Emeka Okoye, popularly known as Mazi Ekwuruekwu I of Africa, is a Nollywood actor, presenter, model, compere, comedian and voice over artiste, who has featured in movies like Lekki Housewives 2; Jenifer’s Diary, Wives on Strike; Blackberry Babes; Tales of Eve, among others. He speaks with TAYO GESINDE on his career and how government can come to the aid of artistes. Excerpts:
Foray into acting
My journey in the movie industry was destined by God. I started acting in church and my school drama society as a kid. Then, I used to mimic people I was so fond of, especially my aunties and uncles. I gave professional acting a trial during the period I was writing my Senior School Certificate Examination. I heard a director called Murphy Stevens, who was then shooting a movie entitled Prophet of Darkness. I was so excited. Though most of my classmates did a crowd scene in the movie wearing our secondary school uniform but after my papers that day, I decided to watch how the acting was going on. Those on set that day were Pete Edochie, Fabian Adibe, Stephanie Okereke, Kelvin Ikeduba and so on. Luckily for me, I was asked to come and act the role of a psycho patient, who was healed by Pete Edochie, a fake prophet. I played the role so well that after that day, I started getting offers to come to Asaba, Enugu and Lagos for filming, but because I was still very young, my parents didn’t want me to pursuing acting at that period. They wanted me to finish my education before pursing acting as a career. So, I waited till February 25, 2001, before joining the Actors’ Guild of Nigeria, Anambra State chapter. At a time, I stopped to continue my diploma in Psychology and later my Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Administration at Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Edo State. I returned to acting in 2008.
The journey so far
So far, the journey has been fruitful and rewarding because people can easily identify my face wherever I go, most especially, since I starred in Wives on Strike produced by Omoni Oboli and also played Papa Pepe in Jenifa’s Diary by award – winning actress, Funke Akindele. These two jobs and my modelling job with Nigerian Breweries as one of the faces of their Lite Beer with billboards in all the six Eastern states have made me so popular in the entertainment industry. So, it has been great all the while. And it is all by God’s grace.
Movies I have featured in
I have lost count of movies I have featured in. The ones that readily come to mind are; Dreammaker; The Shepherd; Imliplication, Boy George; Open Fire; Lady Gaga; Blackberry Babes; Twitter Babes; OMA The Evil, Super Story; Lekki Wives 2. Others are; Render To Caesar; Last Three Digits, Candle; Papa Ajasco; Tales of Eve; The Jury, Ezinaaulo; Ireoku; Nkwughachi; Ibezimako Tenants and so on.
My most challenging role
The most challenging role I have ever played was Eze, the wicked husband character I played in an Igbo movie called Ezinaulo showing on Wazobiamax TV and African Magic Igbo.
Other things I do aside acting
I am also a presenter for MiTV, I anchor the Wazobiaplus programme every Monday to Friday from 10.00 a.m to 11.00 a.m, I am also a businessman.
My role models in Nigeria are Richard Mofe Damijo, Olu Jacobs, Alex Osifo, Eucharia Anunobi, Liz Benson, Mercy Johnson. On the international scene, I admire Paul Walker, Eddy Murphy and Angelina Jolie.
Coping with competition
For me, I am not competing with anybody. The industry is big to accommodate every talented actor. The only thing that keeps me going is the grace of God. If any one gets there before me, congratulations to the person. The only advice I have for my colleagues is not to be envious of anyone. Everyone will get there at the right and appointed time. Pray without ceasing.
Gains and pains of being a celebrity
The gain is the popularity and favour it brings. When you are a celebrity, doors will begin to open for you. The pain is the fact that government has not been able to invest much in Nollywood so that an average actor can earn a good pay. If that is done, the issue of actors dying in penury will reduce.
Most embarrassing thing a fan did to me
This happens everyday for me, especially, at my place of work. I was hugged by a die-hard fan of Jenifa’s Diary on a busy road and she asked for a selfie, leaving her little boy behind. The boy would have been knocked down by vehicle that was reversing. It was my scream that alerted the driver of the car.
Assessment of Nollywood
Nollywood needs to be celebrated in the whole of Africa because it has been able to sustain itself without much governmental sponsorship. I would say we have done so well in discovering new talents and we are impacting positively on the world. We have also generated so much revenue to the Nigerian government. I am pleading with the Lagos State government to please help the Nollywood industry. We need funds and our up-and-coming actors need to be trained either here in Nigeria or abroad, and that will continue to make our country the pride of other nations.
Philosophy of life
My philosophy of life is; do not be afraid of failing. It doesn’t matter how many times you fail, what matters most is that you make efforts to rise again.
Handling advances from male admirers
Oh my God! Well, I handle my female fans and admirers with diplomacy. Have you forgotten that I am a comedian? I always act anywhere or in any situation I found myself. Sometimes, I mimic them and we all laugh at it in the end.
On whether I will go into politics
I have featured in political campaigns, including the Ambode campaign promo. I also worked as INEC poll clerk in Anambra State during the elections. If opportunities to go into politics come, I will take them in good faith so far it is God’s directions for me. Man proposes, God disposes.
Advice for up-and-coming actors and actresses
My candid advice for all aspiring up-and-coming actors and actresses is that they should believe in themselves, pray, get trained through workshops and seminars on acting.