Peter Bunor’s acting career spans over two decades. He was already a prominent face in soaps before his Nollywood debut. Bunor, 52, hails from Ogwashiukwu in Delta State. He speaks to Justice Ilevbare about his acting career and life
How did you get into acting?
I didn’t study theatre arts. I started while looking for avenues to make little money for my school. I was paid about N10 per episode in any soap that is local production, but on network programme like Cock Crow at Dawn I got about N150 per episode, which was a big money then. I did this continually and that was how I found myself in the industry. I didn’t actually know that it was going to be like this. I was just doing it then to put something in my pocket. While I was in Jos, I used to go to act with the NTA Jos, between 1980-82. I even took part in the first soap opera that went on network and also had a stint with some of the local television productions like Mirror and others. I have equally taken part in different television soaps like Memorial Hospital, Checkmate, Sound of Destiny, Second Chance, Third Eye and several others. When the home video thing came up, it was like a joke but I found myself in one of the major English video called Glamour Girls in 1994. It is the first English movie that started off what we are doing now; otherwise, I would say the first movie that was produced in the industry is Living in Bondage.
How many movies have you starred in?
I can’t tell you vividly how many movies I have done. They are quite many.
Between soaps and video, which do you find more challenging?
I still act in soap because I’m presently involved in Treasures. But let me just say clearly that the difference is clear. When you talk about Nollywood video, you know it involves money and you know you need to live up to your billing to prove that what they are paying you is worth it. So, I would say that shooting movies is more challenging than in soaps for several reasons. Soaps do not come with the kind of money you get in movies. You tend to give all your best, but that is not to say that when you are shooting soap, you don’t give your best. But it is more challenging when you are shooting a movie.
Many people describe your acting in superlative terms; does that flatter you?
A lot of people have said I’m a good actor; some would call to say I’m the best in Nigeria. With all sense of humility, I think it has to do with hard work. When you give me a script I look at it and the character I’m asked to play. Sometimes I go out to study the character. If he is a drunkard, I go out to study the life of a drunkard on the street before I go to play it out. So it is a combination of hard work. Also, the experience I have put into the industry has also helped me.
How long have you been acting?
I’ve been acting now for the past 25 to 26 years.
How has your acting career been?
I would say it’s been fulfilling. Otherwise I would have quit the profession.
So what keeps you going?
I think it is the love for the job, otherwise I don’t know what else could drive me. Anytime I’m not on set, I’m not happy. But each time I find myself working I don’t even mind the money but the joy keeps me going.
But it has certainly brought you fame and fortune?
Acting has brought me so many things I cannot quantify in terms of money. You walk into a bank and they beckon on you and help you. You get to a filling station, someone is there to help you. Everywhere, even in the church, they want you to come and sit in front with the pastor. I think it’s been wonderful. But the only thing I don’t like about it is that your privacy is gone forever. There are certain places you might want to go to but you can’t go there. There are certain things you want to do, but because of publicity, you are deprived of doing it. You can imagine me now, walking into a place where they are selling amala and because of the nature of the place I cannot sneak in to eat even if I’m hungry. I rather go to places I think befits my person.
Does this worry you in anyway?
It doesn’t worry me. For someone like me these things don’t count. Sometimes I walk into a place and when people see me they are surprised. I usually tell them I’m part of them and not from the moon. So I get close to them.
How would you describe Nollywood’s growth?
Nollywood has come a long way, when you compare it with what we were doing soap operas. The equipment has all gone digital compared to those days when we were using analogue cameras. Some times we shoot a movie under seven, eight days. The quality is equally improving. I will agree that we are not there yet but under this little space of time we have made our mark. We are just barely fourteen years old. Although, you cannot compare us with America that is over two hundred years old, but the rate we are going we are third in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood so you can imagine under the space of twelve years we find ourselves rated as the third. I think it’s a good thing. For the impact the industry has made in the country, you can’t quantify it. Lets talk about employment, several youths have found themselves working either as actors or as make-up artistes, camera men and other complementary aspects of the job. As of today our estimate of people who are working under the movie industry is over a million. The only problem we are having now is that government does not seem to take us seriously. But I think they are beginning to give us a listening ear because recently some members of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) met with the President Olusegun Obasanjo and I think with time we will come to terms.
How would you describe yourself?
