Cerebral veteran actor cum musician, Lari Williams has every reason to be grateful, if for nothing else, he would soon complete his literary works that have been in the cooler for lack of funds. The N1 million he won, courtesy of MTN Who Deserves To Be A Millionaire will do the trick.
In this exclusive interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly, the Olowogbowo, Lagos born renowned thespian, producer, writer and author bared it all on why he lives at the National Theatre, his immediate family, his career, life as a reporter at West African Pilot newspaper, what his long stay away from home has done to him and more…
Can you tell us about your daily routine?
Apart from my normal morning workout which includes walking around the National Theatre, I also do free hand exercise or exercises. I clean up and get myself ready for the day.
If I am to talk about my routine for work, I write every day, but now with the problem with my sight, I dictate to my secretary and get them typed. I also work towards my article for the week. I send that to Vanguard newspaper.
Do you need people to take you around for your morning walk?
I don’t, except when it is dark. I hardly see at night. I don’t go out at night.
Can you tell us more about your background?
I was born in Olowogbowo, Lagos. The house I grew up was 92 Broad Street, Lagos, directly facing Williams Street. Our house was next to Taiwo Olowu’s grave but I grew up at Olowogbowo, went to Breadfruit Primary School. I went to two primary schools.
St. Paul Breadfruit Primary School. It ended at primary two so, I went to Christ Church Cathedral School, where I finished standard six. Then I went to CMS Grammar School. I didn’t travel abroad immediately. I was a reporter at West African Pilot, one of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s newspapers. I reported sports and did some court reports. I was the youngest reporter.
My parents were so impressed, my editors were also impressed. My parents decided that I could go on with journalism. I went to London School Journalism in the early 60s.
What is the greatest lesson life has taught you?
Life has taught me in my own case that one should be careful from staying away from one’s own folks. You can come back and remain a stranger in your own home. It has been a bit of challenge to me. People I went to school with before going to England had settled down before I came back, I became a stranger to them.
It has made things rather difficult. Other side of it is that I am grateful that I am physically strong at my age except for my eyes. I can still do exercises. I am still strong. I still write, direct and act. I am still quite strong.
I over stayed abroad, but I learnt a lot from my stay outside the country. You know, knowledge is power, I really learnt a lot from my stay abroad. I am confident about that but socially, I am finding it difficult to reconcile with home. I stayed within my professional work. I have been an actor, writer and I have remained within that scope. I am not strong at drinks so I don’t have too much socializing.
I will also say I was not lucky enough to have the kind of money to join social clubs that would take me to the social circle I would have loved to be.
Can you remember the last movie you featured?
I cannot remember the title of the one I did with Teco Benson. There is another one I acted as the Chief Judge. I think with Teco Benson too. They were all last year.
It means you still get movie roles?
Yes, but just lately, my sight has been bothering me. I am even directing my own play. It is entitled A drum call for Herod. I am directing and playing a major role in it.
What do you plan to use your money (won from Who Deserve to be a Millionaire) to do?
The only plan I have is to finish up my unfinished jobs, like my music album, publishing and republishing my book. I have a book of poems, 120 pages. I want to reprint it. It took me over a year to reprint 1,000 copies. If I can do it, I will be able to raise some funds. This money has come in handy. I will also finish up my music album.
A lot of people don’t know I am musically inclined. I was Fela’s close friend. Anybody who went to CMS Grammar School must have a flair for music.
What genre of music do you play?
I call it poetry music. The brand is jazz fuji. It is fuji but jazzy in style.
How do you hope to recoup your money?
Music is very commercial these days. The only fun I have are my books and writing. I have to invest on my farms. I hope to be able to sell them. Hopefully, it will be recommended for schools. I also believe I will have a hit in my songs. It is fuji but in English. It is different from the sounds going on now.
What audiences will your kind of music appeal to?
I want to appeal to Nigerian adults. I cannot say I will only play for my age group, but sophisticated adults. There is a missing gap there. When I was small, I used to iron my parents clothes, they will say they are going for ballroom dance. The place is called Forester Hall. They play well arranged high life. If you listen to Ebenezer Obey, you will hear things that were being said.
I think that group of people still exist and will want to hear interesting, meaningful songs. That is the gap I am talking about. I want my music to be danceable at Eko Tennis Club and other sophisticated social arenas.
Not much is known about your family, can you tell us about them?
I had decided not o discuss them. I haven’t had a very happy marriage life, maybe because I was married to my art. That is no excuse, it just didn’t work. I am not a too much religious person but I believe it is only God that can give one a partner. It didn’t work in my case. But, I have children.
How supportive are your children now that you need them?
Like I said, things hadn’t gone too well, I wouldn’t want to discuss them. I am still strong and working. I don’t have to depend on them.
If you have the chance to live life all over again, what are the things you will like to change?
In my profession here, as a pioneer, I will say I came in too soon to my profession. As a pioneer actor, we have worked for future generation. I don’t know if I can come back but if I do, I will want to recap what we have done.
Today’s people are working and getting marvelous sums for making movies. Maybe I should have remained in the academics and just teach what I know but I love the art and wanted to practice it. Anyway, all that I have done, I have done them well. It is just that money didn’t come the way it should have come.
I boxed and was a heavy weight champion. I was two time champion at the university. I was actor of the year two times running. I acted in England, America and all over. I don’t see much to regret.
Looking at the state of the industry, do you think one can survive as an actor in Nigeria?
That is a good question. I doubt it. Most actors are doing all kinds of businesses. The advice I will give is that what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. We don’t have actors. It is not a blanket statement to say that every actor is bad. The training for actors in Nigeria is really very bad.
I have lectured in three universities, Theatre Art department and I found out that the curriculum is not set right. The training for acting is not even there at all.
Two hours training for actors in the classroom means nothing. I trained in one of the best schools in the world. I went to Stratford on scholarship. The routine there is different. From 8am you are in your tracksuit working out physically, horse climbing, aerobics, then we have a break in the afternoon, that is where we learn how to act.
We learnt to write few things too. It was a full scale training for four years. That makes you physically fit, that is why I boast about it. I can fence. I was the best fencer in my school in 1973. There were a lot of physicals to do and it helped our thinking. Prior to that, was writing; we learnt to read too. Right now, tell a graduate to breathe in and they raise their shoulders. They don’t even know their diaphragm.
Some will say I didn’t put in for acting. The training is inadequate. That is why I said to earn a living will be difficult. In my time, I went through 13 soap operas right from Village Headmaster, I got those roles because of my training. They were looking for me all over.
Maybe, the people in soaps now are earning a resemblance to living. I have been waiting for two years to put my play on stage, even if it is going to be my swan song. I can’t raise money to do it. This is the same National Theatre I was invited to perform at Festac 77. We pioneered the place. I have done more than 12 plays directed and performed at the National Theatre.
Today, I cannot put my play in here. I wrote a play called Awero, I brought Baba Ajanaku with Egun Lanpapaa to the stage. To me, it is a historical thing. Today, I cannot put a play on. I got an MFR for my works, no remuneration, nothing. I only got money to fly to Abuja to shake hands with late President Yar’Adua.
I am staging my stage place A drum call for Herod at Terra Culture. Bolanle Austin Peters gave me two days for free 28 and 29 April. It will take place at 6 o’clock, the normal theatre time. We might be able to squeeze like three plays, one on Friday, two sessions on Saturday.
We need sponsorship. It is a Biblical exposé about John the Baptist. It will definitely be interesting.