Bimbo Manuel is a celebrated versatile actor who has carved a niche for himself on stage, television and film media. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, he recalls with nostalgia how he wanted to be a Disc Jockey (DJ). Excerpts:
You started as a broadcaster. How and why did you delve into acting?
That is extremely exciting really, because you get to be so many things, you get to be so many people; you get to go into faraway places to live in that world. It is an incredibly exciting world, and it can become an addiction. And maybe that is why they also say the cliché that ‘actors never retire’.
Because that world, once you’ve entered it, and, it is indeed your calling, it is what you are convinced you really want to do, you almost certainly will not want to go anywhere else. I wanted to be so many other things, before I stumbled into acting. I wanted to be a director because I was working on television, OGTV, but before then I was at OGBC. When I was growing up, I was living in Ibadan with my brother. In those days, Ibadan, especially, was where everything in the entertainment was happening. People used to leave Lagos to come to Ibadan. This was in the late 60s and early 70s.
That was where everything happened, and radio was incredible; the parties were incredible; the night clubs were incredible. And there were different kinds of people there in those days, especially in the 70s. You had the Tunji Marquis of this world, Funmi Ogunsanya, Alex Kondi, quite a number of them. I just loved what they were doing on radio, and I thought I could be a broadcaster. I thought I could be a Disk Jockey (DJ). I was in secondary school,and music was incredibly popular then.
There was Soul, Jazz, R&B, Highlife, Juju, but not the kind of juju music we have today. We were listening to Ojoge Daniel, IK Dairo, Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Fela, Segun Bucknor, Hakeep Kareem, and a lot of foreign music – R&B, Country music and so on. We used to have notebooks that we wrote the lyrics, and we sang them on our own.
Then what happened?
So, I thought that I was definitely going to be a DJ because I have always loved music and I loved the styles of those guys on radio. I guess, as with all things with young people, other things got my attention. I went to school, University of Port Harcourt, and I later started work.
At OGBC, I was as an understudy for the Duty Continuity Announcer. Also, against tradition, in less than one month, I was left to run my own shows. And that was where I met people like Femi Sowolu, Bola Makinde, Gboyega Adeseye (who read network news on NTA), Ayinde Soaga. Later I transited to OGTV, which was just starting then, and there I was exposed to another world of broadcasting, which I found extremely exciting. I was jittery initially. When I went to the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), I trained as a director. I had a quiet life in UNIPORT, no nightclubbing, no girlfriend…
Can you tell us why?
Because I had a normal student’s life, I was very mature by the time I went so UNIPORT. So, whatever I was doing had to make sense to me. I didn’t have the kind of time on my hands like other students. After that, I came back to Lagos hoping that those directing jobs will just keep coming like that. We had ideas that we wanted to experiment; we were bubbling with energy. But those jobs in reality were few and far between. They were not coming as we thought they would, there were more acting jobs. And because one was also trained as an actor, I started to take acting jobs. And then NTA happened.
Which was your first experience on stage?
It was ‘The gods are Not to Blame’ by Prof. Ola Rotimi. I played the narrator and one of the chiefs. After that we had Hopes of the Living Dead, also by Prof. Ola Rotimi. I was the Superintendent of Police. As I said, when there no directing jobs, we went into acting and even the acting at that time extremely unrealistic. If you had any big aspirations it was clear that you could not depend entirely on acting jobs on stage, because rehearsals of those days, we were doing like three to four months of rehearsals before performance.
You had to get there yourself and so on. It wasn’t making any sense. To augment it we decided to go to NTA, we had friends there – Andy Amanaechi, Bond Emeruwa, Ifeanyi Anyafulu, Zeb Ejiro, Enebeli Elebuwa. The first show featured in was one of those Play of the Week by NTA Channel 10. We did quite a number of those plays and telemovies. I worked with Tade Ogidan, Lai Arasanmi and others. I was in ‘Sparks’; I was also in Village Headmaster, I played role of Councillor Balogun’s Doctor.
Then, Nollywood took off and I was invited to feature in quite a number of movies. So, Bollywood changed entirely our earning power; it provided a great platform for some of us who were convinced about our skills and craft to actually show off a bit. The rest is history.
Which has been your most embarrassing experience?
You see, when you have lived as young as I have and you have worked as long as I have, some of those things begin to pale into insignificance. You even begin to lose memory of them. I really cannot remember those experiences. Maybe, I will remember some of them later.
Which of the films you have featured in do you consider most interesting and challenging?
Almost all of them, because in the first place, I only take jobs that I know meet all the criteria, the standards that I have set for myself. Usually, they are jobs that I feel have helped me and they have provided good opportunities for me to express myself. So, all of them have been memorable for me. I was away from the stage for about 14 years because television and film got my attention; they were paying a lot more, and they offered less stress. Also, they took less of my time, and I could move on to other jobs. I could devote my energy into doing other things.
But Chuck Mike brought me back on stage with the play ‘Death of a Maiden.’ It is a three-man piece, and it was staged at the then PEC Repertory Theatre, Onikan, Lagos. After that we staged Wole Soyinka’s Lion and the Jewel in London and Manchester. I played the role of Baroka. From that, I decided that I was not going to stay away that long from theatre stage any more. It meant that I was playing on many platforms. I already had radio experience; I have done quite a number radio drama with Irhia Enakhimio, Jide Ogungbade, Yay Mike Nwachukwu. So, I could play any role on film, television, and on stage. And all of that put together helped me hone my craft, and I was able to easily transit across media.
What is your take on developments in Nollywood?
In the first place, I think Nollywood has proven all doubters wrong. I thought at a point that many people were convinced that many things we do in Nigerian movie industry then, as a fad, that it would soon peter out, and people will lose interest and go back to what we used to have before.
But here we are, Nollywood has grown to the level that it is now, but of course, far from perfection. Considering all, Nollywood, I think, deserves a pat on the back. If you look at the kind of works that we are putting out now, even the people who worked have continued to work and have upped their game; they are producing better quality. We can always raise questions about the theme, the acting, and so on.
But it is not exactly the same as we had in the past. Everybody is trying. I think the measure of our industry should be what we are putting out in the cinemas and what we are taking out of this country, whether to festivals of whatever description, they get attention, and I think that is good.
Have you been embarrassed?
The way you carry yourself and the way you make yourself available to relate with people who fancy your work is a factor in determining whether they embarrass you or not. I am naturally a calm person and I guess that may have contributed to the way people had approached each time. It is has usually been calm, polite, very courteous and warm.
You have a project you are working on. What is it about?
I have written a number plays but the first one that I am producing, which is happening in May this year at Terra Kulture, is called Interview With A Prostitute. I wrote the play. It will feature Yibo Koko, Monalisa Chinda, who has also been away from stage for quite a while.
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