Respect, That's My Gain for Turning an Actor-Leo Mezie
In most of the movies he's been involved with, Leo Mezie has often played the role of a toughie or a lover boy. And no matter what role he gets, the Umuahia, Abia State born never fails to deliver. He spoke to Home Video People during the week and this is his story.
Some parents discourage their children from acting, especially their male ones. What was your experience?
In my own case, it wasn't only my parents that rejected me but everybody in the family. They felt the profession was not worth it. They reasoned that I was going to be a liability to them if I became an actor. But today, I bless God because the rejected stone has now become the pillar. The story is different now because I've become the apple of everybody's eye in the family. They pamper me, in fact, today I'm a celebrity, first in my house.
Why do parents dissuade their male children from acting?
I think it's an African thing. Here in Africa, the man is expected to be the head of the family. So, when he goes into the movies, instead of being a medical doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, they begin to see him as a minus one. They don't see an actor as someone who can be a special adviser on entertainment or personal assistant to the governor. Many parents expect their children to do white collar jobs because they believe that's where the money is. But for the ladies, parents don't have much problems when they go into acting because they believe that no matter what happens, a man will marry her and take care of her. The expectations of parents are higher in their male children.
How did you venture into acting?
I started acting in the church when I was still in primary school, and my first drama was 'Passion of Christ'. I played the role of Jesus for the youth church. I continued from there because we used to have what we called Youth Convention yearly. At the convention, we were expected to present a drama, which I was part of. I joined a theatre group in my church which was owned by our artistic director, and we took our dramas to several secondary schools and theatres. I continued like that until I was noticed by the director who called me aside and asked, "Don't you think you can do better if you go into movies?" I told him that I would love to but didn't know how to go about it. He was kind enough to direct me on what to do. My first audition was very discouraging because of the crowd I met that day. In fact, I doubted my chances of being selected. But something inside me told me that there was something I could do that nobody else could. The long and short of the story is: I failed the audition and two other subsequent ones. But I kept going for auditions until I succeeded in landing my first role. And since then, I've been getting roles. Unfortunately, some of the jobs never saw the light of the day until 2003 when I acted a role in Labista which was a hit.
How many movies have you done?
It's difficult for me to remember how many movies I've done. Between 2003 and today, the only ones I can recall are the very challenging roles I played in movies like Labista, Never End, Last Chance. In Last Chance, I played the role of a female. And after Last Chance came Emotional Battle, Royal Messenger, Total War, Secret Adventure and A Time to Die, in that order.
You said Labista was your first hit. What role did you play?
In Labista, I played a strange role. We were three friends in the movie and the father of one of us was killed by his brother who is also a lecturer on our campus. So we had to avenge the death of our friend's father. It was brutal.
On entering into the movie industry, what were your challenges?
There were too many challenges then-too many people wanted to become actors. We were all ready to perform, and I must say that we were all gifted and talented. So, whenever we went for audition, there was always this challenge of "Ah! Can I make it?"
But at a point, we developed confidence in ourselves and realised that there's something unique about each of us. And along the line, we agreed to go back and train ourselves to become professionals in our different areas of strength. That was how the comedians pulled out from acting. They discovered they could do better with the microphone. So, they moved on. And for those of us who are fair in complexion, we felt we could play the role of lover boys and we concentrated on that.
And for those of us with hard looks, and could play the role of criminals, we concentrated on that. So, we all pitched in our areas of specialisation. And there was no fear anymore and competition. Whenever a script is written and the director is casting his characters, it becomes easy to say Mr A or B will play this particular role.
Recently you entered for Realme, a TV reality show. What is it all about?
The show coming up soon on your screens is meant for Nollywood celebrities. The programme will showcase actors/actresses living in the same house for 21 days. They'll not be acting but will live out their lives styles real. I think the show is aimed at letting viewers see the real Nollywood acts in their true colours. Some people still do not know that we live like other persons.
Do you see yourself surviving the eviction process?
Why not? I don't see any reason why I cannot be the winner.
So what was growing up like?
