Veteran actor, lecturer and celebrated playwright, Chief Lari Williams, recently featured in the popular TV show ‘MTN’S Who Deserves To Be A Millionaire’ where he won N1 million. Williams, a Member of the Federal Republic (MFR), speaks on his deteriorated health and other issues in this interview .
Two people have just played with you to win N1 million. Congratulations sir.
I am grateful to God and to them.
How do you feel?
I feel great. I am happy. God is good, you people are good. The people that were with me in the hot seat are good as well. Though we couldn’t go beyond one million naira but believe me, this show has given me a new lease of life. It’s been a big relief. One has come a long way, you know.
I tell you
Can you let us into your background then?
My name is Lari Williams. I’m an actor, a poet, a lecturer and a playwright. I studied journalism at the London School of Journalism, Park Lane. I proceeded to Morley College to study English where I developed an interest in drama. I then went to study drama at Mountview Theatre School, London. In order to become a professional actor, I went to Stratford E15 Acting School also in England.
I set up a group named Calabash Artists in England. My academic career was wrapped up at the University of Iowa, Iowa State, USA. I produced my first full-length play titled ‘Colanut Junction’ in 1971. I employed the likes of Olu Jacobs, Taiwo Ajayi-Lycet, Dele Jegede, etc to work on the play. We also did a production at the London Commonwealth Hall. I consider that as one of my biggest achievements.
Quite impressive, Chief. Then, when did you come back home?
I came back to Nigeria in 1977 after I got an invitation from the FESTAC ’77 committee as a musical poet. I decided to remain in Nigeria after FESTAC with my family, and I also started teaching arts at the National Theatre. I also got roles in soaps like ‘Village Headmaster, Ripples, Mirror in The Sun, etc.
So how have you been faring?
Things have been difficult because even though we were pioneers of this industry, most of the acting roles did not pay enough. We were just doing arts for art’s sake. I also practice as a journalist and I have had a column in the Vanguard newspaper called ‘Stage & Screens’ for over 28 years.
I have no option, in spite of health challenges; I need to do so as to be able to keep body and soul together.
You mean you still write?
Ah, I do. Even, I still train young people who are passionate about theatre arts, I write plays as well. I am presently trying to put my play on even though I can’t afford the cost. I have not folded my hands, I have been busy with projects but it has been difficult because as you know, there is no pension for people in my profession.
In essence, do you mean all these efforts bear little rewards?
Rewards you said? (Shaking his head) I am presently homeless and I do not want to blame anybody for not helping out. As the first president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, I am sure my colleagues must have heard about my condition, coupled with cataracts – my eye problem, I cannot see very well again, but help cannot be forced out of anybody.
Apart from being a former president of the Actors Guild, what other honours have you?
Honours and awards? Honestly I’ve lost counts. And I mean it (laughs). I have received a lot of them for which I am proud. In recognition of (my) selfless service to the nation, I became a recipient of the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ endorsed by a former president, and most importantly I am an awardee of the National Honours; Member of the Order of the Federal Republic, MFR.
When were you given the award?
What do you think would have made government to come up with an award for the person of Chief Lari Williams?
How would I have known? I was only contributing in my little way, but all the same, I thank God and good people of Nigeria. It is still part of these that has brought about my invitation to this programme – Who Deserves To Be A Millionaire? Am I the only worthy person out there? I pray God would continue to show love to them, grant them peace, make the company grow and bless them forever.
They have made me to see how good Nigerians and some corporate bodies can be. Well, this is an experience to me at my age! God will bless the organisers; I am full of gratitude to MTN and the show’s producers.
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