Why I’m not acting now –St Obi
Obinna Nwafor, a.k.a St. Obi is not a strange name in Nollywood. For some time now, the top actor has been absent on the screen and in movies.Tall, masculine, soft-spoken and handsome, Obi was the delight of many movie lovers and even now that he seems to be working behind the scenes, the questions on the lips of his fans are : Where is Obi?
What has become of him?
Born in Mbaitoli, Imo State, the ace actor who is a 1991 graduate of Theatre Arts from the University of Jos did not go into acting immediately after graduation. Instead, his handsome face, mien and great physique quickly made him the darling of modeling agencies. He did modeling for a few years before he went back to the profession he spent four years studying at the university - acting.
For those who want to know what has become of the prince of Nollywood , Obi now runs his own production company and he is almost set to hit the market with his long awaited movie titled True Color.
In this exclusive interview with us, the amiable actor and filmmaker bares his mind on his production company, his soon to be released movie and other things you want to know about St. Obi. Enjoy it !
Why are you no longer acting?
When you are in a lucrative business and you realize that you are getting the crumbs, anybody that is serious-minded will think of getting the meat rather than settling for the bone. In the film making business, I realized that the major challenge is distribution and I asked myself, if I remain an actor, would it get me to the Promised Land? I have always said that we have the capacity to enjoy what Bollywood and Hollywood are enjoying. But unfortunately our marketing is at best exploitative and poor. So I'm trying to set up something that will change the Nollywood landscape and it is all about distribution for now. But having said that, I'm always an actor and will remain an actor. As a matter of fact, I have a movie that will come out very soon and it's called True color. So my fans have something to look out for.
Can you expatiate?
Yes. It is a global distribution framework. Today, Nollywood is a global brand so why should we be scratching the ground? It's just unthinkable. If you go three quarters of Africa, our movies are popular. If you go to Europe, the Caribbean Island, United States, and Asia, our movies are very popular especially among Africans in the Diaspora. So, why can't we harness our markets properly? That is what some of us are trying to do.
You once said if you get a good script you would act. Does it mean you have not gotten any yet?
Well, the way it is, my energy at the moment is focused on bridging the yawning gap in the business. Acting will always be there , but I have always said I don't want the goodies of the business to come during my child's lifetime because Nollywood has the capacity. This is not 1950 or 1970…. this is 2010. The world is now a global village. You can sleep here and wake up tomorrow in the United States and have a lunch in the UK. That is how small the world has become. So why can't we maximize the potentials of the global framework that we are part of. This is essentially what one is doing at the moment . That for me is above any other thing but like I said I'm an actor first and foremost but it is important that we get the marketing right so that the actor will benefit from his efforts the way actors from Hollywood and Bollywood benefit. In fact we are second in volume but we are not even fiftieth in remuneration. So, that's what people like me are trying to change.
How do you want to go about it?
Well, going about it like I said will entail setting-up a global distribution framework. I don't want to spill all the beans, but we are seeking some investors. You see, it's not a child's play. Filming business is not a thing you use one penny to make a million. It's big business. So many people come to me saying “I want to come into filming business”, and I have always told such people that they are not serious, because any film you start with begging will not take you anywhere. You understand? So, it is a serious business and that's why in America and Europe, you have to invest a lot of money.
That's why they make a lot of money, and I am sure you heard about the movie Avatar. Avatar cost over $1billion and that is the kind of vision people should have.
A lot of people in Nollywood think that when they make movies, and they make a profit of about N500, 000, they should rush to make another movie and recycle that one and by the time they act like ten movies and they make N500,000 from each, they would have made N5 million or N10 million. That's crappy… it's a bunch of bones. You can make one Nollywood film and make N1 billion, but when you say it, it looks as if you are telling a story. The fact is that when you do the calculations well, it is something you can make like that, you don't need too much. With 3.5 million people buying your film for instance, you cross over the N1 billion target and we are a country of 150 million people.
So, that means you are out to fight piracy?
Trust me (laughs). That is where our strength lies, I do not want to spill the beans, but when we come on board the pirates will know that we have arrived. Why piracy is still thriving today is that the right people have not come on board; when the right people come on board, the right laws will come out. Most of the people in the Senate and House of Representatives don't have anything to do with piracy. So if you lobby the National Assembly right, they will make the right laws to combat it.
