Desmond Elliot may need no introduction as he is a household name in Nollywood, but there are some things that may be new to his fans. In this interview with ADUNOLA OLADAPO, he speaks on such issues. Excerpts
How long have you been planning the movie directing career you are into right now?
A couple of years before I started in 2008. I decided to go fully into it when I started co-producing in 2007 and then I just thought I should just go into directing. It happened while I was acting and Lancelot inspired me a lot because at some point, we were mostly working with him. I liked the way he was driving the stories, I just reckoned that it was something I would love to do.
Did you go for any professional training?
Not at the beginning but yes, eventually. It is just like my life in the industry, at first, I just started and after some time, I went for training. I took courses in directing and read lots of books on directing, just to improve on what I am doing.
Which institutions did you take courses at?
Usually, when I go to the United States of America, like I have done twice. In The New York Film Academy, I have taken three-month courses, one month course on it. They are crash programmes basically and directing is something one can do if you put your mind to it. Everybody in the world can try and direct, but its knowing the principles, fundamentals, standards of directing that is the most important and those are things I have tried to learn.
Do you think the trainings will help improve the standard of movies that will be coming out of the industry?
It’s not so much as in the training. Training helps you understand the rudiments but what would make you create an impact is relating that to your society. Once you can relate what you have learnt to your society, then you have created an impact. So yes, I want to believe that with what I am doing that I am changing mindsets, changing minds, I am impacting on young and up-coming ones and also it can be an improvement on film production generally and to story lines that change societal values which is basically my aim.
Are you enjoying directing more than acting?
I will say yes, but not the money. The money is not as good as when you are acting in terms of financial gains.
Would you say directing is more emotionally stressful than acting, because we have seen some of the behind the scenes of some movies you have directed and witnessed the way you scream at actors?
I am what you call a screamer. I scream a lot on set when I am directing. One of the traits I took from my mum. I really don’t like indiscipline. Once you are not disciplined as an actor, I get really pissed off and my other side comes out. But the good thing about me is that when I scream that is where it stops. I don’t take it to heart.
It’s like you took a break from acting, are you back into it now?
Yes I took a break from acting in 2008 to 2010. I came back into acting last year. I didn’t act for three years.
Seems the movies you act in right now are mostly movies you direct or co-produce?
Yes, sometimes it’s because, maybe the character we invited to play the role didn’t appear at that moment or is not ready. Something usually happens and reluctantly I do those roles but now I have psychologically spoken to myself to come back into it. I used to be over weight and I am really trimming down now, trying to make sure that I get to size.
So, you are saying directing makes you lazy?
Somehow, directing makes you lazy because you just sit behind the camera, no one sees you and so you don’t pay attention to your weight. Behind the scene makes you very lazy because you do not care what people think of you behind the camera.
So, acting is more stressful?
Not really but as an actor, you make sure that you are fit. You have to stay in shape, if not you’ll bore your fans. And we all know that Nigerian fans do not advice, they abuse. They will say ‘look at this man, see how fat he is.
Can’t you see how your mates are looking?’
If you are to compare the emotional and physical stress of acting and directing, which would you say is more tasking?
You can never compare. There is no comparison between life as an actor and life as a director. It’s totally different. Directing is all encompassing. You take the pain, the stress, the headache. Its so stressful. As a director, I go home with headaches, Power Horse is my best friend, it’s crazy and it goes into post production because you have to see the end of the work. So, it’s so stressful.
How many movies have you done so far since your debut in the industry in 1999?
I like breaking it down into two. From 1999 to 2007, I would say I was doing an average of two films or three films a month but from 2008 till now, I will say I have probably done maybe six or seven films in all.
You must be well-loaded then?
It’s not like that.
Is it that you have gotten enough money from acting or are you taking your time to select scripts?
At some point you will realise that what matters is not money but bringing out good productions. You get to that point in your career; money is not the issue anymore. You don’t just take any role. Like now, I cannot take normal roles. I have to take something that would make me want to loose so much weight or put on so much weight or talk in a certain way. It has to be something that will be different.
