…..
That is no longer there, because these family ties viz the mother, the aunties, they are not usually wanted anymore because they are thought to be poke-nosing into the affairs that don’t concern them. What do we want to do? Do we really want a nuclear family or we really want to import our own family? The ones we are going to pay for… the housemaid, the houseboy, drivers… is that the ones that we want, is that what we want?
So, it’s not because women are demanding more freedom?
They are not demanding freedom, they are demanding equality. They are saying they can make us be at ease, that we don’t have to struggle as much as they are doing.
You know men cannot accept that they are equal with women?
It makes it easier for us to enjoy working hard. We enjoy working hard; it makes us enjoy even better when we know that our wives are not right on top of us. They even appreciate us now more than ever before.
But how can men accept that things have changed?
They should open their eyes and their minds and realize that our wives are now with us and that they have a mind, a mind that is as chilled as our own and that we have a job to do and if they are able to do it, why do we deny them? We have to think and justify why we should deny somebody who is capable. Why? Is it because of our ego?