Larry Kold Sweat is a prolific actor who enjoys playing primitive and wicked village roles in movies. But one thing that many may not know about the actor is that he actually is a musician and pastor of a fellowship in Lagos.
He tells Adeola Balogun in this interview how he has been able to combine all the parts and still maintain a balance. I was surprised to see you sing perfectly on stage on Tuesday. Why didn’t you choose music as a career?
I played music for 28 years with the likes of Feladey. When we were at Jazzreel, that was where many people got to know that I played music before. It was after I left music that I went to work at Rank Xerox. When I left Rank Xerox, I then joined the movie industry. The likes of Fred Amata, Chico Ejiro, Charles Ovia know that I played music very well.
But why didn’t you take it up professionally?
To play music professionally in those days was not easy. There was always someone who would have to clear the way for others to follow. We played music in those days purely for love of music, not for the love of money. People are now playing it for the love of the money. Our footballers in those days – people like Thunder Balogun, Segun Odegbami, etc – played football for the love of the game. The Okochas, the Kanu Nwankwos of this day play football because of the money involved.
Is there the possibility of Larry Kold Sweat going back to music?
Yes, I am going back, but it will be purely gospel. Every actor/actress is now rushing back to music, that is ok. But at the end of the day, they will know a musician from those who are encroaching.
How do we categorise your performance on Tuesday?
Gospel highlife. They were expecting me to play some old tunes that we used to play in clubs such as ‘E Ba Mi So Fun Baby.’ I said no, old things have passed away.
When did the new life begin?
Actually, I became a Christian in 1985, I was a baby Christian then and I lost my immediate sister that I loved so much, and I felt that God was unfair to me. Why must my sister die? I got angry and went back to the world. But God restored me through Pastor Peter Oyenubi in Shibiri here, where I lived in 2003. You cannot run away from God if His hand is upon your life. You can only delay it for a while, but at the fullness of time, He will come for you.
You said you were in the world, what were you involved in?
You see, when you are a Christian, a born-again Christian , you lead the life of Christ, and the spirit of God controls you. Most of the things you liked to do before, you won’t do them again – like drinking, clubbing, running after women, etc. But then, I was really bad, terrible. When I say bad, I mean I did what the senior boys used to do then; but that does not mean that Christ would not have his way. So when my sister died and I rebelled, it was the devil that was really using me then, it was the devil telling me that I should go: ‘that if God loved you, He would not have allowed your sister to die.’ Then I went back to my friends at Jazzreel, who gladly received me.
The new life and the old life, how would you describe the difference?
Oh, let me tell you something. When God started calling me back, I was dodging. When I started backsliding, one day I went to TREM, because Bishop Mike Okonkwo used to be my mentor. The moment the man saw me enter the auditorium, he said, “My friend, are you still in the faith?” The thing hit my spirit. He didn’t know what I was passing through. And that was when the call started, I initially resisted. Then in 2002, I was given a quit notice at Abule-Ijesa in Yaba, Lagos, where I was living, a place I had lived for 20 years with no quarrel, nothing. Then I began to struggle that I must not leave the area. By then, I had built where I am living now when I was at Rank Xerox; but I didn’t have the intention of coming to live here, so I didn’t not complete it. But when I was asked to leave Abule-Ijesha, I knew it was the finger of God, so I had to come here. Before, things went really bad: nobody called me for jobs, there was struggle left, right and centre. In-between that time, I lost my mother. I went for her burial. When I was in Onitsha, I met ‘Alex Usifo, my friend. I said Alex, I don’t know what is happening to me o.’ He said we should pray. As we were praying, I prophesied to myself and said God was giving me another chance. After that prayer, Alex said that God spoke through me. I then decided to return to God. The first thing the Holy spirit did for me was to cut off all my drinking partners. A pastor-friend one day phoned me and said people should stop praying for me. Instead, I should be praying for people. Since then, I have been doing that, I just came back from Lokoja on evangelism. My friends in the movie industry used to taunt me saying, ‘All these years, you were a bad boy; now in your old age, you say you are giving your life to Christ.’ I used to tell them to appreciate the fact that grace differs. The grace in your life differs from my own. I told them that Moses ran away from God, and came back at the age of 80 to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. So age is in the figures, God is the author and finisher of faith.
Before you became born-again, you probably belonged to some cults?
No, that is what I never did, I don’t believe in such. If you ask those who know me well, I am more of a Yoruba man, a Lagosian and when I was playing music, I played for the big boys then – the likes of Chief Femi Adeniyi Williams, all the old boys of Kings College, Harry Akande, the likes of Majekodunmi, who owns St Nicholas. I never belonged to any cult.
But you are at your best when you play the typical village life…
Let’s be honest with ourselves, village setting is where the action is. Don’t you have an uncle or cousin rising against you and your family? That is the truth, the African thing: We live with it. I don’t play romance, I don’t know how to romance in film but to struggle for land, yes, I can do that because it is real. To repossess your late brother’s property from his wife and children is a common thing in Africa. Some people say why did we do juju in Evil Men? Let’s not pretend, don’t they do juju where you come from? Don’t let us pretend that we are Europeans, in Africa today it is the in-thing. What we do in Evil Men, that is the highest obtainable in Africa. The things we did in the film happen in our daily life. After we did Evil Men, there was a time I was going to Aba in a luxury bus. One woman who sat near me was looking at me and cuddling her baby. After some time, she called the conductor, and in Igbo language said, ‘Conductor, come and change my seat, I and this wicked man can’t stay here. He will kill me and my child.’ Remember the way I poisoned Zack in Evil Men? That is a film after my heart anyday. Many of the films they are shooting now lift from Evil Men.
