AKI and PAWPAW
Until 2002 when they had a chance meeting during an audition, neither Osita Iheme nor Chinedu Ikedieze knew he had a lookalike who equally shared his acting career and small physique.
The two short but matured comedians had gone to a popular hotel in the heart of Enugu for audition only to start glaring at each other in the presence of other artistes.
And like Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, the duo of Osita and Chinedu formed the centre of attraction during the audition.
They in fact turned into living characters for the directors present, even as a smart producer shortly afterwards invented a script featuring the two with a title, Aki na Ukwa (Two Mischievous Kinds). The movie expectedly launched the two into the entertainment world and ever since then, they continued to rise with an increasing record of movies both locally and abroad.
Chinedu is a graduate of Mass Communication from the Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Enugu while Osita is currently a second year student of Mass Communication at Enugu State University. Although they have so much excelled in comedy, these talented actors now crave for more challenging roles, noting that mischief is not the only thing they dramatise:
I was born into the family of Mr and Mrs. Michael Ikedieze Ogbonna. I hail from Iluoma Nzeakoli in Bende local government area in Abia State. After my primary and secondary education, I proceeded to IMT Enugu where I studied Mass Communication.
Acting is a talent that God deposited in me right from the cradle. For example, during my secondary school days, I was a member of the Art and Dramatic Society. My greatest opportunity came in my first year (August, 1998) at IMT, where I met a friend whom I told about my desire to become an actor and to discover more about the Nigerian movie industry.
I told him about my desire to be part of the industry and as God would have it, our discussion coincided with an audition slated somewhere the very next day. He promised to take me to the place and the following day, we went to the venue of the audition at a popular hotel on Ogui road in Enugu. The audition was for a movie titled Evil Men, One and Two and luckily for me, I got a role. That was exactly how I started and since then I have been actively involved in it.
The first time I watched Living in Bondage, I was so much inspired by Kenneth Okonkwo's true to life acting. Although his role elicited so much hatred from members of the society, due to the terrible things he did to Merit his wife, something in me kept asking me, "how did this guy turn this make-believe to something close to reality than fiction?" I was really bothered for a long time and after a while, my admiration became a source of challenge, which made me to enhance my own acting skills. Other talented artistes who inspired me include Nnenna Nwabueze (who hails from my town and who played the role of Merit) and Andy Okonkwo
Immediately I joined the industry, there were some artistes who paraded themselves as tin gods. Going for an audition then was like writing Cambridge examination. First we were asked many questions in the presence of big stars and we were bound to feel very intimidated.
And after going through the rigours, one would be asked to call back in the evening or some other day for the names of lucky actors. Oftentimes, one would get a role in the crowd scene as a Waka-pass. This is all because one wanted to get involved. I remember the first time I took part in a movie, I went to town, telling all my friends to watch out for the movie because they would see my face in it.
Sometimes too, while on location, one may have to continue shooting and due to spill-over from previous shots, you are told to go and come back later on another day. While doing this, one was spending so much on transportation and feeding, all for the meager artiste fee that would be paid.
I had my major break in 2000 with The Last Burial. After the movie, I went to Port Harcourt and people wanted to literarily steal me. This was before Aki Nu Ukwa, which eventually brought me to limelight.
I hail from Mbaitoli Local Government area of Imo State.
My parents are Mr Herbert Iheme and Mrs Augustina Iheme, I come from a family of five; four boys and a girl. I attended College Primary School in Abia State. I am presently studying Mass Communication at the Enugu State University. My role model in Nigeria is RMD and on the international scene, Al Pacino and Will Smith are my role models. I am working on my musical album, which would soon be rounded off in the studio. I am also into modeling and stage performances.
The making of Aki Na Ukwa
Recently, Prince Emeka Ani told me how the story came about and that he was supposed to have been the person to have produced and directed the movie but somewhere along the line, Amayo Uzor Phillips came in and convinced the Executive Producer that he could use as little as N700,000 to do the film and for that, Amayo got into it and I can recall that from time to time, whenever I see Amayo, he used to tell me that he had a story for me. He kept saying this to me until the movie Aki-Na-Ukwa brought us together and it was a huge success.
