Eliel Otote, popularly known as Mr Deputy in ‘The Johnsons’ TV show, is a filmmaker, actor, writer, and director with over 30 years of experience. He has written, directed and featured in many movies and is currently committed to training upcoming actors. In this interview, he talks about Nollywood’s evolution, his role, the challenges confronting the industry, and more. Excerpts:
Weekend Magazine: What particular role would you say gave you prominence in the Nollywood?
Eliel Otote: I have them in stages. In the ‘80s, there was a programmes that ran for 18 years on radio and TV called Variety Time that gave me prominence at that point. So, people from the ‘60s and ‘70s know me as Special Announcer. In the ‘90s, there was the Mad Professor series that I did on NTA Network and people in that bracket know me as The Prof, and till today they still call me that. These programmes were popular at that time. More recently we had The Spider, which was also popular, but Mr Deputy in ‘The Johnsons’ seems to be more widespread because of the channel.
In the show, Deputy was actually the Deputy Chairman of Crystal Estate but because of his nature, he decided to coin it because he was known with that name. He added Oga or Mr to it, further buttressing his ambition.
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WM: When did you join ‘The Johnsons’ family show?
Otote: We are in the 8th season now. I joined at the beginning of the third. By the time I did, about three people had acted the character of Mr Deputy, but when my friend Charles Inojie was taking over the directing, he wanted a strong hand to handle that role, then I came and it was accepted. I gave life to the character.
WM: How would you describe your act?
Otote: I’m a method actor. I live it.
WM: Which was the first movie you featured in or directed?
Otote: I can’t remember. I know there was ‘Princess Esilokun’ in 1993. I can name some films I have featured in as an actor in earlier years but I can’t say precisely which one was the first.
I wrote ‘Missing Angel’, ‘Two Good Friends’, ‘Virgin Prostitute’, all controversial and award-winning films. So far, I think I have written about 26 movie scripts in the last three decades. I have directed just a few, such as ‘A Woman’, ‘Who Killed Dele’? and so on. Then I have acted a lot.
WM: You have witnessed the growth of Nollywood over the years. How would you describe it now compared to what it was at the beginning?
Otote: It’s an evolution. Nollywood is still evolving. I am privileged to be a founding member of many of the guilds that operate today and, for 12 years I was an administrator: from National Welfare Officer, to Provost, to National Secretary, National Treasurer, Director of Finance, Directors Guild of Nigeria. So, I am also an administrator in Nollywood. I can categorically say that the evolution is on a positive note, a lot is being done today compared to what was in the past.
WM: What will you describe as your biggest achievement in the industry?
Otote: My biggest achievement in Nollywood is to have trained the next generation. In 2006, I started the Arts Workshop at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos where I trained many of the writers, directors, and actors we see today excelling. Recently, also, I launched a YouTube channel. The idea of that channel is not for lousy skits but for training. There are going to be videos, training of actors and directors. Then there will also be a segment for mentorship where I will be interviewing my colleagues, veterans in the industry to encourage those who are coming in. So, it’s going to be a hub of edutainment and we have started doing that.
WM: What are those challenges that confront you in Nollywood?
Otote: Right from the beginning, there has been this challenge of documentation. People in Nollywood don’t write about the industry, they leave the job to outsiders. It’s just recently that some of us started writing. I have a book coming up soon basically on our transition, the evolution of Nollywood, likewise other colleagues too. We should be able to write about us because we know much about the industry than outsiders.
There is also the issue of mentorship, apart from the NTA days when you had apprentices working with you, the actual concept of mentorship has been lost along the way. Everybody is just fighting for survival. Some of us are bringing that back. The industry started on a wrong footing. It was mostly on a business note rather than professional. So, we are also trying to set that straight.
WM: Apart from being a director and actor, you are also a family man. How do you juggle both?
Otote: Most times on stage, I play the part of a father (laughs). Anyway, I am able to differentiate between the role of a husband, father and my role in acting. In a way, you find out that they interrelate because this is my profession, where I get all the means to take care of my family. So, there is an interrelationship there. But I’m able to know when I’m in business and when I am at home.
WM: How do you have fun when you are not on set?
Otote: Catching fun for me would be writing any of my books or a script, maybe on location, and shooting.
WM: What should be expected from you in 2021?
Otote: In 2021, because my project is focused on community development, my YouTube channel will show how people get victimized and intimidated, especially girls who want to come into the industry. Last year, I put up a book on Amazon, ‘Getting into Nollywood Professionally’, to guide such people. Now the YouTube channel is also going to follow that line, by providing mentorship and guidelines on how to survive in the industry.