Ace actor and filmmaker, Saheed Balogun, remains an interviewers’ delight any day. The respected thespian in this interview with LANRE ODUKOYA addressed nagging issues plaguing the movie industry, rested the age-long feud between him and his ex-wife, Faithia Williams and recounted how piracy almost cost him his life.
Congratulations will be in order for a thespian like you who has been around for over three decades, what has been staying power?
In all honesty, there’s absolutely nothing keeping me but God. It’s the God factor and this glory isn’t one I can share. He gives me inspiration all the time and He abides with me through every assignment commissioned.
At some point you became a trendsetter; you were the first person to produce a two-member cast movie; you produced all Caucasian movie which starred only you as the black in the project and a few other novel ideas that people celebrated. What happened to your trend-setting agendum?
The all Caucasian movie you spoke about was titled ‘You or I’ and it was after that project that I decided to take a break as I was no longer sure of where the industry was heading. I cannot live fake life to impress anyone. It doesn’t make sense for me to make N50million and start creating the impression with people that I’ve made N500million. I’m just taking a deserved break for a little longer before I know my next move.
How was the experience commercially?
That movie was the project that set me back terribly. After spending millions touring four countries, spending money, traveling with a crew and so on, it got pirated. That experience almost sent me to early grave because my account was empty, I was almost running mad because there was nobody to help. So, after that, I decided to take everything easy.
How did you waltz out of that despair?
It’s God in capital letters. It’s only because He said, “son, you still have a mission” and I said okay, ‘you’re not a man that you should lie.’
Are you working on any movie project at all?
Yes, I’m working on a small movie now titled ‘White.’ The movie just basically tells you that whatever you teach your children is a lead and may save you in the future.
You no longer feature in most commercial movies unlike before. Is there a drought of scripts coming your way?
On the contrary, the scripts are coming and I check them, it’s just that we tell the same story in 15 ways. Well, I may start considering some scripts and give them a shot. But you see I’m not comfortable with repeating the same thing and I see new guys coming up too. So, I said let me take a little break and see what these guys have got.
Nobody can tell Saheed Balogun’s story like you’d do yourself; how did you feel the first time ever that you’d appear before the camera?
Was it a feeling of excitement, did you fidget- what really was the experience like? I remember very well how the passion was all over me and I almost overacted. That’s more than 30 years. It was all TV series then in Lagos and back in Ilorin. There were no home videos then. with the advent of home videos, I did Ori Apere, City Girls, Omo Daddy and many others. But I was like a lion then always ready to roar.
Is there a time you can really call a career-defining moment in your foray into professional acting?
I’d alw a y s give i t t rin where everybody knew me as Mallam Mai Suya. I was on TV and I kept thanking God, but I was looking for the national attention then. I came to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Hajia Hawau was the writer of Winds of Destiny and they were doing marathon auditions. I came for the first to the fourth round of audition. Ahmed Adio just held my hand said let’s go. The guy who was doing the auditions kept saying there were too many people here, but Adio insisted that even if it was one scene, they should give me and they would never regret. So, the way I did just that one episode got the attention of the Director General of NTA who asked how come you assigned this guy to just one episode? The role was so brief that it was about 55 seconds. In the play, they were supposed to give me a wife but they didn’t. I came in, threw my lines to everybody and angrily left. The man was highly impressed at the dexterity of my acting and he exclaimed- who is this guy who spat this fire and you said he appeared only in one scene? No way! So, the guy who was supposed to play Mallam Buka was in Jos and had become too busy, they were to shoot second episode, they waited for him because they were to shoot on Sunday, he didn’t come on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Dan Emene just said, let’s give this guy a trial; can you play Mallam Buka? I answered in the affirmative. They just gave me the turban, Dan Emene, then left and was at one corner thinking of what to do, he then heard the voice of a guy and said, okay, maybe Saheed shouldn’t do the role, the guy who spoke just now should be allowed to try it. They said no, the voice was Mr. Saheed’s. He said the same Saheed? We have a cast already. And that was how I made the first national limelight because everybody was always waiting for my part every Sunday.
Could you recall any experience when you wished you were never an actor?
