Oludotun Jacobs popularly known as Olu Jacobs is one of Nollywood’s most revered actors. Beginning his career in England and starring in several British television series and international films, Olu Jacobs returned to Nigeria joining the emerging theatre culture than to the motion pictures. He is easily regarded as an actor par excellence because of his line delivering, stage management and verbal aura. In 2007, he won the African Movie Academy Award for Best Actor in a leading role among others. He shared how he met his wife, his secrets and aspirations in this chat with Tribune. Excerpts:
You started with the stage play, which is beginning to gather steam again, what would you say was the reason for the decline in the first place?
At a point, we lacked good theatre stories. Now, people are making efforts, because the demand is there.
But the demand has always been there, sir?
Okay. The demand has always been there and the stories weren’t there. Look at the crowd,[He was at Bolanle Austen-Peters’ Terra Kulture for the Fela and the Kalakuta Queens stage play at the time of the interview]. We are entering a new phase. It might take time, but we are getting there.
What is the fascinating aspect of your growing up?
The time we used to carry big boxes around as telephones. You would not be able to make or receive calls in some areas, so also Television then. Television came to Nigeria in 1955 during the Western government headed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It was fantastic that we could see and hear people immediately and then the theatre performances. I was in Abeokuta and by 5 am, we used to race all the way to Ake because there was a public viewing centre there, so you had to rush to get a position. Watching the likes of Julie Coker and Ted Mukoro perform live greatly affected me. They were magical. They dragged me into it until I settled and accepted that this is my life.
Realising your calling in Nigeria, why did you journey to England and how was your career prospects in a foreign land?
I went to England in 1964. Then, every black actor I knew was based in London and there were too many actors chasing too few jobs and outside London, there were no blacks. Then to get a role, you had to be a union member, to be a union member; you had to have a job. You would go to castings and they would say ‘sorry, your name is not on my list’. One of my friends who had gone to England before I was a member. He was going one day and I asked if I could go with him. We got there and I read to the director. He said go and meet the production manager. By the time a bigger agent took over, I was one of the top actors my former agent recommended. Then I told my agent that I wanted to start taking jobs outside London because there were no jobs in London.
And returning to Nigeria to play the lead role in one of Woke Soyinka’s plays, what happened?
[Laughs] I was invited to do a play at the National Theatre. I was to play the lead in Wole Soyinka’s ‘Trials of Brother Jero.’ We were having introduction meeting and the door opened, this lady walked in and she said: “We are ready.” Immediately, I stood up and said, “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. Please meet the lady I want to marry”
Sir, was it was your instinct or a higher power at play when you made that first proposal to your wife?
I can’t tell. I saw her and it came out naturally. I am not an impulsive person. I would normally consider what I was going to say before I said it.
How did she react?
She gave me this up and down look for several times.
And forty years down the line?
It has been wonderful.
Do you see your marriage as an example of an ideal celebrity marriage considering that most people are saddened that actors and actresses, for instance, hardly have long-lasting marriages?
Quite frankly, I don’t encourage people to think like that, but you find that you don’t hear it; there is a lot of divorce and separation going on in other professions like banking, oil and so on. Virtually all professions face the same marriage crises as celebrities. The difference is that you don’t hear much of them.
What is the secret of your marriage?
The grace of God. Learning to be patient and above all, learning to become friends with your lover. This is very important. When you are friends, there are things that you wouldn’t throw at each other.
We learnt that you are a great cook?
I try. When I cook they eat.
How did you pick up the skills?
When we were growing up, the girls were doing all the work, usually, while the boys were out there playing. So, our parents decided to give us a task: Let the boys cook for the boys and the girls for the girls. That was how we all learnt to do it. In no time, we were doing it even better.
What are the things people still don’t know about it?
I am a nice guy.
But that goes without saying?
Are you ready for another one then (pauses)? I am nice. That is the second one [laughter].
As an actor, what period would you describe as your happiest?
Looking around and seeing that many, many people are coming to enjoy themselves in an area that we never thought possible brings me joy. In the past, actors were looked down upon. Now, they are doing well, the cinema people are trying: this is the joy. When you see people happy to come to watch a stage play, some come to actually apologise for criticising the industry; people you don’t know, but know you. I would rather that one person praises my work and 99 other people on the other side than to have 99 people praising your work and one person coming to say, “Sir, I don’t understand”. It ruins everything. It ruins everything.
You were in the movie, Oloibiri. In your opinion, what stood the movie out of recent cinema projects?
Good work. The lighting and the sound capture the mood. What more do you want? The story is scintillating. For those who have watched the movie, you will agree that your thinking would never be the same again. The movie is reawakening; it ensures that we do not allow the same thing to happen again.
Are any of your kids taking after you?
Well, it might not be in the front of the camera, but behind the camera.
What would you say is the secret of your success in the movie industry?
The repetition of an act makes a performance almost automatic: the more you do something, the better you get at it. Repetition and maturity go hand in hand. You must have faith, belief in yourself. If you honestly need to ask questions, ask questions. Don’t shy away from seeking knowledge because if you fear you might seem stupid. That is the only way you can learn.