Tayo Babatunde Bernard, better known as Baba Tee, is a fast-rising actor/comedian. In this interview with FUNSHO AROGUNDADE, the 32-year old actor spoke about his sojourn in the movie world and his marriage to top celebrity journalist, Yetunde Oduwole
How did your romance with movie start?
It all started in 2007 while I was still in Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University, OOU). The English department used to have the Theatre Arts’ workshop then, and I happened to have friends there. During my leisure time, I used to join them for the workshops and that was where I developed the interest and I started acting along with them on stage. Then, I was also opportune to perform with the school’s Palm Wine Drinkards’ club. From there, the interest grew stronger and I had to move out to the real scene by joining the Actors’ Guild of Nigeria, AGN. Then, AGN was regarded as the Igbo movie sector. I didn’t really get the chance to express myself initially, but I got some “Waka Pass” roles in several movies including “Private Sin” by Lancelot Imasuen, which featured Richard Mofe-Damijo and Genevieve Nnaji. I was also in No Running Away, and Paul Obazele’s 14th of February where I acted alongside Zack Orji, Aki and Pawpaw. In that movie, I played the role of a policeman. But after a while, I noticed that I was having some challenges with my education with the pressure of having to spend more time on location. So I decided to return to school to continue with my studies.
What did you study in school?
I studied Mass Communication. After my graduation, I went back into movies but this time, I noticed that the Yoruba genre of the industry accepted me. However, prior to my full time with the Yoruba movies, I did standup comedy. I did Laffmattaz With Gbenga Adeyinka 1st, I participated in Laff Cafe with late Nicholas Anukanti of Galaxy TV. Nicholas of blessed memory actually groomed us (Seyi Law, Anocology, Emeka Smith, Elenu, Sheddi Baba and some others who were already in the industry then). But I found out that the acceptability wasn’t there, so, I had to convert my kind of comedy into the Yoruba/English comedy flash. I discovered that I find the acceptance in my race and pour all my energy and talent into it. My first ever comedy show was Fuji Time by Corporate Pictures. I later did Entertainment Nite with Ronke Oshodi Oke and Combination Nite among others. But the one I have to thank God for is K1 @ 50. I wasn’t even invited to that show but I just went on my own. During the show, Alariwo saw me and called on me to come and perform after the performance of Omo Baba. I really tried my best that night and after Alhaji Wasiu Ayinde saw the video, he had to call me and gave me N50,000. This was in 2007 and it was the first biggest money I will ever collect in my life. It was after then that my friend, Sadiq Adebayo, son of living legend, Adebayo Salami, who had been telling me of my potentials in acting, came around to my apartment. They came to shoot and through him I met Funke Akindele and Femi Adebayo. They started inviting me for movies but I never went until Murphy Afolabi invited me to feature in Owo Agbara Nla. That was my first ever Yoruba movie. Wasiu Alabi Pasuma also featured in the film. After that, I did Iro funfun by Femi Adebayo, and Funke took interest in me and started featuring me in her movies.
How many movies have you featured in so far?
I have acted in over 50 movies and I really thank God for that. So far, I have featured in Jenifa, Akorede, Ikulende, Aiye Olomo kan, Ijaola and so many others.
Between comedy and acting, which one is more rewarding for you?
I will say both of them are paying my bills. The acceptability is great. During the day, I will be on locations and during the weekend I would be anchoring shows, it cannot be better than that. I thank God. Both have been so good because the publicity I got from my roles in movies paved way for me to get jobs as anchor at events. When I was doing stand-up comedy, I never had the opportunity to feature in such shows as Opa Williams’ Nite of A Thousand Laughs. That show gave some of my colleagues like Seyi Law a platform to launch their careers but in my own case, I had to do it like a one-man show. But thank God for the opportunity to feature in movies, it has been a big advantage and recognition for me to get shows.
What is your take on the stereotyping in the movie industry?
If there is something I would like to be corrected in the Yoruba movies setting, it is the stereotyping. It is not good at all as it kills creativity and talent. To extract talent in people takes a lot of time as we believe so much in typecasting actors and actresses. They believe that when a person delivers a comic role very well in a movie, other producers tend to continue giving such a person the same role. I don’t think it is good at all.
Did you at any time reject such typecasting?
It is not easy. When a producer or marketer calls you for a role, he or she would have written the script with you in mind and you wouldn’t want to reject the offer. Nevertheless, I thank God that I have proved that there is no role that I cannot play. I have played different roles including comic, romance and even as a criminal. I have acted in several epic movies including Nini in Murphy Afolabi’s Awodi. I was also in another movie Okunkun Birimu Birimu by Iyabo Ojo. There is no role I cannot play. Omo Tee is a new movie on the way where I played the lead role. It was neither a crime nor comedy.
What would you say has been your staying power?
I would really say God and my fans. These two factors have really helped to sustain me so far in the industry. Then hard work really plays a stronger part in my career. I used to tell people that by God’s grace, I am a raw material. I would tell you why I have to say that. It is not arrogance. I have made myself work so hard, especially in some certain things that too many people have not done. I try at all the time to be creative. To confess to you, I don’t watch comedy movies like those Eddy Murphy, Chris Tucker and Martin Lawrence films, I don’t watch them. This is so because by the time I see those films, I would want to emulate them and will automatically make me lazy. So, I play more with my own idea and stay creative. I would sit down, think and come up with my own brand of comedy. So given these, I would say God and hard work did it more for me.
