‘I was flogged in school like every other kid’


Once a kid star actress, Opemipo Bamgbopa, now 26, dominated the movies and television screens so delightfully, entertaining families and inspiring young people her age. And then she took a break to go to school. Now gradually coming back, she tells Gboyega Alaka the story of her emergence, her about-a-decade hiatus, challenges and the role of her mum in what she became so early in life.

 

She was the wonder-kid of the screens. Sharp, vivacious, eloquent – whether delivering roles in her local Yoruba language or crossing over to the Nollywood English genre, little Opemipo Bamgbopa was as good as they come – some say even better than most adults. Many movies watchers and industry stakeholders actually believe she came ready-made for the screens.

This reporter’s earliest glimpse of the kid actress, then, a nine-year-old, as she recalls now, was in the Yoruba movie, Maradona, where she acted Maradona, the child/younger wife of Oga Bello (Adebayo Salami), competing fiercely with the senior wife, Peju Ogunmola, and dealing equally fiercely with her condescending step-daughters, Iyabo Ojo and the late Moji Olaiya.

The first thing anyone noticed in that movies was the way she fitted into the role, almost as if she was indeed an adult and had indeed lived that life and could relate to it. Her eloquence, delivery, body language, even countenance and vituperation, as she went about matching up with the rivalry the polygamous setting her marriage to Oga Bello thrusted upon her, was without blemish.

But Opemipo, now a Level Three student of Transport Management and Logistics at the Lagos State University, LASU, says that was “like the sixth or seventh movies” she’d be featuring in.

Her mum, Bose Joseph, who managed and chaperoned her all through that early stage, however says it was her 13th.

Her mum, who was already flocking with the crème of the fledgling Nigerian movies industry, had gone for an Opa Williams audition in Surulere, Lagos, and had taken her along. Opa Williams was the producer of the then popular live comedy show, ‘Night of a Thousand Laughs’ and other movies and television productions.

“It wasn’t actually planned,” Opemipo tried to recollect, squinting.

“There was this story that was to be read by a young boy, who was supposed to be the baby of the house, but he didn’t show up. I was the only child around, so they gave me the script and adapted it into a girl role. That was how I came into acting. That was ‘Living Next to You,’ a soap opera by Opa Williams, directed by Wale Macaulay. I starred alongside Tina Mba, late Joe Adekwa, Gloria Anozie and couple of others. Thereafter, I featured in my first Yoruba film, Iya Simbi by Korede Films. I played the role of Simbi. I also featured in Toyin Tomato.  I had done like six or seven movies before Maradona, but Maradona was like the blockbuster. It launched me into limelight,” she said, sitting back for what was to be a lengthy interview.

Talking about that blockbuster movie, how was she able to fit into such complicated adult role, we wanted to know.

But again, she says she wasn’t even prepared for the role. “They just called my mum to say they wanted me to come to Ikorodu for a role. The character was supposed to the normal vulgar Yoruba girl, but with my mum as my manager, and with her education and experience, she was able to rearrange the script and turn it around to come out the way it did. It wasn’t even scripted. She also did the costume and was in charge of my lines and everything. So it was easier for me to adapt because I had her and several other lovable thespians of repute around me.”

Such a beautiful movie concept not scripted sounds like an indictment on the industry at the time, has that changed.

“I must say there have been great improvements in the industry,” Opemipo replies. “We also have a lot of people in the industry, who have been to film academies in and outside Nigeria. The storylines and technology are also better. Of course, then, there were still people like Tade Ogidan, Tunde Kilane, Baba Wande and co.”

How was she able to deal with so many adults without appearing rude? As a kid star, she ran the risk of appearing rude or being tagged rude.

“First things first; celebrities are always perceived as proud. Then secondly, they say charity begins at home. Don’t forget I had my mom who was able to stand by me, because she was always going to locations with me and was thus able to guide me right. So I saw everybody just as I should see them and I accorded everybody the respect they deserved- on and off set. There was really nothing much to change in my character.”

On set of ‘One Love’

It will be hard to recall Opemipo’s childhood dominance of the screens at the turn of the millennium without singling out her role in ‘One Love,’ a weekly family soap opera produced by Tajudeen Adepetu, where she played Enitan,  the baby of the house. That was quite a beautiful family to watch, what was the experience like for a young girl like her?

