Jibola Dabo has seen it all in the movie industry. The veteran actor and businessman who has worked with the founding fathers of the movie industry in this revealing exclusive interview with ANTHONY ADA ABRAHAM speaks on his life, family, business and acting with younger actors.
As one of the most prominent personalities, how has the industry been for you?
Well, it has been interesting, challenging, and enjoyable. Itâ€™s my livelihood; itâ€™s what I love doing as a major part of what I do to earn my living. Itâ€™s been great and quite challenging.
What has been your basic inspiration?
Iâ€™m always almost inspired when I have someone that appreciates my job because Iâ€™m one of those that started it when we were not getting paid for this. We did all this out of passion when I started. I canâ€™t even tell you particularly when I started. I just know that I grew up and was into acting. I have always been an actor even before I entered elementary school. Maybe you would have seen any of my past interviews. I was doing that because when my older ones would come from school and ask me to play this or that Biblical stories, I did it to their admiration. All the way from primary school to college, the only few times I took a break was when I took the break to do sports, dance and music. So itâ€™s been part of my life.
How do you feel acting with younger actors? Is it different from what you are used to, especially in trying to help them?
Yesâ€¦I think the latter is almost always the situation. You know, trying to make them understand how to create depth in character. I wonâ€™t blame them though because it is hardly ever about passion these days. Most of these young actors or actresses come because they want to become celebrities, unlike when we were doing ours with passion. You could only see few of them who do this out of passion. Mostly the ones that come around now and want to be stars. So that affects their acting. I have come across some very good ones amongst them, quite inspiring, some of them I enjoy working with. And there are some that are quite cumbersome, because of their lack of depth of what acting should be all about. And we try to make them understand that acting is not just trying to memorise your lines or rendering lines. Itâ€™s enjoyable to me when I find those who are willing to listen and I teach them to know how to create depth, to make their character dimensional. So itâ€™s been fun.
Do you always choose the scripts you act?
Not all the time because if you do that, you might have to concentrate on other jobs to make money. I do reject scripts, but instead of me to do that all of the time, sometimes I just get on set and simply rewrite the script. I donâ€™t condemn them right away, because it kills the moral of upcoming producers and directors. I always have to work along with others on the script, storyline, and when there is cause to work on the anti-climax we let them know. And we also work with directors too to make sure that what we put out there is not terrible. Sometimes I still sit back and watch what has been put back there and I feel sad. Though I wish I could or I wish the time would come that an actor like me would pick what he wants to do. When you do that in Nigeria, unless you are lying to yourself, you will go hungry. (Laughter).
How does it feel acting with younger actresses on screen especially when people say that you are elderly and portraying another character on screen, how do you feel when you hear such (cuts in)
I just smileâ€¦because some would say he likes acting with young girls. I donâ€™t choose the scripts or these roles. The way it works, for the benefit of those who donâ€™t know, when a producer or a writer is writing, they almost always have the lead characters in mind, that is who they want to play it. For example, most of the movies I shoot, they table-cast me and they wonder who can actually deliver these roles. And I am privileged to be blessed with a kind of lifestyle that I can act as older person and still liaise with the younger ones. Young people, both in the industry and outside are lovely. I know how to listen to the young ones. I can interact with the younger ones better than most of my colleagues in the industry. And I have my children. Ffor example, the relationship I have with my daughter, most of my friends would frown at it because I am so open with the younger ones that my daughter would tell me if she slept with her boyfriend, just because of the relationship. I would advise on this through my life experience and the world at large because I love reading so much. My interaction with the young ones is always an experience trip for me. Because sometimes I can see the difference in the belief we had then and their focus today. So itâ€™s been quite educating and disheartening because when I see how disoriented some of them are, especially about life, and sometimes see how disconnected they are with the society, it saddens me because an actor is supposed to be connected with the society, because thatâ€™s when you can portray and teach the society what you need to give to them or educate them on, after all, art influences life, while sometimes life influences art. Most of these young ones donâ€™t know, even some of the older ones that come, we talk about upcoming. There are lots of guys who are not young, but who came in late after retirement, or after doing lots of jobs, or create time because they have been saying they want to do this from primary school, and they just decided to come into it in the late hours, I donâ€™t know where to place these ones; as upcoming or older upcoming? (Laughing), you tell me. But you canâ€™t compare them with those of us who have been there. But all in all; itâ€™s been a wonderful experience.
