ONLY A FOOL WOULD SLEEP WITH ME TO GET A MOVIE ROLE
Why did you study Theatre Arts?
It was divine. The reason being that even at an early age of nine, I was stuck in the business of the arts.
But thought it was obvious that this was my business, I still wanted to study Law.
I recall vividly that when I was in Form Five, my Geography teacher told me that if I could relax, I was going to be one of the best lawyers Benin City had ever produced.
I was very vibrant, articulate and meticulous in the way I did my things. I was also extremely very poetic. When I was still in secondary school, I wrote a number of poems that were published.
So, how come you didn't follow your initial ambition of becoming a lawyer?
When I was in Form Three, I had a radio programme I was doing with the then Bendel Broadcasting Service. It was very popular. The programme had already put me in the limelight even as a secondary school boy. I was as good as a star.
But I thought what I had was just a gift; I still wanted to study Law.
What changed your mind?
Before I left secondary school, I had some friends who were corps members. Even as a non- corps member, I was a member of their drama troupe.
One of the corps members was a lawyer. I told him my ambition was to be a lawyer. He then told me there was no way I would be able to combine Law and drama. I was very disappointed. But I still insisted on studying Law.
As fate would have it, I had an excellent result in the JAMB exams. I got admission to study Law, but my WASC result was not released.
What then did you do?
That period of wanting to go and re-write GCE took me deeper into becoming a professional artiste. It was so exciting.
Some of my friends were eventually able to get me admission at UNIPORT to study Theatre Arts and I decided to take it. I knew it was divine orchestration.
Even when I was reading Theatre Arts, I wanted to concentrate more on directing, but I found myself a major in acting. But throughout my stay in school, I directed plays.
Even then, it would be difficult for anybody to say he was going to make a living from acting, we weren't popular then. Thank God, it was in our generation that actors became proud of what they were.
Since Nollywood came on board, we know you more as a director. Have you ever acted?
Yes. When I started, there was this doggedness and steadfastness in me. I wanted to be a director. The first film I made, I refused to produce it. I had to source for money and employ a producer. I wanted the credit of a director only.
I only act when I get disillusioned with an artiste on set. The other day, I cast somebody for a role as a pastor and he was misbehaving. There and then, I wore the costumes and played the part and I did it so well. Since then, people now call on me to act such roles for them in their movies.
I studied acting, but directing was my first love because I discovered early in life that I was cut out to be a manager of people. I am more of an actor's director, and not a director's actor.
I understand the basic elements of acting, so that when I am directing, it is easier for me. I don't practice 'do as I say' but 'do as I do'.
Many people do not have the patience to go through the cast and crew list after a movie has ended. Don't you feel bad that the people you make stars are more popular than you?
This is one of the most intelligent questions I have been asked in the course of my career. But what you are saying lies in the hands of those whose duty it is to critic movies. The press should be schooled enough in this area. It is their duty to sell those who are behind the camera, who have done well for that movie to be a success.
I have been at the forefront of clamouring for recognition, especially for those of us who have done well.
There are people who have gone beyond the surface. It is true that actors are very popular; it is a worldwide thing. But today, directors are dictating the pace. There are some directors in Nollywood who are known beyond the industry. Thank God I fall into that category, without trying to sound immodest. Consistency brings that.
You cannot go anywhere in the country and mention Chico Ejiro, Andy Amenechi, Teco Benson, Lancelot Imasuen and somebody would say they don't know them. These are people who have crossed the Rubicon and are operating on a certain tempo. I pray that we all have the strength to sustain that tempo where the success of a film would depend on the fact that we are the ones making the film.
Directors also need a form of packaging. Gone are the days when we feel that since we are not the actors people see, we can afford to dress or do whatever we like. That has been a major problem.
I choose what I wear. I take care of myself as much as I want. I drive the kind of cars I want and I even want to drive better ones. I have as much recognition as any artiste in the country. We are really getting appreciated now more than before.
Some artistes are stereotyped. Is this not as a result of director, who cast them in a particular role all the time?