“Well, I’d say that that was one family I’d like to have, because we had a very cordial relationship. We were selected through auditions and I’m sure they checked the chemistry of everybody. That production ran for about five years, so we had become like a family. We were living under one roof, the cast and crew, although we went on break. We’d shoot like 13 episodes, sometimes 26, and then go on break for like a month or two. Sometimes, we shot for like a year.

“The location was a twin-building at Omole, Olowo Ira (Lagos). We used one as residential and the other for the shooting. It was more like home away from home. When it was time to go to school, the driver took us to school and back.”

As a twelve-year-old, Opemipo says her mum was still in charge and available to provide her guidance on set that soap. She also thinks the soap was rewarding and worthy of the time, although her mum was to say later in a separate interview that they didn’t make any good money all that time.

“It was worthy of it. Tajudeen Adepetu is one man that appreciates his crew. Even now, 14 years after ‘One Love,’ I still meet people who work with him, who have kind words for him. Most of them speak loftily of how he paved the way for them in the industry.”

 

How come she was so fluent in Yoruba language as in English at a time when most young people, in their bid to acquire competence and impress in the English language, have completely lost grasp of their local language? Could it be her schooling?

“No, I really wouldn’t say so. Okay, I went to a very good school actually, Dee Unique International College in Omole.  We also have another in Abesan Estate, and the boarding school is in Ilisan, Remo, Ogun State. I had nursery, primary, secondary there. I actually think it is one thing to be eloquent and another to be able to act. That’s why I will not cease thanking my mum for all her input into what I have become. She’s actually a very eloquent person. So, I’d say, I took after her.”

And now, we ask how she able to cope with schooling and her teachers? Surely, the kid-star thing came to the fore at some point.

However, Opemipo said, “No. Not like I am praising myself, but one thing God has given me that I am very grateful for is my humility. I’m a down-to-earth person, even if I am saying so myself.  When you get to the peak of your career and money is coming in and you can open doors that your mates can’t ordinarily open, it can get into your head and pride would set in, but like I said earlier, you really cannot please everybody. So as a child, I didn’t really know much about stardom, so I was able to relate with my pears, family members, church members and all. It’s the same even now.”

With her teachers, she says she didn’t have much problem, because she had always been a brilliant pupil. “I was brilliant and always came tops; and it was not about being close to my teachers,” she reflected.

Flogged like every other pupil

But neither that (her brilliance) nor her stardom/celebrity status guaranteed her being treated differently.

Responding to a question as to whether she was treated with kid gloves, Opemipo said rather sharply, “No, I was caned when I needed to be caned. In fact, I was caned on the Assembly Ground.”

Recalling one of such occasions and the no-nonsense teacher, who dared to flog such a ‘big star’, she said, “It was Mr Eniola, our vice principal. There was this boy in our class, my seat mate actually; whose dad had a yoghurt company. He used to bring some to sell in school, I think without his father’s knowledge. So when the lid blew off and it was time to discipline him, I was one of the scapegoats – perhaps because they felt I should have reported. But at that age, maybe 11/12, what did I know? I was in JS3 or SS1.”

On how his mates reacted to such spectacle, she said it was nothing special. “They were all used to Opemipo the pupil, not the star. It’s like you have a star in a family; as much as other people may revere and adore her, they really wouldn’t be bothered and would give it to her as much as she deserve.”

But how did she manage to combine regular schooling with acting? Neither of the two is a tea-party.

“It wasn’t so easy, because at some point, I had to stop acting. At some points, I was able to manage but when I got to the deciding classes, SS1 to 3, and as a science student working my head over Physics, Chemistry, Biology, I couldn’t manage both. So I had to stop. That was the long period when I was off the screens.”

On why she settled for the sciences, even when many ordinarily expected her to go into the arts?

“I never even had it in my mind to study arts as my bachelor’s degree, because I thought I already had the basics. Initially, I went to Yabatech, where I earned an OND in Science Lab Technology. Now, I am studying Transport Management and Logistics. It’s a faculty on its own and very revered because not all schools has it as we speak. Like law, we also have dress code, blue and black and it’s a five-year course.”

Opemipo aand family

Expatiating more on why she chose the course, Opemipo said, “You know as a child, you always say you want to be a doctor or lawyer, but when you grow old and reality hits you, you begin to understand the kind of country you are in. I’ve seen a lot of computer scientists who are in banks, medical students, lawyers who are into acting… So when I was making my choice, I thought to pick something I would like and something that I would like to work with. Of course we know that our transport system in Nigeria is expanding by the day and it’s almost impossible for you not to be able to make ends meet in that area. It’s more or less a field study, as we go for industrial attachment in places like LASEMA, seaports, LASTMA, airport; so it’s something you can relate with and something you enjoy. It’s not crowded. In the whole of my faculty, we’re not even up to 400.”

