My dream was to become a footballer – Mr. Latin
Otunba Bolaji Amusan, popularly called Mr. Latin, incredibly is not as lousy in real life as he appears on set. Neither slim nor fat, Mr. Latin is tall and dark-skinned, a colour that pops him up like a glittering star. The former Ogun State's ANTP governor sees the media as a vital component in the process that brought him into the limelight as a movie star. No wonder the Abeokuta-based thespian opened up to Showtime Celebrity, in this interview, recounting the story of how his journey into the world of acting as against his original ambition of becoming a footballer started.
How did you come about the nickname, 'Mr. Latin'?
When I was in secondary school, I didn't really like French subject. So much that whenever we were having it in class, I was always running away from class. But when I started acting, at a time people like Baba Sala, Papa Aluwe, Baba Suwe and many other Babas had already become stars. I used to speak a little bit of French mixed with Latin. And we were on set one day with the biological father of Segun Ogungbe, that is late Papa Akin Ogungbe and then I would be speaking these mixture of French and Latin and they said, “this man that speaks Latin, come here! What are you saying?” It was as result of that they nicknamed me Mr. Latin and that was the beginning of being called Mr. Latin.
When did you start acting?
I started acting in March 1988. I never intended to go into acting. Rather, I wanted to become a footballer. I loved football because of Segun Odegbami, who is now a chief. And the Juju music Commander, Ebenezer Obey's song, “It's a go o, O-o-o-degbami-i-i-i” added more to the reason I love him (Odegbami) (laughs). Unfortunately I never met Odegbami in person.
For you to have wished to pick football as a career, it means you were a good footballer?
Of course I was.I played football so much that I got a lot of injuries playing it. And that was the situation with me till March 1988 when a friend of mine, Idowu Ajayi, who is based in Ibadan, introduced me to acting. And the reason he did that was that he and my other friends always found me a very funny and he said “Ah, but you can be a very good actor.” I said being an actor? Not me! He said, “Okay, don't worry. Either it is football that is your best or theatre, I want to introduce you to a theatre group”. He introduced me to the theatre group and that was how it all started.
The first day I got there, I met a lot of people and something just told me in mind that I could perform better than those people. Incidentally, there was a guy on set that day who was making several mistakes and I said to the director, “Sir, I can do it better than him if you allow me to do try.” Ordinarily I couldn't have been able to do it better than him but because of the courage the man saw in me, he said, “Let's encourage him”. And he put me on set. That was how I started because I did it more than better.
Which of the many films in which you have featured would you say launched you into the limelight?
Luckily for me, I have many ogas (masters) in the industry whom I love and cherish so much and I will forever be grateful for their contributions to my successes in the film industry. My rise to the limelight did not just come as a day thing. It was a gradual process. I started with television programmes: Eko e ree and so on. Along the line, I was featuring in Olaiya films, where I acted as a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and so on, but not as a comedian.
When did you then become a comedian?
It was around 1991,that I started acting as a comedian. I used to have a landlord at Sabo, in Abeokuta, he is late now, whom I used to mimic. He had a way of being funny in his talking and his way of doing things. When I got to the office one day, I just said, “Can I act the way my landlord does things and talks?” They said yes and I did it, they accepted it. That was how I became a comedian.
How did your parents feel about your decision to go into acting?
My parents didn't like that I should be an actor. You see, in those days, parents would never want their children to go into theatre or comedy because they didn't see actors as worth anything. They were looking at them as dropouts. All they wanted was to see their children becoming doctors, lawyers and so on. But my parents said, “well, if that is what you want to do, good luck. But if you eventually you can't find it easy any longer, you are very much welcome back home.”
But when they saw how easy you were finding it, what did they say?
I cannot really say that I have ever found it easy. But I thank God.
What challenges have you faced as an actor?
The first trouble you have as an actor bothers on acceptability. You are faced with the challenge of meeting your fan's expectation. If you try your best and you are accepted, good luck to you. Because, no matter how good you may be as an actor, your success still depends on your being accepted by the people.
You may be a well talented comedian and people would not accept you. When they get to your part they say, “forward it!” That's the very first problem.
I could remember in 1992, when I played a very prominent role in Baba Akin Ogungbe's 50:50, a comedy film. After recording and it was ready for a show at the Cultural Centre, in Abeokuta, I had to go and hide myself under a chair when it was about to reach my part. Because it was my very first outing as a comedian and I was filled with fears asking myself, “will these people accept me or not?” I hid myself under the chair at the Cultural Centre.
