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.

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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.

Former Kid Actress, Opemipo "Maradona " Bamgbopa is A Year Older Today. -  Celebrities - Nigeria

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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.

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.

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