She admits she’s looking forward to becoming a businesswoman and transporter. She actually has a lot on her table, she says, including acting, which she recently returned to after a long hiatus. She also plans to go into film-making proper, make her own films and direct.

She would also like to do something for youngsters. It’s one thing she plans to do with Lagos State at some point, she says; something in the mould of football academies, where they’d be educated and groomed in the thespian art.

And then there is politics.

“Yes, I am a member of the Students’ Union in school and an active one at that. The politics thing, I’d say, is a journey of self-discovery. When I entered LASU, I didn’t see myself going into politics. But as a person, I like to see myself at the forefront of activities anywhere I am; so the political thing just developed. I started at the faculty level and now I am at the apex level of LASU politics. In fact, they call me ‘Woman Leader.’ I’m a parliamentarian; a gallant comrade at that.”

On what she would like to change when she eventually goes into politics, she said, “I would like the narrative to change, such that we begin to have more women in politics. I’m not a feminist actually, but we need them to know that what a man can do, a woman can do better. I’ve heard stories of women coming into politics and having to sleep their way through, but I’d like a situation where women are accorded the kind of respect the men are being accorded; and not just as sexual objects.”

On how his mates related with him in LASU, Opemipo said, “Initially, most of them could not recognise me. I’m not the kind or person that comes into a place and wants to be seen as a celeb. I just want to walk in like a normal person and do what I have to do; but they say that a gold fish has no hiding place. So, overtime my mates found out; my lecturers too.”

As a student, how did she cope with the lure of the industry? Didn’t producers come with taunting roles?

“No, they were actually coming with roles that were not making sense, because they felt they were going to be helping my career. One thing I’ve learnt overtime is that once you know what you’re carrying, then you stand your ground. If you’re a brand, you’re a brand and you won’t want to settle for less. We have a lot of veterans who have been used for ambassadorial deals, like Mama Rainbow and Ngozi Nwosu (in Airtel) and the likes; but you’ve got to be patient – patience is a virtue.

“Part of what I have decided is to come back and take charge myself by going into film-making proper. It gives you a boost –because you are calling people for jobs; and then they’d start seeing that thing in you again and the respect comes back.”

On how many films or productions has she featured in since her gradual comeback?

“A lot,” she replied. “I’ve done soap operas. Recently I got a presenting job. It’s a new company. I was actually a guest on their programme, an English production some two years ago; but now they have a Yoruba version ‘Ero Okan Awon Osere’. We just shot the first 13 episodes. I had actors come talk about different issues affecting the industry; it is scripted. Hopefully, they’ll start airing it this January.”

‘I will not be body-shamed’

When told that many, who looked forward to her return, expected a mature girl, who would easily fit into the more sought-after young girls role, Opemipo, who is a bit on the plump side and may not get the chance of being cast into such roles quite easily, said, “It depends. I think there was a time that was really rampant; and it is not just about the body-shaming thing; it was also about the complexion. There was a time when all the people you have, especially in Yoruba movies are the light complexioned ladies; even traditional movies. I think that was a problem we needed to tackle, but right now, we have the theatre bodies that are trying to regulate things.

“As far as I am concerned, that you are slim or on the plump side does not really capture the charisma or character that you carry. Pretty much, I am one person that cannot be body-shamed. A lot of people have gone into depression because of this body of a thing. You have a situation where your fans want you to look a certain way… and because of that, I try as much as possible to stay away from the social media thing, because when social media is too much of an influence in your life, it becomes a deciding factor in what you do. The bloggers want to make their money, journalists want to make their money, but you need to make up your mind what you want for yourself. So regardless of what anybody says, I try to just be happy in my space.”

Nonetheless, she says she has a lot of respect for her fans and feels loved even though some can sometimes be annoying.

Love life

At 26, Opemipo agrees that she is not quite young and deservedly, is in a relationship. She wouldn’t however divulge the identity of the lucky gentleman. Aside that, she says men would always come, even to those who are not so fine and have not enjoyed her kind of stardom.

“In school, advances come; I still have about two or three of my lecturers who are on my case. They still make passes; I have one who tells me, ‘You this girl, I’ve been chasing you since Year 1, when are you going to succumb? But I just turn it to a joke and say, ‘Oga e jo sir.”

However, she says they are just advances, which she considers a normal thing, as against sexual harassment.


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