I must confess I had not seen much of Emeka Ike’s works before this interview. He was also in attendance at the recent Filmmakers’ Association of Nigeria, USA, awards and that event thrust upon me the opportunity to ask him a few questions without access to adequate research. I ended up winging it because I did not want to postpone the session.
That’s just to say if you feel this conversation could be a lot more than it is here, it is the interviewer’s fault for not being prepared. Maybe someday soon, we will bring you more of him. For now, this is the actor and Nigerian movie star Emeka Ike, loved by many, as interviewed by Sola Osofisan.
Sola Osofisan: Which was the first movie you acted in?
Emeka Ike: I starred in “Deadly Affair”. That was my first movie.
S.O.: That’s like what? 1996? 1994?
E.I.: About 10 years now?
S.O.: You’re old school. You’re an old hand in the industry. And what’s the most current one you just made?
E.I.: Honestly, I don’t know the most current film because I just work every week –
S.O.: The last one you just shot?
E.I.: What’s the title now…? There are several in the studio, over 15 movies made for several studios in Nigeria.
S.O.: I was leading up to this question: between “Deadly Affair” and now, how do you think you have changed as an actor? What has experience over the years taught you?
E.I.: I’m a better actor now than when I started. I have more confidence. I have more experience. I have more imaginative thinking and I also have better chances now than before, better opportunities. Things are getting better, things are already better.
S.O.: The halls go wild every time they call your name. How does that feel? What is it like having all these admirers?
E.I.: That’s the cost of hard work. You work hard, nature rewards you some way or the other, okay? Like I said at the Awards, I’d always wanted to come to the US, but my mother told me to work on myself. And that has brought me this far. For me, it’s like a dream come true…That I can come into America, not as a hustler, but like a prince. I can come into America and nobody is insulting me because I’m a Nigerian. Everybody is respecting me a valuable Nigerian, a respected Nigerian, a matured and reasonable Nigerian. It makes me feel good and I appreciate all my fans for all what they have been doing since we came.
S.O.: The reactions you have received from fans here in the US, is it the same as what you receive at home?
E.I.: I think its more “wow” than what I get at home. Home is also great. For me, my fans are great at home. You know there’s a biblical statement that says a prophet is respected but not in his home town… I’m respected in my town because of my personality, but the press, they’re not as… Like what is happening now, if a press man from Nigeria reports it, he’ll generally report that I poured a drink on my cloth (instead) of reporting all the good things that happened on stage, all the nice speeches and the better things that have happened to me way back in the hall. And that’s just the problem I have.
S.O.: So they will rather promote the “bad” side of it?
E.I.: I don’t know where they got that impression that the more scandalous, the better sale… I’m sure whoever trained most of them in these soft sells in Nigeria didn’t train them well. If you celebrate an artist, you open doors and opening doors means your magazine is also having a feel of the open doors. But they narrow themselves to that thinking of telling the whole world (that) you slept with this person, you slept with that person, you did this and that and that’s what they trivialize on.
I’m sure what’s happening today would have happened a long time if the Nigerian press had been up and doing. The Nigerian press would have made it happen their own way, but I think they have a wrong training, a wrong orientation about the whole thing. That orientation is the more scandalous, the better the sales for them and I think it’s a very wrong orientation.
S.O.: Does it matter that much to you what the press or anyone says of you?
E.I.: If you have given up your image for the screen, I don’t think such things should matter to you because now you’re in the public eye. Whatever they say, just make the best out of it.
S.O.: When you went into acting in ’93, you did know that was going to be part of the deal, right? The fact that once you become popular, there is no stopping it… You knew that, right?
E.I.: Yeah, I knew that all along. You can’t be a hero without so much gossip, hatred, and bias… So you just make up your mind how to take it. You get going, whatever you hear. In as much as you know you’re not what they’re saying, it just makes you feel if I’m not somebody, they won’t talk about me. If am a nobody, there would be no reason for somebody to spend sleepless nights writing about me.
S.O.: So which one is preferable now: being a “somebody” that they talk about or being in the background without being talked about? Which one would you prefer?
E.I.: Well, I prefer to be somebody and be talked about because the audience is opening up (and people now know) what we do is not really what we are, so when they talk about me, my audience have a mature sensibility and they know how to handle all that. It’s even giving them out as cheap-sell papers, but I’m okay with it… Whatever they say.
S.O.: So the fans always make up for it, no matter what they write?
E.I.: Yes, the fans are wonderful. You can see a big gift I just got from somebody here now… And that’s it. The smile they put on my face, the smile I put on their face, the way they hug you – please can I get a hug, can I get a peck, can I get your autograph… It’s enough to augment all the pains of the press out there in Nigeria or out here. It’s enough to augment whatever pain you’ve gone through in their hands.
