Olarotimi Fakunle has a curious name and a curious personality. His name sounds like Ola Rotimi, the prestigious Nigerian writer. Yet they have no affiliations except that they both greatly appreciate literary realities. Rotimi Fakunle is an actor, theatre director, and producer. To those who have never experienced his literary mastery, they may see him as a newcomer, but they couldn’t be farther from the truth as theatre enthusiasts would readily tell them that Olarotimi is to theatre what Fela is to music.
He spent most of his earlier career years on stage, honing his craft and building a theatre major’s dream portfolio. Olarotimi has toured the UK and US performing classics like The Trials of Brother Jero, Madmen and Specialist, The Lion and The Jewel, Jero’s Metamorphosis, Our Husband has Gone Mad Again, The Gods are Not to Blame, and Death and the King’s Horseman. He was part of the Nigerian team that performed at the Shakespeare Olympiad in 2012 and the theatre team that performed The Waiting Room and The Tarzan Monologues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Considering Fakunle’s extensive theatre background, it would interest many to know that he didn’t start out wanting to be an actor. The animal lover hoped to be a veterinarian but soon realised he excelled more in the arts. He realised he was always into poetry recitation and started representing his school in literary and debating competitions in Junior secondary school. His mum’s declaration that he couldn’t join science class in senior secondary school because his brothers were science students sealed his artistic fate. Still, his first professional performance in 1999 at the National Stadium made him decide to study Theatre Arts whether his parents supported him or not.
So, he worked menial jobs, bought LASU’s diploma form, and worked his way through school to study theatre arts. It’s been 26 years since that first performance, and Olarotimi is set on making a name, not just on stage but in front of the camera and in a big way. He already has the ‘Godfather’ presence, and his latest project, Slum King, will only solidify this opinion.
One of Rotimi’s most prominent appearances is ‘Asor’ on Africa Magic’s Riona. He was the warrior princess’s dad and the coach of the rebels, trying to fight their way out of slavery and degradation. In a traditional sense, he was the rebel godfather. It also allowed him to act alongside his 11-year-old daughter, Jasmine Olarotimi, who played the younger ‘Tsema’ on the show.
However, that ‘godfather’ style was amplified on a larger scale in Gangs of Lagos, where he popularised the name ‘Eleniyan’. He was the godfather, and even though his character wasn’t as forthright as the Africa Magic ‘Asor’, he still held the audience spellbound. It appeared he finally had the big break he had been looking for. Finally, it wasn’t just the theatre folks who knew him; Nigerians across the globe could identify him as an actor.
In an interview earlier in the year, Rotimi spoke about the long wait between his start to being considered one of Nollywood’s ‘godfathers’. He said, “I was always thinking about how to get into Nollywood big time. I had been in some films, but they didn’t quite do justice as everyone still categorised me as a theatre actor. But an actor is an actor. It shouldn’t matter what medium he uses. I was going from audition to audition and wasn’t getting any call-backs. It mattered to me that I became mainstream. I have been in the industry for so long and have continued to hone my craft. I needed to earn better and get more accolades for my work. Of course, I was disappointed all those times. I also enjoyed working in television, which has been a wonderful ride.”
He also shared in that interview, “It doesn’t matter if it’s two scenes I’m doing in any film. There must be something spectacular (about it). That is how I’ve always driven myself to work. That is the only challenge. But the year is already booked for me as it is.” At the time, it wasn’t clear, but he was speaking about Slum King. The film would be his third significant role as the Godfather. However, his character in the show, ‘Imole, Baale of Oro Lede’, was quite different from his last major one. Still, Rotimi gave an outstanding performance, embodying the character and becoming one with it.
He shared his Slum King preparation process, “First and foremost, after reading the script, I asked myself certain questions. Who is Imole, how does Imole talk and react to his people, who are his subjects, and what does Oro Lede mean? I thought, Imole is light, and wherever there is light, many things will try to fight against it”.
Rotimi added, “It means that Imole has to do certain things whether or not people can understand. He fights to ensure that his light does not dim. Otherwise, everyone he loves will suffer. Now, one of the things I had to do was picture a couple of people. I know a traditional ruler who loves his people and tries to do good things for his people. I thought about Segun Adefila and how he runs his troupe, takes care of them, and then tried to mirror it. It was a lot of work to try to mirror all these things. However, working with my colleagues on Slum King made it easy to metamorphose into Imole”.
Slum King follows the story of Edafe, who witnessed his parents’ murder at a young age because he forgot to lock their doors at night. Sad events force ambition on him, causing him to detest his lowly status and develop an appetite for power. Trapped in the cycle of guilt and trauma, Edafe journeys from a disturbed tout in the slums to become MAJE, the charismatic king of the slums.
Catch new episodes of Slum King every Sunday at 8 p.m. on Africa Magic Showcase (DStv ch. 151 and GOtv ch. 12).
Lagos Post Online,
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