MY WAYWARDNESS DRAGGED ME INTO ACTING PROFESSION - Ayo Mogaji Oduleye.
By Dare Lasisi-London
When the history of Nollywood is fully compiled for the unborn generations, Ayo Mogaji Oduleye ‘s name must be able to stand tall among the legends that revolutionised the theatre industry in the most populous country in Africa. Journalists like medical doctors are always privileged to come across different people from all walks of life on a regular basis and they must be able to study the mood of their guests before asking relevant questions. To say Ayo's razor-sharp tongue has the capability of cutting through any hard object is an understatement as the well-known Nollywood actress narrated how her waywardness dragged her into acting with the assistance of her elder brother plus how she escaped mob attack ‘punishment' for her controversial role in a particular best-selling film. We have different species of Homo Sapiens in this life but Ibadan-born and bred Binta Ayo Mogaji Oduleye is indeed a ‘special breed' and a journalist's delight anytime anyday anywhere. I recently came across this popular Nollywood actress in London and quickly did my best to extract some stories from her, though our dear Igbanladogi crooner was not prepared for any media interview but she later granted my request despite her busy schedule. Relax to enjoy this ‘straight-from-the heart' interview with iconic Binta Ayo Mogaji Oduleye, our dear multi-talented lady of the Nigerian theatre industry from Dare Lasisi in London:
DL:How long have you been in this theatre business?
Ayo : I started about 32 years ago,1979 to be precise.
DL: I wish to know your mentors who really motivated you to join this type of profession?
Ayo:At that time,may God rest his soul, Uncle Sam Loco-Efe of the blessed memory was one of them and in terms of the female species, aunty Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett also inspired me to love this profession. But the person who actually encouraged me was my elder brother,Mr Bisi Toluwase,he is a musician who also teaches music at The Polytechnic,Ibadan but currently on sabbatical leave in the United States of America. He was the one working on Bello's Way back then with Uncle Lekan Ladele,Uncle Tunji Oyelana and some others. They now started ‘Why Worry?' and they were looking for somebody to play a kid to Victoria Owodunni if I could still remember and my brother said I have a ‘wayward' sister who could perfectly act this role and from that moment, I started to be an actress till today
DL:Can you tell me your recent film making waves in the market?
Ayo:Unfortunately,due to the situation of the country. I have not done any recent film. I do not like taking money from marketers to shoot my films. My last film was titled JOMBO. I wrote the film myself and I was the artistic director. I personally spent about 4. 1 million naira. Maybe I will go on location on return to Nigeria ,I am not sure yet. If you don't spend money on film productions these days,you won't get good quality. I have something in the ‘cooler' right now but I will not tell you. I am not going to location to do shoddy jobs in this era of cranes,Jeeps, High Definition(HD) movies and high technology film productions. I always wish to be part of good film that would always go into cinema. It may take time but you'll still realise your money back one day. I was part of Jelili part 2,which was a big budget movie and If you're a serious notable Nigerian artiste but you're not in Jelili Part 2 with Femi Adebayo,then you need to check yourself out. I am so grateful for the experience. Epsallum is my major marketer presently. I shot another film called Mama Insurance produced by Liz Da Silva. I played a lead role where I shot about 40 scenes in the film. There is another one that I really enjoyed so much it is called KO KOJA EMI. I played a female starring role in the film while Antar Laniyan and Femi Adebayo played the roles of my husband and son respectively, a well-organised film with good locations that mirrored on anAmerican returnee coupled with some crazy family disputes. I am sure the whole of Nigeria will surely go agog when the film is finally released. And recently before I came to England, I was in Ghana, shooting a film for Iyabo Ojo, she must have spent over 7 million naira on the film production as she sponsored 40 of us to Ghana to spend a week there. Even the hotel I was staying in Ghana was about $140 per night. We also spent 16 days in Nigeria shooting a film titled ARINSO. I am also into seasonal soap opera film shown on NTA internationals,you will see my work there. I also acted in another soap opera called: ‘No Where to be found. 'From time to time,I am always in Nigeria to act one or two films but basically I am praying to God to see reliable sponsors so that I can do more educative films. I will be back in Nigeria in February 2012 to record more interesting films.
DL:Do you have any problem of going on the street without being mobbed by fans?
Ayo:I will not say mobbed but appreciated but there was a time I was actually attacked in 1996 in Lagos because I played an ‘Amebo' role in Tade Ogidan's bestselling film. People love the character so much. During that period, our people did not know the difference between acting and reality. They did not know I was actually doing my job as an actress. The ugly incident happened in Idumota area of Lagos Island. I was just going to see one of our marketers and suddenly some Area boys just ambushed me in a tight corner and shouted at me : ‘come and see the nasty and useless lady that betrayed that man in that Owo Blow film. 'My clothes were torn but a kind-hearted woman gave me new skirt and blouse to wear as she guided me into her shop. It was an embarrassing moment in my life and since that incident in 1996,I always dress in a full Muslim Burkah to disguise my identity to avoid any trouble. If you've watched OWO BLOW before ,you'll understand better. If anybody comes to the office I have visited,whoever I have gone to visit would now guide me out of his office for my safety. But presently,our people are more enlightened than in the mid-90s. We don't often get mobbed these days by people that mis-interpreted our assigned roles in films.
DL: Do you have any upcoming artistes that look up to be like you?
