Q: How did you become an actor?
A: I can’t find any particular reason I can readily point at.
Q: Was it joblessness?
A: Well, that could be considered an option, but not necessarily. I had what you might consider a good job. I was serving in Union Bank. I was another kid that didn’t know his left from his right. Sometimes you stumble on things. And I think that was what basically acting did for me. I stumbled on it. I was trained in another field and I was ready to start a career in that field and then somebody talked to me about this. It was supposed to be an interim measure; something I would do for some time. But it turned out to be a niche and that’s exactly how I found myself doing what I’m doing. There was no proper training, no preparatory training.
Q: Some people see the Nigerian movie industry
as a success. Is the success artistic, commercial or both?
A: I’ll put it this way: In terms of disseminating a certain culture through the window that we adopt which Nollywood is now known for, I think by and large, it’s become a success. Economically, I could not agree. But to preach a certain message to blacks in the Diaspora, we’ve come to be accepted as something that has come to stay. Creatively, yes. We have some of the most talented actors in Africa.
I have had the opportunity of working with one or two very good hands. We had, by the grace of God, the opportunity of funding and producing two movies with some African-Americans. I produced them and directed one of them. Good Evening is one of them and it was with Tanya Martins. The other was with Judy Shekoni. I mean she’s earmarked to be the biggest thing in the cinema right now. We made movies with them and I know their limitations. I am not saying they are not awesomely gifted, but in comparison with our people, there’s still a lot to be desired from them. What we have here is the ability to turn nothing into something. We are yoked with so much financially, economically and politically. So, when you compare a person that’s created so much out of nothing and the person that seems to create so much from something, you’ll understand what we are dealing with. I’ll prefer to work with an African actor. When we were shooting the film with the African-Americans, they were carrying their laptops, but we were the ones reminding them of their lines. They are so used to their laptops that they loaded their scripts into them. I didn’t see any need for it. I’m used to being called up, getting on a flight, and going to shoot in the next couple of hours. And I have to assimilate every word in that script. And even proffer advice on it.
Q: You said actors have not benefitted financially. How come we keep hearing of actors earning huge sums per film?
A: Let me give you a picture. We’re looking at a country of 110 million. We narrow it down to a city in the US, say New York. The movie that’s released on the big screen in America is considered a flop if it sells within the one to three million bracket. Back here, our people sell 100,000 copies and it is considered a huge success. You pay an actor N1.5 million per picture, which in foreign exchange means a little over $10,000. You will not pay a Personal Assistant of a major movie actor abroad $10,000. So there’s something wrong in the marketing. It may not be blamed on the actors, the producer or the demographic in which the movies are made. Nevertheless, there is a problem with the distribution. How come the product is not getting to everyone they’re targeting. We know that the home video culture has become something with a huge impact. So, how come the movies are not reaching these target audience? One Dollar, a movie I made a while back, is the singular most successful home video made till date. It sold 250,000 copies in New York alone. They were pirated copies. I went for a tour in Minnesota and some guy gave me a Rolex wristwatch. I asked what I did to deserve the gift and this dude had the audacity to tell me to my face that he alone produced over 50,000 copies of my tape. And this was his way of giving back to me. I was torn between slapping him and accepting the gift. I accepted the gift. Why would I slap him? How many will you slap? Besides, it is illegal. I have a female friend in the CIA. And she has extensive connections, of course, in FBI. She told me that a product that is not protected under US laws cannot be expected to enjoy protection from pirates. That is the problem. Our people will not register with the right bodies; they want short cuts. Movie marketers in America approach our producers and flash $5,000 at them, they go crazy and give their intellectual property away to these people. The people, in turn, go to their basement flats, mass-produce them and sell them. It’s our intellectual property. There’s no such thing as royalties for all the artistes involved in the job. That is why we are recording poor sales and that is why N1.5 million is a big deal in a country of 110 million people.
Q: A while ago, you claimed to be projecting our culture with movies. But I have seen you in a couple of movies with braided hair and you were going to seek the hand of a girl in marriage. Do you think that depicts what happens here, given that you were not cast as a singer or someone in the arts?
A: Let me tackle it from this angle. What is the history of matted hair? I will give you a scenario. If you see a white guy with matted hair, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? The universally accepted opinion will be that he’s trying to be black. The Benin people of old, the Hausas, the Fulanis, our forefathers matted their hair. We are in a world where the true barriers we face are in our minds and not in our environment. We come up with an idea that you have to have the right papers, the right background, the right status, the right creed before you can do certain things or be in certain positions. It’s wrong. What has made America what it is today is its power of permissiveness.
