‘I'm the Ronaldo of Nollywood’...........Saint Obi
One thing that Saint Obi Nwafor, an A-list Nollywood actor has going for him is his undeniable good looks. In fact, in the Nigerian movie industry today, he is known as one of the most handsome studs in the business. Little wonder in time past, he was like the proverbial golden fish which has no hiding place - as everything about him became juicy gossip.
While his surname Nwafor wouldn't ring any bell among his teeming fans, the name, Saint Obi, does. At a time when he was still single and appeared not ready to settle down, he was regarded not only as a gay, some people even rumoured that he was impotent. All these rumours withered away last December, as this Nigerian-born action hero announced to everyone upon a return from the United States of America (USA) that he has finally found his missing rib. The announcement sure shattered the hearts of a few women. A few months after this, he again announced the birth of his son in the state of Texas, USA.
But do not expect to hear Nwafor, who is popularly known as Saint Obi, talk publicly about his wife, Linda. This, he said, is because he hopes to shield her from “unneccessary publicity and make her enjoy her marital life not as a celebrity's wife with the attendant exposure to media scrutiny.”
Saint Obi's sojourn into the movie world sort of began when he was in primary four. He told http://nollywoodgists.com that he was influenced by the various Cowboy and Indian movies shot in Hollywood and Bollywood. He dreamt of going to Hollywood from then on. So, when it was time for him to go to an higher institution, he opted to study Theatre Arts. Thereafter, he appeared in a number of Soaps in the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Jos. In 1995, he decided to come to Lagos to work as a model. A few months later, Opa Williams featured him in a movie, then Zeb Ejiro called him up for another, and so began his enthralling journey into Nollywood. Today, he has featured in over 60 movies which includes Sleeping With the Enemy, State of Emergency, Blue Sea, Fantasy, Dapo Junior, Benita, Street Fame, Check Point and Crime Planner, among several others.
Although Nwafor was born on November 16 in Port Harourt, he was raised in Jos where he had his primary, secondary and university education. He originally hails from Alaenyi, Ogwa of Mbaitolu Local Government Area in Imo state.
“Jos is my roots. It formed my foundation. That city has been very good to me and I love it a lot,” he says.
Obi is from a family of nine but his father passed away just a year before he gained admission into the University of Jos.
Not many know that apart from him being an A - list actor, Obi is also an activist for social causes– a trait which he exhibits in the movies he makes. The most recent, though not released yet, is entitled True Colour. Enjoy our session with him.
How does it feel being a daddy?
It feels good!
Is that all?
(Laughs) I mean it feels real good. You know when people ask me this question, I often say 'I am not different from that person up there or down there who has a child.' It's the same way. It feels good to be a daddy. Glory be to God. It's a miracle for a woman to get pregnant, carry the foetus and then deliver at the right time. You can't get it better than that. It shows you the reality of God and the mystery of life.
You were one of the most eligible bachelors in Nollywood, but you surprised everyone when you suddenly announced your marriage. Tell me about this lucky woman and why you settled for her?
Well, I usually don't discuss my relationships, but I think for the purpose of this interview, I'll just say sometimes some things should be left unsaid. Also sometimes, a man has got to do what a man has got to do.
So, you won't tell me how you met your wife?
That's a story for another day. Because I will tell you when the time is right.
Ok, if you say so. But can we talk about how you came into Nollywood?
Nollywood, well, that was sometime in 1995. I had left Jos to Lagos. First, I felt I had something to offer. But before then, I had the dream of going to Hollywood, that was why I read Theatre Arts in the University of Jos, but along the line, the whole thing evolved and I decided to go to Lagos to see what would happen, how I could be a part of what was happening, and wait for Hollywood. So, when I came to Lagos, I started out as a model, I did Peugeot 306 commercial, it was on national network for months and the producer of a movie called Without Love, Opa Williams, was looking for a fresh face but not one that is totally strange to Nigerians. He saw me and hired me. That started the journey into Nollywood. After that, I was called by Zeb Ejiro to feature in his movie.
What is the title of the movie?
It was called Goodbye Tomorrow.
So, Without Love was your very first movie?
Yes, it was. But before then also, I had done series of Soaps on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Jos. As an actor, NTA created a platform for me. But let me quickly say this: I didn't read Theatre Arts in school because I saw that Nollywood had started booming. I knew what I wanted, I knew I wanted to be an actor since when I was in primary four. I had the vision from way back then.
What inspired you?
I used to watch those Cowboys and Indians movies on tv. I really wanted to be like them.
You mentioned a while ago that you also wanted to break into Hollywood, the movie capital of the world. Tell me, have you been able to achieve that aim after all these years in Nollywood?
Not exactly. You see, as the day progresses, you find out that priorities differ, so to speak. I am not as desperate for Hollywood as I was years back. I now feel that if I don't help develop this system that we have here, at some point it might go down the drain. So some of us must help in as much as we have bigger ambitions. We must help the system, not just to evolve but also to have a footprint of what movies are all about. That's where I stand right now. If I want to go to Hollywood now, it will have to be on a kind of collaboration arrangement. I don't just want to let go of this environment. Yes, I want to make an impact in Hollywood, and also in the Asian movie industry for instance, so that we could incorporate or integrate Nollywood in the world spectrum.
Have you had offers so far?