What was your intention participating in the film?
It was to expose those things to the society. People believe that for them to occupy a seat or a post, they must do juju. It is either one person is killed or nothing. Most of the films we do make us realise that we came from somewhere and we are going back to somewhere.
But most of the time, you act wicked roles. Which of them really portray your real person?
Acting is make-believe. Someone acting a wicked role is not a wicked person. I am very close to Pete Edochie, we are like brothers. Most people would not believe that Pete is one of the kindest human beings I have ever seen. He has touched my life and those of some other people. He cannot hurt a fly. At times it amuses us when people look at us and conclude that we act our natural traits.
You said you were in music, from music to Rank Xerox before coming into acting. Why such circle of movement?
This is my 36th year in Lagos. The late General Tunde Idiagbon brought me to Lagos. I was playing with the Army band then after the war, then there was nothing to do. I met him as a Major then in Abakaliki. He was like a father to me and Felix Odey, Feladey and Eddy Ofey; we were playing for them. When they wanted us to join the Army, I ran away. So I came to Lagos, then Idiagbon had been posted to the Supreme Headquarters. He took me to the Military Hospital where I worked. You know in those days, people didn’t want to associate with you if you said you were a musician. No family would want you to come near them. The same thing when you said you were a footballer, they believed football was for the never-do-wells. So because of that, my family did not want me. I worked at the military hospital until when Obasanjo/Murtala came and I was retrenched. I went back to music with Segun Bucknor. We were hanging around him at clubs ... I don’t want to go into that now.
You have not said how you came into acting…
It was John Ndanusa of the Nigerian Television Authority who inspired me. He met me at Jazzreel and told me I had the physique to act. I told him there was nobody to connect me. He then introduced me to an NTA soap, After the Storm, with Paul Obazele, Zack Amata, Saheed Balogun, etc. I played Alhaji Batuka who duped people. It was there that I met Francis Duru, who one day came to tell me they needed someone to play Zack Orji’s father in Black Powder. That was my entry into the home video, and so far it has been wonderful. Chico Ejiro, I must say, is the man God used to make me what I am in the movie industry and that is why I don’t joke with him. He gave me many roles; in fact, most of us went through Chico’s Grand Touch Pictures.
You said you were invited to come and join the army, why did you run away?
Anything regimental, I don’t like. I ran away, Feladey ran away, all of us ran away. They were looking for us with military police, so I I felt the only safe place was to come to Lagos. When they learnt that I was working at the Military Hospital, they left me alone. It was the late General Sanni Sami who wanted us to be soldiers.
What has acting done for you?
Acting has really made me popular. I was in South Africa recently. Immediately we landed in Durban, a white man walked up to me and said, ‘I like you, I watch your films.’ When I was taken to some places there, so many people hailed me. There is no part of this world that I go to that people don’t say, ‘Larry Kold Sweat.’ Funny enough, I am the only one answering that name, we are not two – except that person is my son.
I wanted to ask you, how did you come about the name?
Isn’t it funny if I ask you how you came across your name? I got the name from heaven.
Some people still write off the Nigerian film industry…
Thank God for what Movie Magic is doing with our films now. A prophet is not honoured in his place. Some people will tell you they don’t want Nigerian films. Our people expect too much from us, but we are coming up. Hollywood started from somewhere, so you cannot compare our development with that of the American industry. If these Igbo merchants did not put down their money, nobody will even think of Nollywood today.
With your born-again status, which roles do you like to play in movies now?
The Larry Kold Sweat you see in the movies is different from Larry Kold Sweat, the pastor. Our people pretend a lot. One person was telling me, ‘Enh, what type of role are you people playing, after all you are supposed to be a pastor?’ I said to him, “Fine, you are making a good point. Let me ask you, if they bring a coffin now and you are asked to enter into it to act a film, what will you do?’ He said ‘That is the devil, I ban you.’ He can ban the devil, but when it is time to do something that will disgrace the devil, you run away? So who should do it when everyone is banning the devil? You don’t expect me to go naked on bed and go on smooching a girl, I won’t do that, not even before the call.
When you were to take to acting, did you get support?
Everyone wants to associate with success, that is the truth. I must tell you that my wife and children really encouraged me and they are those who matter to me. The other person who encouraged me when the going was really rough was my auntie, the late Chief Tola Olujobi. When she died, a part of me died with her, she was a detribalised Nigerian.
Do you encourage any of your children to go into acting?
No problem, but they have to finish their education first. I have a mandate to shoot Christian films which I will soon start and youth will be encouraged to take part.
You lead a fellowship, how do members reconclie with your roles in films?
When a church in Warri invited me to come and preach, some ministers ganged up against the pastor and said why should this occultist (that’s me) be invited, is he coming to show drama here? But the pastor told them not to judge a man until they hear from him. And when I came and ministered, they were shocked. One of them confessed to me that they actually protested my invitation. When it was announced that I would be in town in Lokoja for a church programme, some people did not believe and out of curiousity, they came out. And that was how God used the name Larry Kold Sweat as bait to arrest them.
You said you have been in Lagos for 36 years but when you act the village person, you seem to do it very perfectly…
We interact with Omo Onile now and where I come from, all these land grabbing and all the stuff are the order of the day there. You go watch some polygamous homes, and see what happens there, it’s fun.
When do you hope to retire from acting?
Old soldiers, they say, never die. So until my creator calls me home. I have a family that is very supportive.
FILMOGRAPHY: Akanchawa, Charge and Bail, Conspiracy, and more