How would you compare the movie industry today with when you started?
You know, people talk about this all the time, that it was good, it was thatâ€¦wellâ€¦you cannot have civilisation without the ills of civilisation. The whole world is emulating America. Nollywood whether we like it or not, we are emulating Hollywood. So we cannot bring in all these cultures and not affect our own. It might sadden the elders that the young persons are losing it, â€˜that see the way they are dressing, see what they are doing.â€™ But you exposed them to the same Western culture and you expect that it wonâ€™t affect your culture? You cannot eat your cake and have it. What you are seeing in our industry today is mirror in the sun. Itâ€™s a reflection of the society. What you see most of the time is the script our society has written, that is what most viewers would see. You either condemn it, or you go with it. A good example is how the Hip hop culture has affected our language, dressing and lifestyle. Today, I have heard people singing rap in Chinese (laughing)â€¦that tells you how far.
What has been your high point, that is: the positives in the movie industry?
Itâ€™s been all positives, believe me, because I love what Iâ€™m doing, I have been highly appreciated; I have gone high, enough to be the vice president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria. I have gone high enough to be seen as one of the best actors in Africa. So what do I want? I have gone high enough to even say I want to be part of the legislature in this country. The high point really is each time Iâ€™m appreciated because I receive it all the time. Now you canâ€™t have a high point without a low point, Iâ€™m going to tell you even before you ask me (laughing). Low is when people donâ€™t see us as workers. They see us as people who just play and earn money. Not the general populace, but few people out of the populace. They see us like people who just make money without working for it. And they think we just throw money around. They misunderstand the fact that we are working hard. Sometimes I work two to three months without seeing my bedroom, hustling from one location to another, travelling hours and hours on the roads, being on flights sometimes and then you are not sure the plane is going to land. But when they see you, they think this guy was born with a silver spoon and he must throw around his money. Itâ€™s unfortunate. And when I see the young ones on location without any prior preparation, no prior education to take them to where they want to go to, and they just think coming on location could make them become stars, especially the young ones, it makes my heart bleed. Thinking if you sleep with the PM or director, you could get a role. And now some people in the industry, producers, are now getting paid to give roles instead of the other way round. So, something needs to be done about that, we are going down. We are having infiltration of want-to- be actors who donâ€™t even know what they are doing. Who just want to show face on that box. So, whatever it takes, either paying cash or kind, they are willing to. And then more than 75 per cent of the trained actors are not in the industry, especially the female ones because there is no way you would go through the rigours of Theatre Arts and then allow somebody who shouldnâ€™t have the guts to talk to you in the first place but because he has some money in his pocket try to push you around, sleep with you, in spite of the three to four years of hard training. And please donâ€™t get me wrong, you cannot blame these marketers and producers alone because some of these untrained women actually bring it on and say whatever you want, I will give. Those are the low points that hurt sometimes. When you see the industry I love so much, some just come and rubbish it. Hopefully we will get more support from the government to the guilds. Not just voting N200 million or N30 billion, which only goes to certain groups of people, it doesnâ€™t go to the industry as a whole. What the government need to do is support the guild to stand firm as a union. This is what we need, not just give any guild billions, it doesnâ€™t get to the right place. I hope people of authority would listen or read it on the pages of newspapers.
We would like to know about your family and their reactions when they see you on screen
You have to know something; I have always been an actor so they were born seeing daddy doing this because most of my kids were born outside this country. For example my exâ€¦an American, does a bit of acting even though sheâ€™s not an actor, sheâ€™s one of those who teaches the teachers how to get through to students. So when someone has something like that beyond PhD level, you know what kind of family I have created. However, my kids whom I donâ€™t like counting because I have so many children, only one of them has actually taken after me. I donâ€™t force anybody, I have got an engineer, doctor, physicist, I have them all except for one who is studying movie making. She was already becoming a rising star even before I knew it, so I said noâ€¦tomorrow someone would say you are there because of your father, she went to Ife, finished her first degree there and then sheâ€™s doing movie making. I donâ€™t force them, they chose whatever they want to and I love it.
