BIMBO MANUEL ON THE GROWTH OF THE NIGERIAN FILM INDUSTRY
Bimbo Manuel, a graduate of theatre arts from the University of Port Harcourt, is a director, producer, broadcaster and one of Nollywood’s award-winning actors. Manuel began his career with stage performances and then went into broadcasting, working in radio and television as a presenter, newscaster and a producer at the Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation. His long experience spans over 38 years in the business of movie-making and has seen him in leading roles in early soaps like Checkmate to several recent ones like the popular Mnet series Tinsel, and movies like 93 Days, Oct 1, Torn, Dazzling Mirage, Sitanda, Render to Ceasar, Torn and Heroes and Zeros, as well as stage plays like SARO. He recently starred in 93 Days and WAKAA! The Musical.
You just returned from the London Broadway-styled performance of WAKAA! The Musical. What was the experience like and can you tell us a little about your character?
It was a massive thrill starring in WAKAA The Musical at London’s Shaw Theatre. It was particularly special knowing that from day two, it was sold out in London up to the very last show. It was incredible for not just an African but also a Nigerian production! It left you feeling like you were a part of some great history. My character in WAKAA is the typically corrupt African politician, Otunba Sagay, who with the help of his nephew, wins the gubernatorial elections and then goes on to steal the state blind. However, more than anything else, I think the production offered us as Nigerians and Africans, a great opportunity to firmly drive into the consciousness of the rest of the world that, we may have had a dark and corrupt past in Africa but there is a new dawn and a fresh crop of leadership across the continent that is insistent on doing what is fair, right, just and progressive for the people and the land. None represents that new Africa more than our young people.
You are a seasoned broadcaster, voice-over artist, stage and film actor and have tried your hands on disc jockeying. Which has been the most rewarding?
Ah!, Obviously I cannot be a disc jockey anymore. I don’t even know or understand half of what happens on radio and those places where music is played now. Broadcasting and voice-over is something I now do on part-time basis or when the right project comes along. Fortunately, I don’t have to do it for money anymore. The opportunities acting presents to travel, meet people, give voice to the deepest emotions of the voiceless, is such an incredible responsibility and honour. You do not know how many people or what type of person you are going to be this month or year, so it is unpredictable and I think that is where the thrill is. Acting is fulfilling on stage or in front of a camera.
What is your preference, acting on stage or in film?
Each comes with its own very special thrills and challenges. I think they balance out. I’m comfortable wherever.
Recently you starred in the yet to be released movie 93 Days directed by Steve Gukas and based on the story of Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh and the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria. How did you feel as part of the cast bringing the story to life?
As I said earlier, it is roles and responsibilities such as this that true actors are made for. I feel honoured, and special to be counted among the select few chosen to bring to life and lock in pictures for posterity, the ordeals, sacrifice and heroism of those great men and women who gave themselves to save the rest of us. It is a bold move by Bolanle Austen-Peters, Dotun Olakunri and Steve Gukas to choose this particular project to pour their resources into. It was an honour playing with such true acts as Bimbo Akintola, Gideon Okeke, Keppy Ekpeyong Bassey, Danny Glover and Tina Mba.
In films, you seem to win parental, distinguished or the ‘good guy’ roles. Is it something to do with your age and experience in the industry, and have you ever played the villain?
Oh yes that would seem so but I have indeed played some truly naughty roles. Thankfully, though those have not been that many so you don’t think I am a villain! (laughs!). Seriously though, the perception of seeming stuck with the good guy roles may be as you suggested, a function of age. I am one of the few actors in my age bracket still active.
Do you think older actors like yourself run the risk of being cast in the same kind of roles all the time?
Let’s face it, our country carries the blessing of almost a 70% young population. That is a fraction too big to imagine. So it is quite understandable that a good chunk of our products not excluding movies and music is aimed at them. That does not suggest that older people do not also have a story, even in the young people’s story but yes, there is a risk that unless we get even more inventive, many of our generation of actors and maybe two more after ours may find themselves working only predictable roles. That will be sad. It is the reason I personally keep reinventing myself to stay in the context of the industry narrative.
It seems that older actors also tend to look the same in most of their movies. Doesn’t this affect the perception by their audience who could think they are stuck on some particular looks?
I wouldn’t know about that. As I said, one needs to keep recreating one’s self in our business. Even in real life, parents and other older people do not always look and act the same—something makes me wish your dad was mine or that I could have your mum for an aunt. It is the responsibility of the collective; the actor, the writer, the director, the production designer, wardrobe and makeup to find a new human each new time, as well as subtle believable changes that keep us human yet different, and something attractive enough to command fondness or memorably repulsive enough to compel revulsion. It takes a lot of work but most times the pressure of getting it done in record time could be a factor because, most producers still don’t have full control over all their production variables and so the harvest is a boring repetition as you noted.
Is there any particular reason you keep getting work from some Nigerian directors and producers like Bolanle Austen-Peters and Izu Ojukwu?
I never even noticed that till your question and even that assumption is not true. I have not worked with Izu Ojukwu for instance, in the last five or six years. With Austen-Peters, I have only done this one film, 93 days and two stage productions; SARO and WAKAA, which seems to have gone on forever now! (laughs!). I work with everyone, provided the story is right and I am convinced I can believably deliver the character. I trust the competence of the director and his team enough to put my professional life in their hands. I work with other directors and have worked with most of the high profile ones in the business at least once. That is enough proof and reputation I think (laughs!).
Would you work with younger, upcoming directors and producers in the Nigerian film industry?
Of course! I have been opportuned to work with some truly gifted and visionary directors and producers. I will do it again and again because they are the future of our industry.
What message do you have for younger people seeking direction in your fields of endeavour?
Nothing beats knowledge, no matter what you want to be, commit to understanding it, learning it and to excellence. It is not all about money and fame; both fade. Who you truly are is all we will remember, not your house, shoes or car. Excel!
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