NIGERIA HAS THE BEST SET OF ACTORS IN AFRICA ––ERNEST OBI
Ernest Obi, a Dramatic Arts graduate, is the Chairman, Actors Guild of Nigeria. He tells ADAEZE AMOS his path to success in the acting world.
How have you been able to cope with stardom? Well it comes with the territory.
It's my profession, so I have to learn to handle it well as a human being. Nothing comes easy, but you just have to learn over the years. I think I have been able to build up a kind of strategy. I don't lose control or lose sight of my focus or target.
And I don't overwhelm my personal person if I may use that tautology. So that means that there is a difference between Ernest Obi as a person and Ernest Obi the actor. I definitely don't mix the two.
Who then is Ernest Obi as a person?
Ernest Obi is a very humble person who is gentle, nice, kind, straightforward, and a person who does not like cheats.
Who is Ernest Obi the actor?
Ernest Obi as an actor is a professional to the core. I started off from the stage and I worked my way up to television, from television to home video, from an actor to becoming a director/producer, and a script writer. And now I'm the Actors Guild of Nigeria Chairman. So I think I have paid my dues in so many ways.
What is the Actors Guild of Nigeria all about?
This is a guild that represents all the actors in Nigeria. It's a guild that protects them and gives them guidelines on the dos and don'ts. It protects their interest when it has to do with other players in the industry.
So, we are there basically to protect the interest of the actors and give them guidelines on what not to do and the things to do at the right time.
What are some of the lapses in the acting world?
Right now, the major problem we have is finance, although gradually the corporate bodies are waking up to the call and they are coming in. We know that, sooner than later, we will have enough finance in our hands to better our lot, technically and otherwise. Although we have technical lapses, I still tell people we are the best set of actors in Africa and one of the best set of actors in the world. Our spoken English is one of the best, and the second best to the Americans. I think the little problem that we have is the technical aspect and finance.
How do you cope with your numerous fans?
You have to also learn and most times we try to talk to our fans about the fact that we are also human. Maybe you see Ernest Obi in the movie and he is always happy from the beginning till the end in the movie and you felt, 'Oh! That is the kind of a person I like.' Let me tell you, it's not real.
I'm just trying to represent a character. I also have my ups and downs; I have my bad times, I have my mood swings. And so sometimes people call me in the middle of the night and say, 'Hello Ernest, I just want to talk.' And when you say, 'Please, can you call come back in the morning,' some get very nasty. But I try to be as reasonable as possible. To tell you the truth, there are times you can't just handle it anymore. For instance, you have somebody flashing you on the phone so many times, the person never calls you and then when you call the person back, the person never picks the phone. That is why sometimes I have to put my foot down and tell the person off.
Yes, that happens! You entertain people through what you are doing, but how do you entertain yourself?
Well, I'm a bit of a homely person. I'm a bit of an introvert. So, I don't really party, I don't do clubs much. I may go to the club once or twice in a year and that is if somebody drags me there. But, on a good day, I won't just wake up, dress up and say I'm going to a club. I have never done that.
Another thing is that I'm not a very heavy drinker; I don't smoke. I'm more like the old romantic, who loves to stay at home, stay indoors.
You say you don't smoke but you have featured in so many movies where you seem to be a heavy smoker.
How do you reconcile that with what you have just said?
Oh yes, that is a character that I was interpreting. A lot of people, because they have seen me in movies smoking, think I smoke in real life. They always want to offer me cigarettes and I do tell them that I don't smoke. Some think it's a lie. But the truth is, let me not just say I don't like smoking, I hate smoking. But I have to do it in movies because I'm trying to pass a message as an actor.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was nice. I was born in a large family with a lot of sisters. I have five sisters to be precise and I had a lot of love from them and from my mum and dad, probably because I'm the last. There were no special privileges.
What of educational background?
I had my secondary school education at Baptist Academy, Ikorodu (Lagos).
I think it is one of the oldest schools in the country, and from there, I went to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, where I studied Dramatic Ar ts. I majored in Directing.
Which has been the most challenging of all your movies?
All my movies are very challenging, all of them.
Right now, I direct and produce, but I tell people that that doesn't stop me from acting.
In some of your movies, you tend to be very romantic. Are you romantic in real life?
(Laughs) Oh well, maybe you ask my woman that. I won't be in the best position to answer that but I think I'm a bit romantic.
Let me just say that. I'm very emotional.
A little bit of your love life?
Love life? No way! I'm not going there.
Yes, when the time comes, you will know.
Most actors claim that kissing on set is make-believe. Are some of them not real?
You are not on set, so you can't know if it is real or fake. It is mere make-believe, Okay? When I'm on set and my woman is there with me and she sees me kissing, she will know that I'm working. She knows it is work. She knows that once I finish, I get up and leave the place and the person I did it with will also be gone. And if any stupid actor thinks it goes beyond there, I'm sorry. Such a person is begging for a slap or a punch in the face. And it is never done unless the person is sexually depraved or psychological traumatised. That is when such an actor could go on set and start hoping that from a kiss it could lead to something. If any actor does that, then he is withdrawn.
Y e s , because such a person needs not only s p i r i t u a l deliverance, but he also needs to be physically straightened out.