‘My fashion is not affected as Agun Asa of Edeland’
Femi Branch’s story runs like a novel. When he gained admission into the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, to study Religious Studies, it never crossed his mind that he would end up as a dramatist. But somehow, destiny made it to come true, and today, he can tell better.
He’s not only a playwright, but also, an actor, poet and a stage director . In this engaging interview with Showtime Celebrity, the popular actor recounts the story of his journey into the world of make-believe, and how his 2003 MTN Television commercial, “Dance with Me” reconciled him with his Dad who almost disowned him after he dumped studying law for acting.
He also talks about his new position as Agun Asa of Edeland, (a defender of Yoruba culture), a Chieftancy title that was conferred on him last year by the Alaafin of Oyo, Lamidi Adeyemi III.
By BENJAMIN NJOKU
How priceless is the Chieftaincy title that was conferred on you last year?
I was given a Chieftaincy title in recognition of my contribution to the preservation of the Yoruba culture through my movies. I am a defender of our culture. Apart from acting, I am also a playwright and a poet. Basically, the title is to defend everything that has to do with our culture in anything that I am involved in, either in my movies or in my writings; to promote Yoruba culture especially, as it relates to Ede kingdom.
Does bearing this title affect your actions, career or writing in any way?
I am not the first entertainer to be awarded a Chieftaincy title. It’s a call to service. It wouldn’t in any way affect what I do for a living. Rather, it has made me to be more conscious of my Yoruba culture. I am somebody that is always proud of my Yoruba cultural heritage either in my dressing or in the way I speak. It has made me to be more conscious of that in everything I do. It doesn’t affect my work in any way. It’s just that it defines my social obligations, especially as they regard to our traditions and culture.
You said it’s not affecting your work, but somehow it’s affecting your dress sense?
I’m happy about it and it wasn’t as if I had to change my wardrobe. Instead, it has helped to enrich my wardrobe with traditional wears. It’s not as if I am restricted. I believe it’s part of what is expected of my of office. When I wore suite to last year’s Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice,AMVCA, many of my colleagues were surprised because they were expecting to see me in traditional attire. It’s not as if I am restricted. But it’s what is expected of that office.
One recalls that you earned admission into the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, to study Religious Studies but you ended up studying Theatre Arts?
I tell you that until I got into OAU, I didn’t know much about Dramatic Arts. The least I have ever done was in secondary school when we staged one play. It wasn’t anything outstanding that would have made me to even start thinking of pursuing a career in that line. But when I got into OAU, anytime I’m coming from the academics heading to the residential, base on the way the institution structured, I always passed through the African Studies Complex. It was like a short cut to my hall then because I was in Angola Hall.
But each time, I passed the complex I always hear sounds of drums and choruses. I had to ask if those people singing and dancing were also students. And the answer was in the affirmative. I became so curious and I found myself going there anytime I had free period. I would sit there and watch them and I was thrilled .
That was how the theatre-bug-dust beat me. I said to myself I love what these people are doing. Definitely, I would love to do this, and I started rehearsing with them. I begged the DM to allow me to be part of the plays and everything, until I got integrated and became part of them. The very first play I did with them was ‘Eniyan.’ directed by Chop Mike then . I had to beg to be part of the crew even though it wasn’t a school production.
It was a travelling theatre and the play was intact. I begged Chop Mike to allow me to be part of the cast. Chop Mike asked me to sit and watch the play and see anywhere I could fit in. It was a workshop play and I sat down and discoverer that this man was a philanthropic and he had been helping students. I said, okay I could be a student who has come to beg for help. I just displayed one thing on stage and that was it. The rest is history. That was how I discovered the flair for acting. And for me, there was no going back.
Why Religious Studies?
The year I sat for JAMB examination, English Language was cancelled because I was supposed to gain admission into the Faculty of Law. So, I was given a provisional admission to study Religious Studies. But later, I changed in my second year to Law, which was the course I wanted to study initially.
But you later also dumped law for Theatre Arts, how did your parents react to your decision?
It was a serious matter because my Dad always wanted a lawyer in his house. It was so bad that he had to go back to the University of Ibadan, where he graduated from to do a diploma programme in Law. He always wanted one of his children to be a lawyer. I wasn’t really bothered, but for him, it was a let down. He almost severed relationship as his son for nearly two years. But our fight was settled after I did the popular MTN television commercial titled “Dance with me” in 2003. I was in Lagos, and we had not spoken to each other for a very long time before I did the TV commercial. And then, out of the blue I just got a call from my Dad and he said to me, ‘ How are you…I saw what you did, congratulations…I am proud of you…” Immediately I called my mum, and she told me that one of my dad’s friends saw the billboard at Abeouta and drew his attention to it. That was how he went there and confirmed by himself. It wasn’t easy but I’m thankful that at the end of the day, they were happy that I took the decision to follow my dream.
MTN advert was one of the many endorsements you have gotten in your career and it’s said that your net worth is estimated up to $6 million, how true is that?
That’s interesting thing about the work we do and that’s why they call it showbiz. It’s driven largely by perception. People just look at you and the clouds around you and they start estimating your worth. But because of the nature of our profession, it’s possible that people can just ascribe more to you than that. I pray to be worth that much.
Back in the days, your unique voice got you a lot of jingles and TV commercials. Did the voice as well win many ladies for you?
I view such people as people that are appreciative of what I do for a living. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t deny that we don’t take advantage of such attention, especially for some celebrities who never thought in their lives they could have those kind of people admiring them. You think that every woman that comes to say, I love what you are doing means that the person is interested in you or wants something from you. It’s not always the case.
One must be very careful in relating with them so that you don’t get your fingers burnt. I appreciate and respect them. I see them as the people that are responsible for whatever success I lay claims today. So, I don’t take any undue advantage of them and I don’t believe any lady that comes to me wants something from me. They just appreciate what I do and I appreciate right back.
What’s the toughest challenge that almost made you to want to quit acting?
Let me say that I’m grateful to God that it has never gotten that bad. It never got to that point of regretting what I am doing. I am a very positive person, I don’t allow anything to bother me. I have a back up plan. That’s the way I run my life. For instances, when I did my play in 2015, the show was a monumental flop. It was commissioned by NLNG, that means it was plaid for. I would have pocketed the gain I made from the play, but I decided to take it to Lagos and Abuja, and it was a flop. That for me, it broke me. I lost confidence to produce anything after that. But it was never cast doubt about my acting career. I regained my confidence some years back . I have never gotten to a point I said I was quitting acting. I will never get to that point because it will take a lot.