And I tell you, they want Nigeria to grow, they want this industry to grow because we are one of the highest employers of labour in the country. We create jobs for both skilled and the unskilled people. So, members of the National Assembly want this industry to thrive and they will make the laws and the laws are not gonna be let out of the bag now. When they come, pirates will know it.
We are not trying to take food away from them but all we are asking is they should do things legitimately so that they can benefit and we all can benefit. We are not trying to run them aground, what we are saying is that they should move away from piracy and become legitimate marketers . Legitimate distributors. We want them to make money so that they will survive, and we also want to make money so that we too can survive. There is so much for all of us to benefit from , you don't need to pirate anybody's work.
Who are these right people to come on board?
Yeah, if you put like N300 million in an investment, I'm sure you would want to protect that investment. It is because people want to spend N1 million to make N1billion that's why the industry is not really moving forward but as I said, when you have big money, when you have the Dangotes, the Adenuga's, all the big names and the power houses.
When people with the right financial muscles come into the business, pirates will have no hiding place because the man wants to protect his investment. For Dangote that is producing cement, I'm sure you know that new laws have been made to protect cement distribution.It's because a lot of money is involved so when people like that come into the movie industry, the better for us. The truth of the matter is that the film industry is the future. Entertainment all over the world is recession-proof.
Despite the global economic meltdown, Avatar grossed over $1 billion. It wasn't like three years ago, it is now that America is experiencing financial crunch. When people are suffering and going through a hard time that is when they need a form of escape and that's what films provide . They make you forget your sorrow for those two to three hours depending on how long the movie is. So, that is what the system is all about, and that is why it is big business, and why some of us are trying to get into film distribution and maximize its potentials .
What does that mean for your Hollywood dreams?
The bottom line as I said earlier is, this is 2010. If Avatar could make $1 billion plus, why can't I make N1 million naira plus. It's as simple as that… let me make N1 million plus then I can at least aim at N1 billion. It is so funny; you don't need one billion people to make N3.5million. So, in Nigeria alone, you can get that money. In a country where you have one fifty million people. Let's even say you have ten million people, you can even select three million , because any good Nigerian film is watched by a minimum of twenty, thirty people if not 50 million. So, why can't we get 3 million people to buy?
What's happening to your modeling career?
Well, I'm not into it totally. Once in a while, if brands wants me to endorse their products then fine and good, but it is not your everyday kind of stuff.
There's a controversy about your marital status . Some say that you're not married. Is it true?
The reality is that I really don't talk about my family and this is because I feel a lot of journalists make us look small. They make us look like we are dummies as if we don't have nothing in our heads despite the fact that fans want to read about what we do, our love life and all that.
A lot of times journalists talk us into what's happening to our love lives, our families but I would prefer a journalist asking me about what's happening to Yar'Adua. Why is he not in town? What do I think about the Nigeria Project and so on. When you write these kind of things, the people you are trying to address will understand that we've got something to offer other than who we are hanging out with and that kind of stuff. Deliberately, I do not answer questions about my family.
Can you describe the Jos you used to know?
Ah, the Jos I used to know is a true home of peace and tourism. I grew up in a very middle class neighborhood. It was as if I was living in Europe. They used to call it European quarters back in those days. Jos was so beautiful and it is still beautiful. What is going on right now in Jos is most unfortunate. I think it goes beyond what some of us are seeing on the surface and there should be room for tolerance on all sides… Christians, Moslems and the indigenes of the land. There must be tolerance, people must understand we are all one. For instance, I watched this movie 2012. It depicts the vanity of life… the vainness of this is my portion, my land and I own this and that . I just tell people this is small mindedness.
When that avatar came, nobody knew where White House was with all the security and might they have. The ground just opened and swallowed everybody and people were just disappearing. At the end of the day, the ground just shifted and India went to where America was and the two continents were interchanged. That's the reality of life, as much as we think that Nigeria is one now, the reality is you and I don't have any home. The only home is Heaven. This is just the reality and every other thing is vanity. Nobody knows what will happen the next minute. In another fifty years you and I will not be sitting here… so is this our home? No! Once we are gone, we are gone and this will happen one day.
