He plays a very daring role in movies, and if you are watching him on screen for the first time, you could think he is into cultism for real. But Ugezu .J .Ugezu is not a cultist. Rather, he’s a celebrated actor, director, playwright and film maker. However, unknown to many, Ugezu is also a highlife singer whose career in music is taking the shine off his acting prowess. In this interview, Mr Surplus as he’s fondly called in Nollywood talks about his music, his role in movies and why he’s passionate about exporting the African culture and tradition to the outside world.
Your attire both on screen and in real life represents the true African man; Is it your trademark?
When we make films, we try to export Africa to the rest of the world. It has become a brand for me because I have a passion to tell the African story from the African eye. You don’t allow somebody who is not an African to tell our story. This is because whatever story the person will be telling you is going to be distorted. But an African will tell the story the way it is, and then allow the people to make up their minds. It is better to feed the people with the real story and allow them to make up their minds than feeding them with lies.
Has it become a brand for you?
It has become a brand for me to export Africa. I was on my own when I was invited to the third International Screen Writers Conference in Woodland. The conference ended on the 3rd of October last year. I didn’t lobby to attend the conference. The organizers of the conference have a department that monitors African films. Over the years, (5 years) they have followed my works and realized that I was passionate about exporting the African culture and tradition and of telling its story.
Moreover, my originality impressed them. I don’t copy anybody. I was the only Nollywood practitioner that was invited to attend the conference. They invited me based on what they have seen about me. It could be simply because I have made it a brand to export Africa to the rest of the world. At the conference, I spoke on African films and it was a privilege and honour to see myself as the only black man among over 300 delegates from all over the world. I felt so big and it was something memorable for me.
You are a celebrated director, scriptwriter, actor and producer
I am also a songwriter and a singer. I have released a lot of songs. I did the popular song, “Amputa Onye Igbo Ka Asubara Igbo”which is making waves all over world. The Igbo World Assembly has adopted the song as their anthem. I’m using the song to promote the Igbo language which is speedily going into extinction. I’m urging parents, through the song, to adopt the idea of teaching their children how to speak the Igbo language at a tender age. I cited the likes of late Chiuna Achebe, late Chuba Okadigbo, Okwesiri Ezenwado and Onyeka Onwenu. These are illustrious sons and daughters of Igbo extraction who can speak English to any standard. But they spoke good Igbo.
Is that why you started from directing before veering into acting and producing films?
I started from writing. What made me to go into directing is the urge to actually interpret my story the way I want it to be interpreted. This is because most times, when you write a story, you give it to a director who probably may not understand what you are trying to say; and as a director, he will shift the story his own way, and in the process, distort the story. So, the idea of ‘let me get it right, the way I want it to be done’ made me to go into directing. In the area of acting, you can’t actually direct what you cannot put into action.
At what point did you decide to go into acting?
I started acting from my secondary school days at Aguleri High School. If you visit that school today, you will see where it was written boldly, “Uncle Nick, the Actor.” My baptismal name is Nicholas. Acting is something I started many years ago as well as music. Many people don’t know, I am also a singer. Even before I joined Nollywood, I had a band. We performed at funeral ceremonies, weddings and wake-keeps. Something in me asked me not to allow that talent to waste. Once in a while, I play my music. I have done a couple of songs, including “ Amputa Onye Ibo Ka Asubara Igbo” and “Onye Igbo Agonari Ndi Igbo.” These two songs are songs that are going to live long. If I didn’t go back to music, I wouldn’t have done these two songs.
Are you devoting more time to pursuing your career in music now than going on set?
Funny enough, even when I am not serious with my music, it has given me more money than making films. Despite the fact that I don’t even have a video, music pays my bills. For instance, I have done a song for a club in South Africa. I also did a song for some guys in Amsterdam, Las Vegas among others. I have equally done international shows. I have done a show in Lo s-Angeles in addition to embarking on music tours. I haven’t embarked on any musical tour in Nigeria. Honestly, music is something that is forcing me to become so serious about it. But I have a deep passion for film because I want to continue to export that African culture and tradition that I have been exporting over the years. It’s just for me to find a meeting point between music and films.
In all of these, where lies your strength?
My strength lies in sustenance of entertainment, be it music or film.
You play tough roles in films, especially the role of a cultist. One wonders if your acting is not a direct reflection of your experience?
Once on set, Pete Edochie said, there is nothing anybody would tell him to convince him that I am not a cultist. But I am not a cultist. I have nothing to do with them. I’m only interpreting a script. I don’t believe in cultism, and I don’t also believe that they can do me anything. Everything on earth is documented in books. If you are somebody who wants to make an impact on your chosen profession, you have to be a voracious reader. Many people say I am becoming more metaphysical. Even the name of my studio is Ayka Metaphysical Studio. It further amplifies their suspension. But all of these, I call them mirage. Just as Charly Boy lives with coffin in his house. It’s just to make people have different opinions about him. For me, it’s nothing but a mirage that he created around himself . Once in a while, it does not take anything away from someone to create the kind of mirage you want around you.
Have you been attacked by occultic people or had a nasty experience as a result of the role you play in movies?
Not at all.
Does that mean that they are afraid of you?
They have to be afraid of me. As somebody who doesn’t believe in their existence, and he does that with so much guts and audacity. They can only attack somebody who’s attached to ocultism. Several times, I have confronted native doctors head-on whom people believe have the black power to kill. I have told them to their faces that you guys are full of s- – t, and there’s nothing they can do to me. And truly, there is nothing they can do because I have maneuvered them and risen above what they represent by my boldness, audacity and guts. Many people don’t have all these attributes and so, they allow these cultists to dominate them. I don’t believe in their existence and so, they can’t confront me.
What do you think of Nollywood in Asaba?
At a point, Nollywood in Asaba started dying. But under the mandate of the President of Directors Guild of Nigeria, DGN, I was given the responsibility of sanitizing the industry in Asaba. In the sense that somebody who should direct a movie, must be a registered DGN member in addition to having a directorial license. Some film-makers are lowering the standard, not only in Asaba. So, we started sanitizing the industry and we are where we are today. All the films that gave me international awards were shot in Asaba. The location where a film is being shot does not mean anything, but what matters most is the brain behind the film. I feel uncomfortable when they make negative remarks about Asaba.