Victor Olaotan, the 58-year old lead actor in the popular M-Net productions, Tinsel, is a veteran actor. He started acting more than two three decades ago when he joined the University of Ibadan theatre group, which other artistes like Professor Wole Soyinka and Jimi Solanke among others. In this exclusive interview, the popular actor, who lived in the US for more than 20 years spoke on his passion, acting, sojourn abroad, which according to him, left him 'high and dry' and his encounter with the production which offers him a new lease of life.
In the beginning
I got into acting through a teacher who was a member of Ori Olokun Theatre group in the 70's. He gave me the opportunity to act for the first time in my life. I was 15years old then. From that time, I had contact with other acting groups like Jimi Solanke, Akin Sofoluwe, Yomi Fawole, and the late Laide Adewale.
The irony of my life is that my father wanted me to be a medical doctor. I was good in Chemistry, Biology, and Further Mathematics. So automatically you know I am going to medical school. My father later died and maybe that was why I was able to do whatever I liked.
I started playing football for Water Corporations in Ibadan and they were rivals to the then IICC shooting stars, now 3SC shooting stars. I played for five years and they later disbanded the team. My parents are partly Ijesha and Ogun state.
I met with Laolu Ogunniyi, and I did another film with him before I went to America in 1978. While in America, I was involved in another professional acting. I met top Hollywood actors.
With Laolu Ogunniyi, I was able to do the first television drama in Nigeria which lasted for three hours. I became popular in Ibadan and other western states. Anywhere I went in western state, they always call me by the name of the character, Dotun Oluronbi.
When I joined the performing theatre group in the University of Ibadan, Wole Soyinka was there, Dr Dapo Adegbite was there, Wale Ogunyemi, Jimi Solanke , Tunji Oyelana were all there. Tunji Oyelana was actually an actor but he did his music underground before he later took to music professionally. With all these great people around me, I was able to blossom into a fantastic actor. Because I had the same voice with Jimi Solanke, whenever I came on stage the directors no longer bothered about Jimi Solanke. With that I did so many productions like 'Lion of the Jewel' by Wole Soyinka. We were going to all the universities in Nigeria. Then, there were only five universities, University of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ahmadu Bello University, University of Nigeria Nsukka and the University of Lagos.
Acting then and now
In my years of experience, I have come across every notable man that you know in the performing act, and I learnt so much. Unfortunately today, the platform does not have the enigma that it used to have in those days. Acting at that time was totally different from now. Now, it has become commercialized. Young actors who are coming today don't have the opportunity to experience the training that we had. All of them want to be stars. We had to learn the hard way. We used to rehearse from 6pm till 6am the following day. That was how Prof Wole Soyinka rehearsed. Everybody can relax from morning till evening but once it is evening, that is when he works best, and I suspect that he writes most of his plays at that time too.
The trainings I had here were very useful for me when I got to the US because I met one Hollywood actor who wanted to take me in, but because of my citizenship factor, I couldn't get in. I wanted to register with the actors' guild when a friend of mine called me that he had a production, that as professionals we should travel around. We left US and went to Canada, Europe and started acting.
I traveled abroad in 1978 and came back in 1980. They were selecting eight and good performing artistes in Nigeria and I happened to be one of them. Others were Tunji Oyelana, Yemi Remi, Joe Adigwe, Demola Onibon-Okuta, Tayo Taiwo and others. We went to five states in United States and the president of the US at that time gave us a brooch each. It is called presidential medal. If you are giving that brooch, no matter what you do in America, you will be forgiving because it shows that you have been pardoned by the president. I don't know where I put mine till today. I lost it maybe out of youthful exuberance. I went to three different universities in the United States to study acting.
When I was in the US, I was working for a company that produced perfumes as an auditor, and I was earning $35,000 annually. Later it became $55, 000. I worked there for five years and later moved to a car manufacturing company. There I was earning $120,000 annually while my wife was earning $170,000 where she was working as an executive. We were making good money. I had about seven cars and three houses in Atlanta, New Jersey and one other city. I had to leave all that because of my tax issue. I wasn't paying the right amount of tax I was supposed to pay and in that case if you are arrested, it is either you spend the rest of your life in jail or you pay triple of what you owe. When I calculated everything, it was over $4million. There was no way I could pay that money. The reason why I became a pauper was because I left all my properties in America. I had to run back to Africa. The IRS took over all the other properties. When I came back to Nigeria, I had only $100 and my suitcase with me. I couldn't hold big money.
