NO REGRETS, I AM ARROGANT....EMEKA IKE
Although he trained as an engineer, Emeka Ike is one of the biggest actors in Nollywood. In this interview with 'NONYE IWUAGWU and ADEOLA BALOGUN, he recounts his road to stardom and explains why he is generally perceived as arrogant.
How and when did you get into the movie industry?
I started between 1992 and 93. By 1994, I got deeply involved.
You started off as a “waka pass?”
No. That was the luck I had. My first movie was Deadly Affair, the one involving Sam Loko, Chiko Ejiro, Opa Williams and others.
How has it been since you came into the limelight?
It has been good. I didn't go into acting because it was a money-making stuff, but because of the interest I have in it. The passion was just there, and it took me to the next level. Before I knew it, people had started noticing my ability, so they started calling me for jobs. That was what paved the way for me.
How did your interest in acting begin?
I used to watch much of Hollywood movies. I used to admire the stars then, because I didn't believe it could ever happen here. I used to dream that one day I would be able to go there as a dynamic African boy. I never thought that Nollywood would evolve. I was doing what I was doing with the hope of being discovered. I had a focus on what I wanted to do.
Was there no objection from your parents when you opted for acting?
There should be. You were sent to school by a father and a mother, who didn't have much, to read Mechanical Engineering. Mother did everything she could to make sure you come out and work, perhaps in an oil company. Instead, you said you wanted to go and do awada kerikeri (comedy), which was what people perceived acting to be in those days of Pappy Luwe. One day, my sister called me and said, 'Emeka, you have to drop this your (acting) idea.' She was so passionate about the fact that I should consider doing something else, but I saw her request as an impossibility. There was nothing I could do about it.
I believed so much in what I was doing, unfortunately, they saw it differently. What I felt was beyond the mere desire to be seen or known. At the end of the day, the turn-around has been very good. A couple of those I started with have gone astray. Some have lost focus, while some others have gone into all manner of things to survive; but I stayed with what I believe in.
Are you saying you have dumped Mechanical Engineering completely?
I have not dumped it; that is not possible. I even wrote a proposal, I want to run a programme. You know that all of us wrote projects in our final year in school, but how much of the projects have been worked upon? The reason for the thesis then was to contribute your own quota to the development of the society. I did mine on the paint mixing machine. The hope then was that such machines would be produced to make things better. But all of that ended up somewhere. I have been thinking about how to address this to help the youths.
Did you ever work with your certificate?
I tried working with an engineering company called Solar Connection, in Lagos. It was owned by some white men who wanted to light up the whole country with solar energy. They were more into contracts.
How many movies have you featured in?
I have featured in more than 200 movies.
Did you regret any of them?
Yes, I can't remember its name now. I was not involved in the script, but it was like somebody advised the guy to look for a popular face to sell the movie. The guy came here begging me and nearly cried. He begged me for more than two months and I just said okay, let me help. But I have never stopped regretting that action because it turned out to be the most woeful film I have ever featured in.
You have a necklace with Emeka written on it?
You featured in a movie wearing it, and you were not Emeka in that movie.
As a matter of fact, I could wear 'Jordan' on my neck. I could wear 'Versace.' I could as well wear 'Emeka.'
But isn't it quite wrong that you wear something you are not in a movie?
I don't agree with you. I wore Versace in my last movie. That is a human being.
But we all know Versace…
I am a brand. I have gone beyond acting, I am a brand. In some movies, some marketers are used to some faces. The audience have an attraction to a particular artiste, you can't take that away from them. These artistes satisfy and entertain them when they watch them. Some people look at the jacket of a movie to see whether their favourite artistes are there before they pick it. The man who is selling considers all these factors. Some people are used to Emeka Ike and would not watch any movie without him. Do you then say because Emeka Ike has appeared too much, he should be dropped like that?
Since you have been there for some time, why don't you give way for new faces?
