Bimbo Manuel – The Principled Artiste
By Benjamin Njoku
Bimbo Manuel is a seasoned actor and broadcaster who has carved a niche for himself in the showbiz industry. A Theartre Arts graduate of the University of Port Harcourt, Bimbo began his TV career in 1985 as a broadcaster in Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC). He later moved to Ogun State Television (OGTV) before leaving to start his acting career.
Since he made his debut as an actor in 1986, having trained as a director for the stage, Bimbo has maintained a high standard that justifies the enviable place he occupies in the Nigerian movie industry. He believes in quality and this and would rather be remembered for the quality of work done than the quantity.
Nominated for Best actor in a supporting role at the 2013 Nollywood Movies Awards, Bimbo has starred in such movies as 93 Days, October 1, Tango with me etc and such iconic soaps as Checkmate and Tinsel.
In this interview, he takes us on a trip into his past, present and projects for the future.
How has the journey in the movie industry been since you made your debut in 1986?
It’s been an incredible journey and a very fulfilling one for that matter. When we all started out, not many of us saw what is happening now, who we all have become now, and what the industry had evolved into. It’s been a pleasantly surprising trip.
But you didn’t start out as an actor?
I debuted as an actor in 1986 but I didn’t train as an actor. I trained as a director for stage. But at that time, when you didn’t have too many directing jobs to do for the theatre that would put food on the table, you drifted. That was how acting came along and gradually sucked me in. Training as a director I must confess, also demanded that I knew something about acting. It was a demand on us then. It would be dignifying to say that I didn’t train as an actor, but in reality, I had to take several acting classes and so, I know a bit of acting.
Have you ever tried your hands on directing?
Yes, I have. I have directed a few things in my time. Apart from stage plays, I have also directed several shows. I have directed a couple of films and TV series. I wrote and directed Pastor Deyinde which was a Yoruba film. I also wrote and directed Queen Shola another Yoruba film. So, I trained as a director and I also worked as a director too.
Was broadcasting your first love?
It was my point of entry into the arts. I will be a bit hesitant to say that broadcasting was my first love because, I’d enjoyed writing. And if I’m left with a choice, I think I would choose writing above any other calling.
You once advocated the need for actors to take up more challenging roles. Which of the roles you’ve played have you found really challenging?
Every role you are offered to play by the producer is a challenge. The script prescribes what the director or the producer wants from you; and you have the primary responsibility to bring something fresh to the table. That’s what I mean when I said actors need to take up more challenging roles in movies. There has to be something that separates you in that script from everything you have done before. I can do something fresh or do the same thing but in a different way; something that leaves them with fond memories. That for me is what would separate the good from the ordinary.
What was the experience like the first time you faced the camera?
The first time I faced the camera was at OGTV as a duty continuity announcer, a presenter and a show host. At that time, I didn’t have any formal training in broadcasting. The people I worked with were extremely supportive; seasoned broadcasters like Tunde Alabi, Bayo Adebiyi, Remi Odutayo among others. They made it easy for me that at a point, I was thinking that maybe I should continue with broadcasting. For TV series, the first time I faced the camera was at NTA Channel 10. It was one of those weekly, dramas that ran on NTA Channel 10 back in time.
Do you feel that TV series such as Checkmate, which you featured in then and Behind the Cloud that made strong impact on the society should come back on air?
Checkmate as a TV series was great. It was an incredible writing by late Amaka Igwe. But you see, we are in constant evolution. I would wish now that we have projects that would arrest everybody’s attention the way Behind the Clouds did, the way Fortunes did, the way Ripples did and the rest of those evergreen TV series. One would wish that we did something that people would be rushing home to watch on their TV screens. But one would acknowledge that it will be a bit difficult now because of some economic reasons, and the multiplicity of broadcasting platforms in the country. Yes, we would like to have TV series like Checkmate come back but, it would be in the context of something that is suitable for this age and season.
But M-net produced Tinsel that explores similar daily happenings in our society?
Tinsel is different and I think its design and context, takes cognizance of what is happening today in our society. The drama is about the entertainment industry, film and television. That’s where everybody lives now, and that is what Tinsel is built around. Of course, we have those human angle stories like divorce, relationship and so on. But in terms of the technical quality and the level of acting of its time, Checkmate was what Tinsel is now, maybe stronger in terms of story- telling.
Between 1986 when you started your acting career and now, you have rarely featured in so many films. What’s the reason behind this?
You are right. In my home, I used to throw scripts away, but it occurred to me at a point that questions like this would come up one day and I won’t have any proof. I have many trash cans full of scripts I never worked on as a result of poor quality or content. I rejected those scripts as a matter of policy. I want to be remembered for those things that are enduring than the volume of work that I have done. It is not about the scripts not coming to me. At least, at my level in the industry, I should be able to attract the attention of the directors and film producers.
