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One of the most naturally gifted actor the Nollywood has ever produced, Ernest Obi spoke with Orji Onyekwere on why he has not been acting for sometime now and his new found love. You’ve been off the screen for a while, what have you been doing?I didn’t go off the screen, I just diversified and I am mainly into producing and directing now. I mainl...
One of the most naturally gifted actor the Nollywood has ever produced, Ernest Obi spoke with Orji Onyekwere on why he has not been acting for sometime now and his new found love.
You’ve been off the screen for a while, what have you been doing?
I didn’t go off the screen, I just diversified and I am mainly into producing and directing now. I mainly changed focus but once in a while when I get a good script, because people still come, they say they want me to feature in their movie, but again the script would not have to be the conventional love story etc. I think one has got to a point where you say it’s either a good script or you don’t do.
Why the change of focus? Was it because of competition?
Like I earlier said, it just has to do with fulfillment. The kind of challenges I wanted as an actor in terms of script were not coming, it is still the same kind of scripts and stories that were coming out.
So because I don’t believe in sitting down and complaining, since I majored in directing, I could go back and work on scripts and interpretation.
The movie “Rattle Snake” shot you into limelight, how were you able to fit into character?
I will not say Rattle Snake shot me into limelight, I don’t know which of the movies, but I could give some credit to “Glamour girls” where I washed a lady’s panty. That stucked to peoples memory. Back to ‘Rattle Snake’, it was a good script directed by Amaka Igwe. I think the environment in which we worked was very conducive because we worked like a family. We shot that movie for almost a year. We will go off and come back and it was not all about money. It was about dedication and whatever role you were playing you become and integral part of that role.
Why do you think the zeal is no more there and the emphasis has been shifted to money?
It has dropped to about 40% from my own observation because then if you get a script you want to read the script and start working on the interpretation. But now, I have seen a situation where an actress comes on your set and she has not read the script and she asks you, ‘wetin the script talk about? And I said okay you go back to the hotel, I will work with you tomorrow and sometimes the person you’re working with will say she is here now, lets continue and I don’t allow that because I want her to understand the script then we can talk. Yes, if you don’t do it that way you will find out that the person is only coming there to download for you what she did on another movie, that is interpretations. That’s why you have an actor in ten movies and he is rendering his lines the same way, no difference because he had not had time to work on character and interpretation.
Which of the movies gave you a tough challenge?
‘Atrocity’ where I played Pete Edochie’s son and Franca Brown was my step mother. It was emotionally touching because I went too deep into character and most times when I am asked to stop crying, the tears will continue flowing. I continued crying and it was a really torture from the first day to the end and I never got to sit back and watch the movie because the first time I tried, I started crying again.
Then ‘love affair’ which was directed by Lancelot Odua Imaseun. I played the role of ‘Pokamessiah’ and I was a school cultist. Another one is ‘Till Date’ where I have to run on the street naked. That movie gave me a big challenge because I didn’t get anybody to play that, so I have to play it myself. I will say that every job I have done is unique in its own way because I try as much as possible to interpret each of them differently. I have played practically everything, the mummy’s boy that crys a lot, angry youngman like in ‘Calamity’ a lot of people swore that I was into drugs or that I used to be on drugs. But I told them it’s not true because I have to understudy someone who had the drugs problem and I did that for three weeks before I shot the movie and that was my cousin. So, that was why it worked well for me. When I did the movie ‘Lamentations’ I played the role of a mad man. I have to understudy a mad man in my area for a week; I became very friendly with him a lot of people thought that probably he was my relative.
Do you usually go back to watch your movies and say ‘oh’ I should have done this or that?
Every time, its like when you’re on stage what Professor Ola Rotimi will call wait and get, whatever you give to the audience, that is the same way they will reply. They are like your mirror most times because the director sometimes let something pass.
Most of the time, you watch your movie and say, you should have done it this way or that way. I take out time to watch them because I am my greatest critic; I look at them and say, just in case I get anything similar I don’t repeat the same mistake again.
Most of the time you find yourself in roles where you have to cry, how do you get into character?
(Smiles) funny enough, I am actually an emotional person and when I am really tensed up I cry.
Up till now?
Oh… yes, it makes it easy for me because that is the only way I can let it out when I am tensed up. Again I am temperamental, it is a two way thing, its either I keep it in there and explode or I let it go.
Sometimes, when I watch things like movies on television, I cry. People who know me will tell you that I am extremely stubborn and I can get down when I was younger if you say fight, I am there. I cry for example, when you see a child who needs help but nobody wants to help, I cry because I can’t afford to help.
Would you think of coming back on screen because I know, a lot of your fans are missing you?
Like I said if I get a good script like I did one early this year ‘Golden Axe’ because they called me and said the director insisted on me. That’s Andy Amenechi and I went there, it wasn’t for the money. I read the script and I was thrilled. He asked me if I have read the script, and I told him yes and he asked me how much do I want and I told him to give me what he had and he was shocked I did it for the passion, not the money I wanted to do the job. Sometimes I direct movies and they insist I must act too. It’s not as if I don’t like money.
