Acting started as joke for me — Wale Ojo

An actor, Wale Ojo, tells BLESSING ENENAITE about his career and other issues

How would you describe your journey in the movie industry so far?

I became a professional actor in the United Kingdom in 1986. However, I actually started as a child actor when I was eight years old. So, one can say my career started 50 years ago.

The journey has been a fantastic one. I love acting. It is my passion and my hobby, and it is what pays my bills. I find it incredible that God has blessed me with acting, because it started as a joke when I was a child. However, something kept pushing me that I should keep pushing and make a career out of it.

I have acted in many countries, including South Africa, Brazil, Ireland, Malta, United States of America and Nigeria. Currently, I want to do more work in Cuba and Nigeria. I am also moving into writing and directing my own projects. In many ways, my career has been a blessing, and I can only thank God for that.

How would you compare the industry in Nigeria and other countries where you have worked?

The industry in Nigeria is growing very fast. I have worked in different parts of the world, but I prefer working in Nigeria. We are just a different set of people, right from the way we work and relate with one another. The vibes and camaraderie of Nigeria is just unique. Yes, we have a long way to go in terms of high production values but I prefer to come back to Nigeria after I have worked in Hollywood and other industries across the globe. I always learn something whenever I work in Nigeria. I cannot even remember how many movies I have shot in Nigeria.

What are the qualities actors need to have in order to excel?

I think they need to be properly trained, and put their heads to it. If they cannot go for physical training, they should go for online training as movie directors. There are many elements in filmmaking. One director cannot do it alone, because they need a strong team. It is a huge task to produce a film.

What are the unique qualities you possess that make you different from other actors?

One thing I know for sure is that if I am given a role, I deliver it to the best of my ability. I get a lot of feedback from my fans. One thing I love about Nigeria and the people is that they do not hold back from celebrating their celebrities. Wherever I go, be it in Nigeria or abroad, Nigerians usually surround me on the road or at a store, telling me how much they love my work. It is a joyful thing for me whenever that happens. My fans always commend my acting (skill), and they say I am different. They know how to appreciate people.

What are the downsides you have experienced as an actor?

I have never experienced any downsides as an actor. The only downside is when there is no work (laughs). When some months go by without any work, I create my own work. I do a stage play or shoot my own movie, work with other actors or go into a film studio.

You are also involved in the music industry. What musical works do you have?

I am a musician, as well as an actor. It is just that the music career has not really flowered like my acting side. I have an afrobeats band called ‘Wale Ojo and the Milagrous’, and we have played in several concerts in London, Brazil and America. I have worked with several musicians and I love music, especially afrobeats. My music is influenced by the afrobeat icon, Fela Kuti, but I also try to incorporate the new style – Gen Z which is done by the likes of Fireboy, Rema and Asake.

Did you have any experience with the late Fela Kuti?

No. I saw him perform in London, but I never met him one-on-one. I wish I had, but I know his children.

Have you ever thought of collaborating with any of his children?

Of course. Seun (Fela’s son) is a good actor and musician. I see future collaboration with him. I can also do some collaboration with Femi and Made. I am close to Seun and Yeni. I know Femi too but I don’t know his son (Made) that well.

In the past, you have said that Prof Wole Soyinka was among those who have influenced your career. In what ways did he impact your career?

I met Prof Soyinka when the British Broadcasting Corporation) hired me to do a poem of his titled, ‘The Telephone Conversation’, in the early 1990s. That was where our relationship began. From that radio show, I went on to do several other plays of him through the years up until this present moment.

In terms of artistic inspiration, he has been an inspiration to me as an actor and activist for about 30 years. I believe in him and his philosophy.

You have also said that your mother played a major role in your career. Did she make the decision for you to become an actor?

My mother helped with the decision, but she did not know I would take it seriously. I remember about 50 years ago, she told my uncle that he should be coming to pick me up to the TV station– Western Nigeria Television, which is now NTA, Ibadan, Oyo State.

My mother’s picture is on the cover of ‘Wedlock of the Gods’, a book (play) written by her best friend, Zulu Sofola, who was a great female writer. The play was first performed in 1973. I am trying to shoot a documentary to mark the 50th anniversary of that play this year. We are hoping to do it at Mokola, Ibadan.

You have mentioned Ibadan several times. What is your connection to the ancient town?

I am from Ibadan (laughs). Some people think I live in Lagos, London, or Germany but I live in Ibadan. I grew up there, and that is why I am attached to the place.

You featured in the movie, ‘Love, Lust and Other Things’. Tell us about your character in the movie and the lessons to learn?

I played the character of a husband who was not really performing well for his wife, so he had to do a psychological check-up to be fit for his wife. By the time he came back, the wife had left him for other men. The movie is about my ‘character’ trying to get his woman back. I have played such roles before. So, it wasn’t much of a creative stretch.

Keeping a marriage has to be a balance of love and money. Money cannot be enough and it should not be the reason for people to be together. One has seen a couple in a situation where the husband does not have much money but they are still in love. That was the lesson of ‘Love, Lust and Other Things’. We (the cast and crew) discovered that when we shot the film, most of the audience just wanted the money, not love.

It kind of makes me wonder the kind of values we have now. At the end of the day, it is true love that saves, builds and nurtures a relationship and marriage.

In recent times, it has been said that couples do not go the extra mile to make their marriages work, compared to marriages of the past. What do you think is responsible for that?

I think it is because of lack of trust and satisfaction in most marriages. I don’t know if it has to do with the economic situation of the country, or just the fact that most men are getting married and still have concubines outside. It is not just about Nigeria; the divorce rate is high all over the world.

How would you describe your childhood?

I lived an ‘aje butter’ (pampered) life, and I schooled in London. During holidays, I would fly home (to Nigeria). You could say I was spoilt (laughs) but when I wanted to break out as an actor, I decided that I must do it on my own to prove that I could survive on my own. I think I have done that.

What are your most memorable moments as an actor?

There are so many and they are all over the world. One of them was featuring alongside Malon Brando and Al Pacino in ‘The Godfather’. The other I wished happened but it didn’t was working with Hubert Ogunde in the movie ‘Mr Johnson’. I was one of the three actors who were considered to play the role but they went for another actor. Nevertheless, I was still very happy to have gone that close. That would have been a dream come true, because I grew up watching Hubert Ogunde on TV in Ibadan.

Also, I remember featuring in a movie titled ‘Streets of Calabar’. At the start of the movie, we used the Calabar Carnival in Cross River State as part of the film. I went on stage and performed in front of a huge audience. It was lovely. Another memorable moment was performing ‘Wedlock of the Gods’ in London. In addition, I love the character I played in ‘Blood Sisters’. I also did ‘Phone Swap’ with Kunle Afolayan. One of my big projects till date was ‘Foundation’ for Apple TV, which was shot in several countries, including Northern Ireland and Malta. It was the pay check from ‘Foundation’ that served me for seven months during the COVID-19 pandemic in Dominican Republic.

Are you influencing any of your children to follow your career path?

My children have to follow their own paths. One can suggest, but at the end of the day, one can only guide them. My advice to parents is that they should not force their children to do whatever they do not want to do. They should be allowed to follow their paths.

How do you unwind?

I relax by spending a lot of time in water. I like to go deep sea diving. I swim in different parts of the world, including in the Atlantic Ocean, not the one in Tarkwa Bay or Eko Atlantic, so that the water will not carry me away (laughs). I swim in the ocean that does not have ‘mami water’ (laughs).

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