You have had a smooth ride to stardom devoid of controversy or anything that has to do with the politics of the industry. You are rarely seen wearing that celebrity tag. Was it what you wanted for yourself in the showbiz industry?
Again, it is a matter of choice. I became aware that at some point, I would have to make a choice between my family and my career success. I understand that the love of my family is stronger that whatever the industry can give to me. But that is not to say I don’t appreciate what the industry has also given to me in terms of the recognition, awards and all kinds of successes that have brought joy and happiness to me and my entire household. If I don’t work for three years in this industry, the dynamism of this industry will suggest that I will have to reintroduce myself. The business is transient but my family can’t forget me. So, I have more commitment to my household than what the industry has to offer me. I’m aware that what I do in the industry has a way of getting to my family, so I consider my family in terms of my role interpretation. I consider that when people see me, it reflects the home that I’m from. I consider who people see with me and the kind of roles I take on in movies. I try to be very careful.
Has the industry been fair to you?
I don’t think the question arises here. This is because I’m not expecting anything from the industry. I don’t feel the industry owes me anything, so there wouldn’t be any need to measure fairness.
What is the cost of being a celebrity?
Being a celebrity hasn’t cost me a lot. The only thing is that you cannot do some of the things you really would have loved to do; things like stopping on the way to buy roasted yam. If I tried it, you will hear the woman screaming and calling me “Oga Nduka!” But one has learnt to deal with all that over the years. Interestingly, sometimes I assist my wife go to the market to buy food stuffs for the family. In fact, I introduced her to most of the market women there. I’m not keen to wear the tag of stardom everywhere I go. I want to be able to mix up with everybody. So, if there is a price I have had to pay as a celebrity, it’s my inability to mix up with people as freely as I would have loved to. I grew up on the Lagos Island, so I am a people’s person. I still visit the area where I grew up and interact with the neighborhood as often as I can.
What’s your assessment of the movie industry, the politics of division and the prevailing face-off between the industry and the regulatory body?
I would be lying if I say I don’t hold any opinion about whatever is going on in the industry or that I’m not aware of it. Experience has also taught one that our industry is not any different from the larger Nigerian society when it comes to the politics of what the people will eat. I think the main problem is selfishness. People don’t seem to have confidence in their ability to earn a living in ways that satisfy their needs and that of their families. People don’t seem to be concerned about building legacies. It’s not only peculiar to our industry alone. It happens in the larger society as well. And that’s why we have this change mantra all over the place and corruption eating deep into the fabrics of our society. If people were focused on building legacies, I think we would have less need of government’s intervention in our industry.
I never advocated the need for government to fund the industry. I detest it and I have never been quiet about my position. I talk about it among my friends. I don’t think we would grow that way because we wouldn’t regard it as business. The risks are not the same as when you take loan from the banks to execute your projects. Let the government provide funds for those who are into manufacturing of goods, and those who are providing services to the people. It is not going to sustain any nation. It is only when people are producing things, and they are happy that they would use their left over to go to the cinema houses to see films or subscribe to the cable channels and so on.
The first thing people forgo when they don’t have money is entertainment. I don’t subscribe to that kind of support that Bank of Industry and other banks are giving to the industry. If they have the money, why are they not giving it out to the farmers to produce food for the nation or the textile companies that make the cloth that we wear? That’s my own thinking. But I prefer not to make it an issue any more because it’s not going to change anything. I feel that government is pampering the industry to the detriment of the larger economy. Yes, government can support capacity building to grow the industry because we need education. But I feel that let these monies be invested in other areas of the economy so that more people can be engaged. The more people are engaged, the more money in the society.
What’s your expectation for the industry this year?
I’m hoping that we would experience true growth this year. We have had massive growth over the years. We now have many young people working in the industry, people who are ushering the industry unto the global stage. Let us encourage them, not by giving them money or inviting them to Aso Rock, but by providing training for them. I don’t have issues with that. But I have issues when government gives people money to produce films.
When you are not on set, what kind of clothes do you wear?
I don’t dress for anything. I like to be comfortable. I’m not a red carpet person but if I have to walk the red carpet, I like to look corporate and not sensational. So when I’m not working, I like to wear a t shirt and a pair of trousers and a pair of slippers. I just like to be comfortable. It is not what I’m wearing that sells me to the people, rather the confidence I have in my worth as an actor.
You don’t wear perfumes?
I do, in fact, that’s one of my weakness – perfumes, chocolates and cakes.