Many people will never believe that Lanre Balogun has trod the thespian lane for the past 25 years. From his days at the University of Ibadan playhouse to now, he wields some power in the movie industry having featured in several movies. Lanre, who fell out with his intellectually minded family for towing the line of theatre even after studying Mathematics and Statistics at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos tells the story of how it all started and the level he found himself in the year 2005, almost twenty five years after. This is an undiluted story never told before to any one so enjoy it.
Over 25 years of acting
I have spent over 25 years as a practitioner and it is not a child’s play. I started as a thespian artiste. I was a stage actor. I started in Ibadan, during the good old days of University of Ibadan play group.
I moved on to Koko Close with NTA Ibadan and several other productions before we all migrated to Lagos. I am talking about very early 80s. At that time, what was done was celluloid by the few like Hubert Ogunde, Ade Love etc, that is proper film making in the true sense of the word. What was very popular was the proper stage productions and boy, we really were busy. We were either at the Museum kitchen, PEC Repertory Theatre and with Chuck Mike. I tell you I was one of the first artistes with Chuck Mike when we were together for the Collective Artistes. I was one of the few privileged artistes to start Festival of Black Drama (FESBAD). We had Dede Mabiaku then as an actor, Richard Mofe Damijo, Irhia Enakhimio, Sola Omoba, Vivian Anamaba, Kese Jabari. The play we did then, won an award. The play, Ceremonies of Dark Old Man was written by Leon Elders 3 and directed by Segun Ojewuyi. Our director Segun had to travel abroad. I hear he is now a professor in an American University.
What I am doing now is more like a genetic thing. Outside of the fact that I went to school, I still do what I like to do. Funny enough, I didn’t go to University of Ibadan like most people think. I went to Yaba College of Technology and studied mathematics and statistics. Do you believe me? That is why I keep telling you that acting is in me. I have been a science student through and through. I come from a home of literary giants. My dad is the author of a school certificate book used in 1972 (Tobias and The Angel). His name is S.I. Balogun. He was the Principal of Kings College Lagos. He just left Kings College about four or five years ago and had also pioneered several Federal Government Colleges in Nigeria. My mother is also a scientist.
My grandfather was a renowned teacher as well in the 1800s in Oyo and other places. With that kind of background, you can’t but be the best in anything you elect to do. I just wanted to prove a point to my father that was why I went into sciences. When I completed, I now moved over to cinematography proper. There was a school in Nigeria, then, Oliver Grant Film Institute affiliated to the New York Institute of Technology in Ibadan. It was there I did my proper training. I did cinematography and film making. The school was very close to the Ibadan Polytechnic so the HOD of the school took care of our department. I was very privileged to be taught by John Fashanu’s father. We called him lawyer Fashanu and he tauight me industrial relations as well.
He also taught me law in the school. Dr. Kunle Emdin was my HOD then. He also happened to be a product of the New York Institute of Technology.
I still recall the challenge of Ceremonies of the dark old man. It was a great show which I did in 1989. You could imagine how we created Harlem here in Lagos in FESBAD. When we finished rehearsing, we were supposed to show at PEC Repertory Theatre owned by J.P. Clarke. Richard had a problem with J.P. Clarke and ten minutes to the show, it was cancelled. We were there to redirect people to the Museum kitchen. Richard was playing my father in the play. He has always had the big bulky frame even though I was older than he was.
I was very frail and skinny those days. Dede Mabiaku played my senior brother. I played Bobby Parker. What made my role so challenging was that I didn’t have to speak so much. It was movements, gesticulations and different body expressions. But I was the pitch in the story. And it was a round theatre thing. We now used the car park of the Museum kitchen as the stage. That was when I respected Duro Oni as a lighting expert. As you know, everything happened at the barber’s shop. We had a barber’s throne and everything revolved around it, we got a fifteen minutes standing ovation from the American community in Nigeria.
They had never done it in any show in Nigeria before. We spent three months rehearsing. We needed to get it very right as we were performing for an audience that was predomeintly American so we needed to sound distinct and clear as American.
Difference in style
You see I don’t belong to the group of those who cock and shoot, those who rehearse as the shooting is going on as the case may be. But I don’t feel worried at all. If you keep lying for long, one day the truth will catch up with you.
The truth is already catching up with them. When you produce trash, who will buy them? You keep telling us of one witch in the village or one mama. You keep telling us tale by moonlight. Nigerians have all passed that level. We are more than exposed. Every day we see new movies on multichoice, DSTV and what have you. You canâ€™t cook up trash and serve us all to eat. Never.
Well, I have been coping because I do other things, I am not a man that is just dependent on acting. I consult on media matter. I can’t imagine myself sitting in one statistics office checking the number of people that took inoculation in one month. It’s not my idea at all, I need freedom. But you see no knowledge is wasted.
