In 2007, Nollywood actor, Fabian Adeoye Lojede walked into the sitting rooms of most Nigerians through acclaimed television drama series, Jacob’s Cross in which he played the role of Bola Abayomi for eight seasons. Beloved in his role, he went on to star in other equally impressive productions like October 1 and Man on Ground.
Originally, Lojede is a voice-over artiste who over the course of his career discovered his love for acting – a skill that has so far helped him morph into a film producer. His recent film, Comatose, which he co-produced and acted a lead role, is fast gaining attention from a wide spectrum of audiences, mostly for its plot and infusions of different elements that highlight the socio-cultural and socio-economic issues in Africa, including the Diaspora.
In this chat, the Ogun State-born actor throws light on his career as a burgeoning producer, talks on his masquerade lineage, his keen interest in African culture and ways to project it positively through the camera. Enjoy it.
Euthanasia is quite a sensitive topic of discourse even in the western world. Co-producing Comatose which plot highlights the moral dilemma behind unplugging the plug, how do you hope this narrative would resonate with the African audience, Nigeria specifically?
I do hope it will create some kind of discourse, make people interrogate what their own stance might be on the subject, and I know it seems as a hypothetical situation for some. So, it is actually very tough because at the end of the day, who feels it knows it more. But having said that, in as much as the film is dealing thematically about euthanasia, the subtext of the film really is: there are various forms of comatose stages that people go through, whether it is cultural, social, political, or love. And the question really is to the audience; to Africa right now is that, what part of our lives? What part of our society, of our nation is in a comatose stage? And what are we willing to do about it?
You seem to have a great connect with your African roots. Did this in anyway influence you coming back to Nigeria to finish your studies at a Nigerian university?
It didn’t. I was getting into all sorts of crap when I was younger. I mean, coming back in a way is like old news; I’ve been back in Nigeria since my early teens. But I finished my secondary school at St. Finbarr’s College. I was one of those kids that got deported by their parents for just being a troublemaker; and they felt home was the place I needed to be. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me by the way, I don’t regret it. With trace to my African roots, I think it has always been a part of it. I come from a masquerade family in Abeokuta. I think there’s always been a part of me attracted to things that are just culturally inclined. When I was growing up in the UK, I had a fascination, a love for Greek mythology. I just didn’t understand why… and then I get back home and discover the Sangos… and all of a sudden that whole love for Greek mythology just shifted to the whole Yoruba tradition and history. And I saw parallels between them and I couldn’t understand…why aren’t we pushing some of these stories? We have got people that are… I guess like me, but back then that was probably because of the education system then where they never get to teach you African history. You have so much love for foreign things, and yet, if you look at our history; there is everything in our history that can bring us back to our roots.
Do you regret coming back, most specially, with the poor infrastructures that characterize the average federal university?
No, no, I don’t. Like I said, I’ve been back home for so long that it doesn’t really count. And I can’t regret it; it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. The thing about, for me anyway… primary and secondary school for me in the UK was… I would have been lost because it was all about clothes, and being cool, and being with the right crowd, and then I get thrown back to Nigeria and then you realize that you get this rude awakening where having the right clothes doesn’t mean… yes, you are cool, but to really be cool and be accepted especially at St. Finbarr’s that I went to, you also have to be smart, and you had to be intelligent. You can’t be the guy seen as ‘olodo’, and you think you are cool. So, as any teenager, I had to be cool. So, in order to be cool at St. Finbarr’s, you also had to be smart; so I became smart. Peer pressure for me then, especially in Finbarr’s was about not being an ‘olodo’. So, that was the best thing that happened to me. I think that was the way Nigeria worked, and we tend to reward intelligence as well. So, by the time I got to university, my UK days were long forgotten in my subconscious. It is just something I am reminded by old schoolmates teasing about how I used to behave when I first arrived in Finbarr’s.
One thing that I would say about infrastructure in university especially in University of Ibadan, when I was in UI, my goodness, it was the toilet. I just can’t get used to that. But one thing I did love was the library. That was heaven. I’ll go to the library to go and study; read my book. I just can’t, I get lost in all the other books in the library. That UI library was just… it was bliss. They’ve got books from eighteenth something. It was just beautiful.
What piqued your interest in directing the script for Comatose? Is there a personal connection or story latched to it?
