Award winning Nollywood actor and movie director, Rotimi Salami, has become one of the viewers’ favourites since bagging the African Magic Viewers’ Choice Award for the best supporting actor in 2017. The filmmaker and a proud family man, in this interview by FEMI OGUNTAYO, explains how his boyish look is denying him a lot of roles and also recaps his journey to stardom. EXCERPTS:
On Coronavirus, do you think the FG easing the lockdown and mandating a curfew is the best decision to take?
Logically, easing the lockdown and mandating curfew is not the best decision. But on the other hand, the government has also failed in catering for its citizens at the end of the day, because if the government could provide for the people to at least feed themselves to stay at home, nobody will be yearning to go back to work because everybody knows this is a deadly virus that has no cure yet. So, the government had no choice than to ease the lockdown because they know they were not able to provide for the masses and just to reduce the number of people who would eventually die of hunger, rather than the virus killing them. But just like I said, it is not the best decision to take because if truly we have the virus transmitted rapidly from one person to another, now because of easing of the lockdown, the number of affected people would have gone up and of course you know what that means. Let us just thank God for the type of weather we have, maybe that was what has been helping us curb it, because of the heat and all, but a direct response to your question is just that easing the lockdown is not the direct solution to tackling the virus in our country.
Can you share with us your childhood experience, how was growing up in Lagos like for you?
Growing up in Lagos for me was very normal I lived a more quiet life because my parents are disciplinarians, you know, there was really no time to go outside and play like every other kids could do, despite the fact that I grew up in Ajangbadi. My upbringing was more like a ‘Butter kid’ kind-of, even if I would not eat the butter really. I would say personally I did get to learn too many things from the street, my mum was my street, she was my religion, and she was my everything. But I think I picked up everything from secondary school majorly, yes.
How would describe your acting career experience so far and recap how it all started for you?
For my career, currently I would just say God I thank you for how far he has taken me. To be honest, the journey started very rough, but then, upbringing helped me to survive longer years. I started my acting career mainly from my neighborhood in Ajangbadi I started from Cobweb audio visual productions owned by a friend by then – Ola Rassak, and I could remember I had to pay him for registration that was 2005/2006. The production started, we went for rehearsals, and we went for our very first shooting experience then at a town behind a river. That particular movie is not out because it was shot with a VHS camera, you know, that camera that they shoot naming ceremonies with. After that time, we started rehearsing for Shahinsha Kingdom which eventually came on air on NTA, years after. Then my very major break on TV that people saw and was like “oh we saw you on TV!”, was on Super Story’s ‘Because you loved me’, where I featured alongside Gabriel Afolayan, David Nnaji, Jide Awobono and a host of others. After that time I made several attempts trying to produce because I experienced discrimination a lot, then they will be like, he is not Igbo, that I am Yoruba. At some point I was almost going to change my name, I was going to add a Raymond or something to my name, just so it can sound more English or closely Igbo. You know most Igbo people bear English names, so when I heard the story of Segun Arinze and Desmond Eliot and a host of others who had one or two English names, not conk Yoruba, I wanted to add Raymond to my name too because jobs were not forthcoming. I kept going for different auditions for years and the role wasn’t coming, so I believed that because I am passionate about it something is going to happen. At some point, I started making attempts to start producing too. I made my first attempt to produce a series called ‘J and J’, but unfortunately I was only able to shoot two episodes of that and afterwards, nothing. My second attempt to produce was in 2010, which was ‘Kuti’s career palace’, it got on TV in 2013 and got nominated for AMVCA in 2014 as best comedy writer. Of course, there were a lot of challenges along the line too, but then glory be to God. I had my first directing job in 2009 – ‘Leave my boyfriend’, produced by Ikechukwu and when I directed the movie, I was so eager. When I was contacted that how much do I want to take for the job, I said I was not interested in how much they wanted to pay me, that they should just give me anything after directing the movie. The movie went on Hi-Tv back then, it went so viral and I was proud I did that. Afterwards, I produced and directed my own series, which was ‘Kuti Career Palace’ that I mentioned earlier.