But when my picture came on screen and some people said, “Yes, ta ni eleyi” (who is this)? Some people just said, “Eje k'a tie gbo ohun t'o fe wi na” (let's hear what he wants to say)! I started to panic because, if they didn't accept me that day, that would be the end. There was something I said in the part that was shown on screen and the whole hall burst into laughter and they said, “Ah, were l'eleyi sa! Bobo yi ya were gan an ni o (this guy is a m-a-a-a-d man!) That was a remark of acceptability.
So the next thing they said was, “Hey, hey, hey, e dake, e dake k'a gbo ohunn t'o fe wi o” (let there be silence so we can hear what he wants to say again). That was how I became accepted as a comedian and I thank God for the progress I have been able to make in the industry since then.
How did you become Ogun State ANTP Governor?
Like I told you earlier, I started acting in 1988 and a year after, that was 1989, I joined ANTP and ever since then I have held several positions in the state's ANTP. I was Assistant Secretary, Egba Zone; Secretary, Egba Zone; two-time Chairman of Abeokuta North; the state's Secretary for four years. So, consistently for over 12 years without break that I was on the executive of ANTP, I had known the association inside-out and when the time to elect the state's ANTP governor came, people just felt that I was more qualified for the job. They said I had used my name, connections and wealth of experience to make a lot of good things happen to the association and so, it was not difficult for them to say “you are the one that is fit to be there”. That was how I became ANTP governor in Ogun State and I was in that office until last year.
If you didn't disappoint them, why were you not re-elected?
The very first day I assumed office, I said I was not going to seek re-election and that was why, after my first four-year term I didn't contest again.
Why do you like to shout or being lousy on set?
You see, as an actor or a comedian, I know what people want, I try also to know what they don't want. But you cannot satisfy everybody.
I act according to the script. If you ask me to come and act as a wicked landlord, there is no way I can be so gentle. My action, my talking and everything will have to portray me as a real wicked landlord. If you ask me to come and act Olori Ebi that loves money so much, you have to see that in my acting. That is it. But there is no way you can satisfy everybody.
When you act in a movie, how do you feel watching yourself?
I do see some mistakes. When I act in a movie and I sit down to watch it, I say oh, I should have done better than this. So, again, I act according to script and according to the dictate of the film director. Whatever an actor does and it is passed on, it is because the director approves of it, you cannot supervise yourself.
You do everything, as far as acting is concerned, to satisfy the director and to satisfy the script. So, whatever mistake I make, it is partly mine, partly director's.
So when I sit down and watch myself on set and I discover a mistake, there is nothing I cannot do than to note it for correction in the next production.
To what extent would you say acting has benefited you?
Well, I thank God that people accept me. Money, I don't have it but I think I can eat one or two times a day.
Having said that, let me state that acting has been so good to me because, through acting I have been able to wine and dine with the high and the mighty. Most of the states' governors know me by my first name. They do call me on phone and in some cases, I can be called on phone and the governor would ask, “Mr. Latin, where are you? Meet me at the State House.” That is one of the many good things that acting has done in my life.
Also, I have been able to tour so many countries in the world through acting.
In some of your movies, you always sound political, at a point, you would use former Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State to illustrate your point. Why?
Tinubu, whether we like it or not, is the father of Yoruba politics for now. I'm a social critique and a social commentator. If you watch me very well, I use satirize politics to drive home my point. I am like a mirror. If you are not good, we will tell you that you are not good and if you are good, we would not fail to point it out to you and to the people.
I produce a lot of movies for Tinubu, Fashola and many others. I even produced many of the movies which those governors or leaders do not watch, but I do whatever I do in that regard as my own duty in advising people in government on what I think is right for them to do.
If you watch my Baba Gomina, where the governor's son wanted to live life like the governor that his father is. It is another political film that I used in advising politicians and educating people generally.
Between Mr. Latin and Baba Suwe, what is common; what is not?
Baba Suwe is a talented comedian. No doubt about that. He's my senior colleague and I hold him in very high esteem.
Well, one man's meat is another man's poison. I believe I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I only add a little bit of education to my own comedy in order to carry everybody along: the retirees, market women and so on. When I act I speak good English.
One thing is, when you ask me to come and act an old man for instance, I would go back to my the street to sample the behaviours and dressing of about five old men. Some of them put on shirts, some of them would put on face caps, not all old men put on agbada. That is what I put into our Yoruba comedy and I thank God that people accepted it. I tried that in 2003, 2004 when I produced Otipoju, Oba J'obalo.
How many wives do you have?
I have only one wife.
That sound unbelievable for a man always surrounded with straight legged, find looking ladies wanting to have his heart for one purpose or the other?
My wife is everything to me. In fact, she is my wife, she is my sister, she is my mother, she is my confidant. So what else do I need from another woman?