Are you a stage person?
Oh-yes I started from the stage. A lot of people run from the stage because there is no much money on it. My first love is the stage, when you talk about the passion. When you are on stage it’s as if you are in a different world entirely but again that’s the problem. Here they don’t really pay those on stage very well, sometimes they just do it for the love of theatre. They really don’t get much from it; you have to pay your bills.
So who is Ernest Obi?
(Smiles) I am a very down to earth, unassuming and very social to a fault because they will tell you if you needed somebody to listen to you, go to Ernest but sometimes it’s not too good because they take me for granted. I am nice to a fault, but I am learning not to be too nice.
I am from Ukpor Ebe, Nnewi South Local government Anambra and a very proud Igbo man and I am a traditional man but do not believe in taking life. I am a Christian, a bible believer not an addict church believer.
I am married and have two kids, Anesthesia and Silvia, they live in England. Relatively, I am happy because nobody can be 100% happy in Nigeria.
What was growing up like?
It was fun, it was stressful and choking. My late dad was comfortable, may be that was why he married many wives. Conservatively, my mum will know better because she was the one that will arrange the things they will use in marrying the other wives. My father will tell her, you need somebody to help you, you are like a mother now and she will say ‘I have heard you’, (laughs) we had about 7 women go through our family as wives.
Any childhood pranks you can remember?
Oh yes (smiles) I think it has to do with acting because in my house they call me “Photo” because I always love watching movies. I am glued to the television, once you buy me bread and a bottle of Coca-Cola. I am addicted to Coca-Cola; I don’t drink beer or smoke.
I started watching movie when I was small and I used to play the pranks of passing out and you watch everybody running around. I will jump up and start laughing and I think it was from there my love for acting started, I did this like thrice or twice and it worked.
Tell us more about your education.
I went to Onward Primary School in Oduduwa which is probably the first primary school in Surulere. By then we were leaving at Aguda. From there I went to Baptist Academy, Ikorodu road, I stopped school and joined my father in business before I went to University of Ife, where I read Dramatic Arts in Ife, there I met Professor Ola Rotimi.
A lot of your colleagues have been involved in a couple of scandals but it seems Ernest has built a fence around himself?
Ernest is one of the most imperfect human beings on earth. I have made my mistakes and I’ve learnt my lessons and I think it made me stronger. I keep to myself. If I have light or otherwise, I could put on the generator and watch movies and I can stay in doors for two weeks. If I feel like drinking wine I buy wine here in Winmis Hotel and take it home and I cook my own food.
I’ve had enough share of the scandal. Before I stopped talking to the press there was a story about me last two years. They said I went to Warri to shoot a movie and one of my fans came to my hotel room and I raped her and they put my picture. Luckily, for me I was on location in Lagos shooting a movie and for six months, I have not left Lagos and that edition was a new edition and it was my wife that picked up the magazine and showed me the thing on set. When I called the guy he said, it was a mix up, that it was one other Ernest it was not even a rape case.
I am an open person, I don’t regret anything I do. I can tell you about my family freely but if I don’t want to tell you, its none of your business.
Any embarrassing moment?
Oh…it happens everyday. Somebody calls you by 12 am and say “Ernest I can’t sleep.” Who are you and she will say just a fan. Somebody call you and say, Ernest I am imagining you on top of me.” Another person calls you and say “Ernest I heard your are endowed.
Two days ago a girl called me and said Ernest can I come to your room, I told her I was in my house but she said I was in my hotel room and that I am in Presidential Hotel Port-Harcourt, that her mother said she was with me yesterday with Genevieve Nnaji, Ramsey and I told her I was not in Port Harcourt. She said, why are you lying and she got nasty. Married women call you and say some nasty things too.
Do you have a movie hero (foreign)?
Mel Gibson- you know he has a short coming, slow speech but he is good, a fantastic actor. Has now diversified into directing.
Uncle Olu Jacobs, passionate actor. He wins my heart. I love working with him. His wife Joke Sylva, Clarion Chukwura, Pete Edochie, he’s got charisma.
You said something about being a traditionalist, tell us more about it?
Yes I am from a traditional background and I am also a titled man, my father gave me the honour of the highest title in our land. They call it, Ikwa Amuma, it’s almost like a Chief priest. Its the first time I am telling anybody. You don’t get it, it comes to you, it was an extremely expensive thing to do and he did it for me.
I am from a traditional heritage, so I look on things from traditional perspective, that’s why even if I am not married, I won’t jump into bed with any woman or just do one night stand.
Filmography: Daytime Lovers, Lake of Fire, Red Rose, Glamour Girls, Blue Sea, Ungrateful, Aba Riot, Days of Glory, Dying Days, Floating Feelings, Last Card, Love Affair, Love Crime, Masquerade in Church, Master of The Game, My Angel, Never Too Late, Restless Mind, Redeemed, All I have, The Soul That Sinned etc.