Popular actor, Mike Ezuruonye, speaks with PUNCH TOFARATI IGE on his career, Nollywood and other issues
You recently produced a new movie. How would you recount the experience?
It wasn’t something I hadn’t done before. However, it was an amazing experience because I had a very good working relationship with the cast and crew on the set. We were able to bring the true-to-life situation of the characters in the movie from vision to visual. I enjoyed the experience.
What were some of the challenges you encountered while shooting the movie?
This is officially the first movie in which I would be tagged a director. I have always assisted directors with my craft. I was the artistic director on the set of Brother Jekwu and I played the lead role in the movie as well. This was basically the first time that I took charge as the director. The good part is that the pictures I had in my head were brought to the fore. As an actor, it’s always sad when you do so much work in a movie and some of that is cut off while editing. That way, your artistry hasn’t represented the way you would actually want. However, on this project, I made sure that I put square pegs in square holes. I don’t want to score myself but I believe that we did a good job. The rest is for the audience to make their assessment.
Why did you pick Iyabo Ojo as your co-star in the movie?
I’m not used to being the regular guy, and that shows even in my craft. I always like to link up Africa and the world. I like to connect the different spheres of Nollywood. Right now, I have four movies unreleased and I have been able to bring together different actors on those projects because I am tired of the divisions we always face as actors. We have Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo, but I don’t believe in those segregations. I try as much as possible to give proper representation to all parts of the industry. As regards Iyabo Ojo, I have always known that she is an exceptional actor. She has held her own well over the years and I make bold to say that everybody should watch out for the best of her. In this particular movie, she outdid herself and you would forget that you are even watching a movie. I am very hard to please but artistically, she dazzled me.
Are you trying a transition, to being a director/producer?
I am a director already. I went to a film school in Canada but many people don’t know about that. I had a little break, went to film school and I have been doing my own thing. It’s a new forte for me; so, I would wait for people to assess me.
How has your experience in film school impacted on your career?
It has helped me to be more creative and to know my craft better. It has also helped me to know the business better and to distinguish between being an actor and a director. It has also made me understand better how to manage actors and crew members because the director is a leader of some sort. Basically, it has given me more drive.
As an actor and director, what would you say are the most pressing challenges faced in Nollywood?
The challenges are many and distribution is one of them. I think that we don’t have enough cinemas. If we have local contents that are doing better than foreign movies in Nigerian cinemas, that should tell you that people like local materials. Our movies have gone beyond Nigeria. We are big in the Diaspora; places like the Caribbean and others. That is a message that we should look inwards more. However, things have improved in Nollywood but the only little sphere that needs to be improved upon is that I don’t see much drive in some new actors. Some of them don’t have the hunger and passion to be iconic. That’s the only setback I have seen. The good thing is that I have also seen some exceptional new actors who I believe would go places. I would implore corporate and political Nigeria to pay attention to the industry. Entertainment has provided a lot of jobs for people and it has rebranded this country in its own way. The industry has also contributed so much to the GDP of this country; I am an accountant so I know.
How well did the movie, Brother Jekwu, do at the cinemas?
It was wonderful! Brother Jekwu was huge. It did well in Nigeria and did even better in East Africa. I took it to other parts of the world as well and it was well received. It was the first of its kind; a feel-good movie connecting Nigeria and Kenya. The movie gave birth to other projects like it that I am presently working on. Very soon, I would visit Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa to shoot. It was an experiment that I believed would work because I am a risk-taker and that risk has been able to help me and Nollywood in general to extend our fan base. If we have viewers in other parts of Africa, I think I should be among the people that would serve as a bridge to connect Nigeria to other parts of the continent to have one strong voice as African cinema.
Some people feel you intentionally hide your family. Why is that?
I am all about my work and I wouldn’t want to discuss my family, please.
What advice do you have for up and coming actors?
I would ask them if they are sure they are talented. I would also ask them if they have the drive, passion and patience for the job. I would also ask them if they have a relationship with God because I believe it is God that makes all these things possible. Once they are able to answer those questions in the affirmative, then their talent would find them. Forget razzmatazz, it is important to have a passion for the job. You should be a visionary and you would be found out. Work hard but remember that if the people (viewers) don’t like you, then they wouldn’t demand for you. If at my level, I am still working, then, what excuse does any new actor have not to work? It is those qualities I listed that have brought me to where I am today. I believe anybody that toes that line and is persistent would also get there.
What are the most important lessons you have learnt over the years?
Stardom is a thin line that we walk on. No matter what you do; people’s eyes are always on you and you owe an allegiance not just to yourself and your family but to a whole lot of other people as well. Basically, you don’t own yourself and that is a cross you have to carry. You must always try to project a positive image to those who look up to you.
We gathered that you recently went to record some songs in Ghana. Is that true?
That is not entirely correct. I have never attempted to become a musician. We actually went to Ghana to record a motion picture soundtrack for an upcoming movie. I don’t know where you got that news from because it is not something I want to talk about yet. However, the movie is very big and I believe that it would shut down Nigeria when it is eventually released by the grace of God. Beyond that, I am an investor in music and I have signed on some artistes, whom you would hear about in due course.
If you were not an actor, what would you have been?
I probably would have been some accountant in a bank. I never really planned to study accounting. I chose a different course but that was what was given to me.
How come you speak Yoruba fluently?
I have always lived in Lagos; so, it is not surprising that I speak Yoruba perfectly. In my new movie, Divorce not Allowed, a lot of Yoruba was spoken and two of the soundtracks were also done in Yoruba.
What is the most common misconception people have about you?
People believe that I was born and raised in the eastern part of the country. Because of some of the roles I have played in the past, some people also think that I am mean and that I beat women. However, people now understand that it was just about me interpreting roles.
Some people think that you are arrogant and snobbish. How would you describe your personality?
I am sure that people who think that don’t know me and have never met me. Anybody who has worked with me knows that I relate equally to everybody, whatever their status. I play and joke a lot. People shouldn’t judge me by the characters they have seen me play in movies.
Some people also believe you are a playboy. Are you one?
They think that because of some characters they have seen me play. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
How do you like to dress?
Anybody who knows me knows that I like to dress well. I always move with my stylist. Sometimes, I like to make corporate wear look casually good and I think that’s my forte. I always like to make a good impression. Even when I wear slippers, you would know that I like to be trendy. My favourite fashion item is my wristwatch.