If you were not privileged to watch him during the 2006 edition of the reality television show, Amstel Malta Box Office, you surely couldn’t have missed him in the award winning movie, “White waters” where he proved his mettle as a promising actor. Born into a family of three, Okeychukwu Chukwudi Ukeje is a multi-talented actor who holds a lot of promises for her generation. The handsome actor tells Showtime Celebrity how he handles advances from the opposite sex and why most emerging actors in Nigeria finds it difficult to breakthrough in the movie industry.
Where you in acting before you emerged winner of 2006 edition of Amstel Malta Box Office, AMBO?
I have been acting since 2001. In fact, I started from the stage before I switched over to the screen when I shot my first movie in 2007. I acted in such plays as “Going back to my Root”, Dawn of a new Day”, ‘What you sow is what you reap”, “Engagement” which was written by award winning novelist Sefi Atta and many others I can n’t remember now.
In 2008, I won the Best upcoming actor during that year’s AMAA awards. I was really into acting before AMBO exposed me to the screen.
But why did it take you a long time to switch over to the silver screen?
While I was partaking in stage performances, I was also a student at the University of Lagos. So, it was a big task for me then, I was perceiving stage performance as an avenue to actualising my dream of going into acting.
Apart from the fact that it wasn’t like I have been presented with an opportunity to switch over to the silver screen, it was also important for me to complete my university education. And then, I could go all out to launch myself into what exactly I wanted to pursue in life. So, as long as there were stage plays available, it was good.
I graduated in 2005. It was after my graduation that I started showing interest in starring in movies, and that was when AMBO came up and I grabbed the opportunity.
What was it like winning the 2006 edition of AMBO?
It was great, and it really prepared me for what I’m doing today. Because I got a lot of acceptance after recording that victory. I didn’t know I was going to win because there were only ten of us, and I went in there just to give in my best, believing that my best would be good enough to earn me accolades.
Indeed, I wasn’t sure that I was going to win, until it became clear to me after the second weeks that I stand a chance of winning the show.
You studied Marine Sciences, how did you find it easy to make it in the art?
There are certain things you usually show interest in , as a young man. From the on set, I have showed interest in the entertainment world because of the music I was doing and later, veered into acting. I went into the university to study a course that was offered to me, and thereafter I switched over to what I wanted to do in life.
I see my studying Marine Sciences from the busy angle of it.
After the AMBO victory, did you faced any challenge breaking into Nollywood?
Not really because I came into Nollywood straight from AMBO. And it was because after my performance during the reality show, I got a lot of acceptance in the industry. But again, it was a problem from the viewpoint of the producers who would not believe that starring in only one movie alone can make one an actor. They really wanted to see other things you have done before they can actually give you roles.
Considering the achievements you have recorded so far, would you say the industry has been fair to you and that you have made progress?
Yes, I have made a lot of progress. First of all, I won the award for the best upcoming actor during 2008 AMAA, I also won the City People magazine’s 2010 best promising actor. I have acted in several other movies which have not been released into the market.
I have good conversation with practitioners in the industry, I have done an acting workshop for two months in Los-Angeles. At the moment, I’m getting a lot of scripts from producers.
For me, all of these things point to the fact that people love and appreciate what one is doing on screen. I know that the movies that I have done in the past, especially “The Black Gold” produced by Jeta Amata really made me feel relevant in the scheme of things. I would say without a shadow of doubt that I have made progress in the last few years I sojourned in the industry. But if you want to judge my achievements by the number of the movies that I starred in , then , I usually object to it. People need to give, especially emerging actors a enough opportunity to reach a point where you can judge them based on what they have done so far, and not how many movies they have done. That is the major challenge facing emerging actors like myself. We need some time to be groomed before they can start flying.
Despite the challenges faced by emerging actors, you are still making waves, what’s the secret of your success?
I’m very optimistic, as it is now, I have about four movies in the pipeline. I started shooting one of the movies early last month, it’s a musical. This is a good year for me because I have a couple of other movies that are coming out this year. Also, I’m working on a number of projects, at the moment I’m shooting a pilot movie for someone in Lagos.
What’s your ambition?
I’m seriously eyeing the international market. I would like to do collaboration with local and international film makers. Film makers that are based in New York, Los-Angles, Kenya and Ghana. It would help to expand my reach and networking.
As a promising and handsome actor, you must have been facing some serious challenges in terms of handling advances from the opposite sex?
I think it ’s pretty easy for me to handler the advances from the opposite sex lately because I’m still on the emerging side. I know that these days, I get a lot of attention from my female admirers but it’s easier for me to deal with the situation.
There are certain boundaries I dare not cross. As much as possible I scrutinize the number of people I give out my GSM number to; I think it’s too early for me to be carried away with the attention that is coming from my female admirer. That does not mean that I’m not seeing someone at the moment. I’m a one-woman type of a man.