I didn’t direct Comatose; my business partner, South African Mickey Madoda, directed it. I co-wrote the screen adaptation of the play with Jude Idada and Mickey Dube. The play is actually written by Jude Idada, a very good friend of mine, and I co-produced the film with Mickey, and I played the lead. I think it’s more of my interest in wanting to produce it, and wanting to act in it. Jude sent me the script – the stage play – and it was just mind blowing. He wanted me to come to Canada and play the lead in the stage play. I told him ‘guy, give me this thing to turn into a feature film’. Like I said, it allowed me to deal with so many subtexts, or a lot of things we wanted to talk about. I mean, you can’t say everything in 90 minutes or two hours in a film, but this film is filled with lots of messages. Not just about euthanasia like I said, but cultures, socio-political, just in relation to ‘are we stagnating as Africans, as black people?’ The film allowed us to delve into that in a very contained space. I think that was what really got my interest in this script. Initially, the play was called ‘Coma’; we titled the film ‘Comatose’
You starred in Jacob’s Cross as a recurring actor. How has the experience been like shifting gears to the status of a producer and director?
As a producer, it wasn’t really a shift of gear because I’ve been producing international commercials for over 13 or 15 years. So, from a producing point of view, it wasn’t really a shift in gear because while I was doing Jacob’s Cross, we were still producing commercials across the continent. Directing on the other hand, I had just directed my first ‘short’ which is a spiritual thriller called ‘Eje’, which is blood in Yoruba. I love being on the directing seat, it gives you more creative control, but at the same time, even as a director to really have creative control, either the producer has bought into your vision, or you are producing your own stuff, because, really, who controls the purse, does control the film to a certain degree, and I’m really used to control. In terms of production, obviously if I’m acting in someone’s film, I’m just a hired hand.
Did you have any bad experience on your role as a producer/director?
With commercials… well, quite a bit. You’ve got people not paying on time, clients wanting a diamond out of a speck of sand. With film, I guess it’s really managing the usual artiste. I guess every artiste has their own peculiarities and some are a bit more difficult than others, I know it sounds weird coming from me, an artiste. I think producing has made me perhaps a bit more humble when I am working on other people’s production. I want to believe I don’t stress people I work with. And I think if I don’t, that comes from probably producing myself because I don’t like to be stressed by artistes that I bring on my own set.
Can you give a brief insight into your acting career?
I’ve been behind the scene a lot, even before I made my first major – I would say global onscreen presence – which is on Jacob’s Cross, before then I’ve been in mostly commercials, voiceovers – which I still do, I love voice over. I did a lot of radio dramas, particularly in South Africa. The thing about, if I go back to Jacob’s Cross is that, I was getting roles in South Africa but they just seem very stereotypical, and I just wasn’t feeling all the roles that I was getting till Akin Omotoso said ‘look, guy, there is this thing coming up… I think this is the kind of thing that you would like since you’ve been turning down all the other opportunities’. And that’s how I got into Jacob’s Cross. The features are really my passion. We are working on a new television series about the music industry. But features I really love. I love working with the likes of Akin, we did Man on Ground together while I was still shooting Jacob’s Cross. We’ve just done another one produced by Ego Boyo; it should be out towards the end of the year. I have another film, Heaven’s Hell coming out May 10.
Was acting your first love or something you felt you could do really well?
Actually, writing was my first love, and still is. I guess that was why I went into advertising as a copywriter. Advertising is a bug, just pray not to be bitten. I got killed by running a 360-production company that allows me to dip my feet in the ‘branding’ pool. So, acting was something I did as a kid. After I finished watching a movie, going to my room, I’ll start acting scenes out. But I really thought I’d be a novelist. I used to write stories in class and pass them around to my mates to read.
What advice do you have for your younger self?
I don’t know what that would be. I mean, I was an ‘old soul’ from a very early age. My appeal and direction in life still hasn’t really changed since I was around 13, it has only grown. But if I had to give myself one advice, I will say: learn to forgive. I’m not a very forgiving person, and that’s one character I think I’ve had as a child that just more or less evolved into different ways, or different aspects of my character. I was that kid, if some kid hit me in the playground, even if he was bigger than me, If I couldn’t hit him back then, I would wait after school and throw a stone at him or something. I just did not know how to let go. So yeah, I think I will tell my younger self ‘let it pass, it is not worth it’.
