By Florence Amagiya
Kalu Ikeagwu needs no big introduction to many Nigerians. He was launched into the movie industry by his first soap Domino in 2005. Today, he has featured in movies too numerous to count and has added movie production to his profile. In this interview with FLORENCE AMAGIYA, he talks about his childhood, his family and how he came into the industry.
How did you get into the movie industry?
My debut on TV was in 2005 with the popular Domino series. I was into soaps before venturing into the movie industry.
What were you doing before Nollywood and acting?
I was working as a computer analyst before joining Nollywood.
Did you have challenges as a younger actor ?
I think my main challenge was the switch from stage to television. On stage, one is trained to exaggerate one’s character; otherwise one’s means of communication becomes lost to the audience. Television on the other hand requires subtlety and understatement. One merely projects one’s thought and lets the camera do the rest of the work. The other challenging bit was the ‘start and stop’ syndrome where one has to repeat an action or words up to ten times while at the same time making it look seamless and natural.
What’s the way forward for Nigeria’s movie industry called Nollywood?
The way forward for the Nollywood industry I think, is assistance from the government. The potential this industry has for redeeming the tattered image of our country abroad cannot be over exaggerated, not to talk of its ability to bring in foreign investment, tourism and export our culture to other countries. I still don’t know why Nigeria is still over dependent on oil when the entertainment industry alone can earn not only more revenue than the oil sector but can create hundreds of thousands of jobs for the country as well.
Even if the government is still hesitant about giving out funds or grants to aid the industry, let it at least put laws in place to protect the intellectual property of filmmakers, script writers and actors so that they can benefit from royalties of their hard work. I can’t tell you how many times I have been accosted by irate fans who complain about seeing my face on movie jackets only to be disappointed on buying the movie because I end up not appearing in any scene in the entire movie.
This is entirely fraudulent of these unscrupulous people and they should be stopped from taking advantage of these hapless fans and my reputation I’ve worked so hard for!
You are very handsome, how do you cope with your lady fans and ladies on set?
How I cope with lady fans?
Easy, I love them. Thanks for the compliment though. I treat them the same way I treat the women in my life; by appreciating them. That’s how my mother taught me to. Coping with ladies on set is no great hassle; I believe I have a charming enough personality to get along well with the ladies I get to work with so it’s always fun on set for me.
We hear a lot of stories about producers seeking to sleep with female actresses before they are given roles. How rampant is this? Is it just a rumour?
Well, I don’t know much about that given that I haven’t personally observed any incident like that. Having said that, you should also know there are a few bad apples in every industry. Just as there are women who’d do just about anything to feature in a movie, so are there people willing to exploit such people. I can tell you that these producers, should they exist, are in the minority because it would logically make bad business sense to cast someone on your couch as a prerequisite to casting them in your movie. What if the girl hasn’t got the talent to pull the character off – as is the case most often – and the movie sales suffer as a result? A wise producer looks at numbers and figures instead of faces.
The gist is making the rounds that producers prefer Ghollywood actresses to
Nollywood actresses, how true is this and why?
I don’t know about Nigerian producers preferring Ghanaian actresses to their Nigerian counterparts; that hardly makes economic sense. I for one do welcome collaborations; they make for a stronger general industry and a better garnering of the fan base. As long as there are structures put in place to protect the local industry and work force, I think international collaboration is a good thing. Isn’t that what the major international airlines are doing to not just survive, but also to beat the competition?
What’s your academic background?
I studied English Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I also did a postgraduate diploma course on Business management in the same university, and a diploma in Computer programming.
How do you manage acting and movie production?
Well, it’s simple; on the one hand, I’m a gun for hire. All I do is concern myself with my job which is learning my character and interpreting it the best way I can. The other one is production, which I’m only just foraying into, is like a baby from conception; I have to plan how I’m going to give the audience a project they’ll love, reach as wide a range as possible, and I hopefully make a profit thereof.
This means that on the one hand, I’m a business man thinking in terms of figures, projections, marketing and quality of product, and on the other, I’m an actor working for pay who’s concerned about his fans and the image he portrays. Enough of the boring stuff, the truth of the matter is I love being in control of my environment and I have immense fun doing what I do best.
Who is Kalu Ikeagwu outside all these?
Kalu is a fun loving person who loves living life to the full. It’s not necessarily about partying everyday per se, but about getting the best out of everything you do, and getting the best out of everyone you have the opportunity to interact with. I like to travel and experience different peoples and cultures and this has helped tremendously with the work I put out on screen. That, I feel, makes me an overall winner; neither part of my life suffers – the professional and the personal.
How was it like growing up?
Growing up was, and still is, akin to a nomad’s lifestyle because we were always moving about.
I had already lived in four dif
ferent countries by the time I was ten years of age. The good thing though, even though I couldn’t keep my childhood friends from school, was I had my best friends everywhere with me; my family. We were and still are very closely knit and the deeply entrenched family values still dwell in me today. Apart from that, my growing up was pretty normal; stern and conservative but with a very funny father for whom education was key and never forgot to remind us the children. We have a quiet but very strong mother whose love is still unparalleled and six rambunctious siblings with whom everyday was an adventure. What more can I say?
Did you ever know you would become a public figure?
Well, I kind of had a feeling about it as a child. It was a pipe dream though, but it wasn’t until I was twenty that I knew it would happen. I was also made to understand that there were a lot of responsibilities that would come with it and so I have always been careful to keep my eye on those responsibilities and not the adulation and perks that come with fame.
Would you date a female colleague?
If I weren’t in a relationship, I could consider dating a colleague. My colleagues are humans aren’t they? And you cannot choose where your heart is led to. A colleague is more likely to be understanding of your craft than someone outside your field of work.
You have a foreign way of interpreting your roles…
There’s no foreign way of interpreting roles. It’s simple. I just become the character as best as I can. The secret to my endeavour in this field comes from the ancient maxim ,I forget who said it, maybe Thoreau, “I think, therefore that I am”. The bible says it as well: “as a man thinketh, so is he”.
Who do you think you act like in the foreign scene and why did you choose his style?
Who do I act like in the foreign scene? Nobody, I came into this industry on my own convictions and I have a purpose for it. This means I have to be mindful about the way I follow things through. I have to do my own thing and run my own race. Yes, I can and do learn from my betters and they are legion but I must leave my own mark and nobody else.
Who would you want to act alongside with in a foreign production if given the opportunity?
At the moment, Kevin Spacey, Nicole Kidman, Don Cheadle and Gregory – I forget his surname but he’s Australian. He was in the movie ‘The King’s Speech’. I want to know how they get to be so mercurial without moving a facial muscle. It is indeed amazing.
If you are in a strange country without a family or friend, what would you rather be with?
If I’m in a strange country without family or friends, I would prefer to be with God of course! I can never go wrong there. The next thing I will do is find a pretty lady to chat up. I have long since learnt that the quickest way to get about a strange place and learn the language is by charming the pants off a lady – figuratively speaking and not literally oh! A smart phone would help as well, to use the GPRS mode to find safe places to go to.