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“Celebrity is about humility and responsibility to the community. An actor should be able to stay at the level of the general public who created their image.” Dark, tall and handsome actor King Joe Okechukwu comes one in a million. Far from the clichés that come with beauty and fame, he has managed to remain humble, committed and true to his art...
“Celebrity is about humility and responsibility to the community. An actor should be able to stay at the level of the general public who created their image.”
Dark, tall and handsome actor King Joe Okechukwu comes one in a million. Far from the clichés that come with beauty and fame, he has managed to remain humble, committed and true to his art, his community and his fan base.
Can you introduce yourself in your own words?
My name is Joseph Chidi Okechukwu, I was born in 1975 nearby Enugu in the South Eastern part of Nigeria. I followed my primary and secondary education in Nigeria and studied International Leadership at a University in Ghana.
Are you married?
I got married in December 2003 and we are blessed with a son called Arnold.
You hardly ever appear on the covers of the movies you feature in. Why?
This issue is getting me increasingly worried, I even quarreled with a producer about it. He later said that it was a mistake. Maybe it stemmed from a lack of knowledge from my part, but I have found out that you have to lobby to be able to feature on the cover of a movie. You must be found “commercial” to be featured. I realized that I still have a lot to learn about being an actor.
You played the lead role in Rings of Fire and still you don’t feature on the poster. How does this affect your visibility?
I was shocked to find out that I was left out. Like I just said, you have to do certain things sometimes to be featured. Call it ego or pride, I have absolutely no intention to go out there and run after people so that I can be featured on the cover of my own movie. I have way more important things to do with my time.
Still some producers will put your face on a poster without any problems and some won’t. Without a doubt, this is getting in the way of my visibility and exposure as an actor.
You are cast a lot as a pastor while you look like a supermodel.
(laughs) I started out in 1997 in the movie “Rituals” in which I played a cult leader. After that I played a pastor and my performance was found so convincing that for a while I kept playing that part. You know when I speak in tongues in the role of a pastor, I am really doing just that.
It is also the problem in Nollywood, if an actor’s talent is revealed playing a certain type of characters, it sticks with them. Look at Patience Ozokwor in the part of the wicked mother-in-law!
In 2003, I decided to break away from that cliché and took other parts to show the other side of my talent.
n Beyond Belief you played a pastor who was also an armed robber and you danced your way through the movie. How did you prepare for the dance part?
It came naturally even though I must admit that I trained in the mirror. I take my parts very seriously and I come well prepared. I rehearse properly before the camera starts rolling.
In Falling Apart there were some pretty steamy love scenes with Eucharia Anunobi-Ekwu.
(laughs) When I read the script, those scenes were spelled out very simply. The director re-wrote those love scenes on the set. As a professional I had to do what my character was supposed to do, so I did it.
You were already married at the time. What did your wife think?
She read the script and just advised me to be careful.
How do you approach love scenes?
The culture here in Nigeria is very different from the Western World’s. You have to be cautious when you get involved in these kinds of situations.
You have to play it safe and not get involved too much because a love scene can very quickly look like pornography and nobody wants that. I now make sure that a love scene in the script remains what it is on the set.
Love scenes have to be decent because criticism is very sharp around here and an artist can very quickly get a bad name.
You lifted up Eucharia!
(laughs) The director gave that instruction so I did it!
There was a phenomenal chemistry between Eucharia and you. Would you have had the same with any other actress?
Absolutely. It is the work you do as a professional and it is your responsibility to make it work with whoever you are playing with.
In Government House you were Onyeka Onwenu’s toyboy. She’s a legend in Nigeria, were you impressed with her?
As a much younger person I was surely impressed. When I was growing up and she was so famous, I wished I were a man so that I could marry her! Just to tell you the pressure that I had playing opposite her.
I cherished that opportunity and there was a natural flow between us. She was extremely gracious, we talked a lot and she offered precious advice, I really loved it.
You have the looks of a supermodel. You are tall, dark and handsome. How do you cope with the ladies attention?
(laughs) You know I hear that quite often, but sometimes I check my mirror and I don’t really understand what the fuss is all about!
I am of course flattered with the attention from my fans, but I am extremely careful. I am married and I have a family.
I always try to be nice and appreciative of the attention directed to me, but I have to admit that the pressure is there.
I get phone calls from people I don’t even know, people I surely didn’t give my phone number to. But I guess it comes with the territory and I have to learn to cope with it.
Tell us about Rings of Fire.
That project was challenging and it really tried me out. I cried a lot in that movie and those tears were real, they were coming from my heart. One minute, I had to cry on cue and the next I had to do something totally different. That takes a lot out of you. I had to rise to the occasion and prove my best, and I believe I did just that.
In Indecent Desire Justus Esiri bribes you to betray your best friend and frame up an innocent girl. How difficult is slipping under the skin of a devious character?
It is a bit complicated, that part was complex. It was stressful because you go out there and do things your own conscience objects to. It wasn’t my best experience.
Who is your dream partner onscreen?
Emeka Ike is my dream partner on screen, I’m very comfortable with him. I haven’t played that much opposite him, but even when the camera is rolling, it doesn’t quite feel like that. There’s this natural feeling between us that doesn’t make it feel like work.
What part would you never take?
This is the one thing I’m totally unable to do. I just can’t see myself strip in front of the camera.
Which movie do you consider your best work?
Rings of Fire. Absolutely. The part took a lot of emotions out of me and I really bonded with Ebere Okaro who was playing my mother. I really felt that she was my mother because I had to stand up for her most of the time and I cried a lot for her as well. I love that movie passionately.
And which one is your worst movie?
(laughs) Please allow me not to answer that question. I don’t want to vex anybody, I can’t answer that.
How do you cope with celebrity?
Celebrity can be synonymous to cocaine addiction if you don’t watch out. It takes a lot of mental discipline to deal with it and remain composed.
Humility is a huge issue because that’s what celebrity is all about to me. An actor should be able to stay at the level of the general public who created their image.
I strive to maintain a humble profile, otherwise you wind up living in a fantasy world, you are living a lie, an illusion.
Most celebrities really mess things up for themselves and when you see that people are trying to emulate them, it really makes you stop and think.
There is a girl who joined Nollywood just three years ago and today her life has completely spiraled out of control.
Does celebrity bring about responsibility?
Of course. You have to be serious and put your fame at the service of society. Use your celebrity to bring change and let things happen, don’t waste it.
A word of advice for upcoming artists?
You have to be yourself. Focus on the skills you need to do your job to the best of your abilities. Don’t get carried away by life in the fast lane, learn to be composed.
As the president of Nigeria, what would you do to curb tribalism and the war of the religions?
These are serious issues. The point of the matter is we have to try to find a common ground. A president is the president of everybody regardless of who they are or what they are. I think that mostly the things that are held dear to different groups have to be preserved, that’s the only way to keep the peace.
A closing word to your ladies fans?
I love them all and I am very appreciative of their love. I am a married man so we have to keep the relationship respectful and professional to the best of everybody’s interests.
Thank you very much. I am honoured you took time to talk to us.
The pleasure is all mine. Thank you.
Filmography: Rings Of Fire, Mr Ibu, Alice, Indecent Desire, Rituals, Beyond Belief, Falling Apart, Government House, Preacher's Wife