Olu Jacobs is a name that is very synonymous with the Nigerian theater and the art. With more than forty years experience on the job, the United kingdom-trained practitioner is far from retiring. In this no-holds-barred interview with Showtime Celebrity, Uncle Olu as he is fondly called by friends and associates speaks on his career, his wife Joke and more. Excerpts;
How do you cope with working with the younger generation of stars on set?
I work with upcoming artists but many of us make fundamental mistakes by calling people stars when they are not stars.
Our audiences call us stars, we do not call ourselves stars because it takes a lot to be a star but unfortunately we find that we are in a nation of titles where you find an upcoming person calling himself a star even when he is not.
That limits one’s growth and I really think it takes more than that to be a star. It takes years of work and highly appreciated work by the public before you begin to recognize one as a good actor. Talking about working on set with the upcoming artists, it is very challenging and interesting to work with them.
Some find it difficult fitting into their various characters well enough because they don’t take time to study the scripts well and understand the characters enough. Others find it hard interpreting their roles very well. Some times there are problems and nobody to help so you have to do the best you can to help the situation.
And what was government’s role in the development of the movie industry?
For a very long time, government never took this profession seriously. Once they see off their guests to the airport that is all. They only paid lip service or use artists to entertain their guests.
That was the way they saw the profession before now. And suddenly when they embark on their numerous foreign trips, they are being congratulated by their hosts for movies coming from Nigeria and how enjoyable they are.
As new economic doors are being opened, they began to realise that there is something after all to say about the industry. Apart from the opportunities the industry offered Nigerians, there is the foreign exchange earning for the country.
And this aspect is the reasons why the distribution area of our industry is being looked into by the government and new laws enacted to control film distribution in the country. We are entering a new phase and I believe that we should give the Census board a chance, there is no better alternative and I honestly believe it will work.
I find it embarrassing that in a country of about one hundred and forty million people, we cannot sell one million copies of our movies. It is very embarrassing but with this new method of distribution, I know it will work.
What could have been responsible for this, could it be that the industry was not well represented in the past?
Just as the name depicts, an actor is there to act, a director is there to direct, a producer is there to produce and a distributor is there to distribute. That area has suffered untold negligence and this is the reason government is starting to offer assistance because it benefits government and the private sector.
Was there any particular movie that you starred in that you found very challenging?
I study scripts well, when I read the story I understand my roles very well, I never have problems with any.
Which is your first movie?
It was called Carrying Up the Jungle. It was shot in England.
How did you feel acting first time, with real professionals?
I felt numb, I was miserable because I have done stage plays and with stage plays, I get my reactions from my audience instantaneously. And when I’m getting them, I know when I’m losing them. And I know when I have them under the palm of my hand.
But with the movie you are talking to a cold iron, just the lonely voice of my director saying; ‘thank you Olu, thank you, okay give me a close up of that or give a medium’ that is all you hear and I did not know how to deal with that.
Three days later you meet the director and he says ‘that was good’ just like that and he is gone. That was how I felt the first time.
How much were you paid in your first professional job?
It is supposed to be private and confidential.
Having been around for so long, what is your perception of sexual harassment in Nollywood?
Let me tell you categorically. I have never been sexually harassed.
But you are a man now?
So, men are harassed too.
It is most unlikely because this is a man’s world . . .
Don’t let anybody deceive you. It’s a woman’s world as well.
I think wherever you have men and women, men will fancy women and women will fancy men but some men will like to take undue advantage of the situation and some women unfortunately will like to take undue advantage of some men.
But I don’t think it is something you get too many people to talk about these days. It comes out, you know it happens but you find that most of the people who think they have to harass to get a favor from their actresses don’t usually do well, eventually people find out and things begin to dry up as far as job is concerned with them and some of them are still around and they have gone down.
Like I said, it happens both ways and I think it is much, much less than it was now because most of them have left because jobs were not coming to them anymore.
How do you handle advances from your female fans?
I really believe that somebody has to have courage to look for my number and phone me. And when that happens, I thank them and I try as much as possible to be as nice as I can.
How do you feel when you are on same sets with your wife?
We are working, at least I know that she is an actress I’m happy and comfortable. We work very well.