Message to upcoming actorsâ€¦
First, I never had a language until lately, because there was nothing like upcoming. I was never an upcoming because I could remember the first time I appeared on stage with the likes of late Sam of blessed memory, (Sam Loco), I think that was in 1980, I played co-lead with him. The first time I experienced a super mega star was with Larry Williams, we played brothers. I guess because so many people are rushing into it today thatâ€™s why we have what they call upcoming. Now, to this so-called upcoming, I would say, what is worth doing at all, is worth doing well. You do not need to be with them in the university to study, even if itâ€™s some of these locally organised workshops, try to avail yourself of them so that you can understand the rudiments of what you want to go into. You cannot, because you have a lawyer friend and after you have been friends for five to 10 years, you now say I have a lawyer friend, let me go and try this case tomorrow, and you say olâ€™ boy, sit down let me try this case (laughing) â€¦I have been your friend, and I have been watching, let me try this case today. Itâ€™s impossible. A lot of them just come in because they think they can do it. The earlier the producers stand firm against marketers and then the directors too, with trained ones or the ones that are trainable, the better for us. I will tell the upcoming ones, please acquire some kind of skill. If you want to be in a profession, you must have been trained about it.
What has kept you healthy and young because aside the white beard, you look youngâ€¦ (Cuts in)
First of all, the older guy you are seeing on screen is called acting. But to sincerely answer the question, I give glory to God for giving me the knowledge to understand what it takes to keep fit. I think Iâ€™m slowing down a bit on that one now. I take what I put in my system very seriously, especially in the industry where you might even have breakfast by 1pm today and tomorrow you have it by 3pm. And then dinner doesnâ€™t come until after midnight sometimes. So, you have to know when to say no. And then get up in the morning and stretch your body. I take fitness very seriously.
Has any of your fans ever done something unusual to you?
Yesâ€¦severally, we were just discussing with my lady recently, we drove past Oando in Gbagada, Lagos, and in the filling station, a woman slapped me because she watched one of this super story jobs, I think â€˜more than a friendâ€™. she said how could you leave your family and go to stay with your girlfriend? I was even smilingâ€¦I said glad you enjoyed it madam. Iâ€™m glad that I have done my job well. And then I have seen when these so-called area boys would want to extort money from you. Thatâ€™s the script society have written, but then mostly, the public has made life wonderful for us. Appreciating me, people come to me and say, you brought joy to our lives, some would say, I was this close to divorce and I watched one of your movies and it helped. And once again the merits outweigh the demerits.
You featured in a new flick Dark Closet starring Eucharia Anunobi. How do you feel acting alongside her?
Eucharia has always been a wonderful experience. Sheâ€™s an actor. Sheâ€™s a good actress. Sheâ€™s one of the few who understand English language. Not the dialectic translation. When you work with her, you feel good. You do not act on stage in isolation, unless you go for monologue. You need someone to give to you what you are able to give to someone. I enjoy working with her, we call her UK Gold, and sheâ€™s my very good friend. It was quite a nice story too especially at this time when we are going through a trying time of election. Because the character I portrayed in Dark Closet was a politician who would stop at nothing to achieve his aims not minding if it would kill his own son. Iâ€™m glad that before the story ended, we saw the consequences.
There were some Kannywood actors like Sani Danja, Mohammadâ€¦
Yes like I said itâ€™s an experience how these young ones blossom. Sometimes I watch them and I smile. I have seen terrible things, but when I see the likes of these young ones come up, it makes me happy. Though they are exposed to much opportunities than we were, I have learnt from them too. Sometimes I watched them so that I could invoke the youthfulness in my character too. Some of them remind me of my youth, while others give me a whole new dimension.
So what should your fans be watching out for because I know you have lots of project on ground?
Yes I doâ€¦Iâ€™m likely to slow down a bit in acting. I have other businesses I do, for example, Iâ€™m into oilâ€¦but I think I want to devote more times to other businesses like the oil sectors. And I want to devote my time in pre-productions. Iâ€™m talking to some company in the states and some Nigerians personalities who also want us to do something together. I may do less of acting, but whatever I do, I will put back to the industry