‘If you’re going to blow on big screen, you can’t be ordinary’
When The Nollywood Stories (TNS), a Lagos-based online magazine published it’s Top 10 Nollywood box-office releases of 2015, two movies in which Femi Jacobs played prominent roles made the list. With his appearance in The Visit and Taxi Driver (Oko Ashewo), the report described Jacobs as the only male actor, who appeared in two of the highest-grossing movies of 2015. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, the musician, trained pilot and actor spoke on what defines his art.
TNS recently identified you as one of the most accomplished actors in Nigeria, how does that make you feel?
I’m excited. It’s quite humbling. Make no mistake, it’s a competitive industry. When God helps you connect the dots like that it’s an awesome feeling. Sometimes you film these works but you never know when they will be released. I had them come out back to back for some reason. In fact, there was a period in the cinema when two of my films were showing at about the same time.
You featured prominently in two of the most spoken about movies in 2015, The Visit and Oko Ashewo, why did you chose to take these roles?
I did The Visit in 2014. I was invited for a reading and I couldn’t put the script down. One thing stood out in that script, it was full of unexpected twists in the plot and it got you glued to the action. Add to that the fact that all the action takes place in a single house and you could see the brilliance it represents. The decision to be in it wasn’t only just artistic. The poignant life lessons it portrayed without being preachy was also a major motivation for me. And when you saw people sitting through it and laughing for almost two hours, you’d agree that it was too good to miss for me.
For the character Chidi, I used a bit from watching footage of Steve Jobs to catch that nerdish calm edginess. They tend to slouch a bit and avoid eye contact, but you know it’s not because they’re weak; they just don’t much talking. Then I mirrored how a Nigerian working for Google or in the tech industry would be. I used a popular tech entrepreneur to channel Chidi’s thoughts and subtext. All that sounds techy but characterisation is a lot of things happening at once.
For Oko Ashewo, it was another awesome script; I liked its uniqueness in that for once. It’s a script for cinema that treated a subject matter that ordinary people can relate with. I love character roles. Adigun is such a character. I’d also wanted to make a language film. I wanted to speak my vernacular on the big screen. That was a brilliant opportunity. For Adigun, I watched a lot of Yoruba films to relearn he language and catch some of the newest phraseology. I focused on the Oyo dialect. It’s rich.
You were also part of Ewuro the stage play on violence against women, who motivated that?
We had actually done a stage production in 2013; It was a friend, Tim Godfrey who produced. This set of stage productions were planned for spotlighting issues around violence against women. It’s a cardinal duty of the arts. The first was on rape. The last one was on a barbaric practice in some parts of Nigeria to persecute widows and humiliate them. I’m sure we made our point. WAJE was exceptional and we also had Yaw and Chinedu.
If you like the record of the productions that you have been part of, is there anyone that stands out?
All the cinema films give me headaches to be honest. If you’re going to be blown up on that large screen you can’t be ordinary, and you cannot lie to that audience. They can see you blink, even breathe. So, no matter how simple the character seems, I tend to be hard on myself in portraying them. Some stand out than others but they are all hard, trust me. The Meeting by Mildred Okwo taught me a lot. Iquo’s Journal, directed by Blessing Egbe and featuring Kate Henshaw was also quite daunting. The Visit was interesting, as I’ve already said. Oko Ashewo was particularly intense for me.
How do you define your art, what is at the back of your mind when you want to decide on a script, song or engage in any art of performance?
Will it matter in 20 years? Would I stand out? Would I be proud of being in this film? Can I defend this character? They reckon you are who you portray. This bothers me but it’s true, and it’s a double-edged sword. Do the other people share my kind of passion? Budget is important but it’s not a driving force. It’s not an industry that rewards actors well enough as it is. We hope it will grow. For music, I love a good melody and I’m only for positive lyrics.
What is happening to your music?
I keep writing and recording and I still perform in select private events. Also heavily involved with my church choir. Releasing a single in a few weeks, but I will only do private performances probably. Music is like breath to me. I write new music every three days or so, at least two per week.
In the areas of art that you are involved who would you say are the people that have influenced you most?
Movies – Mildred Okwo, RMD, Morgan Freeman, Christopher Waltz. In music, John P Kee, John Legend, and the very prolific R Kelly.
Where do you want to go next with your career?
I want to greatly influence culture. I will gladly join forces with anyone and any cause that’s focused on raising the quality of a typical African mindset and who wants to help shape a new way of thinking. And I will pursue any angle in this very influential media and arts sectors that can help me achieve that.
What is on the horizon?
Three films coming out in the next three weeks or so – Bed of Lies by Chuks Nwali, Remember Me by the legendary Izu Ojukwu and Deep Fever by Charles Uwagbai. I’m Very excited.
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