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I WON’T SHAVE MY BEARD FOR A MILLION DOLLAR ROLE

By Nonye Iwuagwu

In an interview you granted to a national daily, you called politicians useless. Was it not these same politicians who gave you a national honour, which you accepted?

May the good Lord bless you, protect you and guarantee you years of success in your profession.

Two girls from two different media interviewed me. One used the headline, 'I started acting when I was 15,' and the other chose to use the headline, 'Politicians are useless'. I never made such a statement. I am a qualified journalist and a well-trained broadcaster. I was trained by the BBC. I will claim some measure of authority in the effective employment of English language for communication. I think I know better than to use such gutter language on human beings.

It has pleased God to make me a celebrity in my chosen career. I was distinguished as a broadcaster; I got into acting and it elevated me further. I am loved by many people. I don't insult people, no. I know better than that.

It has hurt me a lot. I decided not to be granting interviews any longer, but I think I can sieve the wheat from the chaff.

Well, if you didn't call them useless, what did you call them?

I did not call them names. I said, 'If a politician is not put in the office by the electorate, the politician does not, in his own consideration, owe any obligation to the electorate because the electorate did not put him there. There is no way the politician can accede to the wishes of people who did not put him in that position, therefore it would be wrong to rely on his once he gets into office.'

That was all I said. You are mature enough to editorialise and do it succinctly and sensibly. If somebody makes a statement, you consider his stature, calibre and you ask yourself if the person actually made that statement.

If you insult me now and I feel like insulting you in return, I would be very polite. I would do it euphemistically. I don't think, with all the language I have in my head, I will use gutter language to make my point known. I am not cast in that mode.

Probably you are trying to clear this up because you want to be a politician, and you don't want to be in anybody's bad book.

I don't want to be a politician, no. A few people who are close to me have tried to create circumstances that should lure me into politics, but I have always told them that for you to succeed as a politician, you have to sell your integrity. You have to be ambivalent whenever you talk. You have to prevaricate all the time.

But I am not used to all these things. I was born into a family of seven boys. My father was a teacher. We were raised under a strict puritanical discipline. We grew up to be honest people and we do not lie to people. We are all big enough to stand our ground, no matter the challenge. As long as it is physical, we can take the person on. My father persuaded us that it makes no sense to lie. Tell the truth and you would be justified.

I know that if I get into politics, I will have to give up on these virtues.

If however I am offered a political appointment in the capacity I can effectively handle, it would be an opportunity to offer my service; I will not hesitate to pick it up, so that people would understand that this man has quality. But getting up on my own to say I want to join politics, I don't think I can do that.

Why do you think a national honour was given to you, and why do you think you merited it?

I didn't choose myself to be honoured, I can't be authoritative on the criteria.

But at the risk of sounding immodest, my popularity has gone beyond the shores of this country. I get invited every other year to different parts of Europe.

I think people enjoy what I do a great deal. I love people and I love the way they react when they see me.

It was God who arranged the award, not me. I don't see what makes me unusual. I don't see the extraordinary thing that I do. But the people who appreciate us think there is. I have been inducted into the hall of fame and I did not campaign for it. I was made Best Actor in Africa in 2001 by an international body. The Censors Board made me Best Actor in Nigeria in 2003.

God has heaped these encomiums on me and I thank Him for that.

But some actors with your pedigree feel that they deserve to be honoured as well, since they have done as much as you in the entertainment industry.

I didn't honour myself like I said earlier. The people who honoured me saw those people, yet they decided to choose me.

I know that when we did 'Things Fall Apart', which attracted international recognition for me, the home movie industry was not established in Nigeria yet.

Again, I am the only actor who has done a production in the country and the BBC was flown in to interview him. When we finished 'Things Fall Apart', Chinua Achebe and Pete Edochie were interviewed on the BBC. I never campaigned for that.

Everybody is entitled to his or her aspiration. I am not in this business for competition; I am in it because I enjoy it and people appreciate it.

How come you decided to add acting to your broadcasting and journalism career?

I have a multi-faceted talent. I am a journalist, broadcaster and an actor.

After I finished my journalism course, I wrote a bit for a newspaper, then I joined broadcasting. I retired 10 years ago after 31 years of broadcasting. There was no other field left to conquer.

What I am doing is also an aspect of broadcasting.

Just as you retired from broadcasting, do you have any intention to retire from the movies?

No. One of the persons who inspired me into acting was a character called John Wayne. Somebody asked him when he would retire, and he said when the director told him he wasn't good anymore.

If God gives me life, I will keep going on until the director says, 'Pete, you are no use anymore'. Then I will quit. But that will be some time to come.

Many scripts come your way, going by the number of movies you feature in. How do you handle them, take care of the home front and have some time for yourself as well?

I will begin with the home front. My first son is 37 and my last son is 25. My wife is a lawyer; we stopped making babies a long time ago. I am seven times a grand-father.

In a technical sense, I am merely married because I have to stay married.

As for the scripts, when they come, I read them and I make observations. If the producer is not willing to accept my observations, I reject the script.

At my age, there is no way a young man can inflict his impression on me or compel me to use a language that is Fatwa to a particular segment of the society, I will not do that.

May be if I hadn't had professional training, I would descend to that level, but I can't now. I don't want to derail. I am very meticulous and I don't play anything.

We hear that you don't always follow the scripts, choosing to say your own words, thereby making a person(s) acting with you miss his (their) cue(s).

If there are colleagues of mine who complain, they have my sympathy because they are not actors. Let us face it, the script is just a guide. You internalise it after reading it, then you use your own language to portray it as convincingly as you can.