Tell us one thing people don’t really know about you. One thing you wished they knew.
I’m not sure the things people don’t know about me are things I wished they knew. Maybe people that are not close to me, well, I’m highly politicised, socially and culturally conscious. I don’t know if that is something people would wish to know. But I think those kinds of thoughts go through my mind, thoughts that have to do with political situations, social and cultural situations… not just as black people but also as Africans. My antennas are always up, so I kind of… I’m highly sensitized by things like that, and I pick it up quite quickly, that gets me on the edge: somebody makes a racist comment; somebody says something negative about Nigeria. Obviously, the industry that we work in, when you work in a very culturally diverse and racially diverse country like South Africa, it can become an issue when you are very conscious.
What was the most challenging stage in making Comatose?
There were so many. We lost a location a day before we were about to shoot. Bimbo (Akintola) was amazing because when we lost the location, she literally was with us in Durban for close to a week without shooting (bless her). She was beautiful and very pleasant about it. So, that was quite challenging, because to lose a location after so many months of planning; we literally had to start shifting things around while the location staff was looking for an alternative location, and that was meant to be our main location. We were meant to shoot close to like sixty percent of the film that they pulled the plug on last minute. The other challenge that I kind of went through was actually in the post (production). There were quite a lot of challenges in the post that we had, and the logistics… it was a ‘tight’ cast, but because everybody was all over the place – we had a cast from France, Hakeem from LA – but that is usually the typical type of production headache, the scheduling.
You have a major role to play in 1Take media, a production company. With this, and all the creative works you churn out in the film universe, how do you find balance at the end of the day to enjoy quality family time?
It’s tougher when you are away from home and you are shooting; it is easier when you are home or when I am shooting in the same location where my family is. But I’ve been blessed with a very beautiful wife who understands, so that’s like seventy percent of the burden off. The rest is really just with my kids. I try and call, and Skype when I can when I’m on set, but it is tough especially when you are on location. I guess that’s where the cookie crumbles in the trade.
In recent times, do you feel the African narrative is properly presented through movies and documentaries?
African narrative, no, especially not in movies, I don’t think so. Documentaries, maybe to a certain degree because I think documentaries, unlike feature films, are not necessarily driven by commercial gains, and most people that do documentary tend to have a message that they want to get across. And because they don’t have distributors breathing down on their necks: ‘you’ve got to cast this person, you’ve got to do this’. I think documentaries tend to be more authentic to the African narratives and the African stories than feature films. I’m currently developing a documentary called ‘Omo Egun’, in which I’m tracing my masquerade lineage through my father and his brothers in Abeokuta, because I believe that our history is really important. I come from a masquerade family. My father doesn’t partake in it, and neither does his brother. And we see that a lot of our culture in Africa is disappearing and we don’t know it. I feel we are going through a period of cultural genocide and a self-genocide where we actually feel that everything African is evil. These things are just dying off, and it’s not just in Africa alone. Lots of indigenous cultures are dying off, and I think part of our contribution to humanity is to preserve every single aspect of humanity, every single culture, every single language, every single identity. You lose one; you lose an aspect of the whole of humanity. So, I do believe to a certain degree that perhaps documentaries are a bit more sincere, and a bit more honest in preserving and telling the African narrative properly, depending on whose perspective it is, and if it is our documentary.
As a creative person in the film industry, what are some of the unique approaches 1Take is implementing to ensure it produces contents that reflect the African story in a realistic and positive manner?
Quite a bit. We are working with storytellers and filmmakers from across the continent. We have a range of films that we are also trying to develop. We want to do bio flicks. I’m in discussions with the Sankara family to play Thomas Sankara, and develop a Sankara feature film. We have got documentaries lined up. Like I said, there is the one about my roots as a child from a masquerade family; I’m trying to trace my roots, and just unmask the history and the whole essence of the masquerade culture, not just in Yoruba land, but also in Nigeria and Africa, and in the Diaspora.
We did a documentary a couple of years back on Robert Sobukwe, who was the founder of the PAC. But the most important thing is to get African filmmakers talking. I think structure is really everything, and having a direction. So, we are in discussion with various filmmakers from across the continent, and the Diaspora to see how we can form a very ‘loose’ working relationship, to help tell our narratives better.