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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Interview: The Motivation Behind My Role in ‘Anikulapo: Rise of the Spectre’

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Heard of Hubert Ogunde, a Nigerian actor, playwright and theatre extraordinaire?

Well, Hubert, who is fondly referred to as the father of Nigerian Theatre, was married to many wives and had many children.

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The Ogunde patriarch established the Ogunde Theater, which was largely a family-run business.

All the wives and children reportedly took part in the productions at one time or the other.

While some of the children were actors and actresses, others were drummers, singers and ticket sellers.

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Also, the wives shared the stage with their husband at different points in the history of the theatre.

Hubert Ogunde and Owobo Ogunde

So, after what appeared to be some ‘quiet’ from this family of entertainers, the internet was agog when Owobo, one of the sons of the late legend captured the heart of viewers with his compelling portrayal of ‘Bashorun’ in the Netflix series “Anikulapo: Rise of the Spectre”, released on 1 March.

His performance in the series has been widely acclaimed, with many praising it as the production’s standout performance. His portrayal of Bashorun left viewers intrigued by the character’s complex motives and actions.

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The role marked Owobo’s Nollywood debut since the passing of his legendary father in 1990. The younger Ogunde’s acting prowess has sparked comparisons to his late father, with audiences noting the talent that runs in the family.

In an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he discussed the process that brought him back to acting, his career and the entertainment industry.

Excerpts:

PT: Your role in ‘Anikulapo: Rise of the Spectre’ got everyone talking! How does playing that character connect with who you are, and does it reflect any aspects of your personality?

Owobo: You cannot get someone off the street who has never acted before and expect such a person to deliver such a performance. If you listened to Bashorun’s speech more closely and how the character spoke in the film, that answers the question – that we’re certainly not similar.

First of all, Bashorun is a rich man who is successful and hard-working, a warlord, strategic, and a leader. Those are the positive aspects of his character. Most people who have ever achieved anything successful in their lives will have those traits.

If you’re successful, you will certainly possess the ability to think, lead, and have a strategic vision. Bashorun has all of those things.

Most people don’t like that Bashorun will stop at nothing to get whatever he wants. That’s where most people, including myself, differ from Bashorun.

PT: What were some difficulties in interpreting your role as Bashorun?

Owobo: I’m not from Oyo in Oyo State, so I speak differently from them. I could not even read the script myself when I looked at it. It was tough. So I got someone who speaks fluently to read everything, and we could listen to everything. I had to listen to that as part of my preparation. I only needed a little preparation.

First, I looked back at the videos in my father’s internal library and how he acts and approaches character definition. You probably would not know that my mother is a phenomenal actress, so I also looked at how she approaches her characters as a background.

Then I went onto the internet to search for various videos and movies about Bashorun, went to shops, bought available videos containing Bashorun characters, and watched all of them. I then noticed a lot of information about Bashorun on the internet.

Nearly all of the previous interpretations of the character were done precisely the same way. They all spoke in a very high tone because that was how previous people spoke. I wanted to take a different approach to this interpretation to how it had been done before.

Some time ago, someone asked me why Bashorun spoke so slowly. And then I answered, have you ever met a powerful man who talks fast? How many Nigerian Presidents speak fast? That’s your answer.

PT: Kunle Afolayan had to persuade you before you were sold on the script and your character. What initially caught your attention, and what made your role stand out to you in the script?

Owobo: When I met Kunle, I knew he was a quality human being, which significantly matters to me. He’s a quality person; he is someone that you could rely on. I knew that straight away, so that meant that he had my ears.

The second thing is that I met him at four o’clock on 16 March 2023 for the first time. Before that time, I heard of his name once or twice, but that’s about it. But I knew his father very well.

I worked with his father; we were featured in my father’s last film, ‘Ayanmo,’ in 1986. I knew his father well because he visited our house.

So, I went to see him based on my father’s history. When I saw him, he brought back many memories of his father because he looked like his father.

Moreover, it was also because of the history and friendship between our fathers. There are some critical historical reasons why the project happened. It couldn’t have happened to anybody else.

That was why I starred in the movie; he even said my father told me I should take this.

PT: You left the industry after your dad passed on. Were you not involved in entertainment, acting, or the arts while you were away?

Owobo: My father passed away in 1990, and we staged a play in his honour at the National Theatre. I was also a founding member of the Nigerian National Troupe. So, after his passing, I worked for about two years in Nigeria with the National Troupe and played the white man in “Things Fall Apart”, directed by Bayo Oduneye, the artistic director at the time.

I left Nigeria on 26 March 1992. So, before I left, if you think about almost everyone you know today in Nollywood, they didn’t exist then. Only one person had already started doing television when I was leaving then: RMD.

I’m not referring to the veterans; they were already there at that time because I worked with all of them: Oga Bello and Jide Kosoko. You know, those are the people who were there. We acted together, and the video of that exists. I will release it as time goes on.

So yes, I left in 1992 and did some work in the UK when I left. I just decided to move away from art, and when I made that decision, I closed the entire chapter. I don’t even watch Nollywood at all.

When I met Kunle Afolayan in March, I had not watched the first instalment of Anikulapo. That’s bad; I had not watched any of his films. He sent me a list of his movies and said, “Go and watch this and that.”