So before 2015 when I got a call from Juddy Audu to pick up a character Lati in the movie ‘Not just married’, which was in the cinema in 2016/2017, that same year, I got my very first award at the Best of Nollywood awards, as most promising actor. I was nominated in two categories, first was most promising actor and also the most supportive actor, so I won the most promising actor, which was in December 2016. Then in 2017, with the movie, ‘Not Just Married’, for my character – Lati, earlier in that same December 2016 I got a nomination and I saw my name, I was so happy, lots of veterans called me that day. Paul Igwe said, Rotimi, I don’t care if you do not win that award, you are already a winner, for you to get a nomination. I also got calls from different other people saying that Rotimi, you have always been a good actor and that you deserve this. Then, I asked, where were these people when I was going about for roles, none of them ever told me or gave me the opportunity to feature in their movies, but then, it was a good step for me. Peradventure, with the support of Juddy Audu and the entire ‘Not Just Married’ team, my family, we all voted without relenting and yes, I got the award for Best Supporting Actor, with that same role – Lati, in ‘Not Just Married’ and right from that moment, the story has never remained the same again. Fast forward to today, that was one of the moments that made Rotimi Salami.
You have this very young and ‘babyface’ look, what effect do you think this has on your acting career?
Regarding the ‘babyface’, it was a major setback for my career even before 2017. So immediately after the award, some major producers didn’t really care so much about the face and risked putting me on a couple of projects. I must confess, up until this very moment, my ‘babyface’ denies me a lot of roles, but however, there are still a lot of roles I still fit into, and one cannot have it all as a human. For the craft, I know I am averagely good and as for a cute face for the camera, I know I have got it, but unfortunately, there are certain roles the cute ‘babyface’ won’t be able to earn me, so it was a major setback.
You are married, how do manage family with acting, without allowing one affect the other?
Basically, I would say I am blessed with the kind of partner I have. I am married to a thespian who graduated from the University of Lagos creative arts, so she understands my job. Also, coupled with the fact that I am not so much of an outgoing person, if it is not my work, I am at home. So they understand that every little time I have, I am with my family, so I think I am blessed.
How do you cope with female admirers who may not know or even know you are married and still intimately approach you?
Well, my female fans and admirers are the best thing that can ever happen to me in my entire career. I can categorically say I have over 70 percent of female fans and trust me, I get good and great support from them all. Truth be told, everybody wants to associate themselves with a work-in-progress, I am a work-in-progress. Associating themselves does not necessarily mean they want to tap from me, but means that they want to help push this particular brand. So if a female admirer jumps on me either knowingly or unknowingly even with the fact that I am married, it is not a problem at all. The most important thing is, if they don’t know, I let them know.
What is the most embarrassing moment in your career so far?
One of my most embarrassing moments was at the early stage of my career, in 2008. I was opportune to feature in a movie and I was meant to play the role of a newscaster. I was on the set for four days, just to play the role of a newscaster. It happened to be the last scene they intend to shoot. I already had my lines, I was ready to roll, camera set and delivered my lines. So the director just thought to change one line from the entire lines I was broadcasting and immediately he changed it, you know how it feels when you have a particular line in your head and change it, picking up almost immediately could throw you off balance. So I had to do take two, take three, and the director of Photography just screamed: “see you, you just fine for nothing, act you no sabi act”. Oh my God, I was so embarrassed, that dropped my moral, I felt very humiliated by that word, it took like take 10 or 11 for me to perfect that act.
How do you think the Nigerian movie productions can be improved upon, because a lot of viewers seem to underscore our movie productions and still think we don’t meet up with international standard?
There are a lot of challenges facing movie productions in Nigeria but I believe what can be done just like we have in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, where they make one or two movies in a year, and that one or two movies, they would have the government’s backing for such productions. Nollywood is really big, but with governmental support we will do well and individually, we need to start thinking that whenever we are making a film, we are making it for a lifetime and not just for a month or two or just to make ends meet. Then we will begin to do it well. Then, it will mean that if it is not appropriate, we won’t do it, if the story is not good, we won’t do it, if things are not in place we won’t do it. So, until we see filmmaking as something that is meant to last forever, and not something of immediate gain, then we will begin to make good films.
Lastly, your words to your fans
To my fans and lovers out there, let us keep on loving ourselves. Keep supporting my brand, keep praying for me and I will make sure I do not disappoint you, bigger you all I pray.
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