The power to allow a person that knows the job to come irrespective of his looks. You’ll walk into a bank and you’ll see a man with matted hair in America and he will happen to be the MD of that bank. Universally, what is the singular most potent culture that’s taking over the world? It’s hip-hop. And I have the power of choice. Now if I wake up and decide I want to approach a female, an intelligent black sister, as an evangelist and she accepts me as one, that is my luck. But if she knows I am not irresponsible, that I have a good job, I am educated and my only problem with her is that I have matted hair, then she has a problem. She has blockades in her life. So it’s about acceptance. If you have a problem with a guy with matted hair coming to visit your daughter, that is your problem. It is not shared amongst everybody.
Q: What has been your greatest achievement in the industry so far?
A: What I’m doing right now. A couple of years ago, it would have been perfect to say that the singular biggest passion in my life is my career. I’ve broken frontiers I did not think possible and it’s made me a happy person, creatively. But recently, I dabbled into something I hadn’t actually thought of. It is philanthropy. Recently, I was on a tour and I saw some blind and deformed children and I decided to spend a vast degree of my resources to help them. A couple of years ago, I would not have done this. That complete transmutation is where Iam at right now. It’s all about what I’m involved in. It touches you in a way you’ll not comprehend. You may not even have the capacity to explain it logically. But it’s something you need to do because it makes you a happier person. I’ve been to orphanages in Zaria and places I never thought I’d go except for my job. The children recognised me and were happy that I was there. They are just people looking for a word of kindness; a little hope. They are not desperate. But they are looking for someone to help. I take their problems and I bring it to the people that have the resources to solve them. And these problems, in earnest, are solved. Currently, it is the biggest passion in my life.
Q: Are you really a public-spirited person or is it something that was suggested to you as a Public Relations thing?
A: The thing is that a lot of people see it as image laundering, but it’s not. If I want to do image laundering, I don’t think I’ll go to the extent I’m going. I won’t be so involved. My career won’t even suffer certain consequences. And again, Nigerians are not very charitable people. I’ve not known anybody that is as involved as I am.
I don’t owe anybody any obligations. I’m still who I am. I’ve not changed in any way. The only thing that has changed is my priority. Truthfully, I just got caught up in something I don’t understand.
Q: As a movie idol and sex symbol, how many conquests have you?
A: You see this movie idol, sex symbol thing is overrated. If you guys need something to fill your papers, we’re easy targets. A lot of people make themselves available for this. But I’ve been most elusive. I don’t attend functions, I am ordinarily very shy and everybody thinks I suffer a temper problem, which I don’t deny because I don’t know how to face confrontation. So, when you assimilate all that and break it into the immediate picture of a sex symbol, it doesn’t even tally. The difference between me and Mr. B is that I am constantly under scrutiny. So, Mr. B could actually be committing more atrocities. But because the spotlight is on me, everybody is yelling that mine is excessive. But that’s not true. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go to clubs. I’m a healthy young African male. Who am I supposed to be sleeping with? Men?
Q: Would you agree you are a hit with women?
A: No sir. I grew up with women. I have six sisters and I am the only guy. I’m more used to women. My best friends in the world are women. I hardly trust men. The men I’ve trusted didn’t work out well in my life. Some women I sleep with, some are my best friends. We draw the line. All the same, we have great relationships and I will not jeopardise it with sex. Sex is very complicated.
Q: When are you planning to get married?
A: Marriage is a belief. Marriage is something that has to come with the entirety of your essence–physically, psychologically, spiritually, financially. While I’ve achieved some of that, I am yet to achieve the others. Women have always been something of a mystery to me.
Q: What is the relationship between you and former Vice President Atiku’s daughter?
A: Zainab Atiku is one of my best friends. There was a time I went to live in London and New York for a year and she was most supportive. She’s still one of my best friends of all time. She believed in me and I dare say that some people saw it is something else. I still say it is what it is. I know her fiancé. We met in Brazil. The girl was going to be married and we were still planning the marriage till now. I’m even afraid to say this. But the truth of the matter is that they blew so much hot air that it nearly messed up the whole thing. But it came to a point she said well: ‘If they are writing all these things, then, who is feeding them with information.’ People forget you are who you are. And sometimes it is not necessary. So we did not have sex.