You once won the Afro-Hollywood award some few years back in London.
What would you say won it for you?
That particular award was based on my roles in two productions: Jenifa and my comedy role in K1 @ 50. The scene in the K1 @ 50 really helped more as many people actually wished to see me over there in London. I was given the “Best New Comedy Talent”. I really thank God for the award because I don’t think the organisers were partial about it.
Have you met the target you set for yourself when you started in the entertainment business?
No, I have not at all. I would even say I haven’t started at all. I would thank God for the level of acceptability but I am not fulfilled yet. I still have a lot to do and learn in this business. I can do the Yoruba chant very well but I want to do the Gbenga Adeboye kind of music comedy. I still have a lot of things to do including charity. I tell people that I can’t be wealthy but only be rich because I’ll be pumping all I have into taking care of the less-privileged. I am an orphan and I know how challenging it is for an orphan to survive in life. I have a desire to help the less privileged. I can’t be fulfilled until I build an orphanage.
At what age did you lose your parents?
I lost my dad about 15 years ago. That time, my mom was not there as they were separated. But after my dad’s death, she tried to come back, and while I was trying to know her better, she fell sick and I later lost her too during that period. I will say I never had the opportunity of having my parents together before they died. In fact, the only time I saw them together was when my dad was in the casket and mom was standing by.
How bad did their death affect you?
It affected me so bad. Growing up without my parents was really challenging. My father, Major Adeyemi Samuel Tayo, happened to be the first camp commandant in Dodan Barracks. He served this country diligently. He was a noble man and it was the discipline that he instilled in us that has helped me till this day. But I must confess to you that it has not been easy on the streets. From secondary school to the university, I sponsored myself all through with the help of God. It hasn’t been easy.
How many siblings do you have?
It is funny; I am from a family of 21. There are 19 boys and two girls.
It is a large family and from childhood I in particular have been fending for myself. Since I was in primary four, the misunderstanding between my parents started. Then my mom had to take me to my dad’s hometown in Orile-Ilugun in Ogun State. At that young age, the struggle began as I was later left with my grandmother. Since then, I have been fending for myself, believing that someday, I’ll make it. While in that village, I taught myself virtually everything that I know today. After too many struggles, I was lucky to find myself in a mission school. That was where the education was polished.
What are the challenges you think need urgent attention in your industry?
The key challenge is piracy. A producer would invest a huge amount of money running into millions in a movie and some people would pick few copies for like N250 and go behind to pirate them and sell them at N100. This thing is fast killing the industry. No matter how, once the producer cannot recoup his investment, he would not pay actors and actresses very well in the next production. This people are really destroying the industry. That is why some of our colleagues get involved in some shady deals just to keep up their status. Government should pay attention to this issue of piracy just the same way they are looking at other sectors of the economy. They should wake up to the reality that there is money to be made in movies. It is a potential foreign exchange earner if they can really get involved genuinely. Also, our producers should also be more creative and enterprising. They should focus more on productions that can be showed at the cinemas. A movie shot with N5million, if well distributed and screened at the cinemas can yield N15million within weeks of release. It can also be shown abroad with professionally done sub-titling, thus earning both the producer and the country foreign exchange.
Have you produced any movie of your own?
I have one already, Ijewuru, which was all about an eating competition and really I thank God for its acceptance.
How are you coping as a married man?
I don’t talk about my love life.
I just don’t know how to talk about it. Please, I wouldn’t want to talk about my marriage.
But you married a woman who has been saying a lot of nice things about you?
It doesn’t matter. I just don’t feel it is necessary to talk about that part of my private life.
Given that you married an older woman, what is your perspective about age in marriage?
From my little experience, there are what we called culture and norms. The Yoruba culture is very rich and the traditions place much emphasis on seniority. God had created Adam before Eve and that means the male is the superior and it has remained that way. But if God had created Eve before Adam, maybe we would have been having older women marrying younger men. But because of culture which lay emphasis on the role of men as the head and he must be older, we can’t fault that. It is a cultural thing in this part of the world but not everywhere.
But even at that, I still feel there is nothing special about age. After all, Prophet Mohammed (SAW)’s wife was older than him and he still remains one prophet we make reference to and revere. So, there is only one thing I believe in life which is joy. Basically, I think wherever and whoever will give you joy should be the most important. To me, age is never a barrier. A lot of parents have driven their children to untimely deaths by making them go against their hearts’ desires . Your partner will be with you for more than 50 or 60 years but your parents won’t, so, irrespective of age, people should go for whoever they find love with. To me, I’ll go for what will give me joy and have no regrets. Age is nothing to me in a relationship, it is where I will derive joy from that I will be.
How are you handling your female admirers?
It is normal for ladies to come around but it doesn’t go beyond that. I appreciate beauties but I draw the line between everything that I do and don’t allow myself get caught in any unwholesome act. I also try to remind myself of how I started. I go back to those places that remind me of my background and that helps me to stay disciplined.