Tough Bone: Now Emerging from the Shadows
Jeddy Odiboh, known in the Nollywood stunt circuit as Tough Bone, finally breaks into the silver screen as Shadow, a car thief with morals, in FilmOne’s hot new flick, Daddy.
Shadow is just the perfect name for his debut because you’ve seen this amazing talent so many times before, doing stunning things without you knowing him. For him, it’s been a busy life lurking in the shadows of celebrated actors without being celebrated. Yet he is happy with his fortune. “People pay me to crash bikes and cars. I crash bikes professionally. I’ll be spinning and tumbling with the bike. It’s performance,” he said.
Yes, that was him tumbling down the Third Mainland Bridge in the multiple-awards-winning cliffhanger, Brotherhood by Jade Osiberu and he didn’t even get his stage name spelt right in the end credits.
Pondering on what goes into those breathtaking car crashes, falling bikes and unforgettable fight scenes, one is tempted to ask him what sets his day apart?
“My day’s like that of a typical athlete. Wake up, go for a run, go out to jog, come back, work out, train. I live a life of preparing for those things I do on screen and many more I’m yet to do. I train anywhere. I go all the way to Ikoyi for power bike training. I could go to the Independence Building and start climbing down the 25-storey building. This morning, I was working on my drifts. I’m also pretty much trying to master some basic skids. I’m waiting for a particular bike. When that bike comes, then I can start some moves. I currently have a stunt bike. I have a shift bike.”
Tough Bone has virtually spent a lifetime learning to do those things that make the audience gasp in cliff-edge immersion. In secondary school, at Immaculate Conception College (ICC), he started with doing backflips and was the best at various forms of tumbling. From there, he started martial arts. Self-taught moves from watching movies and learning what he could from Snake in The Monkey’s Shadow, Jackie Chan, and Bruce Lee’s movies.
“A lot of students knew I could flip,” Tough Bone recalled. “They thought it was Kung Fu and they started coming to me for training. And I was training these guys before I met the person who finally trained me. He heard there’s this guy in ICC. He was attending Western Boys, and he was already a champion in the National Sports Festival. He came to my school because he wanted to learn more and be better. He saw what I was doing. And, because he was trained, he knew something was wrong. This guy beat me up in front of my supposed students. After the beating, instead of returning to my shell, I went to him and said I want to learn it. That’s how he took me to the stadium. Next thing you know, I became a champion as well.”
Tough Bone, in those heady days, became King of the Ring from all the training received. “I was a champion back-to-back for nine years: 2009-2018. In 2018, I represented Abuja at the National Sports Festival in Abuja. I gave Abuja their first-ever gold medal in Kung Fu,” he revealed.
His quest and ultimate victory as an athlete sums up his life’s philosophy, perhaps. “I tell people, you don’t become a champion in the ring, you become a champion before you’re in the ring. Because you have been training for a long time,” he interjected during this conversation on what motivates him.
“There’s this time I came back home, and my eyes were swollen. I had won two gold medals. My mum saw me with my swollen eyes and my busted lips, and she started crying. I said, ‘Mummy, look at my gold medal.’”
His mother was not pleased. Recalling her words, “he said, ‘I don’t care about your gold medal. Look at what they did to my baby.’” That was a mother’s pain for her bruised child, which cannot be erased by any amount of gold.
Pain aside, he said: “You keep learning new stuff. Today I’m learning more drifts of cars, tomorrow I’ll be working with car tumbling. Another day, maybe I’m at the pool learning more swimming stunts, I’m often learning something new, martial arts definitely is a lifestyle.”
Emerging from our interview was the picture of a warm, candid soul who is the jack of many trades with a mastery spirit. Tough Bone also earned a bronze in gymnastics, made the long list in Maltina Dance Competition, and earns a living from painting murals. Again, if you live in Lagos, you may have seen his works on the walls.
He was inspired by the stunt performances of early birds to stunt roles in Nollywood like the recently deceased Obinna Nwafor, a Nollywood legend known as Saint Obi. He was particularly struck by a scene where Saint Obi burned a Mercedes Benz and a character jumped from an overhead bridge and landed on the Benz.
“I was wowed by that scene, and I decided it was the kind of thing I want to be doing. And I meet the older guys who have been in it long before I was born. They’d also tell me stories of how they did some stunts in their days. Uncle Sam, Sam Dede, I remember on the set of Brotherhood, we got talking and he narrated how they used bangers on their bodies, and, at the end of the day, they’ll be going home with blisters and injuries.
