I’ve not dumped acting –Tunji Olugbodi
If he climbs a mountaintop today to praise the almighty God, you shouldn’t blame him for any reason. If he also chooses to organise a thanksgiving in his church, you shouldn’t fault his action. If he decides to engage a celebrated musician to entertain him alone, you shouldn’t see it as a bad idea in anyway. Why? It takes the grace of God for anyone to live an eventful life, particularly in this part of the world where death is so cheap, almost cheaper than a sachet of ‘pure water’. And if “Birthdays Are Not for Dying” as the respected literary giant, Prof. Femi Osofisan, rightly wrote, then, he can as well mount a beautifully designed stage and relive his earthly journey in the past 50 years to the delight of his family, friends, associates and well wishers.
Interestingly, this is what marketing communication guru, Tunji Olugbodi, GMD/ GCEO, Verdant Zeal, has chosen to do today at the Haven, Ikeja, Lagos, as he grandly joined the prestigious club of the penteganarians. During a recent encounter with The Nation, he said, “I feel grateful and thankful to God. I feel humbled by the outpouring of love and good wishes that people have shown me. I feel a new sense of life.”
In the past years, he has traversed three different professional planes with impressive resume: journalism, marketing communication and acting. In all these endeavours, he comes across as a rare talent. However, acting, which might be described as his first love, seems to have been relegated to the background. Not one to be economical with the truth, he ‘confessed’ that if anyone sees him acting today, he or she will take him for a wannabe, obviously because he has not mounted the stage or gone to a movie set for about a decade. Olugbodi, who comes from a family of 11, had started manifesting his acting talent from the nursery through primary and secondary schools. But it took a firm root when he was at the Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University), Ago Iwoye, where he obtained a degree in English Language. “I was in charge of the performing troupe at the Ejigbo Baptist High School, Osun State. We were a group of amateur actors who came together and were acting all over the place. We were moving from one school to another. In the university, I acted in every convocation play (including our own) until I graduated. We acted some of Prof. Wole Soyinka and Prof. Femi Osofisan’s plays, among others. Also, I did some professional acting with some of my friends,” he explained.
While he was an undergraduate at OSU, he tried to severe his romance with acting, so he could concentrate on his study, but the allure of the stage was too irresistible. Though the university then was not offering Theatre Arts as a course, the authorities engaged the services of some renowned dramatists and professors of theatre arts, on part-time basis, to strengthen the English Department. Therefore, when young Olugbodi came in contact with the likes of Professors Osofisan, Abiola Irele, Biodun Jeyifo, Kole Omotoso, who were coming from the University of Ife( now Obafemi Awolowo University) and University of Ibadan, he couldn’t stop worshipping at the temple of the god of theatre, so to say. “So, that rekindled my passion for acting. We had a very strong literary culture. We also had collaborations with professional actors. So, the more I took part in all those endeavours, the more I became attached,” he revealed.
In retrospect, he said one of his most memorable moments was when he played Teacher Lakunle during the performance of Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and The Jewel on the campus. Olugbodi wowed the audience that night. And his theatrical skill didn’t go unnoticed. He recalled that immediately after the show, the then university’s chief librarian, Mrs. Yeside Soyinka, walked up to him and gave him thumbs up. “She said, ‘Tunji, I have seen so many versions of Wole’s play, but what you did yesterday was really outstanding.’ It meant a lot to me because that was somebody who should know, having seen different versions of the play,” he recalled. When he acted Legica Brown in Ola Rotimi’s Our Husband As Gone Mad Again, it was also a vintage performance. No wonder, many still call him either Teacher Lakunle or Legica Brown today.
For some time now, his face has not appeared either on movie jackets or posters, but he was such a delight when he acted in some home movies, thanks to some ace movie producers, including Tade Ogidan who gave him more fame as an actor. In such movies as Hostages, Owo Blow, Diamond Ring, among others, Olugbodi proved his mettle as an engaging actor. So, from stage to home movies, he cultivated a large following.
Against the backdrop of his strong love for acting, you, therefore, wonder how and when he stopped being attracted to the stage. If you think he probably dumped acting when he felt he was not being duly rewarded, you are wrong. He explained that the attraction had never been about money. His reason, according to him, was that “The trajectory of my career didn’t allow me to go on with acting. I figure that if I had gone back to the university as a lecturer, I would have been more committed to acting. The few works I did outside were because I had some professional friends. I hate to believe that my acting days were over before they started. I always tell people that my fondest memory was when I was on the stage or doing some kinds of rehearsals. But I will go back to acting, maybe not as we know it like getting on stage. I have a great deal of interest for it. I have a natural passion for it. If I am coming back, it has to be for a loftier reason. It is an industry I really value. I appreciate what Nollywood has done for the image of Nigeria and for the benefit of Nigerians. But the theatre culture, as it should be known, has not taken a firm root. People go to watch concerts and films in cinemas, but they don’t take time to watch stage plays. Abroad, people still go to watch operas. Acting in a live performance calls for serious dedication and professionalism. You must deliver your lines and coordinate with the other members of the cast, therefore making it a rich theatrical experience for those who have gone to watch it.”
But beyond talking about his acting life, he also opened up on his idiosyncrasy, thereby exposing his personae. Unlike some others, he said he didn’t set any target for himself as the celebration approached. According to him, “I don’t dream big dreams. I take one step at a time. I have aspiration and a road map that can help me realise it. I am not that kind of person who would wish to have XYZ before turning 50.”
At 50, it will be interesting to know some significant events he would have captured in his memoir, if he were to pen it on this occasion. No doubt, it would make an interesting read. According to him, such a book would be categorized along his spiritual, professional, family and social life. He said, “With regard to my spiritual life, I will talk about when I came to the full realization that Jesus Christ is my Lord, Saviour and role model. I will talk about when I was appointed a deacon in my church and chairman of the Baptist College of Theology, in addition to the various responsibilities in the course of my spiritual journey. Professionally, I will discuss my qualification as a fellow of the Institute of Marketing and Fellow of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, APCON, Chattered Institute of Marketing, London. I will also talk about when I switched from journalism to marketing communication in 1989 and when I worked at different agencies, including Prima Garnet, before setting up Verdant Zeal in 2007. I don’t regard myself as someone who has the social currency that many would have.”
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