At that point in time, I was working with up and coming directors. Don’t forget that before this time, I was one of the few directors with experience. I was not just practicing, I had gone to university to perfect it. Most of the directors like Chico Ejiro and Mathias Obahiagbon didn’t study Theater Arts. I actually had an edge at that time. Even before I did my first film as a director, I was what we called assistant director, creative director. In fact, I popularized that term them. Yet, I have been directing before that time. Don’t forget I directed Ripples. I took part in a lot of jobs. I did Onome, Daybreak, Silent Night.
You are better known as an actor. Between acting and directing which is your first love?
It’s strange that most people know me as an actor. I was a director in Ripples by 1988, 89 and 90. It was in 1997 when I won Best Actor for Mortal Inheritance that this acting stuff preoccupied the minds of people. I have done more directing in my career than acting. When Enugu was the hub of production, I was always there directing films for producers. I directed films for almost all the popular marketers back in the days. I did quite a lot. At one time, I used to boast I was the only actor, who has combined the awards of Best Director and Best Actor.
Talking about directing and acting, how do you juggle the two without conflict?
It has become one of the experiences of Nollywood. I am not the only one in this. If you look around, there is Zack Orji, who acts and directs. Obi Osotule is a director, producer and marketer. Zeb Ejiro is a writer, producer. Chico Ejiro is a producer, marketer and director. There are a lot of multi-talented artistes in Nigeria. And our environment contributes essentially to this. So, people have honed their skills in this direction. So, it’s not as challenging as people think.
What does it really take to be a good director?
To be a good director, you must have a great depth of understanding. You must understand the character, the story and the mood in the film. You must also know the administrative, creative and technical arm of movie production. You should be guiding people, who are the experts in this area to bring their skills to bear on the particular script you are doing. God directors are very intelligent people, who are able to convert simple words into gripping sequences.
Why do some directors fail?
A lot of directors, especially in Nollywood, think directing is a matter of pointing cameras and shooting and getting the angles right. But that will only get you to a limited level. Understanding th story, the technology and the concept of what you are doing helps you to do a better production. There are a lot of production values we overlook. A director should insist that those values are met.
What is the greatest challenge facing Nigerian director?
They don’t have enough room to showcase their latent. Funding also affects the quality of technology that is available for their production. I have always believed we have outstanding directors that can compete favourably anywhere in the world but they are handicapped by the kind of budget and level of technology they employ. It is not for lack of know-how that our films are what they are. It is basically for lack of funding. Sometimes, funding can change your plan. Again, sometimes people hurry to produce a movie while compromising the quality of their job.
What do you look out for when directing a movie?
There are too many things to mention. It is important to check how strong the story is, characters, what you intend to achieve through the story which guides you on how you want to shoot it.
Have you had cause to reject a script on account of any of these deficiencies?
Yes, of course. I have rejected so many scripts.
We learnt you are aspiring to lead the Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN), what inspired your interest?
We are on the threshold of change. We are in a position where the industry is just about to be reborn. We have done so many years of what I term experimentation. And the time is ripe for Nollywood to move to the next level. I think a lot of things need to be done about this. People know me, I will leave no stone unturned to achieve all we need to do to move the industry forward. People know that I have never been materialistic. So, the risk of corruption in the office is minimal.
Apart from your near zero tolerance one corruption, what other edge do you have over the other aspirants?
First, I am the only one amongst them, who went to school to study this (directing). But over the years, we have all equally been trained on the job. And I already have an edge even in that training. Another thing going for me is the background of my family. I have been there from tradition to tradition. For instance, I worked under Andy Amanechi. I have also worked with about 60 per cent of directors in Nigeria. I have benefited from the old school, so to speak. I also happen to be an actor, which is a plus. Without sounding immodest, I have the ability to reach out to people at all levels. My contemporaries are actually the ones in position of authority, power and influence in the country. I can talk into the Senate to see my classmates. I can walk into the House of Reps and even the Presidency and see people I have worked with. For istance, Reuben Abati, Presient Jonathan’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity is my colleague. He studied Theatre Arts. In those days, we were classmates although he was in a different university, we often met back then. And I can name several people, who matter in the university. Don Pedro Obaseki is also my contemporary. We need such contacts to run a guild like ours.
When is the election holding?
The election is on September 2, 2011.
What has been the response of your colleagues to your DGN presidential interest?
It has been tremendous, I tell you. I believe I will make it.
How is family like?
Family life has been challenging. I know where you are going, although you are pretending you don’t know what you are asking. I have had a marriage that met with challenges. Today, although separated from my wife, who also carries one of my legacies, Inside Out. I did Inside Out at a time it was impossible even for TV stations to sustain live talk shows like that. AIT tried it after we started, and they have gone down. MITV tried something like that, it lasted for about a year or so, and it was over. But Inside Out has been there before and even after the break-up.
So, what’s your relationship with Agatha Amata right now?
Yes, we have had challenges. But we are friends today. I thank God for that, we talk all the time.
How often do you see your kids?
I see them regularly. It might interest you to know that my son also plays in my football club. That is All Stars International Football Club of Nigeria. Just last week, the Lagos State governor saw him and wanted him to join his football academy.
The story in town is that you and Agatha may reconcile any moment from now?
My answer to your question is that reconciliation is a thing you leave in the Hands of God. We have been separated for many years and a lot of water has gone under the bridge. We have been friends for many years. In a couple of years, the quarrel was over. We became friends and then separated. And that is still the situation.
What if God touches her heart…
It’s left to men to speculate and God to perform His destiny. So, everything is in the Hands of God.
What even happened to Ibinabo Fiberesima, who had a daughter for you years back?
Ibinabo has a daughter for me. She is supposed to have been there for my declaration but they all have their commitments.
Do you have issues with Ibinabo?
No, I don’t have issues with Ibinabo. We are friends. We even spoke yesterday. She said she might be coming from Port Harcourt. Man proposes, God disposes.
We wish you all the best as you run for DGN Presidency.
Thank you very much.
*This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, August 23, 2011