No, it is an African thing. Sean Connery is there in Holywood. It is not like 'somebody is the general manager, let's sack him so that another person can rise to that post.' No, this sky is so wide for everyone to express himself. And in this industry, it is your talent that pushes you. It is not the producer that is projecting you. We've had some producers pushing some people, and for five or six movies they have not had any connection with the audience and market. No doubt, so many new stars have come up while others have gone away. You have to connect in order to have your own jersey. It is just like Okocha or Kanu. Some people are so used to them that if they are not in the Nigerian football team, they will not watch the match. That is how it is.
Again, I make new stars. In my latest movie for instance, I have new stars on parade. Some of them are musicians. I am recording and putting them on air for free. The stars too have to have substance. That is it.
Is it this feeling that you are a big star that made you jack up your fee and earn a ban?
Yes. It is just like the law of supply and demand which we did in Economics while we were in secondary school. There is a saying that there is more business in the show than the show itself. You have to look at how people like Puff Daddy went about building a huge cartel. You have star actors in Hollywood and Bollywood who have chains of big restaurants. How do they make it? You have to know. When I say no to N800,000, I am paving the way for upcoming artistes as well.
But we learnt you went hungry during the ban…
Whoever told you that gave you a very wrong information. This office started about a year before the ban. My camera is not here now, it is shooting in Asaba. Two cameras are out of town. During the ban, my camera was going for N15,000 per day. If two cameras are going out, that is N30,000 per day. I have two studios here, it is N10,000 per edit. I have audio studio here. So if all these are running well, there is no day I won't earn N30,000. And I don't think I was doing badly during the period. I was not among those who went hungry during the ban.
How come you agreed to come back when the ban was lifted?
It is my job, it is my challenge, it is my fun. You miss it like legal work if you are a lawyer.
You missed the job or the mega bucks?
Of course, you miss the money and the job. It is like you are on holiday. We are going to Hollywood gradually and you need to have a business mind. You must mix with people every time. When they called me that, I didn't have to be complacent. I didn't have to be stuck up and say that my ego is hurt, no. That shows you are not a businessman. Business goes up and down. If they came back and said they still needed you, why play hard to get? Many of those who came back have not sold a jacket (of film), mark my word. But when the market wants you back, what do you do? You come back.
Some actors took to music during the ban, what did you take to?
I didn't and would not do that. I took to CIS Movies and Entertainment. I sat down behind my desk and was calling the shots. Things were happening and I made sure that everything was going on smoothly. The musicals that I shot for people were up to standard. The movies we shot for people too were well produced. I recorded artistes. I am a producer. I was into music even before now. I sang at the National Theatre before I became a an actor. I played with my band. I played on stage. I am not someone who will see something and begin to do it without knowing anything about it. I followed music very deeply, particularly after after Majek Fashek's Send Down the Rain. I was in Yaba Tech then. I went crazy. I told my mummy I wanted to go to a music school. That was how I got into music, and I was good.
Yes. People like Mabo Express, Prince Agba, the albino at Idi Iro, Papa Jay; they showed me how to handle the keyboard and the guitar.
You could do music and continue with acting?
I don't have the challenge to do that right now.
You are great in playing the role of a lover boy. How much of the lover boy is in you as a person?
I always try to interpret the role I play according to the Nigerian environment. In this country, there is a way we love. There is a way the Nigerian youth show their love. It is different from the way Britons and Americans go about theirs. I grew from the mill right here in Lagos. When you are following a girl, I remember those days at Ire-Akari Estate, when I would hide my card and flowers behind me and, together with my friends, we would take a stroll to my girl's house and stand by the gates. She knew we were coming, so she would peep from upstairs. She couldn't come down, and she had butterflies in her belly. You give the card and flowers to the gateman and you are sure he will deliver. Then she would drop one small note for you, which meant a great deal. Coming from such a background, you know that to mix with a lady, you need to be deep in it and you have to interpret the role well. I interpret the role the way a normal Nigerian youth falls in love. But that is not to say that all I do is being a lover boy.
Did you get married after you became a star?
