Jimmy Odukoya: From Hollywood to the Pulpit

Hollywood blockbuster, The Woman King, arguablyremainsJimmy Odukoya’s most significant work as an actor.

The movie, which is streaming on Netflix, features Odukoya in a remarkable lead role of Oba Ade, the villainous Oyo general who can’t stand the idea of a woman being a warrior.

For Odukoya, acting alongside legendary Viola Davis and iconic singer, Angelique Kidjo, including Hollywood greats like Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim and John Boyega is not only an exceptional feat, it’s also a thing of pride – a Nigerian pride!

Coming from Nollywood, nobody gave Odukoya a scintilla of chance in Hollywood. But he was adequately prepared for the role, which he eventually earned through grace, grit and hard work.

“People thought I was crazy when I said I was going to Hollywood, but it happened! It’s always impossible until somebody does it and it becomes possible,” he remarked.

However, just like he came prepared for the Hollywood movie role, Jimmy Odukoya was equally primed for his new position as the General Overseer, Fountain of Life Church.

Having being ordained a minister in 2009 and then pastor in 2012, the prodigiously talented actor, singer and relationship coach has been combining his artistry with priestly duties. And when it was time to take over the leadership mantle of Fountain of Life Church after the death of his father, Taiwo Odukoya, he was never found wanting.

The church’s Board of Trustees had unanimously elected Jimmy Odukoya as the Senior Pastor and Chairman of the Board, emphasizing the trust reposed in his leadership ability. On September 30, 2023, he was officially installed alongside his sister, Tolu as Senior Pastor and Associate Pastor of the church respectively.

According to the new General Overseer, he is committed to building on his father’s legacy, while also continuing to grow the Fountain of Life Church into a global ministry that touches people’s lives.

Expressing his gratitude, he said: “I want to say thank you. You have seen the sum total of whom I am and placed me in this position, and it is only by your grace and mercies that you have put me here to serve your people; from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you.”

In this rare interview conducted long before Jimmy Odukoya assumed the exalted position of General Overseer, he opened up to SHOWBIZ Contributing Editor, Tosin Ajirire on his amazing journey to Hollywood, relationship with women, parental loss, and life as a pastor. Please enjoy it.

Would you attribute your getting a role in the Hollywood movie, The Woman King to grace or hard work, or both?

Definitely, I will say God; because what the whole thing has shown me is that ‘what God has for you is for you’. No man can shut the doors that God has decided to open for you. Definitely grace, because at the end of the day, there are so many talented actors that don’t get the opportunity to showcase what they can do. I had the opportunity to showcase what I can do and I cannot take credit for that. So, definitely, it’s grace. And also hard work because they say that ‘luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’. The door was opened but I had to be prepared.

They were looking for a certain kind of actor who was physically fit and could act. I stay in the gym and people would ask, ‘why are you working out so hard? What role are you preparing for?’ So, when they were looking for a particular kind of guy, because I have been in the gym working and I have been honing my character as an actor, I was able to rise to the occasion and the level. So, definitely, I will attribute my getting the role to both grace and hard work.

How would you describe your character, Oba Ade? 

Oba Ade is the Oyo General and he is responsible for literarily keeping the Kingdom of Dahomey under control. The people of Dahomey pay tributes to the Oyo Empire, and he (Oba Ade) is the representation of Alaafin of Oyo. He cannot stand what Dahomey represents because these are bunch of women and he feels that women should not be warriors. This is a sacrilege; this is abomination. It is against what we know; it is against the gods. So, Oba Ade’s job is to keep the power and oppress them, and keep them in the position of oppression as far as the story is concerned.

The Woman King is an epic, yet you’re known for acting romantic roles in Nollywood movies. What was the transition like?

For me, I have always been eager to play action genres, but we don’t have lots of action movies in Nollywood; it’s usually romantic comedy or drama. In deed, most actors run away from action movies. In action genres, there is no in-between; it’s either a hit or a flop. Also, most producers stay away from action movies because of the technicality involved. But because I have been a very physical person, I have always wanted the opportunity to use my physicality and connect that to my talent as far as acting is concerned. This film provided me the opportunity to do such and it was very easy for me. I had to be able to ride horses, I had to be able to fight as well as choreograph with swords and spears. I had to be physically fit, as I had to be picking people and showing strength. I think it was easy for me because this is what I have always wanted to do. So, I was super exited to actually do it (The Woman King).

You acted alongside legendary Hollywood actor, Viola Davis and veteran singer, Angelique Kidjo. Were you star struck meeting them for the first time on set?

It was great meeting them on set. For Viola Davis, I have watched her; I have seen her dedication to excellence. I have seen her hunger and drive, she’s won it all; she’s on top of her game. And yet, she’s still hungry for more. Meeting her was humbling and inspiring. She wanted me to be better. To act alongside her and to be able to carry my own as an actor validated me that I am a good actor. It was great to be among great talents. They say ‘show me your company and I will tell you who you are’. So, I am blessed to be among great talents, it’s about bringing my A-game to the fore.