My growing up was not smooth but very interesting because I didn't grow up on the Island. I grew up in Agege, "the main ghetto" but it was fun. The very first time I went to Victoria Island as a child, I saved the paper of the things I ate in my pocket and as soon as I got to Agege, I threw everything on the floor. Back then, I thought I was deprived. But today, when I look back to where I'm coming from, I thank God I went through it. Those aje butters (spoiled children) who didn't go through the ghetto life wouldn't know what they missed. I tell you, they missed out a lot.
Apart from acting, what else do you do?
General show business. I'm a full time entertainment person. I'm into events promotion, consultancy but
entertainment is basically what I do.
How much of your bills has acting paid?
All my bills at least for the past seven years. The second time I left this country for Europe, I paid all my bills (accommodation, feeding etc) from my own account through acting. In fact, when I got to the Embassy and said I'm an actor who wants to go on vacation, I was not denied anything. Acting has been wonderful and if I have another opportunity (reincarnation), I'll want to be an actor.
How did your fans receive you abroad?
I never knew that I was that big until I got to the airport. The kind of reception I got was alarming. I was thinking my visit to London was going be a very quiet one. But I was amazed at what I got. There's this celebrity attitude fans have towards you over there. You see, people come around you with so much love. They want to celebrate everything you do, and I felt excited.
And since I came back from that trip, I've learnt to be more aware of what I do because people are watching from everywhere.
And your female fans?
I was very careful with all their smiles because some of them could be fake, and I didn't want anybody to accuse me of any harassment or rip me off in anyway. I've heard so many tales about people falsely accused. I was very careful with the ladies. So, I was able to scale through scandals.
But we heard you impregnated somebody in London, how far?
(Laughter) Ha... There was nothing like that.
What is your philosophy of life?
Life is beautiful and there's nothing anybody can do about it. It's either you want to enjoy the beauty of life or you leave it . But you can't change the beauty of life.
What's your best moment?
Wao! My best moment is yet to come. I'm still looking forward to my best moment.
Have you had any embarrassing moment as an actor?
Yes. The one that happens very often is from relations, neighbours and old school friends. For example, a lady ran to me one day in Abuja shouting, "Leo - o!" And she almost pushed me down. But I didn't recognise her. So, I just said, " hi" and the lady blew up. "Ah - ah! Leo, na me you dey speak English for? Oh, because say you be star, na im make you dey speak English for me." Before I could say any other thing, she just said, sorry.. oh Mr Star and walked away. She created a scene for me and I was embarrassed because it happened in a public place. It may be true that I knew her but I didn't remember her.
So what I do now is when people walk up to me shouting like that, I'll just jump up and shout back, whether I remember the person or not.
I'll only talk more if the person takes time to ask if I remember him or her. If not, I'll just celebrate you the same way you are celebrating me so that we don't embarrass ourselves.
Who's your kind of woman?
My kind of woman has to be a very private person. Because both of us can't be on the street. She has to be a homely person that knows what the home is all about. Because I want to raise a family, not just children. Since I'm ready a public person, I want a private woman for a wife. I don't allow people to visit my home because I see the home as a very sacred place where I can rest and commune with God. I want a woman who'll see the home from my perspective.
Have you seen her, or you still searching?
Well I believe I've found her but I'm not sure she knows that yet.
How many movies have you been able to do this year?
I just finished my third movie. The speed has been slow because of little fracas which we had in Nollywood, which has just been resolved. Right now everything is picking up again.
And what was this fracas all about?
Change is the only thing that's constant in life, and for that change to come through, some inconveniences will have to follow it. Like Governor Fashola is working on Lagos roads, you'll notice that a lot of persons have been inconvenienced but in the end everything, will be fine.
In Nollywood, we're trying to have a change, as per how more of our movies will be distributed and accountability for these movies. And there was no proper understanding of that change until recently when seminars on why this change will have to take place was taught like a course in the university. Right now, everybody understands the need for that change.
Some people thought it was linked to the presidency of AGN...
No, it's not an AGN thing. It's between censors board and marketers (distribution network, licence, production, etc).