No. But I was already coming up when I got married.
And you broke so many hearts…
It is not possible that I won't break hearts, because there is no way you will marry all the girls you dated as a young man. Definitely, you have to disappoint some people. When I met my wife, I didn't have too many women around me. At that point, I was a celebrity. I was going through a transformation in my life. I was attending the late Bimbo Odukoya's church, and the message I had one day meant a lot to me. She said, 'You young man, save yourself for marriage. When you want to get married, if you have so many girls around you, when your wife comes, you won't know, because you are going to count her among the girls. And you will eventually treat her like you treat the ladies without knowing that your wife had just stepped into your life and walked away. Then you will go and marry another person and end up in a broken relationship.' I went home and felt sober. At that time, I was working on a movie and I was getting huge sums of money, and I started thinking of ending all the relationships I had. I was avoiding the relationships, and so ended up with no girlfriend.
Then my production ran into some problems, because I needed to hire helicopters and all the rest. (Gen.) Buba Marwa promised me, but it didn't just work out. I ended up shooting the movie in Warri with Aero planes. During this period, I was not dating anybody. I would sleep in the studio for days. It was a time of looking inwards. One day, as I was looking out through the window of a studio, I saw this beautiful half-caste. She was simple: no make-up, no airs. I went to her and said, 'Hello, can I talk to you? I am Emeka.' She said, 'I know you. What are you doing here?' Then I said,'You look so simple, what if I tell you I want to marry you?' She said, 'Emeka, you won't marry me. Go away, you this actor.' I said, 'Okay, let's see.'
She was so simple and down to earth, and that melted my heart. Though she is a beauty queen, even if she was ugly, the beauty in her manner and her inside overwhelmed me. I promised to know more about this lady, and that was it. It was easier for me to know my wife because I had done away with those things I was doing. If I was still in the midst of those girls, I would have seen a half caste and made sure I 'ate' her like others and go ahead. I listened to the word of counsel.
How does she cope with your life as a busy actor?
How does the wife of a policeman or a soldier cope when they too have to be away all the time?
But you are an actor, and actors have their way with ladies…
Ladies too want security and would want to get a policeman as boyfriend! But the most important thing is that she met me doing the job and she understands what it takes. In this industry, you get to a point when you begin to act like a minister, a role model; and that is the stage I am now because a lot of our youths need proper guidance. And again, that lady that wants to sleep with you as an actor reveres you, and you must be able to resist that or else that regard will drop immediately you go for it. That is one thing some people don't realise. I have gone beyond those things. Ladies have done terrible things to show their love and feelings, but I have tried to be mature.
You must have had one scandal or the other…
Human beings are bound to have scandals, people would want to cook up something against you…
Did you say cook up?
Yes. Something that will look real but is actually false. There was a time a paper wrote, 'Star Actor, Emeka Ike Arrested Drunk While Driving.' Inside the page, they had my picture in handcuffs and all that, but they got the picture from a movie I did. It was not true. I only had a brush with a policeman who wanted to harass me for nothing.
In the movie industry nowadays, it is common to hear of people getting involved in drugs, homosexualism and lesbianism. Which one do you get involved in?
I don't know why a fellow man would want to hold me by the neck and brush me dead. I think that is stupid.
But what if you are to gain financially from getting involved?
I have a secondary school that is worth over N25 million in the GRA , the highest paying secondary school in Ogudu. Banks are running around to partner with us. I am a man who puts his money where his mouth is.
People have this notion that you are arrogant…
I am arrogant, yes. I even said it in the (United) States, that I am an arrogant African boy. I don't want to live in America, so don't give me attitude. My arrogance does not necessarily mean showing off. But if I have to, you know the nature of my job once in a while requires you to do that. You can't run away from it, or you lose so many things. I have a reason to be slightly different from others. Someone calls you on the phone and wants to spend hours talking to you, but you don't have all the time to spend even though he has the money to burn. You have to cut that person off. So why won't you be called arrogant? I am always very precise about things I do.