It was my first movie in the true sense of the word. Hostage by Tade Ogidan I have been a friend of Tade’s for over twenty two years. From the NTA days at Ibadan. We all moved to Lagos enmasse. I met my first producer after that movement, Deinde Gilberts. He was into Youths Scene. I presented programmes then. Auntie Julie Coker was my executive director. Ore Ajakaiye was my producer. Then I made my incursion into acting. We had done several solid plays of the week on NTA. We did Abiku, a presentation for NIFETEP, Nigeria festival of television production in 1986. Abiku was popular and won the best award of that year. We did the Fallen Angel and a few others. If we put those production into tapes as film, it would be mega buster. But itâ€™s okay, nothing spoil.
Everything had started well. There were some serious minded people who had the pedigree and the exposure. I mean people like Tunde Kelani, Amaka Igwe, Lola Fani Kayode. But you see, until those who stumbled into the issues came into it, things have never been the same. Mogbo, moya (I heard and I came). They were called for supper and they took over the entire dish. I always tell them that this business is not for the half baked. It is not what you can haphazardly put together. They will find their place when you place side by side the very classy production.
Marketers are clannish
What I meant is not far fetched. You don’t need an astrologer. Neither do you need a soothsayer to tell you that the movie marketers in Nigeria are indeed truely clannish. Look at most of the films they produce these days. The so called English films they produce these days usually have from the lead actor to the extras, the crew members are Igbo.
You begin to wonder if these are the only people that constitute Nigeria. Outside of this country, people look at Nigeria as predominantly Igbo people. The character and culture they portray is predominantly Igbo. When you also look at the kind of production that are put together, you see the non inclusion of the tested, trained professional from the other tribes who should be there and are totally sidelined. They are idling away, then you go for people who are unqualified and can’t even give you what you want professionally. May be because he is not an Igbo brother. He is not Nnamdi, Okechukwu or Eze. These are some of the reasons why I say they are clannish.
Somebody will say they are not the only ones who make film. I agree. They are not the only ones that make films. Where the Yoruba differ is that if a Yoruba man feels you can deliver, he calls you up no matter what. Some people who cannot speak more of Yoruba are tutored to be part of the productions. I am sure you must have seen Clem Ohameze or Liz Benson, etc. They can’t speak Yoruba but they are tutored even though their Yoruba is not perfect. I feel that Yorubas are more liberal my brother. What I want to tell the Igbo who are in movies is to be more liberal and create a level playing field.
I recollect how I was able to save very important production. It was the show of Rasheed Gbadamosi, then secretary for ANA – Association of Nigeria Authors. I did the prose on Okigbo, it was the Greener Grass. Veterans were on board. We had Lola Fani Kayode as an actress. She was paired with Sam Loco, Teni Aofiyebi, Rowland Henshaw professionals in their own right. We were many. Then somebody was not ready so I was called in to do that. I remember I really gave it to them.
They look at my face and say I am hard. I am hard when I need to be . In Hostages I was mean and rude. In Contractors by Raph Nwadike, I was rude and mean. But I have also played soft roles. I have played pastors severally. In Vindicated, I was Pastor and played along side Onyeka Onwenu. I see these as the versatility of an actor. You don’t allow yourself to be stereotyped. If you call me to do anything for you, when I get the script, I get your characterization. I can be anything you want me to be.
It is not about playing same Ogbuefi everyday . You could be challenged to do anything. These people are too lazy on directing and writing of the scripts. They are laid back and lazy. For instance I see someone who has played the role of a nun, I give her the role of a prostitute. That is the beauty of it all.
That is the challenge. If you talk of film now, I loved Hostages where I was Nasir Mohammed, a rich man’s son. I love Contractor with Ramsey, Antar Laniyan and myself. I love Dangerous Twins.
When you work with Tade Ogidan it is like, you have to be on your toes at all times. You couldn’t but be at your best at all times.
He is cereberal and you must get it right at all times. You are drilled and grilled. It is very exhaustive working with him.
My father was initially troubled about my chosen career. But when he finally found out that I was carving a niche for myself, he couldn’t but relax and we are best of friends now. We couldn’t see eye to eye before.
I love nature so much. I couldn’t be seen at parties. I love the beaches. I would readily pack a picnic basket armed with a jockey bag. I watch people on boat rides or those swimming while under a coconut tree. I get ideas and write.
I am married to a woman who understands me. She knew I was an actor when she married me. She is an exposed woman. Some things in acting don’t mean anything to her. It is like asking how the wife of a gynaecologist feels.
Filmography: Dangerous Twins, Thunderbolt, Hostages, Blood Diamonds, Church In Crisis, Hunted Love, Highway To The Grave, Madam Dearest, No Place To Hide, Playing Games, Scout, Stubborn Grasshopper, Terrorist Attack, The AIDS Patient, The Battle Of Love, True Or False, Sister Sister and many more Yoruba movies.