NOLLYWOOD IS A PRODUCT OF OUR SUBSERVIENCE TO OTHER PEOPLE’S CULTURE
My name is Charles Ezechukwu Okafor. I was born on the 23rd of July, 1960. I hail from Umuleri, Anambra State. I am the fourth in a family of six. I attended Araromi Primary School One, Olodi Apapa, Lagos after which I proceeded to St. Gregory College, Ikoyi. I read Theatre Arts at the University of Port-Harcourt and graduated with a Second Class Upper degree in 1993. After that, I proceeded to the University of Lagos to pursue a masters degree in Political Science and International Relations. I worked briefly with the Security and Exchange Commission, following the completion of my National Youth Service. After spending six years in S.E.C., I resigned voluntarily and went into full time acting.
Journey into acting
You see, acting is a tiny compartment of a larger world of art. So, I tried not to be pigeon holed into acting. I 'd rather prefer you asked me what motivated me towards the arts to which acting belongs. Art is an innate sensibility. In other words, we are configured by God that creates and builds the sensibility of the artistic. We are born with a talent inside of us. So if you ask me, I will actually say that I was born with the talent. But if you talk about professional acting, I have been in this for over a decade and two years.
Who led me into acting?
It is very unfortunate that people have that impression that they are led into the arts. I hold a different view. My position is, however, predicated on the fact that for one to be a success from whatever venture, he/she must easily identify the divine propelling force. Such an individual must ask himself, where is he being led? Has God created him to be in this or that? So, my involvement in acting has been divinely inspired. I could see some people who are role models but I made up mind to become an artiste long before they began to influence me. It might be a complex thing to understand but I will break it down. We seem to be giving the glory to man, whereas the glory is supposed to go to God. Actors are not made but born. That is why there are people who have been in the business of acting long before my father was born yet they did not make any success of it. Why? Because they did not decide, identify or determine if they were called. We are not all called to be actors and that is why I insist that I am a career actor and not an ordinary actor. As a career person you are focussed; you have your training; you have everything clearly defined and you want to build on it.
Career is developmental. It is not like because someone burnt down my spare parts shop in Alaba, I should, therefore, end up in acting. There are many cases like that, and that is why mediocrity thrives in the industry. You might have spent 25 years in the acting industry only to discover in the 26th year that you are in the wrong profession. It is not all about the link but the fact that one has not identified his or her calling.
First day on location?
Beautiful! Exciting! Interesting! It was like when you have read for an examination, burnt the midnight oil and walked into the examination hall. One feels confident. So, for me it was a mixture of excitement and confidence because the opportunity came for me to practicalize all that I have learnt. You see, I featured in 142 stage plays from my first to my final year. Stage is the real thing. Television is a plastic thing as they say. I looked forward to when I was going to be on the tube but I played a lead role in Memorial Hospital, a soap opera, while I was still in the Security and Exchange Commission. After I have done all that, I looked forward to a time when I would join the movie industry.
Nollywood is an ambitious drive; an ambition driven on a weak leg. Nollywood is a statement of the copycatism that is affecting every Nigerian which explains why we are finding it very difficult to penetrate Nollywood with quality works. For Nollywood to really come to stay, one must deal with the mediocrity in the system.
I might have people whose works have inspired greater challenges in me. I prefer saying it that way. So, when I acted in an epic film titled Igodo, I actually put myself in the hue of Charles Elston when he was banished from the presence of Pharaoh. In chains, he walked out of the courtroom. If you noticed his strides, and the manner in which he walked, that was exactly what I did when I played the role of Agu in Igodo. The truth remains that there are acting styles that are recognised universally. As a graduate of Theatre Arts, I should identify with and reconcile the job with the universal principle of acting and also be judged on that principle.
Movie that made me popular
I must confess to you that it will be difficult to remember the first one. But I can give you a range of three, Journey Hell, Oracle, Obsession by Zeb Ejiro and Rituals. I think these were my very first movies.
A millionaire actor?
I am very comfortable by the grace of God. I won't count myself among the rich and I won't call myself a millionaire. But cumulatively, I have made a multiple of millions but I have never been paid a million naira for any job. I have never received a million for any job and it does not make sense to lie. When I read it, I laugh because we know the tricks that go underneath. People in their estimation or strategy give themselves publicity so that marketers would think that they are up there. But that is all false living. I know that I have never been paid a million naira for any job neither do I have a million naira in in my bank account.
My absence from Nollywood.
At a point, I stopped accepting acting roles because a time comes in one's life that you have done quite a sizeable chunk of everything and you suddenly decide to be doing something different. What am I talking about? In 2000, I think this is the first time I am giving an exclusive revelation. In my outfit C&E Productions, on a particular night, I woke and asked myself what have I done? I was under the tutelage of late Professor Ola Rotimi. He was my teacher and in many ways, my mentor. I recalled one of those days when I was in my final year, we started talking about Aristotle's poems and somewhere along the line, the discussion changed.
At a point, he just told me, you have to take charge. He also said something that is very eternal and that is why we have to wipe off mediocrity from the industry. He said that creativity is elastic and that is why you can kill an actor if you 'type' him. There are people that you would see in 35 movies last year, it is the way you would have seen them in 2000. I decided to go beyond entertainment acting to what we call advocacy acting. Advocacy acting is about using the instrumentality of play nay methodology to advance the cause of conflict resolution in Africa and in the world.
That was what brought about my advocacy movie entitled: Called By Fire which I produced in Accra, Ghana. I featured artistes from Nigeria, Ghana, Britain and Australia. The project received endorsement from Ghanaian government. It was a dream project in which I invested everything that I had.
However, Enugu State governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, supported our cause with a million naira.
Any plan to do another movie?
Yes! The work we do are capital intense because it is advocacy-driven. When you are doing something beyond entertainment, there are messages couched in it, it is a research kind of work. If I want to talk on cancer of the liver, I will meet with experts not just gloss over the topic, it is like doing an indepth story.
Are you back to acting?
I did not go on sabbatical, I have always been in acting. I went to do serious work, Called by Fire (laughs). I have done other works in the realm of acting. There are three Ghanaian projects which I was involved in.
My vision and mission
My mission is to distinguish myself within the environment, culturally, socially, historically. We can make a statement of conviction due to the talents God has deposited in us. That is why I quarrelled with the word, Nollywood. It's a product of our subservience to other people's culture. Visit Hollywood and see how things are going on, every department is handled by professionals.