Bimbo Manuel is probably best remembered for his controversial role in Checkmate, where he was entangled in a fierce battle with his culture, and thus was willing to sacrifice love for tradition. In this interview with AZUH ARINZE, however, the handsome actor and father of two who read Theatre Arts at the University of Port-Harcourt revealed that he is as real as he was in Checkmate. Enjoy…
How did you come into acting?
When I was starting out, I was pretty young. All I wanted was to be in show business. I guess at that time I didn’t really understand the true picture of what show business really, really meant. There were people like George Martins, Tunji Martins, etc. And I wanted to be like them, because they seemed to have the arts in them. Taiwo Animashaun thought then that I was wasting away. So, he gave me a note and said just go to OGBC, and ask for Sesan Ekisola. So I went, and he said come and start work. So, the following week, I started. It was very strict then, not like these days. They know your weight. They train you, test you with small item, before they leave you on your own. After a while, I was able to get on. That is where I started from. I was a newscaster, presenter, on OGBC. We started OGBC 2. There was Willie Thomas who is now the head of a radio station in Germany. Later on, I came to Lagos, got settled and went back to OGTV in Abeokuta. I was a newscaster and presenter. After that, I got my hand in business, but it didn’t really work. At the end of the day, I went to a theatre school in Port-Harcourt. I majored in directing. Now, we come to the question you asked. Professor Ola Rotimi once said that to be a good director, you must first of all be glad at what everybody is doing on stage. To be a good actor, you have to have a good command of whatever English you are using, you have to be a good technical person, you have to be a good make-up artiste, etc. So, we had to study what everybody else was studying.
What’s your own definition of acting?
The conventional definition is you pretend to be somebody else, as prescribed by the script. But acting is about working yourself a little. Still remaining you, while you colour it. I belong to the school of thought which emphasizes subtlety in acting. So, you are not likely to see me in those hard transformation roles. It takes me some time to get into the role. Once I receive the script, I study it. Sometimes, I disagree with the director, but at the end, we agree.
Apart from acting what else do you do?
I produce documentaries, I produce commercials, I write copies, I produce radio concept, I write concepts that go into radio and television programming.
How do you see the industry generally in Nigeria?
There is hope, if the people who are holding it down will lift up their hands. The people who insist on old ways, old things; the people who look at the money alone with less emphasis on the art. It boils down to a lot of issues in the industry. If you are making a lot of money today, and it’s just the money you are concerned with, not the art, not the name, there will be a time when your money will not mean anything to you. You have people who have taken their works outside, and they have been highly appreciated. You see people like Amaka Igwe, Tade Ogidan, people like Lola Fani-Kayode. They are people who have carved a niche for themselves based on their works, not based on how much money they have. It’s not that these people don’t know how to do business. These are people that I have respect for, not how much money a producer has. This is because the money is not even ploughed back into the industry. They make the money in the arts, and they plough it into something else.
Your face has for sometime now been very scare in home videos?
Yes, not regular, because I insisted on the arts that I was taught in school. The art that I learned as a broadcaster, that I learned from the different directors and producers before home video got raped.
Raped because, when it was witches, everybody was doing witches; when it was blood and guns, everybody was doing guns. And you begin to ask yourself: ‘What are we giving back to the people who are buying the things we are producing? It doesn’t even occur to them. We are teaching them horrors, we are teaching them bad things. You see people use people to make money and so on. We are helping the people to grow, we are bequeathing them darkness and I am not going to be part of that. I want the good arts. I want to practice. So, I will choose carefully what role I play. What is the story about? It’s not just about the money.
What are those things you look forward to in a script before accepting a role?
One, the role has to be clean. Even if the man is bad, I want to see the end of that role. Is it being used as a tool to teach to abolish evil? There has to be a definition of the role. The story has to have clear-cut direction. It has to have a resolution that is good. I will not do anything that will glorify devil.
You played a very prominent role in Checkmate. Now, in line with what we are discussing, what message were you passing across to your audience?
The equality of man, irrespective of position of birth and circumstances of birth. Equality of man. That is the message. And I look back to Checkmate with a lot of pride. And it does explain what I was trying to say. The character was used to make a definite statement that people should take a broader view of some of our old ways, and let us look at them in the present context. Do we still need them? And we want to position ourselves in the shoes of those people we are discriminating against. For instance, suppose you were the one being discriminated against, would you enjoy being treated like that? Somebody says you can’t marry somebody you love whereas this person is not even responsible for his birth.
What actually attracted you to your wife?
I guess her intelligence. Her strong character, and her principle. Because I like people who are principled as well.
Can you recollect how you toasted your wife? What exactly did you say to her the first time?
(Laughs) No, you won’t get that from me.
Do you have any regrets?
What’s your phobia?
My phobia? I don’t have any!
Can you recollect your saddest moment?
I don’t think I have experienced anything you would describe as the saddest moment.
Your happiest moment?
Several. The day of my wedding, the day my children were born. The day I got a nomination for an NMMA award, for the radio program I handled. The day I won an award at OGBC, they gave me a small clock and a letter (laughs).
If there is indeed anything like reincarnation, how would you want to come back?
You already defined it. I don’t believe in reincarnation. But if there is anything like reincarnation, I will want to come back as a research person. Somebody that works in an educational environment because I love reading. I don’t think I have enough opportunity to read now as a result of the struggle for daily bread.
Your favourite food?
I don’t have any favourite food. Anyone who is thinking of giving me a treat is wasting his time.
What about drink?
I drink soft drinks. But I don’t want to market any drink.
Your favourite car?
Oh! Car! Give me a four wheeler or Benz.
Country music and jazz.
I like blue, I like gray, I like black, I like white.
You are handsome. How do you cope with the ladies?
I do! Well, I get compliments like that. It’s not that I don’t like compliments. But I try to discourage things that go beyond the regular things. Because when it goes beyond that, you send the wrong signals.
What advice do you have for artistes who are aspiring to be like you?
The direction of the world now is expertise. What you like to do, get trained in it, and aim to be the best and don’t compromise quality.
Can you tell us some of your works?
Checkmate, Ripples, Hostages I & II, To Have and To Cherish, Above Death, Bitter Encounter, Ragging Storm, etc.
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