TUNDE Alabi, one of Nigeria’s foremost actors, has seen it all in soap operas. From the popular Village Headmaster to Save the Tears for Tomorrow, the man has acted in all of them. ENCOMIUM Weekly met him recently in his office at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, where he talked about his journey so far, the qualities of a good producer, the difference between a role in a soap and that of a movie and his advice to the upcoming actors and more.
You’ve been on set for decades, how would you describe the journey so far?
All I can say is so far, so good. It has been quite challenging for an actor like me who went through the crucibles of the theatre. But I thank God for keeping me alive up till today. One thing about acting is that it’s quite frustrating when taken professionally. Especially today when mediocres, on tribal sentiments, are given better things to do in the field where they do not understand what it means. At times, I feel like shedding tears, but I’ve taken it as one of those things. I’m still grateful to God that I’m alive.
What were those challenges you went through?
The major one is where the producer or director tries to fix a square peg in a round hole, just because of tribal or ethnic sentiment. They forget that people that understand theatre are those ones who are able to tell their stories well and at the same time make people believe that the stories they are telling actually happened to them through acting. Rather than those who just memorise their lines and deliver them. For one to be a good actor, your role interpretation must come from inside you. Another challenge I encountered was having to work with some producers (especially in movies) who just want to produce movies for monetary gains. They just get some actors and a director and within a week or two, they are through with it, because they want their money back fast. The fact remains that one hundred home videos cannot match one episode of a beautiful soap opera which is just one week transmission. This is because the soap opera is well rehearsed for about three months before the proper performance or presentation.
What are those things that informed your preference for soaps?
As an actor who passed through the crucibles of theatre, I do not prefer one to another. I feature in any one that wants me, but what I don’t do is to go begging for roles. If you feel I’m good enough for a role, give it to me and pay me as well.
What are you working on at the moment?
Now, the market is a bit dull, right from last year, 2010. But the truth is that I don’t just stay idle as someone who is primed. Right now, I am writing a soap opera that is contemporary for production. But if I am called for a job, I go for it and still come back to my office.
Tell us more about the soap you’re working on.
Like I said, it is a contemporary story. That is all I have to say because I wouldn’t want to go into details.
How would you compare the movie industry in the last three decades and now?
Although then, there was nothing like gadgets, like cameras for shooting movies, it is speech production that is important for stage acting. You must be good at speaking for you to be in the theatre. Another one is that those days, we took acting as a serious job, not a money spinning venture as it is today. In the soap opera of those days, like the Village Headmaster, the producers, through beautiful scripting, knew the way and manner to mix humour with criticisms to pick on the consciousness of those in power without letting them know. But the good thing is that those being referred to ended up making amends in their lives. But the movies of these days lack these qualities. For soap opera, everything must be there: proper rehearsal, diction and fluency. One equally has to be real and be able to capture and envelope the audience’s attention and at the same time carry them along during stage acting.
What would you say is the major difference between a role in a soap opera and a movie?
There is a great disparity between the two. In home movies, there is tribalism, but in soap opera, there is nothing like that. An example is seen in the people that produced Village Headmaster. Right from Tayo Ayorinde to Tunji Oloyede and Tayo Awala, they only looked out for people that were good, rather than on ethnic sentiments. They were meticulous and disciplined. But the reverse is the case in movies where directors favour people who can neither read nor interpret a role because of ethnic sentiments and personal interest (for ladies).
What are those things you consider before picking up a role?
The first thing is the dialogue. The script has to be rich so that I will be able to pass a message across at the end, because I don’t just want my face to be paraded on the screen. Although, I must be well paid, my major concern is for the story to be good.
You’ve worked with a lot of directors, what would you say are the qualities a good producer must have?
He must have managerial ability. That is, the ability to manage things effectively. Although, the executive producer who is providing the fund has to hire a producer who organises the actors and also makes negotiations concerning payment, the only difference is that while the star actors negotiate directly with the executive producer, the upcoming ones negotiate with the sub-producer. But for a director that is worth his salt, he must work with authority during rehearsals. He must be able to see beyond what the writer wrote. That is to say that it is his duty to bring out the meaning of what has been written down from the actors. The seasoned directors are the ones that don’t shout on actors on set. Rather, they will correct them after the end of each round in order not to demoralise you.
Who is the best director you’ve ever worked with?
It is Jimi Odumosu. This is because working with him is like undergoing another training, just like in the university. He’s a very patient fellow. He will be very calm with you while you’re making mistakes until you get it right. And the good thing about it is that by the time you’re watching yourself on the screen, you won’t believe that you’re the one who did the job. Other good directors that I’ve worked with include Tunji Bamishigbin, Tade Ogidan and the recent one, Paul Julius, who is the producer of a soap opera, Save the Tears for Tomorrow. He’s quite meticulous.
Who are the actors/actresses you’ve had a good working relationship with?
Nearly everyone of them, because we don’t fight. If there is anything, we usually sort it out amicably. But I always give kudos to Ngozi Ezeonu because she’s always cool and collected.
You made your name in soaps, which of them would you say is the best that you have featured in?
They include Mirror in the Sun, Village Headmaster, For Better, For Worse and so many others. But the recent one I feature in is Save the Tears for Tomorrow from the stable of Prich Global Resources Nigeria Limited. It’s a programme that captures the total essence of rebranding Nigeria. It touches on bribery, corruption, judiciary, etc. It also preaches about giving your child a sound education.
What is your advice to the upcoming actors who are looking up to you as their role model?
They need to be educated, first of all. This is because one will find it difficult to improvise with a language he/she doesn’t understand. Acting is not about reciting a script, but rather, knowing the weight or meaning of the script. Secondly, they should be grounded in the art so as to be bold enough to demand their rights. They should also not cheapen themselves by begging for roles, but rather strive to acquire the right skills so as to attract good producers/directors to themselves. They also need to be patient, especially the female, so as not to gate-crash into a profession that they know nothing about and be abused. Finally, they should always read, even after graduation, so as to be polished and updated in this ever changing world.
- This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, February 8, 2011