How we met
We met for the first time, about three weeks before the shooting of Aki Na Ukwa and I believe God ordained it. We met at Macdevous Hotels in Enugu a place where actors usually go to for auditions and other information. On the first day we set eyes on each other, it was so dramatic that every other person in the Hotel left what they came for and started looking at us. We felt the same way too and I think it was during that first meeting that a smart person thought about the concept that finally led to Aki Na Ukwa.
For anyone to succeed in life, the person must make room for people to cheat on him here and there. Each time we remember how much we were each paid for Aki Na Ukwa, we felt cheated but we are also consoled by the fact that it was the same movie that paved the way for the success that we enjoy today
Advice to younger artistes
You have to be the best of what you are; what makes a man is self-control. A man must be dedicated to whatever he is doing, you must be ready to tolerate a lot of things because without all these, you are heading to nowhere. I remember those days, even as a student there were many times I had to sneak out from lectures to go and attend auditions – although I know exactly how to catch up with whatever I missed while away.
Most often, when I was on campus, I usually buried my head in the library and also read ahead of my mates, knowing that there may be times that I would not have the time to come for my lectures. Despite all these sacrifices on my part, there were still many times that I will go out for auditions and come back empty handed. But despite the above, I did not give up, I persisted, I insisted on being part of Nollywood, I insisted on living above the frustrations. So I kept going from one audition to the other.
We are just unique
People don't make fun of us because you know, we are just unique in our own way, we dress well, we are good looking and we go the extra mile to take care of ourselves so anywhere we go, people just want to be our friends. They come to us, "Edu, Osy how far now?" And even the producers and directors court us to their side. People jostle to have us come to their rooms. We have not forgotten and will never forget how much love we have received from such people.
We cannot say that we are rich but we can confidently tell you that we are comfortable.
New York Academy
We wanted to make a successful switch over. Here in Nigeria, producers and marketers were complaining that our films are too many in the market and that people are complaining (although this is a way of bargaining) we do not want to be caught napping. So we took out time to go NYFA to prepare ourselves for a possible switch over to Hollywood. Why did we go to school if we cannot prepare ourselves for any unforeseeable circumstances. We resolved that we are not going to end up like other stars in the past that were used and dumped. So when our manager suggested that we should go to NYFA for a crash programme in acting, we accepted it. We are too mature to be tossed around so we decided to prepare for the rainy day even though our sun is shining right now.
Two sides of a coin
There is no way you can know a person by the appearance of the face. People are wicked, and the devil you hear of everyday, don't be deceived, is a human being. We know that a lot of people have made moves to see how they can come into our midst and tear our friendship apart. They wish they can create enmity between us, but we believe that when God says yes, nobody can say no, because our coming together was destined by God and God made it at the appointed time.
Aki: If this stardom had come when I was a student, it would have retarded my academic progress. But God in his infinite wisdom made it all to happen at His own appointed time and again the day I met Osita, I was already considering leaving the country, so God made everything to be possible at his own chosen time.
Ukwa: Although I am still in school but by the grace of God, I am coping.
We are in our 20s, let's leave it like that.
How producers arrested us
In 2003, we were arrested by some producers at 1.00 a.m and detained at a Police Station here in Enugu till the following morning.
What led to the whole problem was very simple. Producers would come to us with an offer and when we tell them that we already have jobs at hand, they would say that they wouldn't mind to wait until we were free. So they made some advance payment as a kind of commitment fee. It was not that we refused to do the jobs. No, but in between the jobs, we had a show that was to take place intermittently for about five days in Ghana and you know the Ghanaians to an extent are more organised than us. We have been paid six months in advance before the show and we have signed all relevant contractual agreements.
