I don't even know who Chioma Toplis is, How could I have known she was my former Wife's friend - Kenneth Okonkwo
Call him one of the shining stars in Nollywood or one who leads while others follow and you won't be far from the truth. This is an actor who made a name for himself when Nollywood wasn't even named then not to talk of making a living out of it. Kenneth Okonkwo is a pioneer, pacesetter and legend when the film industry is concerned. He eats, breaths, sleeps and lives acting; you can see it radiating in his flesh even when he is not on set. The actor who pops in and out of the industry just because of having to go to school to bag one degree or the other to his intellectual curriculum, is never tired of learning. He just graduated from law school and immediately played a lead role in Jennifer Eliogu's movie from within where he did his thing again just like he always does. In a no holds barred interview with MURPHY FADAIRO, the actor and academic spoke at length on his private life, acting and reason why he never gets tired of going to school to broaden his knowledge.
I have heard people addressing you as Chief Kenneth Okonkwo? are you now a red cap Chief?
(Laughs) Well I am not a chief; actually I want to be very careful because when people call chief and thief it is not always quick to make a distinction. I am not a chief; I think when people watch your movie and they kind of link a particular character with you, they tend to call you by that name. I think that is why am being addressed as a chief but the truth is, I am not a chief. I am a lawyer.
Talking about being a lawyer; you recently graduated from law school. Is that to say bye-bye to the movie industry?
Well, I have always said that movie is like a hubby to me. That is why you see people always say that I am in it on and off because from day one, I have always been a professional. Movie to me is like you go to play golf, going to unwind. So, I will always remain in movie as a hubby.
Before you went to study law you must have had one or two degrees; can we have a peep into you academic background?
I think law should be about my fourth or fifth degree. I am a perpetual student. My first degree was in Business Management from the University of Nigeria, Nnsuka and that is far back as 1989 before I entered into the movie industry, I was educated in the School of Theology where I was a Seminarian, I was educated in International Law and Diplomacy on my Masters level, before I went for LLB at the University of Lagos, then BL at The Nigerian Law School.
When was your first experience on a movie set?
Well, basically I will say I have always believed that I have this talent to be an actor. I watch people on TV and I had this feeling that I could do better than them. So, when I finished my university education, I went straight to the movie world and announced myself I can do this; and I was given a chance in Ripples. When I starred in Ripples, people were like wow, this is good and then they created a role for me. I was invited for Bondage, then after the audition, they were like again wow, this guy is good and they immediately took me to act the lead role. And since then, the Nigerian movie industry has never become the same again.
So what would you say about the movie industry now?
Movie is something that is in the public glare, It grew from a local thing to an international thing. And Nollywood is being recognized now as the second movie industry in the world. We are moving forward, lovely and wonderfully well.
Why is this hunger for education you keep getting degrees like they are going out of fashion?
My greatest dream is that everybody should be educated; when you are educated, you are empowered. Then there is this thing about not only renewing not only your mind but your person. If you keep reading, you keep getting the hunger because you keep getting fresh ideas. Education for me is IT. God is omniscience; we should aspire to know as many things as possible because we will still have to impact on the next generation. We should know enough and extra enough that we should be able to impact on the next generation. So I have that zeal to know more and more. And what is helping me in the movie industry is versatility; versatility comes only with learning. That is why I play a lot of roles very well because I have had experience in a different aspect of life and majority of them came from learning.
Now that you are through with your Masters in Law; are you coming back to the industry for good and never leave again to study another course in the university?
I have never left the movie industry, I have always been there. Anytime you don't see me is when I have to pick up one degree or the other. There are some courses you cannot combine with acting; movie is not something you can delegate somebody to do for you likewise learning. So when you are doing this, the other one waits. When it comes to someone like me, I will keep learning until I die. So I will say now I will have to concentrate more on my business, on my vocation; so learning will have to become second. And I do not think I will do any other learning at the undergraduate level; it has to be post graduate.
What will you say movie has changed your life?
It has changed everything. It has changed my personality; it changed the degree of my acceptance in the society. It opened doors for me. You are interviewing me today, love me because of movie. It has made me to be in the home of everybody; every black man all over the world. It has put my country on the world as one of the movie industry in the world. To me, movie is the foundation of my success; I owe a lot to movie.
A lot of movie practitioners are now deviating into politics; since you are learned do you have any intention of going into politics in the nearest future?
My belief is that everybody should be in politics: as a matter of fact, I have always encouraged everybody to be in politics. That is the essence of democracy. We all may not be in power at the same time but we all should be in politics. If you are not governing, you should be interested in who governs you because the person who governs you can determine your destiny in your own chosen career. Whether I will seek any political office is another thing. That depends on my people, it also depends on my own convenience and if there things are in the positive, surely I can do politics.
Don't you think politics is a dirty terrain you don't want to test?
Before I entered the movie industry, people believed it was only for dropouts, hooligans, clowns who are meant for the movie industry; but I entered it and it changed. Don't you think that I am a child of change; any day I enter politics in Nigeria, it will change. It is not a dirty game or for bad people; it is supposed to be for very good and brilliant people, people who are willing to serve and change their society for the better. Look at the way it's done in USA, advanced countries; it can also be done here. It is just a matter of time before we get it right. Like the movie industry was waiting for people like us and it changed. So, when good people enter politics, it will change and that is what will happen any day I decide to come in.
Do you see President Goodluck Jonathan performing in the next four years and can he take us to the Promised Land?
The only person that can take us to the Promised Land is God. If you remember the story of the promise land in the Bible, they went through the wilderness, passed through scorpions before they got to the promise land. What we need to do is pray for the president and God willing, a miracle might happen. Whether he will deliver has to do with his sincerity, level of spirituality and commitment. Nigeria is a very complex society; you need God, spiritual power to be able to govern a nation like Nigeria. Four years is a long way to go; let's just pray for him and in a matter of say two years in office, we can start judging him.
Tell us about your family life; do you have a wife and kids?
I am married and I have got children that are all I am going to say.
What is your relationship with Chioma Toplis; there is this talk in town that she was responsible for the breakup of your second marriage to Nancy?
Who is Chioma Toplis? I have never heard that name before. I don't know any Chioma Toplis and I wouldn't have known if she was a friend to my former wife.
What should your fans be expecting from you soon?
They should expect something that is superb. Something that people will watch and they will see that this is the next big thing in Nollywood.
Are you also following the trend in the industry now where actors now produce and direct movies?
I don't think I will do that because I am into the legal profession. Like I told you, acting for me is a hubby so I just have to specialize in the acting aspect of it; that way, the younger ones can still learn, watch us and let us affect them in whatever they do positively.
The younger generation of actors, would you say they are getting it all well like it used to be done back in the days?
Sure, there is always room for improvement. When you go for audition, a lot of people will fall by the way side, some continue while some may be lucky. That is the way life is, but honestly they are doing wonderfully well.
What is supposed to be used to measure a good actor?
Ability to read your script, understand it and interpret it.
What would you want to be remembered for by the time you leave the industry?
I have always thanked God for making me to be the first man who acted the first movie that started Nollywood. That I am remembered for that is the greatest award anybody can yearn for; how out of as rut 150million people, God just singled you out to use you to open the industry. That is one thing I know I will be remembered for; it's a historical fact and a man who will change his generation for the better.
What do you want to tell your fans?
I want to tell them that I love them, they have been wonderful. They have been the source of my inspiration, stability, encouragement and continuity. It makes me feel that I am on the right path, I took the right decision to act and that I will never let them down.