Well, one or two but when the time comes, I'll surely do it. But for now, like I said, going to Hollywood for me wouldn't be through the back door. I see myself not just as a Nigerian brand but as an A-brand. So, if I must go to Hollywood, it must be as an import/export material. If it comes at that level, then it means that they put value on you. It's just like if you want to bring in Hollywood artistes like Kevin Cosner and Tom Cruise to Nigeria. They are A-level actors so, they have got to understand this. The problem is just that some people who negotiate for us sell us cheaply and when they do this to us, Hollywood begins to look at us differently. Cruise can't do what I do here and I can't do what he does there, so there must be a platform where we can meet and accentuate each other for our good.
One thing many people feel works magic for you is your loverboy looks. In movies, your roles are mostly based on this fact. Do you enjoy playing this role. Don't you atimes crave for tougher roles?
(Smiles) Well, I do not understand the “loverboy looks” you said I have, but it obviously shows that you have not watched a lot of my movies. With all modesty, I see myself as one of the very few versatile actors in Nigeria. I have played the good, bad and the ugly roles. Just name it, I've done it all. I have been a criminal, a policeman, lawyer, the lover boy you talked about, the Amadioha priest, a Catholic priest, etc. I have been very blessed because there have been very few actors who get such array of roles. So, people look at me and don't know what to expect.
When you get a script, what is that thing you look out for that makes you want to feature in it?
Well, I want to see the message it has. The impact it has. Is it something that will teach the society? If it is voodoo movies, I honestly do not like associating with such. Yes, I did it in the past but lately, I do not want to be associated with it again because the reality is, those things don't exist and Nollywood, sadly, helped to perpetrate such things. And I think Nollywood is helping to impoverish Nigerians.
Yes; because if you help to increase that myth, then the man down there thinks its real, ok? He doesn't know that its mere special effects that you are using, some people don't know this difference. In that regard, Nollywood has failed woefully. So, we must push our people to understand that we must go beyond this level. Some people now believe that you can use a babalawo (witch doctor) to become rich.
Tell me, how expensive can you be if one wants to hire you to do a movie?
Ha! It all depends. I can be nice, if it's my friend. If it's strictly business you've got to be ready to part with something to have me on board. I tell you, it's got to be a seven-figure thing. Some of us have paid our dues, some of us have made the biggest hit. If you are a Ronaldo, you've got to be paid well so that you can show more skills and score more.
So, do you see yourself as Nollywood's “Ronaldo?”
There are so many Ronaldos in the movie world. Even in the soccer world, we have Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, e.t.c. We've got great players and there is room for so many A-level players. In Nollywood, with all modesty, God has put one in that class.
A few years ago, you produced a movie entitled Take me to mama. It later generated a lot of controversies. Why was it so?
There was no controversy. I don't think any actor has produced a movie that made the kind of impact that movie made. You can quote me anywhere. In terms of sales, storylines, name it. It was a big hit. The first Nigerian movie to get a corporate endorsement in the Coca-cola level. It was marketed and promoted, by the NTA. I was the first non-Catholic to get the Catholic endorsement and the movie got eight nominations.
In what year was this and have you made a follow-up movie?
It was in 2003. And based on that success , I decided to raise the bar, so I made another called True Colour. You know, at this stage of my life, I realise that its not just about making money. You get to a stage when you want to change lives and leave a mark. So, I looked around me and saw that our society is suffering today principally because our image abroad is very bad... I tell people that our biggest problem is not corruption but our image. In every country in the world, you find corrupt people, but people don't look at them as terribly as they look at us. And I thought that except we, the honest people, speak out, the bad people among us will continue to destroy our image.
So what do you think about the project Nollywood issue?
It is a one-off thing. What I mean is that the system should be what should affect the movie industry but what will go across board.
You've never been involved in the administrative aspect of Nollywood. I mean like Nollywood politics?
I don't like politics. I am more of a social commentator.
I am making a difference in my own little way. If I have to change Nigeria's image, Nigeria's economy will change for the better. We are one of the most blessed countries in the world. There are very few things we lack as a country and we must harness those things. One of my greatest wishes is that Nigeria's oil should dry up!
Because we've become a lazy people because of oil. Some nations are not as rich as Nigeria but they are better off.
Let's go back to your primary call, movies, how many would you say you have featured in so far?
I can't really put a number to it but if I must, it is over 60.
What is your candid opinion about Nollywood. Do you believe it is the third largest movie producing industry in the world?
In terms of quantity, but not quality. We must call a spade a spade. We are still evolving. Hollywood, I think, is close to 100 years, if not more. Bollywood is more than 60 and we are less than 16 years. The charlatans are almost fading off, and a time will come when real professionals will run Nollywood. Now, you'll see some people who shoot movies for less than one week. My movie, True Colours, took four years. Even in Hollywood, if a movie is shot in one week, then know that they made plans for one year. We have the market and if we want to harness it, we should give the people quality movies.
Do you think you will make a better director?
I am an actor first, then a producer, followed by being a director. I direct my movies because it's my vision and no one can do it better than I can.
How rich is St. Obi?
I can also say that God has been faithful and I can also drink garri when I want to.
What informs your style of dressing?
Simplicity. Some of us try to create levels, but I say there is nothing as such because they are all vanity. You just need to be yourself and be happy about it.
After all these years of being the “centre” of the lives of many women, who practically drooled over you, would you say you miss being single?
(laughs). There is nothing to miss. At every point, in terms of one's life, one should be contented. Be happy. Nobody wants to be alone.
Where is your wife from?
I have told you, I do not want to discuss my private life.