Dele Odule, a veteran actor with several appearances in movies, stage plays, and television soaps is one of the most sought-after talents in the Nigerian entertainment industry.
Also a crossover actor, he has featured in over 300 movies over his career span of 43 years.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the former president of Theatre Arts & Movie Practitioners Association of Nigeria speaks about his career and industry.
PT: How did you start acting?
Dele: Well, the environment where I grew up actually influenced my acting. I started acting when I was much younger. I started in 1977 when I was in the modern school. Like I said the environment I grew up in influenced me. I was a good drummer and I danced well. So when I was in the Modern school I discovered that those who were coming then, the traveling theatre troops were doing what I loved. That was how I got myself involved.
PT: Did you belong to a theatre group?
Dele: Definitely, I started with one late Dele Ogunsanya. He actually came to our school for performance and after the show, I approached him. I told him my interest and he obliged and that I should come along with him and that is how I started. The man is late now but after Dele Ogunsanya, I tried some other hands. I worked briefly with Adebisi Oloko of Oloko theatre group, Tunbosun Odunsi theatre group. Tunbosun Odunsi is the leader of Bosun drama group.
PT: Can you remember some of your contemporaries who began acting the same time as you?
Dele: Some of them are late while some of them are no more in the system. When I started, as I said, I started in 1977, those people I could see as colleagues in my career are the likes of Olaiya. When I had started already, Gbenga Adenuga and some other people but most of the people we started together are no more in the system.
Along the line, Ogogo, Yinka Quadri, and I got close and we are still very good friends till now but the fact remains that we met along the line. I had started drama and in the course of the career, I met them in Lagos and we became friends and we are still friends, we are still very much cordial.
PT: What did you study at university?
Dele: I studied Mass communication from the University. I’m a degree holder from Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU).
PT: How can you describe the relationship between the Yoruba movie industry and the English movie industry?
Dele: When people ask about relationship, I actually don’t know what they are trying to insinuate. They are actors, we are actors, and we are all colleagues. We may not have friends among each other but the fact remains that we are all colleagues. We have this strong tie with each other that if a producer needs someone from the Yoruba industry, he can always get across. I think there is a very cordial relationship between the two.
PT: You mostly act in Yoruba movies, have you ever acted in English movies?
Dele: The majority of the productions that I have featured in are English, particularly all these old series, they are English. I am an actor. That is all I can tell you, I’m an actor and if any for an English production, I will definitely oblige and do it.
PT: Your colleagues say the government isn’t doing enough for your industry.
Dele: I want people to get me convinced that in other countries, the government is helping. I want you to tell me what governments are doing in other countries because when people talk about government is not helping, in what area? What are they trying to do? This is not peculiar to the industry alone, it is generic, nothing works in Nigeria, and it is not peculiar to the industry alone.
Is the government actually helping the bricklayers in the country? I am not a sentimentalist, I am a very practical person. What I can say is, the government is not creating an enabling environment for this job to thrive and that is the only thing I can say. There are some things that are the works of the government. Like when a producer will produce a film and pirates will not let it thrive, that is where the government should come in. They should treat pirates as criminals, those are the things that I am expecting. There should be cinemas, the government should make sure that those things are in place.
If someone is saying the government is not helping the entertainers, tell me which government is helping entertainers in the foreign countries, how do they help them? I want to know that and the things the government of Nigeria is not doing.
PT: As a former president of Theatre Arts & Movie Practitioners Association of Nigeria what efforts have you made to call the attention of the government to this?
Dele: There is nothing an association can do on criminality. There is absolutely nothing an association can do about anything that has to do with the crime. Piracy is a criminal act, it is purely the government thing, and the government should attach a penalty.
There is nothing the association can do than to tell the government that this thing is not working well for us. What can Nigeria union of Journalists do if something that has to do with a crime is hitting them?
How many times do you think we have met with the government on that? We have been doing that since time immemorial. The government will not feign ignorance on that. Will they have to tell the government that an armed robbery is a criminal act? Do you need to write to the government about the armed robbery? The same thing applies to piracy.
PT: A lot of actors complain that acting does not pay their bills. Is this true?
Dele: There is nothing anyone can do about it. If the money that is coming in is not that much, it is either you continue acting or you leave it, and not do it again. There is nothing anyone can do about that. If I’m the producer and I have chosen you to partake in production and I tell you that this is how much I have to offer, it is for you to decide. It is either you take it as an actor or refuse to take it. If you cannot take it, I will look for somebody else so there is nothing anybody can do about that.
It depends on your own bargaining power. If I see that I’m comfortable with that price, I will go for it and if I think it’s not my worth, I will drop the job absolutely. So, there is nothing anyone can do about that, the producers will engage you, if you are comfortable with the price, you go ahead, if you are not, you will drop it. That is just it.
PT: Some of your colleagues are living jet-set lifestyles which critics say isn’t commensurate with their earnings from films.
Dele: I am not in a position to condemn anybody’s lifestyle. That is just the bitter truth. All I care about is my profession. As a leader in the industry, all I have to do is make sure they get the nitty-gritty of the job, this is how it is done, and this is what you should not do.
But when it comes to lifestyle, all these people you are mentioning, they ought to have parents, if their parents could not talk to them, then who am I to start complaining about their glamorous lifestyle?
Yes, I agree with you that they are supposed to be role models but if they cannot see themselves as role models, who am I to condemn their glamorous lifestyle? What if I choose to condemn it and they think I am doing it because I envy their lifestyle? As a leader, all I can do, which I think is expected of a leader is just to let them know the rudiments of the job. How it is done, the way it should be done, and so on and so forth. The other side of it is purely your business, it is purely the business of that actor that is involved.
PT: Movie industry now and when you started, what can you say is the difference?
Dele: When I started acting, there were not many movies those days, it is now that we are seeing different production. I want to believe that we have done so much to make sure that we have enough in the areas of movie production and I say there is a need for improvement. We can still do better but we are not doing bad, compared to the past. I think we are having better productions now, more people are beginning to come in and that is an added value.
PT: How do you manage family life with your job?
Dele: I don’t actually have any problem with my occupation and my family because my profession is something I am passionate about. I have a passion for the job and I respect my family so much. I actually don’t have much problem to cope with the two, from the home front and from the angle of handling my profession.
PT: If you were not an actor, what do you think you would rather be doing?
Dele: As I said initially, I started acting very early in life so I never thought of something else. I don’t know if there is something else in my life but I think I have a passion for law. If I had not been an actor, I think I have a passion for law. I have never thought of any other job in my life, I discovered I could be an actor, I started as an actor, I wanted to be an actor and ended up becoming an actor.
PT: Is any of your children taking after you?
Dele: Well, my father never forced me to do anything, I can never force my children to do anything. My father never said I should do anything, I decided on my own. The only thing is if I have a son or daughter today who is interested in entertainment, I won’t discourage such a person. My wish is for my children is to be successful regardless of their areas of discipline.
PT: Talking about starlets in the industry, what do you think they should be doing differently?
Dele: What I think they should not be doing, you have said it earlier. As an elder, I don’t want them to live a fake life which is rampant. It is not my duty to condemn anybody but I think I have every right to advise and that is what you have just said. I wouldn’t have expected any young one to live a fake life because it will definitely boomerang. If you live a fake life, expect failure and that is just the bitter truth. And like I said they should be role models to others because they are supposed to be the mirror to society, living a fake life will not add any value to their lives.