Ejike Okoye is a seasoned actor who has made his mark in the Nollywood industry. In this interview with Yetunde Oladeinde he goes down memory lane to recall how he started as a kid, memorable moments and training for film makers.
Tell us your passion for movies. What was the inspiration at the beginning?
I did too many stage plays in my church when I was a kid (my elementary school days). Fact remains that stage acting is harder than film making. On stage, one has to be at least 95% accurate because people are watching you live while in movie making one can always cut and do it over until it’s good; also editing helps in film making. Other kids looked up to me, they wanted to be like me and I encouraged them to be part of the stage play but most of them shied away. When I played the role of Samuel in church, it attracted a lot of commendations. People were amazed at my performance. I believe that’s what led me into acting when I became an adult.
What were some of the memorable moments?
I have good and bad memorable moments in the industry. I have had uncountable good memories since I joined the industry. I can recall when we shot the movie “Odum” produced by Amaco Productions in Oguta, Imo State. That was my first time going to Oguta Lake. While we were on the boat going to location, we passed where Ulasi River and Oguta Lake met, but couldn’t mix together. It appeared as if there was a thin line dividing the two waters. I learnt about Oguta Lake in elementary and secondary school. Seeing it was something I don’t think I will ever forget.
I had the worst day of my life when we shot the movie “Slaves” produced and directed by Chico Ejiro in Ezillo town in Abakiliki. One of my best friends, Emeka Ugo, whom I introduced to the movie industry, lost his life in the process though he was on set when the incident happened. He was actually drowned in Ezillo River. Watching somebody drown, especially somebody close to you and you couldn’t do anything to save the situation, can be truly devastating. It was really a bad day for me. What was the experience during COVID-19 lockdown last year?
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a devastating loss of life but it has also devastated people’s sources of income. The lock down messed everything up. Due to the deadly nature of coronavirus we didn’t want to take chances. one has to be alive to be able to work and make a living. Nollywood was greatly impacted that every production was put on hold to help curb the spread.
What does being in the sector mean to you?
Being an artiste and part of Nollywood means a lot to me. I have a passion for acting. Nollywood reshaped my life in too many ways. It brought out the professionalism in me. I had the opportunity to work in a fast paced environment as an actor which was an added advantage to what I have become today. Sometimes, it would appear as if you are in a boot camp. There are certain things I may want to do especially in public but when I remember my profession I take a step back. In Nollywood, you get to learn different cultures. You get to know and interact with people of different cultures, tribes and background whereby we learn a lot from each other. Film making is a make-believe business. When you play certain roles in movies, you get to know and experience a particular life style. You are portraying a character, for instance, when playing the role of a CEO of a company, a criminal, native doctor and so on. If you are locked up in a cell or put on handcuffs in a movie, you get to know how it feels to be locked up in real life.
What do you consider as the turning point in your career?
Turning point is a critical time in our lives when we make big decisions that could change our life. If I can remember it was right before I got admission into the university that I was invited to an audition which I didn’t want to attend due to nervousness. Eventually he convinced me and I attended. I secured a role in the movie ‘SCHOOL OUTLAWS’ instantly. After the movie was concluded I made a decision to give it all I got. That was my turning point.
What advice do you have for young people who want to go into the sector?
Focus on what you can control. spend your energy on the things you can control like preparing for an audition, handling rejection, developing your character and learning your lines. Sometimes, it’s more important to focus on how to react to a situation than the situation itself. Don’t worry about what the casting director is thinking.
Many people contact me on Facebook stating that they want to be like me, that I should put them through in Nollywood. The one million dollar question I have asked them was, have you attended any audition? The answers were usually ‘no’ or other flimsy excuses. Movie roles are not handed on a silver platter. You got to work for it.
What are some of the new things that you are working on?
I am working on some movies and many more offers have been coming.
What about the other things that occupy your time?
Family and business occupy my time. Family comes first in everything we do. I spend time with my beautiful wife and wonderful kids. Above all I spend time with God.
What changes would you like to see in the industry?
Better pay can’t be achieved without government involvement. I say government involvement in the sense that they can help the industry tackle the issue of piracy. Producers loose a lot of money to piracy and thereby actors can’t be well paid. It goes both ways more money into the pockets of producers, more money into the pockets of actors.
Also government funding and or grants would go a long way in helping us shoot better movies with better equipment, better post production and promotion which would attract better patronage from across the world and that means more money to the producers as well as actors. Also there should be better working environment. Irregular power supply is also a major challenge I will like our government to address. Use of generators usually impact on the quality of sound among other aspects of production. If there’s steady supply producers may not worry about added cost and time due to use of generators. Government could build film villages in each geo political zone for the entertainment industry in general. I recommend regular training for filmmakers especially hands on and field training. There is the need to further train actors and production staff to develop better understanding of the job.