You mostly co-produce movies, is there a reason you avoid producing personally?
I have co-produced about five or six movies, Guilty Pleasures, Holding Hope, Reloaded and some others. I have not single-handedly produced any except the movie I am going to Sierra Leone to shoot for one month. Its called Reflections. The one I am releasing in the cinemas, I co-produced with Caroline Danjuma. I prefer co-producing because one, you share risks, which is the idea people need to come together to form a body, not everybody doing individual stuff. So, if I bring my strong point, you bring your strong point and we build it together. It makes the production a lot easier than if one person risks it all. Producing is more tasking than acting because as an actor, you just act and you take your money and you are off till premiere day. But in producing and directing, it doesn’t end at just production, You take it up to post production.
There is a rumour that you are a United Nations ambassador, is it true?
I would not say I am a UN ambassador but I work closely with them.
Is it lucrative to work with them?
It’s a voluntary thing.
What exactly do you do for them?
They solicited our help into talking to government on certain programmes. For instance, planting flowers. I run an NGO called Desmond Elliot Foundation. They wanted to know how that relates to the environment and how they can support. not financially, that I will emphasise. But how they can support in giving other forms of help, may be humanly or technical in any sense. You can never get money from the UN. If it’s for money, don’t go to UN but they can train. Even when you are flying, they wont give you business class, it’s economy. Because these are part of their laid-down rule, It’s charity.
Tell us about the Desmond Elliot Foundation, how come no one has heard of it?
It’s a foundation that is sadly not too efficient right now because of funding. Before then, it was solely funded by me and I was thinking of how I can bring in other people into believing in that vision. There is very little you can do with just one person. Bringing money out of just one source but if you have different people contributing, it makes it easier. What we do in the foundation is to sensitise people on water, sanitation and hygiene and we have been doing that for almost four years now.
But you can partner government?
It’s not that easy
How can someone like you complain of finance, but you are a Glo ambassador?
It is still my money we are talking about. For three years plus, I have used my money to fund these projects that I am into. Foundations are supposed to generate money, for instance other bigger organisations or individuals are supposed to now contribute and say ‘do this for this course’ but at the end of the day, it’s difficult to get anyone to contribute.
Running the project on my own is somehow tasking because each programme you go for run into millions and it will run me out of the market. But we are picking up gradually. We partner with different NGOs as well to see what we can accomplish.
While starting your acting career what was your mother’s reaction when she saw you on screen?
She was exicted. She complained when she had not seen any of the movies I have done and I always went out in the morning and come back at night. She has not seen money and she has not seen any film. The first time she saw me on screen was in a movie, Suitors, where I played an extra role. While watching, we waited and waited for my part to come so she could see me. She almost gave up. After a while, she will say ‘Shola where are you?’ and I will tell her to wait that they will soon show it.
Your name is also shola?
Yes, they call me Shola at home. I am a Lagosian, so when they finally showed my part, I had to rewind and show her, ‘Mum look at me’. She was very proud and the first day I brought money home, I became her favourite son.
Were you a rebellious son while growing up?
I had a very strict mother. The slightest thing, she can take you to police station.
Has she done that to you before?
Oh! Yes, she held me by my hand to the police station. She told the officer on duty to help discipline and beat me. People will beg on the way but she will drag me. She will hold my short and drag me to the station. She did that twice when we were still living in Jos.
What about dad, you speak more of your mum?
I think I am.
About your twins, you have two sets. Is there any kind of food you eat or does twins run in the family?
Twins run in my wife’s family. The first set of twins, I was grateful and happy. The second one I was not in the country when she called me and told me about it and I didn’t believe it . I was just saying no, she asked why I was saying no, I told her I was not expecting it.
Originally, how many kids do you want to have?
I am still hoping to have three more eventually. I am not kid. I want seven children.
What if she has triplet this time?
It’s okay. Let God just give us the ability to take care of them and give them good education.
So, you love children this much?
I am in love with children. I bathe my kids. I bathe the four of them whenever I am around. I wake them up and bathe them.
How many boys and girls?
Three boys and a girl.