We should stop being shallow- minded and realize there were people some years before us and today men have built houses on those people's graves, built roads on top of them. We don't know when death will come knocking some day. So we should realize that this journey is not really worth the fight and wars
In your opinion what led to the Jos crisis?
I cannot say what precipitated this particular conflict but from the Grapevine, we heard it is religious intolerance but whatever the reasons are, I feel that we are human beings and we are bound to get angry but our anger should not get to the point that we take-up guns, knives, spears and arrows to hurt our fellow human beings. I don't think any other human being is worth taking another human being's life. Tolerance is the word whatever it is. Talk to somebody about it or report to the police. We mustn't take laws into our hands. It has been reoccurring all the time. I have been in Jos for a very long time, right from my primary school days but not one day did I experience fighting, so what's gone wrong?
What is your definition of success?
Success is a relative term. I think essentially it is attaining a goal you are passionate about.
So would you say you are successful?
By the special grace of God, Yes! Because God has been very wonderful, so I'm not going to say I'm not since I'm living my fantasy. My goal as a child was to be an actor, to be famous and I have attained all that stuff. So to be successful is not so much about money but attaining the goals one is passionate about whether it is eating eba or drinking kunu or working for the masses, whatever it is, success is a relative term.
What would you like to correct if given the chance to turn back the hand of time?
Ha! That is a tough of one now. My father never saw me get into the university and that is one of my biggest regrets and of course he didn't see me become what I am today. That is a major regret for me.
Have you ever failed?
There is no human being that has not. Yeah, of course I have , like every other human being. Life doesn't go so straight. It's full of ups and downs.
Would you mind sharing some?
There are too many and I don't know where to start. Like what I just said about my dad not seeing me before he died, I see that as a failure. There are too many others, I am just like every other human being. Life is not so rosy.
Can you share what it was like growing with nine siblings?
Well, just like every other home, when you grow up among women, you tend to know all the tricks that women know because you see your sisters do all the tricks. So, somehow I know all the tricks. I used to be good at the games women play but I'm very grateful for what my dad was able to do, if not I would have ended up growing up as a sisi . At some point as I was growing up, I realized I had to draw the line, to be the man of the house. I love my sisters but I'm the man.
Aside being strict, what else do you miss about your dad?
Everything. You know the love of a father, you can't imagine. As you grow older, you understand that the time your dad used to flog you, he was flogging you out of passionate love for you. Like when my dad said I shouldn't go to America, I was so angry and was saying “why will this man do this to me” but today, I am so grateful to my dad because if I had gone to America, probably, I wouldn't have been where I am today because at that time, my head was in the sky. Probably, I would have gotten lost somewhere but the guy stood his grounds and I went through the mills and today I'm better for it.
Tell us about your relationship with your mum and your advice for youths ?
I'm close to my mum too ,but naturally being an only male child, the mother will always be over- protective, pampering and all that but my dad had to be the man. And I hope I'm educating a child out there who is reading this stuff. You might be an undergraduate but when your parents say don't do this, we the kids feel they don't want us to do our stuff and that they have had their own time. No! They just want you to grow and get the best. This is the mistake a lot of youths make and I did the same.
When I was growing, I used to think that passing my exams was doing my dad a favour and if I failed , he will be the one to be ashamed. But at the end of the day I realized I was passing for myself . If you fail , you will be the one to suffer. When your dad says read your books so that you can make a two-one or a first class, you would think the guy is talking crap. But if you are through and you come out with a two-two or third class; you would be the one to carry your bag from office to office begging for employment and those that made first class are smiling and getting the better jobs.
So I want to tell youths that if they want to “do guy”, there is too much time to do that but first get serious and do the right things now. Get serious with your studies. Your foundation is very necessary for the good time. When you see an elderly man pushing a cart on the street and sweating and then you look at another elderly man driving and enjoying his life, you will understand that when the other man had time to prepare he didn't. So, don't hate your parents when they shout at you to study hard. It is all for your good.
Story by nollywoodgists.com