By Anthony Obi
Desmond Elliot is an epitome of diligence, hard work and perseverance. No wonder he has done so well for himself in the movie industry. Exuding undying youth, the unassuming actor was born to a Yoruba father and an Igbo mother. What’s more, he grew up in the Northern part of the country and took his wife from Akwa-Ibom State. Desmond attended Air Force Primary school in Jos from where he went to St John’s College also in Jos. He studied Economics at Lagos State University and graduated in 2003. The actor cum producer spoke with The Entertainer on his forthcoming movie and other issues. Excerpts:
What are you doing at the moment?
I am trying to shoot a film in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The project is taking about nine weeks now. The title of the film is Reflections.
Is that the movie you said you are going to produce alone?
Actually, I am co-producing again with Caroline Danjuma. We both produced In The Cupboard.
Why did you change your mind on producing alone?
I have to co-produce because it is a lot better. In this kind of terrain, you need to annex all the strength you have. I have my strength in some areas; she has her strength in another area that could compliment where I am weak. So, by the time we annex it we get a very good product. It is always good you have people you can work with and apparently it is very easy for us to work together. We have done a couple of projects together before. The last we did together before this project was In The Cupboard that is currently running in the cinemas.
Why did you choose Sierra Leone for the project, did the story go in line with Sierra Leone?
The script was given to me by an American called, Diana, she is a very keen watcher of Nollywood movies. Actually, she wanted it to be done here but I traveled to Australia and saw this very great actress, I just saw that the story could be adapted into a Sierra Leonean story because Sierra Leone as a country has a very interesting history and then I just thought that I could link it up with it. This is also the fact that I am directly or indirectly connected to Sierra Leone by parentage.
Can you shed more light on that?
This was really long time ago before they came to settle down in Lagos. Many of the Lagosians with English last names have lineages from Sierra Leone.
Can you tell us about your background?
I am a Yoruba man with Igbo mother. I grew up in the North. So, I speak Hausa and do understand the three major languages in Nigeria.
Nigeria is plagued with many problems; as an actor, producer/director, how do you contribute your own quota in correcting some of these vices?
I probably won’t talk about the issues in the country but what I can do is to talk about societal issues. Things that happen in the society, lesbianism, infidelity, incest, all this kind of topical issues are things I want to deal with other than love theme our films are really known for. The film that we just finished, In the Cupboard, dealt a lot with betrayal. How and why you have dysfunctional families in the society. The one I did in Sierra Leone called, Reflections is talking about solutions to your problems which I believe start with you discovering yourself. If you can discover yourself, you will discover that half of your problems are solved. Firstly, you have to know who you are, and then it is more like what you call a psychological thriller.
Did you feature Nollywood actors in the movie?
Actually, I don’t feature only Nigerians in my films. I feature people from across the continent. There is a film I did in Liberia called, Volunteers, that one had Sierra Leoneans, Liberians, Nigerians, and Ghanaians. The one I did in Sierra Leone also has Malawians in it including actors from the countries I earlier mentioned. I always like having different crop of talents come together because the basic thing is that we are all Africans, and then talent can never be measured. So, it is always good to value talent from different parts of the continent.
How would you describe yourself?
I am just someone who loves being happy when I reckon that life is very short. If you are lucky you have 80 to 90 years to live, so just enjoy yourself while you care. And then one thing I discover is, if you hate people, you are only hurting yourself because the person you hate probably doesn’t know you hate him or her so you are just hurting yourself because the more you hold it within yourself the more you kill yourself. What I do if I am upset is that I scream and shout at that moment and move on. I had a camera I bought for about $45,000 and two days to the end of my production, I don’t know who did it between my Personal Assistant and my Camera Assistant, the camera got spoilt and that was the first time I was using it. When it happened I just said, ‘I won’t kill myself life moves on’. Basically, people take life too hard especially here in Nigeria because we live in a country where there are a lot of potentials but the opportunities of exploring these potentials are not given. So, people tend to get miserably frustrated but the truth that the answers to these problems are in yourself. Frustration is not going to solve it. The best you can do is just put your back against the wall and usually that is when God decides to work, when you are completely helpless, He shows Himself strong. It is just a food for thought because it is something I have learnt through the process of life.
How has life journey been?
It has been what I call ‘one-day-at-a-time’. If you walk through life a day at a time, in the next six months you will find out that a whole lot have been done but if you project too much giving it a week, two weeks, three weeks of what you want to do then you will find out that life gets so slow. For me, it is waking up in the morning and doing what makes me happy.
You once sang and we thought you are joining the bandwagon of actors going into music but…
I am not into music.