Do you work as if you are working with any other person?
But when we are on set, we concentrate on our works and change costumes and all that. Work is work, after work then there will be plenty of time to do other things. We don’t take the time of work to do other things; after all, we came from the same house.
Since both of you are in the same career, how do you now joggle the home front and the job?
We are lucky we have children who understand the way we work and we try as much as possible to think of them too as we move around.
My eldest boy is in America and I have a young boy so it is for him we are worried about so that he doesn’t feel our absence too much. But as things happen, when I’m at home she is either going or returning home from set and I will be on my way out. So we are not too far from him.
When you started out with your acting career, were your parents supportive?
My mother was but my father was not in support of it at all. He was a prolific dancer and drummer but he did not do it as a profession. He’d always say it was for pleasure. My mother requested to know why I was bent on doing it and I explained to her that I love telling stories, I love the way it is being told and I want to go and learn how to tell it because I enjoy it.
And how did you now get into the game proper?
I saw Ogunde in Kano when he was on his annual tour (I was born in Kano). On the day he came, I’d gone out on an errand and I saw this vehicle with so many people standing, singing and throwing leaflets to people. It was a beautiful picture the crew painted. When I got home and told my mother I wanted to go watch him, she said ‘you want to watch what? And I said Ogunde.
She tripled my work load and pronto I finished the chore and when I told her, she didn’t believe it. But in the long run, she convinced my father to take me along to the show. The experience was wonderful and there and then I told my mother this is what I want to do. She promised to talk to my father about it, but she didn’t but on her own supported me when I travelled abroad for further studies.
As for my father knowing what I was up to, I already have my passport and my visa. He did not know but my mother of course knew.
Yes my accomplice. On the appointment day, my father went to work and I took the train to Iddo in Lagos, then from Iddo to the Ikeja Airport Hotel where I was lodged.
When I got to England, I wrote him a letter, he was angry, so I wrote him another one. And when somebody was coming to Nigeria, I sent him some pipes and British tobacco, because he was a piper.
In reply, he just a wrote a short note saying ‘how are you? Thank you for the gift’ and that was all. We exchange some few more letters after that. In his last letter he said he wished me luck and that I should always remember whose son I was. Unfortunately, we never saw again because he passed on before I got back.
You were doing well in UK, why did you come back to Nigeria?
That is one question that people find very difficult to understand. I’m a Nigerian and I went to England to train so that I can contribute to the improvement of the theater in Nigeria. I did not go to stay.
Most people who travelled had that in mind. It’s only in the last say twenty years ago that you find people going and settling abroad.
But I went so that I can come and give our people those things that they crave for in the theater. That was the stage I was in. I left Nigeria in September 11th 1964 and in 1980, I made the journey back home.
And in 1984 I was invited to help start Second Chance and Third Eye, a detective series and from there, my agents called me and told me that I was wanted for another shoot that took me out of the country for eleven months. And after that, I came home and never left the shores again until 2001.
When I first came back, I was disappointed with the state of affairs but then it was a challenge. My wife happens to be an actress so we were speaking the same language so even if everybody around us didn’t understand us, we understood each other and this made life a lot easier for us.
How did you meet your wife?
Did you ask her that question?
I want to hear from the horse’s mouth
Am I a horse now? (Laughs) I was invited at the National Theater to help start Wole Soyinka’s Jero’s Metamorphosis and it was the premier so we did that at the National Theater. After that we had a play produced for the twenty-first independence anniversary and I was directing that play.
We had a very heavy cast, we were about one hundred and twenty and we were having a conference and a production meeting when the door opened and this lady walked in. I’d never seen her before and I said ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the lady I’m going to marry’ and she assessed me with her eyes and left.
No sooner, we became friends and from being friends, five years later, we were married. I’m not an impulsive person, I did not know why I said it, I just said it and I didn’t feel uncomfortable about it.
So how have you managed to keep your marriage together?
We thank God because it is God’s blessing that supercedes everything. It is always good when God gives you your friend; when you meet your friend, life is much easier because where others fail, friendship sustains.
She is more than a wife, she is a mother, she is a friend, and she is very caring and generous and very deep a person.
Is she very romantic?
She is very romantic.