If you restrict yourself to the language of the writer, then you cannot act because you are obsessed with trying to reproduce verbatim what the man has written.

All the people who are celebrated actors don't go by the script, no they don't. You read the script and you understand it. If the person playing opposite you is an actor, he would pick it up.

I have been on the set with the best and they have not complained.

There are others who are just gambling in the industry. They are actors by convenience, by sheer conspiracy of circumstances. They are not actors by conviction or training; therefore they cannot pass for actors.

I will not be compelled to descend to their level so that they can have a chance. I operate at a particular level.

For somebody who had a teacher for a father, how come he allowed his son to become an actor?

He didn't have a choice. I didn't get into acting as a kid. By the time I got into acting, my father was already in his late 80s. He died five years ago.

He wasn't in the position to tell me what to do or not because I was already living an independent life.

But my father had something of an actor in him. He wasn't surprised when I decided to become an actor.

When you were growing up, did you ever dream of becoming an actor?

Yes. My father must take responsibility for making me an actor. I was something of a brilliant kid. He always told us that anybody who came first in class would have the pleasure of riding on his bicycle to go and watch a movie in the cinema.

I was always coming first in my class; so my father was always taking me to the cinema on his bicycle. Each time I came home, I would try to mimic some of the characters in the movies I watched.

I am not surprised that I finally became an actor. People who knew me when we were growing up would tell you I would have been an actor anyway.

You have been in the industry for quite a while; how do you rate it?

We are doing our best. We can do better if the government would encourage us. We should not be satisfied yet with the point we have got to, there are still territories to conquer.

We can improve on our facilities and on our language.

But I think the future is bright.

Is it proper that everybody wants to be an actor and the industry is absorbing them?

Today, you are operating as a journalist. You have a fine figure as a girl. You might just be given a role to perform in a movie. You try that role and you win the hearts of people. You get paid better than what you attract as a journalist, thus you believe you have a future in the industry. You would quit your journalism career and settle for the movies. That was how most people came in.

There are others who do not possess the competence but they are fascinated by the glamour of the industry. They crash in after a few exposures and they crash out again.

You cannot restrict or hole in the ambition of people if they want to be a part of what is going on. You don't actually choose the industry; the industry chooses you. If you possess the competence and you come into the industry and you experiment, then you are on.

But if you are merely a gambler and you feel you can force your way into it, then you have to think again.

You are at the peak of your career, you have grown up kids and you are successful, what more can you ask God for?

I will ask God to keep me alive so that others can benefit from my experience. That is my ambition. I want people to say they got into acting because Pete Edochie influenced them.

Yes, God has been kind to me. I want others to benefit from God's magnanimity towards me.

How much of you are in the roles you act?

If your life as an actor is the same as your life as a man, then you are not an actor.

I play tough roles, but I can't watch you kill a chicken. I don't like the sight of blood. I don't like seeing people hurt.

What I play in the movies is the exact opposite of who I am in real life. In the movies, I don't go to church, but I am an ardent Roman Catholic in real life.

Still on your roles, how come you always act the rich man, are you not stereotyped?

Take a good look at me. I am six foot tall. I am very heavy. I am passably handsome and I am well structured. I have the comportment of an established person. There is no way you can reduce me to a gateman or a driver, no; not with this kind of carriage, you can't.

If God structured you the way he structured me, there are roles that are meant for you. I cannot play the messenger.

But you can still play the role of a poor man; there are poor men who are big.

If I play a poor man, I would have to roll up my trousers. My body is very smooth. Look at the way I grow my beards luxuriantly. There is nothing to show that this man is remotely connected to poverty.

It does not mean that I am opulent; it does not mean that I advertise wealth. But you see, if people tell you that the best car for you is a jeep, it is because they have assessed you physically and they think it is the best thing for this man to own so that it helps to enhance his physical stature. I didn't create myself.

Since you are this 'big', why did you just marry one wife?

What do I need another wife for?

Most big men have more than one wife.

That is madness. I have one wife. We have five boys and one girl. All the boys are graduates and most of them are running their own families now. So what do I require a second wife for? Is it because I want to justify some sexual incontinence or what?

If I want to live the life of a debauchee, it does not have to interfere with my marital bliss. I don't need a second wife.

So how do you cope with fans, especially the female fans?

That is where the problem is. They bother me a lot. Sometimes I say to myself, 'You are a bloody old guy, what do these kids see in you?' These girls phone me a whole lot. Some say I look like their fathers, others say they would want a husband like me. Can you imagine some of them even come to the house and just sit down?

In fact, I don't even want to talk about it again. They keep embarrassing me a lot.

But men enjoy such female admiration and adulation.

Yes, but we are not all that randy. Sometimes they force you to go into hiding. It is okay to be admired and appreciated, but you are entitled to a break once in a while.

Does it get to your head that you are admired and appreciated?

Look at me very well. If you have this kind of beard, nothing gets to your head. Nothing gets to this head. It is too thick; nothing can penetrate it.

You are so much in love with your beard. Will you ever shave if off?

No! There are some people who inspired me to grow beards, people like George Bernard Shaw.

What if you are to play a role and you are required to shave it off?

I will not take the role

Even for a million dollars?

No. Even for a million dollars, I will not shave off my beard. If you pay me such money and I accept, then I would get out of the movie industry after the movie.

I will not part with my beard. This is an identity. I am a good looking man. If I shave this beard, you can imagine how I would look. Girls like you will not give me a break again.