But then you sang?
No! What happened was that five years ago I had this man that I really respect in the industry who asked me to do a musical for a particular section of the country and that was the agreement. The next I knew it was everywhere. I didn’t like the fact that I was not consulted before it was released but then I just said ‘well, anything that leads to the propagation of the gospel, go ahead with it’.
With that experience, have you given music a second thought?
No, I am not a musician. I have not finished with the movie industry, why going into music?
In recent times what comes out of the movie industry is contrary to the objective of addressing the immoralities in the society. As a producer/director, what is your take on this?
We live in a free society. You are at liberty to choose what you want. Generalizing everything as bad, I will not agree or accept. We sure have bad movies but the hope is to make sure that every production is far better than the last one. Then, most importantly you have a choice. If you don’t want to watch those films that you think you don’t like, then don’t watch them.
What was your growing up like?
It was quite okay. We grew up in the North. My father had two wives, my mum being the second wife. I am the sixth of his kids, first of my mum. We are a closely knit family, and generally everyone is grown and happy.
A polygamous family is associated with problems like envy and its ilk, how was it with your family?
No! It never happened in my family. I give kudos to my elder brother, Kayode Elliot. He has done more than enough in making sure that the family is close. We were younger but he loved us just the same and that is why we didn’t grow up hating each other. And there is really no reason to hate because he showed us love, he did not behave to us as if we are brothers from different mums. I am really grateful to him. He is someone that has a really good heart and it reflects in the family.
What has life taught you?
Life has taught me to enjoy it while I can. It has taught me to be very spiritual and to live as it is. Life has also taught me that things happen in circles. One day you are here, the other day you are there. Through that journey and the people you meet, never underestimate anybody because you never can tell that person you underestimate might just be the person to bail you out the next minute.
You sound so philosophical, are you…?
(Cuts in) All this is part of life. It is what I learnt over the past years. Having a good heart towards people is very important, and I think it is one of the problems we have as a continent not even as a country. We must learn to be happy for other people’s success, it is very important. The question of ‘why me?’ can happen but it shouldn’t turn to hatred. When you see people become successful, be happy for whomever it is that has that success and work towards having yours. Life has always taught me to deal fairly with people.
Why did you go into directing?
I think it was the need to interpret scripts from my own perspective. And then even as an actor, at some point you get to the stage where you really don’t feel challenged acting because the roles are not coming, so then you look for your passion. For me, directing is really a passion and I like the fact that I have to grow on the job. It becomes more exciting especially when you grow with other people while on this job. Another reason is that I look at my mentors in the industry and I see them also direct and you just want to be like them.
Who are your role models in the industry?
As an actor I look up to RMD. He is somebody I always love even before going into acting. He is still my mentor. Another person is Denzel Washington. And as a director, Lancelot Odua, his directorial style is not what you will call very conventional but very applicable especially in the African scene and sequence. Those are my major mentors.
Did you acquire any professional training before going into directing?
Not at the beginning, but yes, eventually. You need training everyday, new things come out and you need to know them. Training is pretty much the most important thing in development of the mind, skills and arts. Talent is one but training is what helps the talent.
How many movies have you directed?
I think close to ten. I co-directed Guilty Pleasure, Busting Out, Reloaded, and produced, Before the Line. I directed Spell Bound, Midnight Scream, Nightshift, I Will Take My Chances, In The Cupboard, Camara Stream, and Reflections etc. And as an actor, I have lost count of the number of movies I have featured in.
Nollywood has been facing a lot of challenges especially piracy, how do you intend to secure your forthcoming movie?
Firstly, it is quite shocking to find out that Nigerians, being as intelligent as we are, are facing piracy problems. Many people know who those pirates are, and it is really killing intellectual work. It is painful especially as a producer when you find out that your work is being duplicated and sold in other places. I really want to call the government on this (I hardly call the government), but for this one they have to step in. If the government realizes the job opportunities the entertainment industry gives to the economy, it will want to protect it. If they can curb piracy, the entertainment industry will be glad. Because it is very hurtful when you spend millions of naira to do songs, films and you see them being pirated all around. So, I think the government really needs a lot to do here.
How do they help?
First and foremost, we know where these pirated copies come from, go arrest the pirates and make them scapegoats. Bring out stringent laws about piracy, they have stolen and duplicated my film before. Make piracy a serious crime and protect the intellectual property of the entertainers. Once you make it a serious crime, if possible change it from civil to criminal offence then people will realize the evil in it. That is one of the reasons why the prices of movies keep dropping everyday because people want to meet up with what the pirates are selling.