PT: Did your father’s passing affect you profoundly, making it difficult for you to function in that environment?

Owobo: That’s correct; it’s not just that I could not; I did not even want to because he was a significant, larger-than-life character and a massive influence. But on top of that, all I knew then was how to perform as an artist.

I wanted to do something else, and you have to remember that many things happened in the acting space when he died. When he passed, quite several people also passed.

PT: It seems almost inevitable that you would pursue acting, being born into the esteemed Ogunde family. But did you ever consider exploring other career paths, or was acting always your calling?

Owobo: I grew up as an artist during my formative years at home. So, growing up, all I knew was how to act, dance, sing, and perform in various artistic forms.

It was only much later, upon travelling to the UK, that I returned to University to study Information Technology.

PT: Interesting. Did you practice after your studies?

Owobo: Yes, I worked as a programmer, and now I lead massive implementation programmes for investment companies.

PT: Now that Kunle has brought you back, will we continue seeing you on screen, or are you tempted to retreat again?

Owobo: There was already a calling, even before I made it. Nothing happens by mistake, as you know.

That yearning to go back was already there, and it was a significant trigger for our meeting because it was an exciting way, you know, to meet.

PT: Will acting remain a part of your future, or has this experience reignited your passion for it?

Owobo: My plan for the future is to get back to acting in various forms. I still want to continue what I am doing in the UK. Some of the most successful actors that I know have other jobs.

So, I have something that I’m doing in addition to acting, and I want to be selective in what projects I get involved in, but you will see more of me going forward.

PT: You hold strong traditional values and are deeply connected to your cultural roots. Would we witness you taking on more traditional roles like in Anikulapo, or are you open to exploring non-traditional characters in your future acting endeavours??

Owobo: My father would be angry where he is if I said that I’m only going to do traditional films. I’m a character-led type of actor. I don’t want to be a movie star; I have no interest in being a movie star.

I am an actor born into acting, and being an actor means that you understand character development and you know how to depict a character in a story, so I’m interested in character-led drama movies and just, you know, airy fairy-type storytelling.

PT: What is that role you never see yourself play, no matter how great the story appears?

Owobo: What I cannot see myself playing is a wishy-washy type character. If the story is not well put together, the whole thing is just a mumbo-jumbo of crap, then you will certainly not be seeing me there. I promise you that.

PT: Do you and your siblings plan to revisit your father’s stage productions or films?

Owobo: I will be revisiting his films because stage productions are costly to deliver, and as you know, if you look at the country’s state right now, it will be challenging to get people to come out and watch the stage performance.

So when you look at the cost of putting the stage performance together and bringing the cast and crew, etc., that’s expensive.

So you need films for fun. It’s not the other way around, but we will do the stage because my family is known for the stage, so we will do the stage thing. It is enormous, but we’ll take this step by step. We’ll do our best, but we can’t be him.

PT: Children of renowned parents often face pressure to live up to their legacy, primarily if they pursue the same career path. Do you personally feel the weight of your father’s name?

Owobo: I don’t feel any pressure. People might put pressure, but I don’t feel any, and I’ll tell you the reason. I am not trying to be my father or better him. I’m trying to do my best based on where I am, and I’ll leave people to judge.

He is a legend, and becoming like him is not my job; by that, I mean I don’t want to create another brand; there’s only one. And I’m happy that I’m a part of the family.

There’s no competition; there’s only one Shakespeare, and that’s it. You just uphold the family name.

That’s what they do; they preserve history. They don’t try to outdo. So, I don’t feel any pressure because I’m not trying to surpass my father. I am trying to fulfil his legacy, and you will agree with me regarding the stage.

PT: You started as a child star, acting alongside your father; however, recently, we have only had a few child stars. Why do you think this is so, and what could be done to get more child stars to grow into adult actors?

Owobo: But if you are talking about child stars, we have a few of them doing skits. Yes, you don’t, and there are various reasons, such as how many people are available. However, I’m asking why those people are off-stage.

There are few stage productions. There are a lot fewer than when my father was there, when my father was alive. You know we have a lot of stage plays, but now you rarely have stage plays. So, many actors have few stage productions, so child actors need more space.

Those young or child actors are finding their trade on social media, doing skits to show their talent. Hopefully, one director will see it. Then we’ll call them, and from there, they build up their careers, and many people are making it onto the screen, such as Layi Wasabi and others.

PT: After spending several years in the UK, how was it working with some of the series’ cast members?

Owobo: Except for the veterans, I have never met some of the actors and actresses; I know nothing about them. People like Aisha Lawal and some others, we never met. If you remove people like Oga Bello, even someone like Ogogo, we have yet to meet; I only met him on location. The second time I met Kunle was when I arrived at the set, but we talked regularly after meeting in London.

You know, some of these things sound extraordinary, but the reason they sound extraordinary is that I don’t think you can imagine what’s going into something. But I grew up in a home where theatre is our life; that’s what my mother and stepmother do. We have rehearsals at our house every day.

Our rehearsals start at 7:00 a.m. and end at 10:00 p.m., and we begin again the following day. I grew up doing that, even though I had about a 30-year break.

PT: What are your thoughts on the industry?

Owobo: The only thing that changed in the industry is technology. Netflix is a technology. So, it’s a lot cheaper now to make movies.

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