By Gloria Okezie-Okafor

Did you watch the hilarious, entertaining, family sitcom – The JOHNSONS – which was often aired on African Magic? If you did, you’re probably still relishing that Nigerian-style comic show which cuts across for all ages.

Well, if The Johnsons isn’t the longest family series to last on tv, then it’s probably one of such. And every character made it count. But, there is one character who seem to confuse and mesmerise Lucky Johnson and his family. That character is the erudite Mr. Deputy – Eliel Otote.

Call him the logophile lawyer, or the sesquipedalian (I hope I even know what I’m saying 😄) lawyer. Well, this is just how much he confuses Lucky Johnson and other members of the Johnsons family. But Eliel didn’t start out playing the character of Mr. Deputy some thirteen years ago like most of the casts. He said he joined them two or three years after the program had commenced. And the tv series was never complete without Mr. Deputy interpreting one legal term or another.

Yours truly had the privilege to engage Mr. Deputy and ask him ‘What’s Next’, now that our beloved family series had come to an end. To arrive at our answer, we went on a journey of the before, the middle, and the end, of being a cast in the now rested family sitcom.

Enjoy…

How I joined:

My friend Charles Inojie invited me after he took over the directing job from Rogers Ofime. Several people had taken up the role of Mr. Deputy, but after I gave it some interpretation, they were all screaming that this was what they wanted. As at that time I just came into the country from studying abroad. The scriptwriters finally felt they found the right person for the role, and like they say – the rest is history.

Experience:

For me, it’s all about passion. Acting is not a job – I say this without mincing words. It’s been my passion and I enjoy what I do. So, it becomes easy when you enjoy what you do.

My journey into the world of make-believe started with the humble background of being a student at the Arts and Drama Academy of Sir Victor Uwaifo Benin city; after I proceeded to the university of Nigeria Nsukka, and from there to the Royal School of Music London, then proceeded to the Colorado Film School Denver USA.

So far, it’s been over four decades of professional experience – from stage to radio, to tv, and now as a director.

Rising in the profession:

Talents are not enough. And this is the mistake most young people make. They think, once you are talented, that is all you need. Talents may take you there, but it will never keep you there. What sustains you in the industry – the Nollywood industry – is attitude and character: you have to have the right attitude to be able to serve with your talent.

How did you fit into Mr. Deputy:

We were shooting almost every day of the week. Although there were times when one had other engagements – and we were expected to give two or three weeks notice – but the schedule was flexible.

As an actor, I put myself in the character’s shoes. While we are on set, we L.I.V.E (live) the role; after the session, we L.E.A.V.E (leave) the role. If you know what I mean (laughs).

So it’s easy.

My experience as a director also made it a lot easier. The best directors in the world are also good actors. If you have the exceptional talent of combining both, you would be able to stand out.

Also, a good actor who trusts the director would do well – trust always leads to performance.

What Next after Johnsons:

(Laughs) I’m very experienced in the after issue. The Johnsons is not the very first show that I was involved in which finally came to an end. I have been in various television series as far back as the 80’s and 90’s, which eventually came to an end. I started from NTA Benin.

So I’ve mastered how to survive the end of great shows – like surviving the end of a great stage performance.

It’s not easy though. I’ve been part of great shows like Apkors and Company, where we were in the business of making people laugh, yet it would still come to an end. I will always miss the memories I share on set with colleagues.

The next big thing is the next great show (laughs).

Advice to young persons:

You may have the talent, but if you lack discipline, you will hardly survive long in the industry. When people attach the word ‘bad’ to you, you won’t go far.

Like I’ll always advise: get the necessary training so you can match up with the rising competition out there, and be able to face any challenge. Equip yourself with what’s trending – I wrote a book to that effect.

Any collabo:

Don’t forget I’m not just an actor, but a combination of many things in the world of entertainment.

Having lived abroad, I’ve done quite a lot in foreign land, which includes directing in Hollywood – not necessarily for commercial purposes but the experience.

I’ll be doing quite a lot of personal projects and my team are working on it – it could be one or more hours of movies, whether tragic, comedy, melody or anything like that.

There had been invites I turned down while the Johnsons still aired, I might begin to consider some of them. There are lots of activities ongoing at the moment and I might be so engaged before the year ends.

Deaths of colleagues:

It’s sad the spate of death that was recorded in the industry, especially recently (heaves). We lost one of our own in the Johnsons – Ada Ameh – it was a great loss. We recall the recent passing of Sisi Quadri (Tolani Quadri Oyebamiji) and Mr. Ibu.

When issues of incapacitation come up, we in the industry rally to save a colleague, but it’s not easy as we are all struggling to survive.

We have been advocating that the Guild should be up and about matters like this. We can have an insurance set-up to take the burdens off people. It is those of us in the industry who donates to save our own. There should be policies in place to check these things.

It’s not easy as we too are struggling. People think there’s money to be made in the industry, but it is not so as money comes when you have other business, or run commercials, or have people appreciating you.

So the earlier we put structures in place to cater for members, we can minimise sufferings in the future.

Giving back to society:

I have put my experience into writing. As it stands, I have published four books – three eBooks with paperback, and an audio book. They all sell on Amazon.

These are all experiences gained over the years. One of these books is the Psychology for acting, which is a book for everyone in the performance industry – whether you’re a musician or actor, or anything near these.

In this book you would learn that your role as an actor is different from your role in the real world. The other books are a collection of poems and Pros.

Also, I’m collaborating with a friend on his NGO which aims to support Diabetes and mental health persons.

Eliel Otote is from Ovia North-East LGA of Edo State.

He has been on the national tv screen since the 80’s where he began his experience with tv programs starting with: Super movies (1980s); Assizes (1980s); Mad Prof. (1990s); Courtyard (2000s); Akpors and Family (2000s); Mama’s Book (still on); Grandpa’s House (still on), and The Johnsons (just rested)

His genre of music is kokoma culture – a fusion of Calypso, afro pop, and highlife.

By osibanews

Eliel Otote A is an Actor and Filmmaker, with a bias for journalism. He was a freelance feature writer with the Nigerian Observer in the 80's in Benin City, he also presented programmes on both radio and television. Eliel is the Editor and Publisher of OSIBAnews Network Magazine, of which this blog is an affiliate.

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