You are a man of many parts: actor, pastor, singer and relationship coach. If you were asked to choose, especially between movies and music, which one would you choose?

It’s a tough one. My first call was music. I grew up doing music. I first came into the industry doing music. I love music but acting has kind of taken its own turn in my life. I have done more of acting in the last six years and enjoyed bringing my character to life. But I don’t know, if I’m asked to pick, because right now… Ah… it’s tough (laughter).

What’s the demarcation line for you as a pastor and actor?

Interestingly, being pastor influences to an extent the roles that I play. I always ask myself, ‘what is the message in every story that I am part of? Does the message align with my worldview?’ In my worldview, good should always overcome evil. But people don’t understand that without evil, you can’t appreciate what good is; without poverty, you can’t appreciate riches; without hunger you can’t appreciate food. If you can teach people that this is not the way to go, and show them that there are consequences for your actions, I am happy to do that. So, that has always guided the roles I have taken. As an actor, there are certain things I wouldn’t do. And because I am a pastor, there are some lines I wouldn’t cross.

As a good looking, well built pastor and actor, how do you handle the pressure from women?

As a pastor, one of the things I have done is to demystify the pulpit. And what that means is I don’t want people to think that as a pastor, everything is perfect, and that I am the standard. I am not perfect, I’m not the standard; God is the standard. I’m not perfect; I don’t pretend to be. I need God as much as you need God. The same grace or Holy Spirit in me is the same in you. I don’t have more because I have the title. If anything, I am in a place of responsibility and servitude and my job is to serve, so follow me as I follow Christ. Let us follow Him together. Therefore, because I have demystified the pulpit… Look, I am a man and you have to be honest with yourself as a man. So, it’s left for you not to think ‘oh, I have the Holy Spirit, I am immune’. No. Temptation is not temptation until you want it. So, it’s how you handle and being open and honest with yourself, and putting boundaries in place so that you don’t find yourself in a situation that you did not prepare for. So, it’s just being open and honest. Let people see that I am human like you. So, help me. I am not saying I have bullet proof or I’m perfect. I think the problem is that when you have people in ministry that end up falling or making a mistake… But wait, you make mistakes too. Yes, the title comes before responsibility. You don’t know what grace is, so you are in need of grace yourself. Because I understand what that means, I can never judge anybody. If I were in a position where I need mercy, I would hope that mercy is given to me. So, extend that to everybody. I am very open, practical and honest about what it is for me… It’s all about creating boundaries. I won’t say ‘you can’t touch me, there is a special anointing on my life’. No, I don’t do that.

The year 2005 was very traumatic for you and your family. How did you survive that period of your mum, Pastor Bimbo Odukoya’s tragic death in plane crash?

God! My mother was the most important woman in my life! She’s the first woman I ever loved. When she passed on, I had a decision to make. It’s either I run away from God or run to God. But I said to myself, ‘if I am going to run away, I will still come back, so why not just stay’. Her death taught me what faith meant. Faith is not trusting when you understand; faith is trusting when you don’t understand. If I told you to jump off a building and you saw a net and you jump, that’s not faith, that’s insurance because you can see the net. But if I told you to jump and you saw no net, and I said I would catch you… Faith is ‘I don’t understand how logically with gravity you’ll catch me, but I believe in you enough to take a leap off the building.’ For me, it’s faith in God to believe that ‘your word says all things work together for my good. So, that means the good and the bad. I don’t understand this but you won’t give us more than what we can handle or bear’. I knew that my mother loved the Lord and she always said God came first. I knew that when she crossed over, she wasn’t coming back. But it’s just been the grace of God. You don’t get over it but you learn to live with it. I am proud to have such a legacy attached to my name. So, definitely, I will say it’s the grace of God that carried me.

How did you feel the first time you heard your music play on radio and you saw your image on the big screen?

The first time I heard my music on radio back in 2010 was great and exciting. The first time I saw my pictures on billboards and on TV was quite surreal. It’s always a good thing when you see rewards for your work and you start getting recognized. It’s always a humbling experience when someone says ‘oh, I like your movie’. It’s always very humbling and I am always thankful for that. You know, I get the chance to do what I do. I am walking with my kid in London and people come to me and my daughter is like ‘why does everybody know who you are?’ And I would say it’s because of the work that I do. So, it’s always a humbling experience and I am thankful that I am allowed to do it.

With your lead role in The Woman King, do you think Nollywood is there already or we still need to do more to get there?

I am proof that it can be done. I am proof that it is possible. I am proof that we have the talent. I know that value will speak wherever; value has the same language everywhere in the world. If they can see and recognise your hard work, then you can do it. If I did it from here, then I believe anyone can. So, it’s to give others that level of courage and inspiration to dare to dream. People thought I was crazy when I said I was going to Hollywood, but it happened! It’s always impossible until somebody does it and it becomes possible. I want people to be inspired, to strive and position themselves, and approach every work they do with that mindset of excellence and execution, because you don’t know the project that will open the door.

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