So, when some of them heard that we were travelling to Ghana, they teamed up to embarrass us. We pleaded with them that we are Nigerians; and that we were not running away. We were only going out for a few days. We also told them that when we return, we would do their jobs. These were the same people that begged us to take their deposit and that they would wait till it was their turn on our schedule. Before we traveled, we lost count of days and even the months. It just dawned on us one day and we asked, 'is this September?' And they said yes and I exclaimed, 'God, we have a show in Ghana!' So we called them and told them that 'please, we were going to Ghana for a few days; when we return, we shall finish your movies.' To our shock, they gathered themselves and accused us of trying to run away.
They took us to the Police Station and at the end of the day, we spent the entire night at the station, they made us part with N900,000 as compensation. They insisted that their films have stayed for too long in our hands. They also claimed that the show we were going to in Ghana was going to fetch us N13million and for that they said we should pay them N3 million as compensation. It was our lawyer that negotiated for N900,000.
On arrival, we did their job and there was none of them that paid us more than N300,000. If it were not because of the legal implications of our not going to Ghana, we would have insisted on not paying that money. It was a clear rip off. The films were Village Boys and Husband Wahala for Vaseco and Maurry's Not by Height '1 and 2'. Solid's movie was Big Daddy 1 and 2' despite the fact that we did not sign for parts one and two in our contract agreement. A – Z's own was Shine Your Eyes. It was strange that when they heard that we were going to Ghana, they all teamed up to see if they could stop us from going there. All these are now stories but we can never forget it because it keeps piercing our hearts. Although they did not ban us, you see sometimes they do all sorts of things and nobody is there to ban them or even caution them. They see themselves as the Alpha and Omega of the industry but it should not be so. We are all supposed to work like a team.
You can imagine producers banning an artiste because according to them the artiste demanded for certain privileges when on location and that they don't come for recording on time. I know that we are not Hollywood actors but for Christ sake, we are the very best in Africa and it is appalling that our marketers don't value us. In South Africa and Europe, we are superstars. Outside Nigeria, some ladies do flung their breasts and beg us to sign autograph on them! When we went to Ghana, there were so many beautiful ladies carrying banners at the airport to welcome us; old men and women, children and top government functionaries. They all trooped out to welcome us. The same thing happened in Sierra Leone and USA (Virginia, where I went to spend time with my uncle after my studies).
If we are paid about $8,000 here for a movie, it is really nothing. As far as we are concerned, what we receive in Nigeria as actors is among the poorest in the world, although we are not complaining. You see, when we go for shows outside this country, they pay us up between $20,000 and $30,000 for only some few minutes on stage or for a product endorsement. I mean, there is no way you can compare this with the peanuts we receive as Nollywood actors. We know that the Nigerian producers made us but it is better we all see it from the point of yam and oil. We made each other; it is a vice versa achievement.
Instability in Nollywood
The industry is somewhat shaky; most of the marketers are complaining that movies are not selling as they did some few months ago. We pity them but one way or the other they are the cause of the present state of the industry. You see, it may sound strange but the producers pirate one another's movies and how do you expect the other person to make money from his work if his own is pirated by his colleagues? Besides, the distribution network is so poor. We have 36 states in Nigeria. Why should they restrict themselves to just Lagos, Onitsha and Aba.? They should open up to other major towns and even in other countries in Africa. Nobody can pirate them if they have outlets in many places and release their movies on the same day in all these cities. We have over one million video rental clubs in Nigeria. If the marketers get their acts right and make sure that each buys from them directly, they would make their money instantly.
We are presently working on our website and the floating of our foundation. Presently, arrangements have reached advanced stage for us to take part in a Hollywood movie and we know that with God, all things are possible. If we can get into Hollywood, we hope to influence Hollywood producers to come and invest in Nollywood. We need to learn from Hollywood.
(Aki) I think that was when I lost my grand mother and another time was when some producers arrested us. The incident was so painful. Imagine the humiliation, taking us to the police and detaining us there.
(Aki) I am not married. Although I am in a serious relationship, I am not yet married. My marriage is only in the figment of a junk journalist's imagination. They just want to write and sell their magazines. I have enough money to marry whenever I wish to and there is no way I would get married without letting the whole world know.