…Why the legendary actors keep shinning
By BENJAMIN NJOKU
There are two names that cannot be ignored whenever you are talking about the contemporary Nigerian movie industry. They are Pete Edochie and Olu Jacobs, the symbolic ‘godfathers of Nollywood.’
The legendary actors, as old as the industry has remained relevant till date, have been on top of their game generation after generation. While Pete Edochie came into prominence after his famous role as Okonkwo in the NTA adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s bestselling novel, Things Fall Apart, Olu Jacobs started his acting career abroad when it was a big deal, before many of today’s actors were born.
He appeared in the famous 1979 film, ‘Ashanti’ as Commissioner Batak alongside Michael Caine and has not ceased starring in movies since then. One would have preferred to pick on the iconic actors separately, but you cannot talk about one without talking about the other.
They are both rivals as well as great actors in their own rights. But most importantly, their similarities far outweigh their differences. Pete Edochie lives his character in movies, and commands respect in the industry so also Olu Jacobs. The veteran actors are to Nollywood, what Billy Wilkerson was to Hollywood during his life time.
Popular actor, Richard Mofe Damjio knows better when he once referred to Pete Edochie and Olu Jacobs as ‘ veterans’, acknowledging the fact that he’s not in the class of the septuagenarian actors. And that’s the way every stakeholder in the Nigerian movie industry sees these evergreen actors.
Olu Jacobs born on July 11, 1942, in Ogun State, has distinguished himself as a godfather in Nollywood, paving a successful path for many emerging actors and actresses in the industry. His love for acting was inspired by late legendary film maker, Hubert Ogunde’s annual concert party which held at Colonial Hotel in Kano, thereafter, he travelled to England where he studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Olu is known for his excellent role interpretation. If you like, you can say he has been stereotyped, playing the role of ‘King'(Igwe) over and over again in movies, and the veteran actor is not complaining.
Like Pete Edochie, Olu Jacobs can be equated as the best when it comes to playing a king in movies because most times, the producers insist that he takes such roles as he interprets it so well that he could pass for real king.
In fact, in every ten movies Olu Jacobs stars in, eight of them are epic movies, where he plays the role of a king. It has become an integral part of him that his ‘movie subjects’ hardly remember that it’s a make-believe, just as his ‘distant fans’ usually mistake him for one who’s swimming in affluence.
Being a Yoruba man never undermines Olu Jacobs’ ability to deliver his lines when it comes to playing an Igbo King.
He’s a role interpreter to the core, and his decision to face his job and do it to the best of his ability has set him apart from his contemporaries. Is it any wonder that he’s become the Igwe of choice, a bonafide king? Olu Jacobs has played all the roles he can possible play as king in movies. He’s played the rich king, with a fleet of luxury cars.
He’s played the traditional Igwe or Eze as it’s the case in Igboland. He’s played the cuckolded Igwe. He’s played the devilish Igwe. He has also played the lover boy Igwe. It’s not for nothing that Pete Edochie once accused Olu Jacobs of destroying the Igbo culture and tradition because of his powerful interpretation of the traditional stool.
But Olu Jacobs was quick to educate Pete Edochie that even “real Igwes who meet me, not in their palaces but at airports, outside call me to tell me how much they appreciate what I am doing.” He describes himself as ‘ a fine actor, best analyzer of character and the best manipulator of words’ and that’s what he is.
For his dedication to his acting career spanning over five decades, organizers of Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards, AMVCA, in 2013, honoured Olu Jacobs with its first and well deserved ‘Industry Merit Award.’ Also, AMAA conferred its Lifetime Achievement Awards on him in 2016.
Meanwhile, Pete Edochie is one of Nollywood’s most important, dashing, but unsavory historical figures. He once described his role as Okonkwo in the NTA adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s novel,
‘Things Fall Apart’, as ‘most challenging, and one that immortalized him. The legendary actor admitted that the production projected him so well, and set the pace for his acting career. “ The production projected me.
I have played other minor roles on the television such as “Every Man”, “Realm of Violence”, “Resurrection” among others. But “Things Fall Apart” was a full length production. They were not disappointed with my interpretation of the character of Okonkwo,” Pete Edochie said in an interview with this reporter few years back.
Pete Edochie is linked with his role as Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, which he played at the age of 38. The role earned him the name, Ebube Dike,” and before his death, Chinua Achebe was fond of calling him Ebube Dike. Referring to Chinua Achebe, Edochie said “He never called me Pete.
Each time people visited him in America, while he was alive he would ask them about me. He created the ‘Okonkwo’ character and because he thought I would interpret it perfectly well, he named me after Okonkwo- Ebube Dike. So, a lot of people still see me and refer to me as a Ebube Dike.”
Not only is Pete Edochie inseparable from the roles he plays in movies, in real life he is an amiable person who’s rooted in his Igbo tradition. His sense of honour is second to none, and when he steps out, he’s seen as an embodiment of wisdom, often referred to as the king of African proverbs.
While he’s alive, he has planted his successor in the person of his third son, Yul Edochie, who’s currently one of the most sought-after-actors in Nollywood and now, trying his hand at politics. Unlike Olu Jacobs, Pete Edochie is versatile, and can fit into different roles in movies.
If he’s not playing the role of Igwe(king), he’s playing the role of an evil man, occult grand master, Village rich man, wife snatcher among other roles. The bearded veteran actor has starred in hundreds of movies and still gets major roles since his breakthrough in the ’80s, when he left radio broadcasting to pursue a career in acting.
He once said there are few people in Nigeria that speak good English as well as he does because he studied English and was trained by the BBC. While he’s an actor, Pete Edochie’s life off the screen is one that would make for good movie scripts. In 2009, he was kidnapped and later released while he was also reported dead in 2012, when he was in the northern part of the country to promote a new movie at the time.
It’s not been a bad commentary, as the septuagenarian actor is also more popular in recent times following his growing influence in the development of the African movie industry. In 2014, Pete was honoured with an AMVCA Industry Merit Award, and 2003, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo honoured him as a member of the Order of the Niger (MON).
From all indications, Pete Edochie and Olu Jacobs have etched their names in the sands of time. Interestingly, the iconic actors are poised to mark their birthdays any time from now.
Olu’s 77th birthday anniversary is coming up on July 11, while Pete Edochie’s 72th birthday will be celebrated on March 7. This is not ‘a pre-birthday package’ for the actors, rather, it’s a deliberate attempt to provide insights as well as celebrate the enviable places of these great actors of all time in the annals of contemporary Nigerian movie industry.