If a good film is written and I audition an unknown face to play a role, the money I would have used to pay a known face, I would use that same amount to advertise for this new person. I brought this blue print some years ago, but nobody was ready to buy it from me. I thought it would be an avenue to create competition.
But this cannot even work here because the investors are more concerned with making profits.
As a filmmaker, I can go to any length to achieve what I want because, truly speaking, it is the artistic success of the film that comes first before the money.
I set out to do a good job without saying that if Miss A is not in the movie, it will not be a success.
Do you usually have problems with some of these 'big' stars?
No, not really. They also know that there are star cameramen, star directors and star production managers.
When KOK was picking up his AMAA award, he said, “Lancelot, the kind of abuse you gave me in the production of this movie, abuse me again so that I would be able to win another award.” I was touched.
There are some who feel that they are larger than life. We all operate on the same level. There are no-nonsense directors and I fall into that category, and these artistes know. You respect yourself and I respect you. I do not take nonsense, no matter who the actor may be.
We hear a lot about sexual harassment in the movie industry. Does it is still exist? We hear that directors and producers usually ask for sex from rookie actresses in exchange for roles.
I do not think there is anything like sexual harassment in the industry. A drowning man will always look for those to pull down along with him.
I challenge the person making such allegation to boldly come out and say which director/producer harassed her sexually.
Come to think of it, what of those who harass us? Some of them leave their homes with the mindset of coming to seduce a director in order to get a role.
The first thing you need is your talent.
Then again, they are in a hurry to become big stars.
Everybody wants to become Genevieve, Stella or Dakore; but they don't want to go through the rudiments these actresses went through.
I don't know how I would tell a lady to come and sleep with me so that I would put her in my movie. If you agree, then you are a fool. Anybody who says she is not a star today because of sexual harassment is lying. It is a ranting of the disgruntled, a very lousy excuse. There are big stars in the industry today. Chioma Chukwuka is one of them. Would she say she was harassed? Grace Amah, Dakore and the rest of them, they are big stars; who harassed them?
What ever these people did to get to where they are, go and do it and stop complaining. No matter how many people you sleep with, if you don't have the talent, you just don't have it.
How come you were not married all these while until recently?
It is not 'all these while'. I am not as old as people think. I was born 1971. It is just because by the grace of God, we were able to make a success in our chosen career at an early age.
I know myself. I knew I would one day get married and I told all those people asking me when I would be married to just wait. I finally found my size and I didn't waste any time in marrying her.
A lot of ladies are in your industry; did you have difficulty trying to pick a wife?
My wife is an accountant.
People didn't know I was going through the torment of looking for a wife. When I was growing up, I told myself I was never going to have a child outside wedlock. It was a principle that I kept. I could have as many girlfriends as I wanted, but there was a clear-cut mindset that I was not going to have a child outside wedlock.
As for marrying an artiste, I do not subscribe to same profession marriage. It didn't cross my mind to marry an actress. But had it been any of them struck my attention, I would have married her.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife for the first time in a vehicle. We were travelling from Benin to Lagos. I was just looking at her. I told myself, 'I fit marry dis one o.'
When we were about getting down, I asked her for her number and she gave me.
The next day, I asked her out for lunch and she obliged me. After that day, I never saw her again.
I was in America when I proposed to her. This is somebody I had just seen twice in my life. She banged the phone on me. She asked me how I could be proposing to her while I was in the US.
When I came back to Nigeria, immediately I switched on my phone as I landed, her call was the first to come in. That was how we started. It has been fun.
How many ladies did you break their hearts?
A lot, I must confess. It was not because I told them I would marry them and I did not. In fact, I never proposed to anybody in my life but my wife.
There were some ladies who wanted to take the driver's seat. I cannot tolerate that. I wanted to be the one to kneel down and beg a babe to marry me and not the other way round.
So many of them came, but it just didn't work out.
You have achieved quite a lot, what more can you ask for?
Without sounding immodest, I don't think I have started.