“He said if you didn’t have any blister from knockouts, then you have not done action. It was that bad. It’s just that right now, we have specialized training, and technology has also evolved. So, things are different now. Things are better and safer now.”
The evolution of the trade has bolstered confidence due to enhanced preparation. “I mean, jumping from the Third Mainland Bridge could have led to severe injury or even death. But I did not just appear at the bridge. I’ve been training for that stunt for long. Everything we did in life brought me to that moment. First is to shake off any dangerous thought. When things go sideways, you make effort to control it. That’s why you’re hired. To control the chaos and be good for the camera.
“Before Brotherhood, I was planning it as a publicity stunt so I can show Nollywood that it’s possible to do it here. I’d speak with the fishermen, ask them questions about the safest part to jump from. I wanted to do that stunt on my own. Only for me to receive a call from Jade to do it for money. I remember Jade said they’ll throw a dummy [because] ‘I don’t want anyone to die in my film.’
“I said it’s possible. We had done Gang of Lagos and I had earned his trust. Despite all the checks, the moment I left the bridge, I regretted it because I had underestimated the height. The momentum with which I left the bridge was too much and the calculation was wrong. That means I’m either going to land flat on my back or on my butt. It’s going to be like landing on concrete if you don’t land legs first. If you check the scene, there’s a lot of flapping of the hands in the air because I was trying to control my body to land legs first and save my neck.
“Even after I landed safely, I could have drowned because the boat guy was petrified. He couldn’t move because he couldn’t believe what he just saw. I was looking at him, expecting him to come over. I could have drowned because the boots and the bulletproof were heavy. I began to sink immediately.
“I literally had to swim for my life. If I waited for this boat guy, I was going to drown there. So, I started to swim towards the guy. This is why we like to hire boatmen who understand what they’re doing. If I weren’t a strong swimmer, that would have been the end. So, I swam to the boat guy and got out of the water. All the while he was frozen, watching like someone at the cinema.
“My takeaway from that experience was that we could have had the art department paint a safety jacket and make it look like the bulletproof jacket. Then, instead of using a boat guy that I don’t know, we could have used our own guy. I should have put my foot down. My guy would know when to come get me. My guy knows what to do. Because we have trained together. We know exactly how we work.”
Tough Bone’s briefs have involved choreographing over four hundred Isale Eko boys who had never had any prior acting experience and who had their street life reputations to protect. He needed to draw on his emotional intelligence to ‘sculpt the chaos.’ That was in pulling the ultra-realistic fight and stunt choreography in Gangs of Lagos.
For Woman King, which starred vivacious Viola Davis, Tough Bone was one of the stunt trainers and he prepared Jimmy Odukoya who played Oba, the main antagonist.
“I remember the contract was twenty pages long,’ the Quentin Tarantino fan laughed. ‘That’s the longest contract I’ve ever seen in my life. They wanted me to train Oba…and I had to travel to South Africa. It feels good to work on a blockbuster project like that.”
Tough Bone’s journey was one that faced obstacles all the way. Nollywood producers couldn’t imagine what he was bringing to the table to warrant any additional budget. He had to find a way to make them see the possibilities by investing in a short film, Shadow of Justice. Even after that, he met with a last-minute rejection that could have stopped most people.
“Shadow of Justice…” His voice is laden with passion.
“That was my first ever film, which I wrote and produced. It was a silent film. With a lot of discouragement here and there, I had to do Shadow of Justice to show it’s possible. I made that film for 1.3 million Naira. I paint murals. I do graffiti for a lot of Budweiser branding, which you see in some places, like in La Taverna in Victoria Island. So, I was doing this mural for Super Eagles superstar, Julius Aghaowa. He liked the way I was working. We got talking and I told him about making a demo film.
“He asked, “What do you need?”
“I said I’ll be needing 500,000 Naira to make up the money I had saved to make the short film. That I think it’s going to be amazing for my career.
“And he asked, ‘Do you want me to give you five million?’”
“No, sir. I just want 500K,” I replied.
“He spoke to his wife about it. Next morning, just like that… miracle no dey taya Jesus… he sent me the money and I made that film. Julius Aghaowa gave me 500K to make my very first film, Shadow of Justice, and I’m forever grateful to him.
“I remember going to DStv and talked with some people there. I shot with Red Dragon at the time. People were not even renting it at the time. It was too expensive. We were talking at DStv about making my film…. And I was super excited. Time came for paperwork, and my dream was squashed. They said they liked the film, it looks really good, and they see a lot of potential, but they cannot commission projects for directors who are not well-known in the industry.
