Not just a pretty face------Van Vicker
He is the latest in a long line of Nigerian movie heartthrobs - difference is, he's Ghanaian. But you wouldn't know it from film posters fighting for space with those of Ramsey Noah and Desmond Elliot.
He is even beginning to feel Nigerian. "Nowadays, I spend 75 percent of my days in Nigeria, shooting films or attending one event or other," he tells me. "My family plans to spend this Christmas at the Calabar Carnival."
Van Vicker is presently one of Nollywood's most sought-after actors. He got into Nollywood in 2006, but his screen career began on television. "My main recollection of Van Vicker was when he starred as a host on Metro TV," Samuel Kissi, a TV/radio producer in Ghana, tells me.
"He used to host a music show called the HV Show... and he did a great job with that." In 2003, Vicker appeared in a Ghanaian television series, Suncity. "One series led to another and eventually the big screen arrived sooner than I thought," he remembers.
Shortly after, he was cast as a supporting character in 'Divine Love' - his first film appearance. He soon became one of the leading actors in Ghollywood, the Ghanaian film industry, mostly in romantic lead roles.
It is an act he has mostly repeated in Nigeria, right from his first Nollywood film, 'Return of Beyonce', which got him AMAA (Africa Movie Academy Awards) nominations for Best Lead Actor and Best Upcoming Actor in 2008.
It was not difficult for him to enter the Nigerian market, even as the first such crossover success. "There was no resistance or resentment at all," he says, "I was welcomed and now I'm treated like a member of the family. It still amazes me though, because we all know breaking through in Nollywood is a tough task, more so when you are not a Nigerian. It was nothing less than divine intervention with a Capital D."
He also did his homework. "I think whenever you enter into a new place, you must be humble and pay your dues before people warm up to you," he explains.
"Van is smart," says columnist Stella Dimoko-Korkus, "[Our] actors became pig-headed and producers had to look outside for someone, who would be humble and at the same time do the job: Van smartly got himself a Nigerian manager; most actors in Nigeria refuse to part with money to get managers and publicists!"
Beyond the face
Good looks that cut across race and nation must have helped, but are also a fodder for his critics. They point to fans who like him, but are also clear-eyed about his limitations. One fan says, "I like Van Vicker. For me it's a two-way thing: it's not always about his looks; sometimes he does the job. [However], most of the time he gets it wrong and it seems like he is just filling the gap."
Vicker handles the criticism with grace. "Everybody is entitled to their own opinion!" He laughs heartily. "Good looks never hurt in the entertainment industry but can only carry you so far. We all have our strengths and weaknesses but you must work hard to gain the trust of the viewing public. Talent and hard work are the only things that will make you a viable brand."
Vicker remains humble, giving "the Lord" credit for his success. "I have a passion for what I do and I enjoy doing it. I am focused on bringing out the best in me."
"Van is an extremely focused and disciplined person. He is charming and good natured and rarely loses his temper," says his manager, Mildred Okwo. "I watched him on set while his wife was in labour. He kept checking in on her in between scenes that he had been shooting for over eight hours.
"They called to say she was almost ready and he took off to be by her side until she delivered. The producer was panicked as it was the absolute last day of shoot. Van came back on set at 4am to film his last scenes and even stopped to buy drinks for everybody. I was very impressed with his dedication to family and work."
As an actor, Vicker's confidence shines through. "He is okay as an actor. I have worked with him twice and I found him quite disciplined," says producer/director Emem Isong. "It's not only about his looks. If he is given a good script with a good director to handle him, I think he can perform a lot better than he is doing now."
Dimoko-Korkus feels the same. "If we are going to compare notes, Van is a damn good actor, better than Emeka Ike and the rest of his ilk. His acting wouldn't make one sit on edge but he's got it going for him at the moment and his looks are an added advantage. I mean, I would prefer a good looking actor that cannot act to one whose big eyes are blocking the screen coupled with the fact that he can't act!"
West African idol
Nigerian fans don't seem bothered by Vicker's nationality. "As for ruling the Nigerian screen, I don't think that is correct. Our people still rule the screen," says Nancy Amara Izuora, who calls herself Vicker's number one fan. "It is not encroachment. I see it as good 'collabo' and I think we may have a lot more of this between Nigeria and other African countries."
Another fan, Pelumi Oyetimein, thinks it's a non-issue. "He's Ghanaian... just around the corner. Besides, we've had the likes of Jim Iyke and Ramsey Noah ruling the whole African movie industry. Ramsey is also [mixed race] anyway."
Okwo dismisses the question entirely. "I find it extremely unintelligent when people talk about a person's country of origin. If that is so, why should Hollywood open up to all the actors who dream of working there?"
It's win-win for Vicker. "I am still active in Ghollywood," he says. "My Ghanaian fans are very proud of me, and that is where it all started for me, so I will always be active in Ghana. My management is working out a plan to balance my career in Ghollywood and Nollywood."
His star is undoubtedly shining. "Van Vicker is a jolly good fellow and most of his colleagues in Nollywood do not feel threatened by him, especially the A-list that he has supposedly encroached on," Dimoko-Korkus says. "It is just Van's time to rule in Nollywood and no one can do anything about this... it is his time!"