S.O.: Yesterday when you received the FAN Award, you said something striking about your mother… I can’t remember exactly the words now. Are you close to your mother?
E.I.: I’m very close to my mother because she had me when she needed a boy. She had like five girls and you know what that is in Africa when you don’t have a boy. They needed me… they needed her to leave the house. And when I came, she loved me so much because she had to pray like Hannah in the Bible for a boy. It was like a revival crusade in the church then and five of them came for male children and they got it. They called them 1st Samuel, 2nd Samuel, 3rd Samuel… I’m 3rd Samuel. There are five of us with 4th and 5th Samuel.
So that continued to the point that her eyes were always on me, always particular about this proper child, always advising me. And she advised me not to elope into the US when I wanted to leave after college. She told me boy, why don’t you just stay? Because I’d severally gone for my visa and I got turned off. She told me look, you can’t go to America. No, I didn’t go to the American Embassy. I went to the British Embassy and a couple of them. Come on, they’re not gonna give you the visa.
Several times I came back home disappointed, with a bleak dream, my strength diffused. She just looked at me and said boy don’t drop your hope. Just work it out here. Someday, if you work it out here, and you’re strong enough, you can build yourself and you’re all there. And now, like a dream, like a prophecy, it’s all turning out… Because I came to the American Embassy without a document. Believe me, when I got to the Embassy, it was like so what identifies you as an actor? I said sorry I don’t have anything. And eventually they refused me and still gave me two years later. So it all turned out that if you’re prolific in what you’re doing, if you’re efficient in what you’re doing, the world will recognize you beyond the recognition you want to give yourself.
S.O.: And you’re happy with the growth of the industry so far?
E.I.: We’re making tremendous impact. I don’t know, maybe I should go back to the Nigerian press. You guys out here should train them. Get them to… Maybe you should be there correspondent. The way they talk about Sean Paul or Puff Daddy and talk about J.Lo in their papers, they talk about these people with so much pep, so much icing. And when they talk about us, its like come on, throw these guys in the trash can. And none of them has seen any of these foreign stars… But these are the stars you see every day. These are the stars (that are) adored worldwide. I think they have a complex problem in that country. A couple of them have total complex problems because if you’re realistic in your writing, people are gonna like your paper. So, that’s it.
S.O.: Its unfortunate that some of the people who have the power to put some of these things on paper themselves are not properly informed and they just put pen to paper and they get published. Its rather unfortunate, but I can’t speak for them. I’m not in Nigeria, so… Moving on. As an actor, what do you expect for yourself in the next 5 to 10 years?
E.I.: Already I am expanding beyond being an actor. In New York, I did quite a lot of shopping. I shopped for my studio. I bought camera, cranes, mixers, things I need… I bought a lot of things. I have a big studio back in Nigeria, on the highbrow street Adeniran Ogunsanya. That’s my business for now. From there, I can expand. The future is not bleak. The future golden. The future is beyond gold.
S.O.: What’s your studio called?
E.I.: It’s called CIS Movies and Entertainment, at # 16 Adeniran Ogunsanya Street, Surulere, Lagos.
S.O.: You’re going to be producing movies, TV shows and commercials?
E.I.: Yes. I have enough equipment for rentals, production purposes… You know, the things that we need in our industry to give us extra fuel, I’m going to get those things that are not in place and some of the other studios have not considered. I’m trying to open up more opportunities for the movie industry too.
S.O.: The home base – yesterday, when you thanked your mom, you also thanked your wife and your – you have a girl or a son?
E.I.: I have two sons.
S.O.: You have a closely-knit family… How important is an understanding family to a popular actor like you?
E.I.: You need an understanding wife. You need an understanding family to do what we’re doing. That’s why they have problem in Hollywood: they’re always marrying and divorcing every week. The job we do deserves a lot of concentration, a lot of belief in what you do. You need somebody to believe in you. You need somebody to believe in what you do. You need somebody to understand what you do, to make you go ahead and get better at what you do. If you don’t have a woman who will stand tall and strong beside you, you’re just gonna drop in no time. You see my family is very very important to me. Whenever they call me and say daddy, go ahead, you’re making us proud… It gives me an extra life like when you’re playing Nintendo and you need an extra life. It gives me an extra life.
S.O.: Would you say something to your international fans that are going to be reading this online?
E.I.: My international fans have been wonderful. They’ve been great, more supportive, giving. They’ve been very very loving. They’ve been spreading my gist around town, making me feel what a star should feel like and I appreciate them for all they’ve been doing. They’re just there making things happen for you. That’s why I wanna say thank you to all my fans everywhere in the world. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving my star. Thank you for loving my person and that’s what’s been making it real for me.
S.O.: Thank you Emeka.
E.I.: My brother, you’re welcome.