I’m a born again Christian, I only drink red wine and Brandy – Nollywood actor, Benedict Johnson
He came into Nollywood many years ago, but Benedict Johnson didn't become a household name until a few years back.
Johnson is known for his mean roles, and some even say he looks the part. But he tells 'NONYE IWUAGWU that he is the exact opposite of what he acts.
There was a time you wanted to be a musician.
Oh yes. Music was my first love. I can never forget it. In fact, I am still working on an album. My music is a mixture of R and B and Hip Hop.
Your mother had nine children, how come?
I am from a royal family. My father was the traditional ruler of my village, so my mother did well to have had nine children, she was married to a king.
Many people think you are related to Mercy Johnson, the actress…
We are not related. She is from Kogi State while I am from Isu in Nwangele Local Government Area of Imo State.
Tell us about your childhood.
My childhood was good and bad. It was good in the sense that I enjoyed my life when my father was alive but had to survive like a man when he died, because things were very tough. I only survived because I had a vision. I knew from the outset that I was going to be at the top, but I didn't know how I would get there. I became a musician in 1988. I read Mass Communication at the Abia State University.
How come your musical career didn't flourish?
I did my demo between 1989 and 1990. It was during the days of The Dready Boys in the East. I did some songs with them. I tried to release my own song after I had produced it, and a friend asked me to come to Lagos and stay with him, saying he would help me to get it released.
So what happened?
I got frustrated. I stayed with him for more than three years but nothing happened.
Was that when you decided to go into acting?
Yes. Along the line, another friend invited me for an audition. I wasn't really keen on trying it out, because I used to be a very shy person. But I still went for the audition and the people there commended me and said I was good, so I got the role.
How was life after your father's death?
I was brought up in a Christian family. Despite the fact that my father was a traditional ruler, he was a very strong Christian. He nurtured us to love, worship and serve God. I didn't see any reason not to look up to God.
Since your father was a traditional ruler, would you accept to take his place if you are called upon?
I will not. My father did it and they killed him for it. Some people didn't want him there. I wouldn't want anything that will make people to throw jazz at me.
Does acting pay your bills?
It is paying my bills. At least, I have a good home, ride a good car and take care of my family.
How do you cope with female fans?
People love me and they call me. I love them too, but I don't take advantage of my female fans. I'm a God-fearing person, so if anybody comes close to me, I try to draw the person closer to God, because I believe that God brought me to this position to glorify his name. So, I preach to the female fans who call me.
That means you are not in any relationship.
I am through with relationships. I am married now. I've been a married man for six months, and I have a beautiful daughter.
How come people don't know that you are married?
I didn't make it loud, because I want to keep my family out of the public glare.
Sometime ago, I had a relationship that was known about. People came in and that was how I lost the relationship. So, I don't want to make this one open. I just want my marriage to be private.
How does your wife react when she sees you kissing on set?
It is not easy. But she is also a God-fearing person and knows that it is only make believe. She trusts me, that's why we are still hanging on.
When did you get the big break in your acting career?
It was with Stolen Bible. Emeka Nwabueze directed it. Before I acted in that movie, I was a relatively unknown actor. I had been acting since Living in Bondage was released, but I was not known. In Stolen Bible I was the only new face. I acted alongside Kate Henshaw-Nuttal. After that movie, I got calls from producers and directors, asking me to come and take scripts.
You claim you are born again yet you always act mean and wicked roles...
I am a versatile actor. I have acted a lot of Christian movies, including 40 days in the Wilderness, where I acted as a pastor; Oath of a Priest, where I acted as a priest. But as an actor, you should be able to wear the character that you are playing. If I am given the role of a bad boy, I interpret it very well, same with when I am given the role of a good boy.
It is widely believed that most people get born again when they become frustrated with life or when they are in difficulties…
In my own case, it was neither of the two. I thought it was the best thing to do at that time as a young man, so that I can achieve my aims in life. We live in a very dangerous world. There are two powers ruling this world; one is the positive supernatural power and the other is the negative supernatural power. You must belong to one to excel in life. If you stand in the middle, you won't make a headway. I didn't follow God because of frustration but because of my belief and the words I hear everyday.
Why do most actors live above their means?
I am not in that category. I am real. I don't fake anything. I have every opportunity to fake things, but I don't. I try to be myself and do things that I used to do regularly before I became a star.
What have you lost since you became a star?
Being a star has deprived one of many things. Like now, if I have to come out to the public, I have to clean up, because people will be looking at me. If I fight, it will make the headlines. I can't trek from one part of Lagos to another. People will start wondering why I am trekking. If I decide to ride on Okada, people would think I'm suffering.
As actors, sometimes we get stranded, we are broke, our cars develop faults. In such situations, you have to remain indoors because you don't want people to see you trekking or riding on Okada. You have to maintain that status.
Since you don't womanise, do you drink or smoke.
I don't smoke any longer. I used to be a chain smoker. I used to smoke like three packets of cigarettes everyday. But I was medically advised to stop because it was punching holes in my heart. The doctor advised me to stop or I would die. I did three days fasting, because it wasn't easy. My pastor helped me, because cigarette smoking is a spiritual activity. That is why it is usually difficult for people to stop. I stopped after fasting. It has been two years since I took a cigarette. I will not be tempted to go back to it, because I drink. When I hang out with friends I take red wine and brandy.
What is your dream in life?
I dream to become a mega star and live outside Nigeria; to go out there and achieve something for my country. And when I get close to 50 or 60, I want to be a football coach.
Football? How can you do that when you are not a footballer?
I played football in my secondary school.
Have you faced any challenge since you joined the movie industry?
When I came into the industry, it was frustrating. It's not like now that they give everybody opportunity to act. Then, it was difficult. I was one of the actors that came up after the movie Living in Bondage. I came into the industry around 1996. Then, very many people were turning up for auditioning and the producers wouldn't listen to you. But I was encouraged by a friend to continue going for auditions. I stayed there for four years still believing. It didn't work out, so I left.
Where did you go to when you left?
I went to Spain where I did one or two things, then I came back home. I like the fact that I am back home, doing what I am doing. I prefer it to staying abroad. If I travel now, people receive me very well. Everybody wants to meet me, and I am happy.
Do you have any advice for upcoming actors?
They have to believe in themselves. If they know that they have something in them, which they need to deliver, they just have to work at it and pray hard. I believe there is a hero in everybody. All you need to do is to work hard and the hero will come out. I want them to know that whatever happens in life, you must try to stay alive.
Have you ever been embarrassed as an actor?
I played the role of an epileptic in the movie Painful World. I went to an occasion, and some ladies who had seen the movie believed that I was epileptic and kept asking if they could touch me. They meant it and were laughing at me. I felt so embarrassed.