I came to Nigeria in 2002 and opened a computer engineering outfit which I ran from 2002 to 2005. Then a friend of mine who have a filling station asked me to join him. He saw the way I was running the computer engineering office and I didn't have the money to upgrade. I needed about N1million but I couldn't find it. So I became a petrol station dealer with my friend. I still do that now. I am the Managing Director of Con oil, Oregun.
Friends noticed that I was back from the US, so they invited me to a festival organized by NANTAP. They wanted to do an old film by Wale Ogunyemi and they wanted old time characters who took part in the original film. Since I was part of the characters in the old ones, they called me. I wanted to play the lead role, but all the characters in that film are leading roles. It is about four main characters. So Akin Lewis played Sanmi Ajao while I played the house boy. It was fantastic. After that experience, everybody started saying they didn't know I am still good as I was back then. Eventually, I had to come back into acting. The reason I didn't want to come back in the first place was that I actually studied film directing and it takes a lot of money to do a good production and because I don't have that kind of money, I don't feel good to do a less than excellent performance.
I got back into theatre and started doing some modeling. I got some Globacom adverts. I understand I have some of the adverts I did at the airports though I am yet to see them up till now.
I had a good childhood. I was a very active young man. I used to play football because I am a very good footballer. My father was a retired policeman; he had three wives and twenty children. As a young man, I wanted to have seven children. Then, seven, to me was ideal but today I think three is even too much. I was a Catholic. I didn't have a girlfriend until I was 22year old. So when I got to 'know' women, I went wild. I had my first son when I was 25year old.
I was married in the US to an African American woman for 17 years, but got divorced in 1998, for reasons I don't want to divulge on the page of newspaper. I remarried when I came to Nigeria to my ex-girlfriend. When I came home, I didn't even know she was still available. Somebody just told me that he saw my ex-girlfriend, that she is now a serious born again Christian. She was celibate for seven years before we met. She didn't have a boyfriend; in fact I later found out that I was her last boyfriend before I traveled abroad in the 80's. After I left, anytime she fell in love with someone, they would jilt her. When I left, I couldn't come home because I had problem with my papers abroad and that was how I couldn't marry her then. So I got to meet her again when I came back but this time, she was a different person. I wanted to continue from where we left off but she said no, that she has promised God that the next man she goes to bed with must be her husband. I had to wait for six months before we got married again.
After marriage, all the excitements of wanting to be with a woman were gone. We couldn't even sleep with each other until after two weeks. I saw then that God's hands were in my life. I have a 32year old son and a daughter who is also in the US. From my recent marriage; and I also have three children from my marriage in Nigeria.
It was my wife that was working with them on the production aspect. We were discussing about their trip to South Africa one day, and she told me that they were about to start the auditioning. I didn't know I would be given a lead role. The job has really changed my life. We work round the clock from morning to evening. It is not a fire brigade approach like Nigeria film industry. Everything is planned. We work very hard. Every now and then and it is definitely rewarding.
I wont forget the day my girlfriend told me she was pregnant. I almost went dead. I had to go and tell my mother, and eventually we had to go and see her family and I accepted the situation. They wanted me to sign an undertaking that I would marry her after I finish school, but I said I can't promise that. After some years, she abandoned the boy and traveled abroad.
Initially, I didn't have a smooth relationship with the boy. There was a time he was revolting. He even told me to my face that we shouldn't have given birth to him when we knew we were not going to take care of him. I was wondering if I and the mother were around, he would have had a better upbringing. I still communicate with my daughter in the US.
Another was when the IRS issued me a letter that I violated the tax law. I nearly passed out. It was trying times for me.
Another time was when my mother died. I was in America and didn't know. There was a guy in the US that had the same initials and surname with me. This guy died, so people were saying it was me. My mum believed that I was dead. When I came home in 2002, I now learnt that my mother was dead. I asked when and was told 2001. Before I came, we lost contact. I sent money for them to buy phone so that we could be communicating, but I don't know want happened. I was sending money for her but till today, I still don't know whether she got the money I was sending to her. My brothers and sisters have refused to tell me what happened.
My greatest regret is leaving the US. I should have stayed back and fight the case instead of running back to Africa. Maybe I would have won it. I might have found a solution to the issue.
Hope for Nigerians in US
As a Nigerian, you shouldn't have any problem in the US if you don't engage in fraud or any bad thing. It is difficult to get a good job. Even the Americans don't get good jobs. If you have a good job, you will be okay. It is when people want to get rich quick that you get into trouble. I was lucky, though I didn't get a job on time, but when I got one, I lived well. I even worked for a security company.