Ayo:I am not so sure of that except the artistes come out to tell you that Ayo Mogaji is their mentor. But I so much admire favourite film stars like Whoopi Goldberg ,Julia Robert,Denzel Washington and Adam Sadlers. I wish to be nominated for an Oscar award one day like these mentioned super stars by the grace of God.
DL:What can you say about film piracy and copyright laws in Nigeria?
Ayo: I am sure piracy is being curbed right now in Nigeria. It is very unfortunate for some people to work very hard day and night to produce a good film while some people somewhere will now illegally mass-produce such a good film. How can a film come out now and within three hours, the pirated copies are all over the place?If any film is pirated, then we need to search closely our cameramen or those people in-charge of the film editing and productions. What I am saying is that if your film is pirated, you need to investigate the people that recorded and edited the film. There is no smoke without fire.
DL:Apart from acting,what could you have been doing to earn a living?Do you have any passion for anything in life?
Ayo:Do I have any work for the past 32 years?Okay,I anchor shows,I am also a TV presenter. I also perform as MC in occasions. It is still part of ‘talkingtalking ‘ business. I used to have a beauty salon in Ibadan,Oyo state until tragedy struck in the year 2001 while on location to produce a film. My house was raided and burgled ;valuable items were carted away by armed robbers. I was staying in a whole house but I used my garage and compound as my beauty salon centre. I still remember one newspaper headline captioned the incident as:Sola Sobowale moved into a new apartment as Ayo Mogaji's house isburgled. When I read the story,I knew it was my own Ayo Mogaji. I was not even aware of the robbery attack until I read it in the newspapers. But I wish to have my own private recording studio one day.
DL: Can you tell me your present age?
Ayo: I am old enough! You don't ask a woman about her age as that is very rude. It is not ‘gentlemanly' to ask me such a question in the Western world.
DL: Just tell me your average age even if you don't wish to tell me the actual age. You're a popular star and many people would love to know your real age.
Ayo:Okay,let it be in their imagination but I am closer to 50 than 60. But I am not as old as my mother anyway!(laughter
DL: Can I ask you another personal question but you have rights not to tell me if you don't wish to.
Ayo:I am sure you're going to ask about my children?
DL: Yes, I wish to know about your children if possible. How many children do you have right now?
Ayo: Okay, let me count them for you,1,2,3 and 4. (laughing!). I have 3 step children and one biological son. So I can confidently tell you that my husband and I have 4 children in total till date. My 8 year old son is the youngest of them all and he loves football so much as I can't force him to love drama like his mother. I want him to grow up in Nigeria,to learn the language and culture before coming to England to continue his life and education. He is presently doing well at school in Nigeria.
DL:Can you talk about the Igbanladogi's film written by late Toba Opaleye which many people believed whas the film that elevated you to stardom in 1998?
Ayo:There were no home videos in Nigeria until 1991. Before the arrival of home video in Nigeria,I have been an household name in the country without blowing my own trumpet. I can categorically tell you that from the early 80s,if you open the entertainment pages of any Nigerian newspaper during that period,you must have read stories about Binta Ayo Mogaji. I have been in the limelight as a popular actress in Nigeria for many years. I did not collect any award forIgbanladogi despite the popularity of the film but I have collected about 33 awards of merit till this moment. I also got two awards in London recently. Let me tell you this,late Toba Opaleye was reading the Igbanladogi's scripts on some radio stations in the Ogun,Lagos,Oyo and Ondo states for over 2 years before I was invited to play a lead role. Mr Opaleye had syndincated his radio programmes that time. I was given 18 tapes to listen to. I also listened to Toba's readings on the radio to really understand the story line. I have done many interesting films after Igbanladogi and will still do more by God's grace. Late Toba Opaleye of the blessed memory had already popularised Igbanladogi before I was invited to play the lead role. I pray to God to grant the repose of ace radio broadcaster an eternal rest for giving me the golden opportunity to perform in Igbanladogi movie.
DL:What can you say about the Nigerians in diaspora regarding their treatment of a popular artiste like you?
Ayo: Nigerians in diaspora are very wonderful and also friendly people. They really appreciate our efforts so far. I was riding on a London bus recently and many Nigerians inside the bus were so delighted to see me, they were asking for permission to take my photographs and also requested for my autographs. I really felt honoured to chat with them all. But in Nigeria,it is a different ball game where ‘Area boys' would be ready to collect some money from you. Some of the Nigerians I recently met in London even exchanged banter with me on why I fixed my holiday for this winter period because my fellow Nollywood stars often visit UK during summer period when the weather is always warm, nice and friendly . I just politely replied that I came during this cold weather because I really enjoy winter season whereas I was freezing cold inside the bus with cracked lips. My fans always expressed joy when meeting me for the first time: ‘Hey, so this is Ayo Mogaji live and direct, my daughter loves you so much, we are proud of your achievements my sister. ' and many more complimentary words.
By virtue of their exposure,Nigerians in diapora know that it is not an easy task to see a celebrity walking down the streets or entering the same bus with them. We (Nollywood stars)are yet to reach the level of being chauffeur-driven around the town when visiting foreign countries but our people are so marvellous with their warm reception and we shall get there one day.
DL:Thanks so much Madam Ayo Mogaji Oduleye for granting me this interview.
Ayo:My brother,I am not ‘Madam' oo,just call and address me as Mrs. Ayo Mogaji Oduleye. I am thanking you as well.