Paul Obazele could pride himself as one of the founding members of Nollywood given his earliest contributions. In this interview with OLUSHOLA RICKETTS, he speaks on how he rebelled against his father to become an actor, Nollywood experiencing a shift during the last administration and what government must do to support the industry.
Was there any time you were fed up with acting?
It has never crossed my mind. This is my calling, a gift God gave to me. Royal Pictures, my company, has come to stay. What you are seeing now was well-thought-out and I executed it with time. I know that God would perfect things for us.
How was your growing up like?
I was always with ‘catapult’ to catch birds while growing up in Delta State. I had been attacked by snake twice and I would always enter one fight or the other.
I could still recall how I always chased my senior sister’s boyfriend with stones, though they ended up getting married. There was a time I fought my elder brother too. I was as tall as him and I thought I could beat him. The fight was actually between my sister and I, but he took her side and beat me. I would never forget that day.
Sometimes, when I am alone and I remember all these memories, I laugh. Whenever my children prove to be stubborn, I am not surprised. I say to myself silently that I did this before too. History has a way of repeating itself. Your children give you an opportunity to know how you were at their age because there are certain things you will not remember again.
I am from a large family; we are 18 children. My father married five wives, including an Indian woman. My mother is the first.
What was the major factor that influenced your decision to go into showbiz?
I was born into a broadcasting home. I would just call it an easy flow. But my father had an issue with it. He had the notion that broadcasters did not have homes. He believed they were not always there for their loved ones and kids. He did everything to pull me out of television and I lied to him many times.
I told my late boss, Pastor Segun Adeoye, that I did not go to school. He saw that it was very easy for me and was wondering how I got my writing skills if I did not go to school. I was already writing scripts at that time.
He knew I lied about my identity when we visited the then Minister of Information who knew my father.
The minister, who asked me what I came to do, even called me by my native name. Though I ignored him, my boss asked if he knew me. The minister asked my boss to come back and by the time we visited again, I met my father in that office. I nearly caused confusion that day because my father demanded to know what I was doing at the office and my boss said he had no right to question his worker. My father told him to shut up. He was shocked to hear that I did not go to school and my boss was disappointed I lied to him.
After apologising to my boss, he made me a producer. I went home with the letter and showed my dad, who then threatened he would run my boss out of business. He made sure I was frustrated out of television, he made sure I could not get the radio drama and voice over I was doing. I was left with only writing of scripts.
At what point did you get the blessing of your father?
We had a National Productivity Day where I performed in the presence of the then President Ibrahim Babangida on stage alongside Uncle Olu Jacobs, Joke Silva and Wale Macaulay. A
t the Gala Night, the president said he heard I was Patrick’s son and I said yes. Close to the president was my smiling father. As Babangida was walking away, the next thing my dad said was I should see him. I went to meet him and he scolded me for not pronouncing certain things well.From that day, he became my biggest critic.
Have you ever had problems with a director while on set?
I am an actor and director. The beginning and the end of a movie is in the hands of the director. So, I must respect my director. Once I am on set and we have agreed to shoot, I must submit myself totally to the director. If I have any reservation, I would discuss with the director silently, rather than challenge his authority. If he decides not to take in my idea, I would overlook it. He has the mindset of what he wants to capture.
Was it true that the N3 billion grant given to Nollywood by the administration of ex-president Goodluck Jonathan was mismanaged?
Anyone that said the grant was not given to the industry is a liar. Did the person who told you this apply? It is just like me saying reporters are liars when I am yet to give them fair hearings or I take a side. It means I am not sincere in my analogy.
I know movies that were done based on the grant given by the past administration. I also know that lots of production houses applied for the grant. That you do not have a clean pedigree and did not get the pay does not mean others did not get it. I did not get it too even though I applied through my production company. How many people were sent abroad for training during this period? Some practitioners were sent for training, but I do not know how many.
Who were the people who made up the committee to supervise the grant?
The person who told you about the committee should name the people who were in it. I cannot remember any committee that was set up. I try as much as possible not to be a rumour-monger.
If you follow Nollywood well, you will notice that there was a heavy jump-start of the industry last year. You will notice that lots of equipment came in. So, people should not mix things up. If an actor goes to apply for a loan, they would want to know the jobs you have done. That is where the pedigree comes in. Let’s not get it wrong. I can readily tell you that lots of producers got the grant. I applied, Zack Orji applied, Mathias Obahiagbon and many others applied. Obahiagbon was the first president, Directors Guild of Nigeria and he did not get. It does not stop him from being an ace director; he has done over 36 movies. I have done many movies but I did not get it too. And it has not stopped me from hailing what the past administration did.
Are you aware that some top Nollywood players see the grant as a scam?
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. The ones who could not look beyond their nose will always say whatever they want to say. We have some people who criticise because they want government to give them appointments. Some of us are not like that. We are always blunt whenever we have to. Let the doubting Thomases come out openly for us to see their faces.
Can you give me names of people who benefited from it?
I would not be able to do that. I cannot speak for anyone, but people got it. If after securing the grant and they did not use it to work, it is not for me to judge. But the last administration did well by listening to the yearnings of the entertainment industry in general. That you are a successful actor does not mean you are qualified to get the grant for movie production because you do not own a production company. Most people just talk out of envy, which is not right.
What is your major concern for the industry?
The biggest problem we have in the country today is the lack of government support in funding and protection of our rights such as intellectual property. You will always hear that Paul is always fighting piracy. Outside the federal and state governments, Nollywood happens to be the highest employer of labour as it were. If you look at what we do in the society, you will find out that this is not an industry you want to play with. If the government is not backing piracy, they should tell us the people they have jailed or prosecuted.
If each local government has a viewing centre, like a neighbourhood cinema of 150 people-capacity, do you know how many people that would be employed? This has been my cry. If we can have cinemas in all the local government areas in Nigeria, only America would be able to compete with us in terms of revenue we generate from films.