by Adebayo Adegbite
“An evil man gives a bad name to his race, even when that race contains angels” is a movie line memorable enough for any actor to be remembered with, and when that actor is the late Dr. Larinde Akinleye, who spoke it in Tunde Kelani 2001 film “Thunderbolt: Magun”, it makes it all the more worth printing on marble.
Like many other film and entertainment icons born before Nigeria’s independence, little is recorded about Akinleye’s early life, more so that he was a private individual who rarely granted interviews and nor talked about his early life. However, we do know that he was born in the Western Region of Nigeria in 1948 and he studied Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan. His contemporaries during this period were the likes of Soni Oti, Wale Ogunyemi, and the late Sam Loco Efe, with whom he shared non-academic interests (both were members of the Kegites Club circa 1978 when Akinleye was the Chief of Ilya du UI).
In the seventies and eighties, Larinde Akinleye was a stage actor, participating in many productions in the University of Ibadan theatre while also teaching in the University. However, in 1995, he had his first break into the then fledging Nollywood movie industry, acting as Agba in Tunde Kelani’s “Koseegbe”. From then on, he became a staple in Kelani’s films alongside late novelist, and academician, Professor Akinwunmi Isola, and the late Alagba Adebayo Faleti. Akinleye would play the main character, Ajani’s uncle in “Oleku” (1997), and Seriki, in “Saworoide” (1999) and its sequel “Agogo Eewo” (2002). In between the two movies, both later becoming box office hits and classics of Yoruba filmmaking, he also played the character of the Vice Principal (known as Vee Pee) in “Thunderbolt: Magun” (2001). In 2002 he featured in the Yemi Amodu epic “Afonja” as the Baale of Iwere-Ile. However, it is for his role as Seriki in the aforementioned Saworoide and Agogo Eewo that he would be most remembered.
What makes Larinde Akinleye a unique thespian and film actor was not just his physical appearance, even though that certainly also contributes to the perception. His tall and lanky frame, with a slow deliberate style of enunciation honed by years of performing on stage, and a provincial twang to his spoken Yoruba ensures that he is hard to not notice in any role he plays. There was, on one hand, a patrician grace and reserve about him which reflected in the roles he often played. A chief in Saworoide and Agogo Eewo, a Baale in Afonja, and the Vice Principal of the school where the heroine works as a teacher in “Thunderbolt”; all elderly characters in positions of authority that commanded the respect of members of the society. Yet on the other hand there was a kind of “unremarkable man on the street” relatability about him too, the kind of relatability that is also seen in the character of Hafeez Oyetoro and his “Saka” persona. Thus, Larinde Akinleye as an actor is really difficult to typecast, such was his acting range and ability. Perhaps this was what made famed filmmaker Tunde Kelani, whom worked with him more than any other director, describes him thus: “He was such a bomb. Larinde Akinleye can play any role given to him. I mean, he is a deep and peculiar actor.
It is difficult to disagree with Tunde Kelani’s assessment. Indeed, one of Akinleye’s unique qualities is the ability to enrich his characters with genuine humour without detracting from their purposes and utilities. The “pencil test” scene in Thunderbolt, where the otherwise serious VeePee suddenly becomes the mischievous connoisseur of the female body, and the scene in Agogo Eewo in which his character, Seriki, starts out saying an African Traditional Religious prayer and suddenly breaks into a Christian song in the middle of it, are two scenes among many others that come to mind. Larinde Akinleye is perhaps one of the very few subversions of the trope in Nollywood that a character has to be a shouty, overacting, verbose lout, whose vocabulary is nothing but curse words and abuse and who has the dress sense of a mentally challenged child in order to be considered funny. It is perhaps this ability to flit between genuine gravitas and genuine humour without breaking character is one of the reasons why that his incredible acting range will be sorely missed.
But Akinleye was not just an actor, he was also an acclaimed scholar and academic, he combined his acting career with his work as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication and Language Arts at the University of Ibadan. His posthumous 2009 paper “Nigerian Silent Majorities: Why the search for global news flow balance should begin at home” co-authored with Ayo Ojebode and his book “Perspectives on Movie World” are well recognized by scholars in the field of Communications as well as in Film and Theatre studies.
Sadly, Larinde Akinleye would tragically pass away in March 2004 at the age of 56, from injuries sustained in a car crash, just as his profile was starting to rise in the Nollywood film industry. In the end, even though he never built a filmography as large as some of his contemporaries in the industry, the intellectual depth he brings into the interpretation of his roles, his ability to create compelling well-rounded characters that feel natural to the viewer, and his wit and outstanding command of language will always ensure that he remains an icon of Nollywood.
Adebayo Adegbite is a Nigeria based copywriter and editor. His writing interests are in creative non-fiction writing, as well as film, music and book reviews and criticism. His thoughts can be seen on his blog www.adebayoadegbite.wordpress.com and on his twitter @beebayuu