Sure the girl is your favourite?
She is an exciting person to be around. She is the tiniest of them all, she is the third and she is very impressionable. She leaves you with an impression. People say she is like me.
Do you see any of your kids going into acting?
One actually did once, Denzel. He is one of the first.
So, we should watch out for Denzel Elliot this time not, Washington?
I am hoping. They are Desmond, Denzel, Donald and Donna.
How many years ago did you get married?
This is my ninth year. I didn’t have kids for four years.
Was it intentional?
It was not intentional. It was just a delay and it affected me then.
How did you take it then?
For me, I have always loved kids. I have always wanted kids. It didn’t come and I was wondering what was happening. Of course I was disturbed but we trusted in God.
Was there pressure from home?
Our parents didn’t pressure us. My wife panicked and you know we had to go for tests like two years later and it was just a question of being patient. She did IVF a couple of times as well with the hope that a miracle will happen. It was just me and the fact that I have always wanted to be a father. I love the feel and it’s even more lovelier when the kids are growing and it’s fun.
During the four years of waiting, was there a time you thought of that the problem came from you?
Of course. We went to hospitals both at home and abroad. Of course, you get worried and unsettled. It’s the the kind of problem especially when you know you are not the kind that did all those rascally stuff.
So, you were never a playboy?
No, I was not. I didn’t deal with women.
Are you sure?
I promise you I didn’t and that is the truth. That was why I felt bad when the babies were not coming.
But people see you as one?
It’s okay to see me as one. I have a very bad mouth.
How many are you in the family?
From my dad, I am the sixth out of eleven children, from my mum, I am the first.
Tell us how you met your wife?
I met her in school, University of Jos. We were in the same church. We are church people.
Are you saying you are a born-again Christian?
I am very close to God and yes you can say I am born-again. We met and one thing let to another and we started becoming close. I fell in love and I asked the woman if she would be my girlfriend and she said no.
She bounced you with all your fine boy?
Yes oh, but I don’t see myself as a fine boy. She wanted to hear from God.
What struck you about her?
First, it was her beauty. She wasn’t the flashy, let me put it in your face kind of person and she loved God so much, not in my own sense. Like you have to talk to the holy spirit before you do certain things.
I wasn’t thinking ‘wife’ then because we dated like eight years before coming into marriage. As we became closer, I just fell in love and when it comes to love, you do not tell your heart who to love, so it was the fact that I love her and it’s even sweeter now because we have grown better and we understand each other. Only that she likes money a lot more than I used to think she liked money.
She has four children and she shops for the home and kid?
Thank you women. When I tell her that she likes money she will say, ‘its not fair, these things you say’
What does she do?
She used to work in a bank but right now I run a distribution company for films so she handles that part.
You met your wife before acting came in, did you expect that you could take roles of where you could kiss?
I never thought about taking such roles and she did not want me to take such roles either but it was just the Idea of doing something good. Just the feel of wanting to act. As I grew in the industry, I kept refusing the bedroom scenes because they were against my Christian faith but as time went on, I discovered that I was not matured enough to handle such roles then. As growth came into the industry and I became more experienced on the field, I now understood how it was done so I learned.
So now, it does not affect your Christian faith?
No, because I am just in the bedroom with the person and I am not doing anything. I am not nude and I cannot do nudity. Now I have the maturity to do it without any emotions erupting.
But you could kiss?
Yes, I can kiss, the way they do it film wise. I have never done that on set before.
Tell us how they do the kissing in the movie that is different from the real thing?
It’s a secret, if I tell you our secret, will you tell me the secret of how you people make money in your newspaper company?
What was your wife’s reaction when you first took the kissing role?
Every reaction is not nice. Few days ago, they were showing one of my old films on African Magic, I was in the studio attending to a serious editing work and she called me to tell me she saw me kissing somebody. Can you imagine even years after, with four lovely kids oh, she is still jealous?. But she knows it’s nothing, just a make-believe.
Are you working on any movie now?
I will be bringing out my new movie ‘In the Cupboard’ soon. It’s a movie about a family with different secrets.