Olu Jacobs, veteran actor, appears to have become directors’ top choice for kingly roles in Nigerian movies
By Sylvester Asoya
While some actors consciously resist being typecast for a particular role, others just flow along with the director’s vision for the script. In a sense, Olu Jacobs, veteran actor, belongs in the latter group. Jacobs, the accomplished actor who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in the United Kingdom, has for many years, starred as king in Nigerian movies, especially those set in Igboland. The Igbo word for king is Igwe.
Though a Yoruba by birth, Jacob plays the Igwe role so convincingly that he could easily make an Igbo green with envy at his portrayal of the role. Aside his good grasp and understanding of the demands of the Igwe role, his delivery of his lines is perfect. Effortlessly, he oscillates between playing an absolute Igwe and a benevolent one, who identifies with his people in their moments of tribulation.
So far, Jacobs has featured as Igwe in over a dozen flicks. They include Royal Destiny, The Prince and Me, Secret Pledge, Throne of Tears, Prince of My Soul and My Wicked Uncle. His gentle role in The Prince and Me for instance, contrasts sharply with his beastly portrayal of a wicked Igwe in Throne of Tears.
In The Prince and Me, Jacobs confronts a child who becomes a nightmare to his father and the entire kingdom. He manages to be sensitive and fair, even when the situation demands the opposite.
He also brings to bear, this hallmark of great acting as Chief Udensi in Throne of Tears, in which he, alongside his wife, oppresses the poor and the defenceless. He carries his wickedness too far in his attempt to protect his only daughter who falls in love with a driver that pays her no attention.
Outside Igbo plays, the actor has also played other kingly roles in Yoruba movies in such flicks as Apere and Eewo Orisa as well as in The Trials of Ovonramwen, an Edo movie. Jacobs has also acted and directed movies of similar nature in other parts of West Africa and even beyond.
Although he could not easily recall his numerous Igwe roles when he spoke with TheNEWS, he told the magazine that he remembers each of the experiences with relish. But how did Jacobs, an international actor who had attained an enviable height in the United Kingdom before returning to Nigeria, find himself in the company of palace chiefs, rituals and other things that are associated with kingship?
“I am a firm believer in culture. Our culture is our life and our roots, that is where our strength comes from. And that is also where our dignity and pride come from. As Africans, we must tell the world our story but if we allow other people to tell the world our story, then they will surely tell it the way they like,” he said.
He recalled that his sojourn abroad offered him another view of culture. While in the United Kingdom, he discovered that the British protected and projected their culture so much so that it appealed to whoever came in contact with it. And that, for him, was not only patriotism at its best but the only way of preserving anything one holds dear.
Aside his numerous roles in practical theatre in the United Kingdom, Jacobs also demonstrated his versatility on screen, particularly on the set of Ashanti, a movie produced by Polish film maker, Roman Polanski. Ashanti turned out to be a major break for the Nigerian actor as it launched him onto American movie circuit.
He warned Africans not to denigrate their cultural heritage since there are Igwes and its equivalent in practically every tribe in Africa with the same mandate to guide their people successfully. “I never saw a king less than a dignified, respectful, caring but strong and hard when he has to be. But above all, he must be fair. This is what I believe in, that is why it is always very easy for me to act this role,” he added.
Jacobs is also working with young people, particularly in the area of skills acquisition, that is, for those in performing arts. Regularly, he holds sessions for his fans where he teaches them to be self-confident. In fact, he treats them as a father, as he is fondly called Uncle Olu by them. Jacobs and his equally talented actress wife, Joke, are starting a school to teach skills such as acting, directing, technical theatre and editing. The school will also organise sandwich programmes for those who may be in full-time employment.
He praised actors and others in the production chain for their ingenuity despite the enormous challenges facing production companies. “We are trying as actors. We are trying in the sense that our scripts are usually not in very top shape. This is because, we usually don’t have enough time to develop our scripts. So you discover that when we get on set, with a bit of home work that I would have done with the other actors and the director, we would all get together by removing, adding and adjusting, just to move the script forward,” he declared.
On the peculiar challenge of each role, Jacobs described every role as challenging. He described his last job as the most challenging, while his next job will be his next most challenging one. According to him, every role is challenging because he is never satisfied with his acting. The veteran actor is hopeful and believes that the next generation of actors would be greater.
Among producers in Nigeria, the veteran actor is popular, mainly for his professional approach and discipline. Ugo Emmanuel, an Onitsha-based producer and marketer confirmed this in an interview with TheNEWS. According to Emmanuel, who is the director of Emmalex Associates, “Jacobs is one of the most respected actors in Nigeria. He brings professionalism into everything he does and he is always willing to take any role. Jacobs does not complain and even when things go against his wish, he remains calm.”
Emmanuel, who worked with Jacobs many years ago, recalled the exciting moments they had, and how his discipline positively affected the production.
In the same vein, an actress, Shan George, described Jacobs as a very versatile and knowledgeable actor who takes his work very seriously. “He acted in my movie, A Can Of Worms, and we had a very good working relationship. In fact, he is one of Nigeria’s best actors and everybody knows it,” she said.
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