One of Nigeria's frontline broadcaster and actor Samuel Ayodele Ojurongbe, a face, voice and lead character behind 'Heavensgate', speaks to Adebayo Adejobi on his acting career, Nollyhood and experience in the Nigerian arts and theatre industry amongst other things.
Ayodele Ojurongbe is no doubt a very popular Nigerian television actor, radio and television newscaster. At present, he reads the 8 and 10 pm news on Thursdays at the Lagos Television and Eko Fm and Radio Lagos at 5 and 7pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays respectively. He also casts the news on Radio Lagos 6pm every Wednesday and Thursdays.
Ojurongbe who during his school days was a bright student too, graduated with honours degree BA in Communication and Language Arts from the prestigious University of Ibadan. He became an actor simply to perform the art of acting, an ambition, which has led him to being considered one of the most important Nigerian actors who have been able to bridge the international divide to gain international recognition.
He was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone and in his early forties, Ojurongbe's father was an Anglican priest and mathematician and his mother retired as a school head mistress. Dad retired as a venerable archdeacon in the Anglican Church. The actor endured a strict up bringing, which isolated him from his peers. He and his siblings were not allowed to mix with the local children, because their parents thought they were too common to make good companions.
Ojurongbe recalled that there was a local theatre situated across the road from the vicarage where they lived, yet he and his siblings were not allowed to patronise it until he was 10 years old. On attaining the age of 10, he was sent to boarding school, where he attended the African Church Comprehensive High School, Ikere Ekiti, which catered exclusively for children of the clergy. His attitude towards the school was decisive, as he both loved it because this is where he developed his passion for acting.
"My mom acted in school when she was younger and dad was a debater and public speaker in Christ's school as a student. As a child I lived for a while in Rue's theatre-like hall in the Bishop's court now Ado Ekiti, a stone- throw to my parents' house. The theatre which was the preferred venue for all the then- known theatre groups in Nigeria played hosts daily to acts like Babasala, Duro Ladipo, Ogunde, Lere Paimo. Kola Ogunmola and legendary actor and music composer, Oyin Adejobi used to perform. As a 10-year old juvenile, I was allowed to follow my uncles to watch the live performances on stage, although I didn't hear some or most of what they said at some point, but the action and effects were overwhelming. Then I saw Taiwo Ajayi-Lycet in 'Winds Against My Soul,' there she stole my acting heart away and never returned it till today" he enthused.
"I met a very strong theatre tradition courtesy of late Folorunso Oluyemi, who trained under late Prof. Ola Rotimi. He brought the rigorous training to the school dramatic society and we would then rehearse into the unholy hours of the night to perfect our lines and acting. After a while, three more drama groups sprang up. I was in form two leading the drama group for that class, while form one drama group was led by one of Moses Olaiya, alias Baba Sala's sons, seeing form three being led by one of late Duro Ladipo's daughters.
"It was stiff competition, while the two other classes did more of Yoruba plays, I felt more at home with plays in English. All I ever wanted to be was an actor, and my parents realised my passion and prayerfully supported me," he said.
Unlike other fathers who would disapprove of their wards ability to succeed in what they regard an extremely robust industry, "My father shocked me more by his support because he was always proud to tell people he had a son who had passion for acting. He persuaded me to follow and embrace my Thespian yearnings. First time he met the first published female Nigerian playwright and dramatist late Zulu Sofola, he was happy to hand me over to her."
Ojurongbe's acting big break came when he took a lead role and the most screen time and probably the biggest paycheck with came with the greater acting challenge. One of Nigeria's most talented character actors working today, Ojurongbe through the 1990's and till 2005 created, hosted and produced weekly, the popular 'be my guest', 'Good-Bye Yesterday' , 'Phoenix' and 'Prime points' television shows at the Murhi International Television in Ibadan. The 'Be my guest' show gained Ojurongbe huge popularity.
He can do it all, going from serious dramatic roles to the opposite. With his smooth face and physique, he disappears into roles, his acting seemingly effortless. Only when you look at the totality of Ojurongbe's work do his vast range and talent hit with full force. His heavy-set build and swarthy complexion have made him especially popular at playing heavies, especially honest and firm husband of Uju in 'Heavensgate'.
For an actor who can't get used to his own image, "I rarely watch myself on screen." Ojurongbe said. He is blessed with a malleable face and a beanpole build that make him an unforgettable on-screen presence. He rose to stardom portraying.
This busy versatile actor with an extensive list of credits has probably been mostly widely seen on screen regularly alternates between screen and stage. His intensity shines through no matter the role, giving all of his characters an energy that makes them crackle. Agonising before taking a role, "I want to do work that has quality and integrity and lacks cynicism." Ojurongbe said.
Known for his modesty, he hastened to add that he agrees to roles in plenty of films without ever having that moment of revelation. The actor/producer spent his childhood years in Freetown, Sierria leone, New Haven, Connecticut, Ibadan and Ekiti alongside his father during the father's missionary work.
He began his acting in 2001, when he joined Nollywood. He has acted in a couple of videos and television series, but got his break in HEAVENSGATE, a popular soap opera. Between the first and second series of HEAVENSGATE, the University of Ibadan Graduate played the lead role of Femi Ajibade, the focused, loving and understanding husband of barren Uju.
Speaking on how he develops his character, especially by putting himself in circumstances, a trick he calls the 'if magic trick', he said, "Let's say you're a man playing a husband and wife scene. From your script analysis you decide your objective in this scene is to deceive your wife, which never happens. As you rehearse the scene, you find yourself avoiding eye contact with her because you don't want her to see you are lying. You mumble the end of one line because you don't want her to understand too clearly what you are saying. You laugh nervously at one moment and speak loudly when you try to change the subject at another moment.
"Now, when you were preparing the scene, you probably did not think, "Okay, I'll have shifty eyes, mumble here, laugh her." You might have thought of some of those actions, but you probably discovered them as you pursued your objective. You and the director might consciously think of other things you can do and you might fine-tune the raw material you discover as you rehearse. It all must be integrated around your objective. Once you have this reality, then you can further develop your character by putting yourself in circumstances or conditions using what I call "the magic if." If I were drunk, how would I walk? If I were effeminate, how would I move my hands?
"The mistake Nigerian Actors make is that they copy the things they see, playing the results they imagine for the character without finding the underlying action that causes the results instead of doing the things that people do. If you pursue your objective, then those results happen naturally and they look real. That's acting." Ojurongbe emphasised.
"There is no particular trait that works or doesn't. You don't have to be funny or anything like that, as it doesn't matter. What matters is that you want to commit to the work that is contained within acting."
For the Chief Executive Officer of Jesse's Stock concepts, a media and communication consultancy outfit since October 1998, reeling his secret strategy, unlike other existing and emerging actors who get very delusional with this fame idea and with this idea of acting being a dream. "It is very hard work. You need commitment, be able to work with others. It doesn't matter what your personality is like. What matters is that you are committed to what you do. Actors come in all shapes and sizes and it doesn't make them better or worse. You need to be tough because you get knocked back a lot and you need to be able to take criticism well"