“I remember it was a rainy day. With my tie and my long sleeve, I walked in the rain. I needed the rain to beat me and hide my tears. I was so sad. But I didn’t stop. See where I am now. It’s God. I cannot take credit for it. It’s God who dunnit. It’s also the amount of work I’ve put in. But it’s God that kept me. I don’t just know how He did it. The lines are falling pleasantly for me. It looks like coincidence, but it’s not.”
Odiboh may have conquered failure, but he recognizes that his success as a reputable stunt coordinator still needs tutelage.
“I have a mentor who is Mick Milligan. He is CEO of Stuntlab. He’s an amazing stunt coordinator who has worked on huge Hollywood projects. Whenever I have a problem that’s difficult to solve, I call him. I say, ‘I’m trying to flip this car off the bridge, these are the steps I’ve taken, and he responds with ‘oh we had a glitch like this back in 1995. Do these.’ I practice, I try it, works, make sure safety checks are in place, I learn, and I get better.”
I concurred with him on the significance of experience. As a result, I interjected. “Anyone who sees the choreography of street fights in Gangs of Lagos will come away with the impression it’s not something you learn in a school or dojo. Isn’t it?”
“Dis question wey you ask me so…” he laughed.
“I grew up in the ancient city of Benin. I grew up in a time when you see these kinds of fights. You can see them in your school; I went to Uniben. A lot of stuff happening at the time. Those were my inspiration. My martial arts really helped. When you’re choreographing a fight, the first thing you ask is why and who.
“If I’m going to have the guy do backflips in a fight scene, I’m going to have to know who this guy is and why he is doing backflips in a fight scene. Who is he? Why is this guy flipping in a fight? Is he Nigerian? How does the Nigerian man fight? Is he a street guy? How does the street guy fight? Does he need to hold a bottle or a machete or a stone or whatever? What’s the motivation?
“For crowd fights, it’s very exhausting because you need everyone to be doing something different at the same time. And everything needs to be choreographed or else you’re going to have injuries on set.
Something unbeknown to an avid movie goer is what came next from Tough Bone. “Fake fights can turn to real fights, and we don’t want that. Of course, we have had situations where we get hit by the actors, where the actor forgets he’s supposed to block, and he throws a punch instead. As a stuntman you can’t break character until the director says cut and the actor apologizes for the wrong move. You, however, already have a black eye. You are concerned with the director getting his shot. You might be unfortunate that he didn’t get his shot and you have already picked one black eye.”
Due to the bizarre situations that may occur on set in his line of business, Odiboh admonished while revealing the secret of his trade.
“When choreographing a lot of people, ensure everyone is doing something that makes sense. There’s also an art to it. You can’t just say ‘Aha, everybody start fighting.’ It’s going to be rowdy. It will not make sense unless the script says it’s a montage of people fighting.
“If it’s a fight scene, every single character acts. There’s a way you weave it in. Camera guy. Let’s say you’re punching the guy, and another is coming up, the camera will have to be following every act closely and should be able to switch quickly.”
To achieve a meaningful sequence of action on set, the act whose industry moniker is Tough Bone, said:
“I design the fight sequence after I get the script. I check the location, soil, grass, accident, and create the scene. The design takes cognizance of the cameras and equipment available. The director also gets to approve the design. There’s also a meeting of the director, makeup artist and the stuntman before the scenes are executed.”
Stunt coordinators, according to the Nevada Film Office, “are responsible for overseeing all aspects of performances that require highly specialized skills like diving, auto racing, martial arts, and more. They must assist in creating a budget, choreographing stunt sequences, selecting appropriate tools and equipment that need to be used during stunts, casting the right stunt actors who possess the physical capacity and skill level to perform different types of stunts, and ensuring that all precautions are taken to keep cast and crew safe.”
Besides, the film office in stating the job description of stunt coordinators, asserts that “many stunt coordinators are stunt artists themselves. Their invaluable experience helps them understand and analyze the logistics of performing various stunts as well as anticipate potential issues, which helps them provide safe and creative solutions for making a director’s dream sequence come alive.”
In spite of the essential role of a stunt coordinator in filmmaking, when required, Tough Bone revealed that “a lot of producers are still finding it hard to understand why they need a stunt department.”
Consequently, it can be said that he has his job cut out for him in Nollywood as a stunt coordinator. “We sensitize people that it’s a real job and that people like us are needed because you don’t want your actors to be hurt. You need someone who understands what they’re doing and have the safety record. After all, it’s not everyone you can safely throw out of a moving bus like Ramsey Nouah did to me in Rattle Snake.”