By SAM ANOKAM
Popular comic-actor, Charles Inojie is still wondering how he was tricked into featuring in that lewd film titled ‘Calabar Girl’ directed by Jerry Don Nwachukwu. The film was produced by Divine Ezeibekwe and banned immediately after it was released sometime in May, this year by the National Film and Video Censors Board. Charles recounts the story of how he got involved in the production. He also talks about the coup that catapulted him to the top while working as an Assistant Director under Lancelot Imasuen among other issues. Excerpts:
Do you know that I am not aware that I am a comedian? There are places I visit today and I tell people that I am not a regular comedian;someone you see and you start laughing or someone who is ever ready to act as a clown when the occasion does not call for it. I see myself as a very serious person. I see myself as a good actor.
If I do comedy roles well, it is only because that is where I have probably, been most tested and again not a function of any kind of training I had. Except that I probably just have it in me. I believe that my late grandmother had the strongest sense of humour that I ever found in anyone and I benefited generously from her talent. Maybe, I am one of those you would say are naturally gifted as humourist.
School of hard knocks
I hate it when I hear people say, I am self -made. There is no one on earth that is self made otherwise people like us are not supposed to be where we are today. When I picked my bag one morning and told my father I had secured admission into the University of Port Harcourt , the man only laughed at me. We were living in Ogun State then, and I hail from Edo State .
He said, ‘you did not try to gain admission into the now Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma or University of Benin so that your financial challenges could be better courtailed . But now that you are going to UNIPORT, would help come your way?’.
In school, it was just me and my closest neighbour which is poverty. When I woke up in the morning, the first person that told me good morning was poverty. But I think, God gave me a special grace. Beyond all these travails, there was always a point I wanted to get to, and that was to graduate from the university at the end of the day.
I graduated from the University in 1999, and in 2000, I was already on set with Lancelot Imasuen as an Assistant Director. I was part of the productions he did in the early 2000, such as Last Burial, Isakaba, August Meeting and many others. Therefore, I would say joining Nollywood was not as difficult as it has been for most of my colleagues. This is because I had someone who provided the platform for me to launch my acting career.
Beyond that, when I became a full-fledged director, I had the producers to contend with, who were always driven by the passion to expand their profit margin. I am a gift from God because in spite of all that I passed through, one happened to be one of the very few people who have enjoyed prime patronage and I thank God for His mercies.
Relationship with Lancelot Imasuen
That is another story altogether. I was telling some of my close friends recently that Lancelot is my friend because a lot of people believe that we are brothers. I actually met Lancelot in 1992, at UNIPORT where we sat for the entrance examination for the Certificate Programme in Theatre Arts. He was in the company of another friend of ours known as Kennedy Ovbiahon who’s now late.
After sitting for the qualifying examination, we returned to our different locations and later had to meet again when we were offered admission. Lancelot was as poor as I was, while on campus. It was only natural for us to share the same apartment in school. And since then, we have been good friends.
We have made some humble contributions to acting. As a matter of fact, my very first movie as a full- fledged director was titled Police Recruit, then Two Bad Boys. I shot back to back for OJ Productions. I also played one of the lead roles then. Thereafter, I starred in Tortoise, another movie produced by OJ and directed by Adim Williams. I was an Assistant Director in that film. At the time, the three lead roles were given to John Okafor, Okey Bakassi and Victor Osuagwu.
As a second year student in 1997, I had done a movie with Adim also directed by Lancelot Imasuen. It was a comedy titled, The Year 2000. Adim played the lead role while I had about 12 scenes. Adim asked me to play the role but the producer did not want me. But when the flick was released, it was a big hit. The film that gave me my break was when I played the role of Mr. Dumbra in Corporate Maid.
Venturing into acting
I am a very shy person. I am not one of those who would have ended up as an actor. I am a great lover of literature. The late Professor Bode Osanyin of the University of Lagos then had a place in Ijoko, Ota in Ogun State called Writers Resort. What the Resort does was to invite literary enthusiasts, writers, poets, dramatists and literary critics to a retreat.
The guest reader for the month would read his poems or plays and respond to questions from the gathering. Being fresh from secondary school then, I and my friend, Malik Ibitoye, now a journalist, would make it to the literary gathering. This particular month, late environmentalist, Ken Saro Wiwa was hosted by the resort.
Before then, Bassey and Company, a popular soap opera was already a rave on television and Saro Wiwa was already making waves on the international scene with his Ogoni struggle. Saro Wiwa was large and because we have read some of his plays, the enthusiasm to meet him was very high. Usually, we went to the resort that fateful Saturday evening, arrange the chairs and cleaned the environment. Late Professor Bode Osanyin urged us to stage a short play for Wiwa. Initially, I refused to be part of the play, preferring to do something different.
But somehow, I was encouraged to be part of the short play. Immediately, the last scene was over, I ran backstage to hide myself. While I was hiding, they invited me back on stage. But lo and behold! Saro Wiwa singled me out and asked if I had acted before, I replied in the contrary. He asked what I was doing, I said I was a Jambite and wanted to read Law.
He asked if I had secured admission, I said I was waiting for my JAMB result. He reasoned that it would take about eight to 12 months and he advised me to enroll for Certificate programme that would last for 10 months. When we left, Malik and some of my friends encouraged me to do so. That was how I secured an admission to do certificate programme in UNIPORT. While doing the programme, I discovered I had only come face to face with my destiny. So, I did not spare any time to seek admission for a full time degree programme.
Growing pot belly
In fact that is the more reason we have to thank God for Osofia’s life, if not, people would still believe that big tummy is part of the requirement for one to become a comedian. Osofia has been able to proof that you don’t need to have a big tummy to be a successful comedian. It was common problem most of us had to contend with then but thank Gos Osofia has proven it has nothing to do with it.
I cannot stab myself in the stomach to reduce it but I discovered that it is easier to acquire it than to shed it.
Starring in “Calabar Girl”movie
This is what I cannot even explain. Some time ago, a senior colleague of mine invited me to be part of his new production. For over 15 years, he has not shot a single movie as things were really rough for him. He was staging a comeback and needed my support. I have known him for several years and as an undergraduate, storming Lagos those days to attend auditions, he was one of the foremost directors in Nollywood then. There was no way I could have refused to support his return to the industry.
That was how I ended up starring in that movie. To win my sympathy, he narrated how a marketer once rejected his film simply because he did not feature regular faces in the film. I appeared in few scenes in the movie which was shot in three days. I have no idea whatsoever regarding what lewed scenes he had previously shot.
In fact, I’m yet to understand why he decided to shoot such movie. I think he took his desperation too far. I’m surprised that he used my face to promote pornography because the very day I saw the movie jacket, I knew something was wrong with it. There was no way I could have been part of the movie if I knew from the out set that what he has shot was something close to an adult film.
I thank God that I married my friend. I try as much as possible to be truthful to my wife. She saw the movie and got convinced that my character was not in any way connected with those dirty scenes in the movie. In fact, she has nothing whatsoever to be angry about.
What I learnt from the project
What I have learnt is that next time, I should be wary about who comes to ask for my help in disguise. Next time, I would insist on seeing the previous script before accepting to be part of any make-up scenes in a movie.
Meeting my wife
I met my wife the way other people meet theirs.
Marriage is wonderful. I was talking to one of my senior colleagues the other day and I told him, I now know why he wanted me to get married. I think I am a better person now than before. Things that you would ordinarily react to are things you now take a second look at. Marriage has calmed me down. I am a lot more mature now and I am happy.