After enjoying the glitz of limelight, there was a day we had a little argument and I opened a newspaper and saw that I had been written about as a woman beater. They said I fought and beat the lady in question on Sunday. It was the same lady that was alleged to have been beaten that found the paper and brought it to me. She said your friend wrote this about us? And people started calling from right, left and centre. I was shocked and embarrassed. It was there and then the same lady and I went about explaining to people that what was reported about us never happened. At a point, I parked my car at a junction and asked myself- can I at least look for another job to do apart from acting? I looked at the paper then and what I saw about myself was the first man to produce the first two-cast movie in Africa, the first to do all-Ankara wearing movie and so on. Is this how I’m going to be celebrated? I felt like quitting. It was then that the late Adunni Bankole and Remi Adiukwu-Bakare sat me down and told me, ‘son, in life there’s always a storm, the ability to weather it and not chicken out is what makes you a man. Are you a man or a woman?’ I said I was a man and they said, then you have to get going. They asked me what my next project was and I responded that I was going to do an all Caucasian movie where I would be the only black character and they gave me the encouragement to go ahead
Social media does almost in equal measure, good and bad, to those who throw up their all on the platform. What’s your take posting all one’s achievements on the social media platforms?
I’m just going to advise that people should be very careful because 40 years after, internet will never forget. It will bring history back. So, we should be what we say to promote ourselves. I also go once in a while to the social media to do stuffs, but these days, it’s sad that it’s killing the creativity of youths. Many of them waste time there doing nothing really profitable. Social media is fun but it can also be the highest form of distraction. If you see the white man, he can use a phone for five years, it’s mostly black people that keep changing phones now and again. The seriously developing countries trying to get away from the third world countries first ban all these distractions because they’re striving to meet the super world powers. In North Korea, you don’t even mess around there as small as they are. That’s why they are mighty. It’s a total distraction and it’s affecting our youths adversely. You’d even see some of our musicians messing up the whole place with bad music they churn out.
For the first time in a long time, you and your ex-wife, Faithia Williams, agreed to act together even as a couple in a movie. Many had thought since your marital squabbles were unresolved you would never even see eyeball to eyeball. Are you back as husband and wife?
We have settled, we shot a movie, please move to the next question.
The next question is that are you back as husband and wife after the long fight?
I insist that I don’t want any family related questions. Move or we’d stop the interview. I have a son, we have children that are reading, it’s my private life. Next question please. If you ask family question I’d stand up from here.
Okay, let’s discuss your movie project… Fantastic!
I have about three to four street movies, but these days I want to call myself to order on the street thing, because there’s a lot of things going on in the society. The current one I’m doing is titled ‘White’ and I want to do another one that will be titled ‘Whose Fault’. This revolution we’re screaming shouldn’t happen after the election. Like the movie I’m doing, ‘Whose Fault,’ my idea of revolution there is; ‘don’t collect rice, money or anything at all from politicians before voting them into power’. If you want to contest, we should ask you where you are coming from, why do you want to contest, what do you have to offer?’ Once we hear your story and see you can’t really solve the problems you meet on ground, we’d kick. And if we vote you into power and you start messing up, we’d revolt again. People collected so much from politicians and the wrong people got elected into office. I can’t start crying over spilt milk. In the movie, the message is for the society. I did one movie titled ‘Scourge,’ the story was to discourage our youths from drug abuse. We should begin to find ways forward for our dear nation, we have nowhere else to call home.
Well, one would think because of the monumental loss you suffered after your movie was pirated, by now you should consider the commercial viability of any other work you do…
Since people have been in that National Assembly, what bills have they passed to prevent piracy and protect the movie industry? Tourism and cultural exchange can fetch us a lot more than oil and gas. They say that in 2040, we’d move away from oil and will start using alternative power, where is the structure we have to ensure that happens here in Nigeria? But you’ve had a few colleagues in the state and national assemblies. You’ve had Rotimi Makinde in the House of Representatives; couldn’t he have lent a voice? Structuring of the entertainment industry has got to happen at the federal level. But Rotimi Makinde was in the committee for petroleum. If you are not in a committee that oversees a particular segment you can hardly influence anything. You can only suggest and if you talk too much they’d ask you to mind what your committee is saddled with. He tried, but a tree cannot make a forest. This man came and screamed to us, he gave us names and he was the first person to come and tell us, stop marching in your states. These are not state laws, we’re waiting for you in Abuja. But the people who were challenged to do the march, did we go? We’re here waiting for one Jesus to come and solve our problem.
If you were not an actor, what else do you think you would have done successfully in life?
I would have been a preacher of God’s words.
As a Christian or a Muslim?
I can be anyone propagating the gospel of God Almighty.
As a Christian or a Muslim?
I can be anyone propagating the gospel of God Almighty.