I see myself as somebody who just goes by. I’m not too ambitious but somehow I know am going to get there. I was born in Ibadan, Oyo State. I’m from Ogwashiukwu in Delta State. I must say I’m one of the privileged people who first watch television in Nigeria maybe that could have informed why I found myself acting today. I attended Abadina Primary School, Ibadan, and later finished at St George’s Falomo, Lagos. Then went to St Michaels College, Ogwashikwu, where I had my secondary education. I got a diploma in accounting in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. I like honest people and I detest the opposite of honesty.
What is your best meal?
I think I enjoy eating amala and okro soup.
Your son (Peter Bunor jnr) has taken after you; did you get him involved in acting?
Nobody forced him to go into acting. My son is reading public administration at the University of Abuja not theatre arts and I’m not going to push him. He is the one that is going to determine what he is going to be in future. But I think he wants to be a diplomat from what I have discussed with him. In this profession we have lawyers who have never practiced law; we have mathematicians who are into acting fully. So sometimes it’s not all about what you read, it’s all about what you are endowed with and then. It is now left for you to go out there and express it and use your talent to earn your money.
What is the most uncomfortable role you have ever played?
I still remember it. I remember when I went to Ghana on the streets of Ghana people were calling me wicked man because of the role I played in a movie. The name of the movie is Time, and it was shot in Ghana by a Nigerian director. It was a movie I did three to four roles in one. I was a mad man, a very rich man and later I became poor. One of the particular roles I played there that I didn’t like was when I pretended to be a mad man and opened up the womb of a pregnant woman. It was ritualistic. I had to start explaining to people that it was not real because if you watched it, it looked so real that you would ask why? I stopped watching it because after watching the first one I did not like it. I played the lead role and what we were trying to portray in the movie, is that some people make their money through ritual means.
When people started castigating you, how did you feel?
I felt bad. Sometimes when I call them to explain to them they run away from me on several occasions. I try to let people know that the role I played was just mere acting and not real. I also tell them that there are lessons to be learnt from this because as of today, people still use human beings for rituals. I have played several good roles too, at a time they used to call me pastor because I used to play clerical roles, which won me an award in 1998. I have played several other good roles. I have played randy roles where I have about ten wives.
You just returned from Bayelsa State, where you went to shoot a movie what is it all about?
I don’t know if am letting the cat out of the bag but the truth is that I went to Bayelsa and we went to shoot a movie on Governor Goodluck Jonathan. It generally talks about the good works the governor has been doing in Bayelsa and I must confess the man is doing a great job. I played the role of the governor.
What’s the title of the movie?
The Joshua of Bayelsa.
What are your future dreams?
My greatest dream is to be in Hollywood. I believe that someday, sometime I’m going to be there by the grace of God. I think I have all it takes. Because even in Ghana I have been invited to shoot movies and I know the kind of reactions I get there.
How does it feel like shooting films outside the country?
I have shot over twenty movies in Ghana. There are a lot of things lacking in Ghanaian movies and when we (Nigerians) go there, we let them know. The first movie I shot in Ghana was in 1999 titled the Visitor another one is Ashimoh. Before then, they never knew that we used to rent apartments, they didn’t know that we pay people to get the best apartment, even costumes. So, they were surprised. But now go to Ghana they know these things.
I once travelled to Ghana with my car and I didn’t know that I parked in a no-parking zone and before I came back my car had been impounded. But they were shocked when they found out it was my car and I was allowed to go without paying anything. So you can see I’m even more popular in Ghana than Nigeria.
You won the best supporting actor 1998, how did you feel?
I felt great. It was in recognition of my excellence and generally it might not add money to my pocket but somebody out there has recognised that I’m doing well. It really spurred me to do more. Though, I didn’t allow it to get into my head and it was a great moment. My son has also won an award as the best kid actor in Ghana 2001 for a movie he shot in Ghana. So I just give God the glory.
How does your wife feel when you act romantic roles in movies?
She has been there long before I married her. So she is used to it.
What is acting to you?
Acting is my life and my food. I told you earlier that if I’m not on set I’m not happy. Any time you see me moody, it means I’m not acting. But when I’m acting, I’m always excited.
What does it take to be a good actor?
All it takes is to watch movies regularly, remain teachable, don’t think you know it all so that you can receive good trainings. But if you think you know it all, you are not getting anywhere.
You are also a scriptwriter, how many scripts have you written?
I only write script for those who know I write. I have written about five scripts.
Scriptwriting is quite tasking. I look at my environment when writing and my inspiration comes from discussions. Let me also say before I write I ask God and the Holy Spirit to take control of what I write.
Filmography: Clash Of Destiny, Deadly Kiss, Blind Justice, God Of Justice, Super Model, Preacher’s Daughter, Official Romance