You cannot mention Nollywood without remembering the people who started the industry. Kenneth Okonkwo starred in ‘Living in Bondage’ which became the first Nigerian blockbuster movie that kicked off the Nigerian cinema industry. Right from its inception in 1992, Kenneth Okonkwo never stopped being a front-runner in the wave-making industry, which is the second largest film industry in the world.
Last December, Kenneth added 4 (four) Awards to his many Awards. Read here:
In this exclusive interview with Diamond Celebrities, Kenneth takes us to his world of entertainment…
BY Delia Innoma
DC: Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Okonkwo: My name is Barrister Kenneth Okonkwo. I was born on the 6th of November 1968 to the family of Chief Ozioko Francis Okonkwo and Chief (Mrs) Beatrice Okonkwo from Nsukka, EnuguState, Nigeria. I’m an actor and a lawyer.
DC: Can you give us a brief run down on your history in the field of entertainment.
Okonkwo: I had a flair for acting from childhood. This prompted my joining the dramatic clubs in primary and secondary schools. During my NYSC, in our orientation camp, I was the actor that opened the acting stage with a song – Old Pirates (Redemption Song) by Bob Marley. I also acted several other stage dramas during the camping period. After my Youth service, I went for audition in Zeb Ejiro’s Production in Lagos, after which, owing to my perfomance, they created a role ‘Captain John Mark’ for me in their soap opera ‘Ripples’ to act with their best stars then. From there I was invited to act in ‘Living in Bondage’, the first movie that started Nollywood. The rest they say is history.
DC: Which movies have you featured in and how many are they?
Okonkwo: About 150 movies which include Living in Bondage, Taboo, Betrayal, Abused, World Apart, To Love a Thief, Culprits, Price of Hatred, Oganigwe, Izaga, King of Kings etc and more recently Dumebi -The dirty girl, Tears of Madness, Weeping Soul, Arrangee Mama etc.
DC: Have you ever forgotten your lines during filming?
Okonkwo: Yes. From time to time every artist forgets his/her lines. It is natural. It shows you are not God but man. Again if you lose concentration, you may forget your lines. If the actor you are acting with misses his/her lines, it may affect you. The most important thing is when you miss your lines, you concentrate, get it back and continue.
DC: What is something that you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out as an actor?
Okonkwo: That when you become popular, you have fans who, unknowing to you, regard you as their role model and you must put them into account in how you live your life. This means you can no longer be yourself. You do not have a private life anymore. People want to know what you eat, drink, who you see, talk to etc. What other people do and get away with, you will do and will not get away with it.
DC: Have you rejected roles before; if yes, which roles were they and why?
Okonkwo: Yes. I am very selective with the scripts I receive. Because God used me to start Nollywood as an actor in the movie ‘Living in Bondage’, I always feel that I have to keep that standard to make people maintain their interest and love for Nollywood. This encourages me to choose only the best scripts that will add value to me as an actor and to the industry in general. I do not want to mention the ones I rejected because they were rejected in the first place because they will not add any value. So they will not add any value to this interview.
DC: What are you working on now?
Okonkwo: Movies, wonderful movies. I may not be able to tell you their titles because movie titles these days are given to movies when they are finished.
DC: What‘s your secret of staying successful in Nollywood till now?
Okonkwo: Firstly, the grace of God. A lot of success in entertainment comes from the quality of being likeable. Likeability comes from favour from God which is a gift from God. One has to pray hard for this gift. Secondly, one has to work hard. Faith alone without works is dead. Acting is both physically and intellectually stressful. You need to have a good grasp of your lines by reading your scripts very well and be physically fit to play lead roles satisfactorily and this requires hard work. Thirdly, you need humility to be able to work very well with everybody. A movie by nature carries a lot of crowd. If you are not humble, you cannot work well with others and you need good chemistry with others to come out good as an actor. Fourthly, one needs to be patient especially when one is a beginner. As a new actor, you must realize that building a name or making money through acting takes a while and you need patience and consistency to make it. These are some of the attributes that helped me remain successful in Nollywood till date.
DC: On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is the best, how would you rate Nollywood and why?
Okonkwo: I will rate Nollywood 4 (four). Reason being that at our young age we are presently the second largest film producing country in the world, yet in terms of quality we still need to step up our game. It is to our credit that we have dislodged Nigerians’ appetite for foreign movies and have stimulated Nigerians’ interest in our local movies through which we portray ourselves positively to the world and letting them know who we are. Some good marks for us.
DC: You’re also a lawyer; what challenges do you face practising two professions?
Okonkwo: I am not practising two professions at the same time. Acting started for me as a hobby and has remained so since then. I was already working when I did ‘Living in Bondage’ and I was already a known actor when I went back to study law. When we started Nollywood, it was still too tender for any very serious-minded person to take it as a profession. But now it has grown to a level that younger ones can adopt it as a profession.
DC: If you had the choice, what three actors in Nollywood would you really want to work with?
Okonkwo: I might not be able to make that choice. Reason being is that as the first actor, I was there before most of them so I see them as my younger brothers and sisters who love what we started and wish to be part of it. I love them equally and give them equal opportunity to excel with me. I teach them all I know on set and pray for all ofreciprocate my gesture by being respectful and caring to me. I work well with all of them. The ones that do not have the natural talent to act and cannot improve I ask that they be dropped for the benefit of the movie
DC: What’s your aspiration going forward?
Okonkwo: My aspiration is to partake in the making of the best movies in Nollywood. Groom as many younger ones as I can. As a lawyer, defend Nollywood as much as I can both legally and otherwise. Use some of my earnings for humanitarian purposes
DC: What are the advantages and worst parts of being an actor?
Okonkwo: The main advantage is that it makes you famous, known and recognisable wherever you go. People like to associate with you. All doors open for you. But this advantage can only be possible if you are God fearing with integrity and a good character. The worst part is that you have no privacy anymore. With fame comes a lot of temptation. If you are not God-fearing, you are bound to make a lot of mistakes and the mistakes will be highly publicised that if care is not taken this will rubbish whatever goodwill you have acquired through fame. The best way, therefore, to enjoy stardom is to surrender your life to God, live a holy life in order to avoid unnecessary scandals.
DC: What advice would you give up and coming actors on how to be successful?
Okonkwo: First, they must trust in God and pray to Him to succeed. The best anybody can do for you is to give you a role but nobody can act for you, nobody can give you favour. These gifts come from God. Learn from those actors who have been there before you. Ask them how they succeeded and try to replicate their success. Avoid their mistakes. Be hardworking, humble, patient and tolerant.
DC: What was your reaction to the Amaa award?
Okonkwo: I cherish my award as a Pillar of Nollywood by Amaa. To be regarded as a legend in your profession in your lifetime is a great honour. It reminded me of our humble beginning when nobody gave us a chance, when we slept on hard floor after the day’s shoots, when we were not paid much but continued for the passion of the job only to be recognised and accepted as a legend 20 years after. I felt vindicated and satisfied that I made the right decision to be an actor and all the sacrifice was worth it.
DC: So many people are asking if you are married; are you married?
Okonkwo: Yes I am married
DC: How long have you been married now?
Okonkwo: About 6 years now.
DC: Thanks for talking to Diamond Celebrities
Okonkwo: Thank you too.