In this interview, Bob-Manuel Udokwu, one of Nigeria’s respected veteran actor, speaks to OLAJIDE SAMUEL about the movie industry and other issues
In the course of your career, what are the major lessons you have learnt?
One of the major lessons is that consistency and professionalism pays. Also, it is important to have consideration for others and maturity as one gets older. Those are some of the lessons I have learnt over the years.
Between talent and training, which do you think is important for an actor?
Talent is very important; it is the first thing. Training will not give one talent. But, if one is talented and one follows the right path and gets trained, the training will enhance one’s talent and make it stand out. What I advocate is for those who are talented to strive for education relevant to their talent. That will improve the talent.
Which do you consider as your most challenging role so far?
The best and most challenging role is yet to come. However, hosting the Gulder Ultimate Search (reality show) still stands out for me. Even though it is not a regular television production in terms of drama, it is still a show. The challenge there was that it did not have a regular script. But, there are usually storylines to follow for each production. Since it was a reality show that was done in the jungle, the challenge of the topography and other things surrounding such productions made it very unique.
For movies, there are scripts. But, every movie I have done came with their peculiar challenges. I don’t think anyone stands out, so to speak. They are all unique.
How would you describe your role in the television series, ‘It’s a Crazy World’?
I accepted to play that role because I wanted people to see the other side of my artistry, in terms of being able to act in a comedy series. In this country, we have accepted what is buffoonery as comedy. Real comedy is not when a character is playing what borders on stupidity or buffoonery. The comic character is a serious one. However, the presentation of the act is what makes it funny to the viewer. In ‘It’s a Crazy World’, all the characters take their roles seriously. What they do is what makes the audience laugh and want to keep watching it. When I accepted the script, I found the character of ‘Don’, which I played interesting. Even while we were shooting it, I knew it would come out well. As a professional, one would know this, even while on set. I was not surprised about the reception it got. When it got on Netflix, it rose to become number one by the third day. The television series, ‘Checkmate’, which I acted in is yet to be beaten it terms of the record it had in the nineties. It doesn’t mean that since then, I have not got offers to do television series. Whenever I get any script, I tell myself that having done ‘Checkmate’, I cannot do something that would be less interesting or challenging. When I got the script for ‘It’s a Crazy World’, I realised it was something I needed to do. As I speak to you now, there is a major television series that I am shooting. However, my contract does not allow me to talk about it.
What do you think can be done to curtail the recent deaths in the entertainment industry, especially Nollywood?
The industry has been this hard hit as a result of the downturn in the economy and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
For a lot of people in Nollywood, the finances are not there. Our people are struggling. The government needs to give some kind of bail out to our industry in whatever shape or form. It’s not about them (government officials) jumping on television or radio to talk about things, but to practically help us in the industry.
They need to give us some form of financial assistance in order to cushion the effects. As I speak to you now, there are a couple of my colleagues that are sick. Even this morning, another one called me. I don’t want to mention his name. He has been ill for quite a while. This is a guy who was very popular on TV, even before the advent of home videos.
I suggested to him to find a way to reach his state government. I told him if he could get somebody’s number who could link us with any of the commissioners in the state, especially that of culture and tourism. I volunteered to be the one to call the person or commissioner. I would tell the person that someone who had popularised the name of the state had a serious ailment. I would let them know that the person needs government’s intervention, otherwise he would die.
It is no longer a question of us keeping quiet. Our people are dying because there is no money. This is an industry that is a bigger employer of labour. A lot of people who could not get jobs have flocked to Nollywood, whether they are trained or not. Nollywood is being sustained by private businesspeople who are no longer making money. We are in dire need of financial assistance. People are dying. Many have also run away from the country. For the Nigerians and government officials reading this, (I want them to know that) a lot of popular faces that we used to know have quietly left the country and more are leaving. Nollywood needs government’s intervention now.
I am also using this opportunity to call on well-meaning Nigerians who are rich. Let us coordinate and get a list of our people who are sick. Some are now bedridden. Some are just taking drugs at home because they cannot afford to stay in the hospital. Kindhearted Nigerians and corporate bodies should assist by paying into the account of hospitals that our sick colleagues use. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing a good number of highly talented Nollywood practitioners who have put the name of Nigeria on the global entertainment map.