Kalu Ikeagwu is one of those Nollywood actors that need no introduction. He has received several awards and nominations for his performances on screen. In this interview with Ifeoma Ononye, the BON award Bet Actor in a leading role winner speaks on why he has not taken up movie directing and production, his family and plans for year 2020
This 2020, what plans do you have? Are we going to see a movie produced or directed by you?
People have been asking me a lot of questions like, ‘why don’t you produce or why don’t you direct? I am looking at directing actuality. I am planning on taking up a course in directing in the movie school run by the owner of Pineapple TV. So I am interested in directing.
On the other hand, I have seen how hard it is to produce a movie. Producers work so hard to produce a movie and yet, 80% of them are just able to make the capital that they put into it. And that percentage is just being conservative. A lot of them count many loses. They put in a lot to be able to get it to the media for them to be able to get something tangible over a long period of time. I have a problem with that because, producing a movie is so stressful because you are dealing with so many elements. The weather, the shooting conditions, people could harass you for shooting in their area, the light situations, generating sets, logistics, traffic hindering moving from one location to the other and also compounded with the fact that there is no studio to shoot, you have to go to people’s houses to shoot. Anything can happen; i mean you cannot tell the owner of the house not to make any noise. The woman who owns the house may want to cook for her kids. You cannot tell her not to cook because you are shooting.
These are the things producers have to deal with. The biggest challenge of all is human management because you have people coming from all works of life. Everyone has their own unique personalities. Producers manage all these and then they have to make profit for the investors who put in the capital for the movie. Sometimes, they don’t even make up to the capital given to them in the first place, let alone profit. These are the things I take into consideration about becoming a movie producer.
But this year, there is something I am in partnership with. I will not say what it is yet but it is something that when it comes out, it will help everyone, especially the producers. Something that can help them make more money from what they did. We are going to fine tune it to fit into the Nigerian standard, or let’s say the Nigerian factor. We have been working on it for about four months now. When it is ready, I will enlighten people about it and then maybe I can come one board as a producer as well.
There are so many exciting things coming on. I will also like to say that I have begun getting charity oriented. It’s a thing of giving back. Not helping people in the field of work that I do but seeing what I can do to help to give back to the society. These are the two major plans I have this year. You have to forgive me that I cannot tell you the details yet. I am one of those people that believe that once I talk about what I am planning, it may not come to pass.
Last two years, you were nominated for African Magic Viewer’s Choice Award, AMVCA, best actor in a drama and best actor in a comedy. Though you did not win but how did those nominations make you feel?
Nominations or winning awards are like certificate that certifies that this person has an idea of what he us doing. The true nature of the work is when you actually go out there and do that work. It was really good to be nominated but at the same time, I don’t want to dwell on it because it could be dangerous. It is dangerous in the sense that, it can get to your head and you lose focus. It can make you complacent. I like being hungry. For example, I use DavidO. He works like someone who has been disinherited by his father. That is hunger. The only time I want to say ‘yes, I have done it’ is on my death bed. Until then, I want to remain hungry.
Tell us a little about the character you played in the hilarious movie ‘Dr Mekam’. How did you put yourself in that character?
When I came back from England, I used to joke with speaking Igbo language with an English ascent and I liked the way I sound so stupid. Fast forward to when I was with my friend and a movie director, Ikenna Nnebue. We were shooting on a set and we were just playing around. I did a video clip with Chioma Akpota where she was interviewing me and I was replying in Igbo with English ascent. That video clip went viral. People till date don’t believe I speak Igbo fluently because of that clip. My director friend just said, ‘Kalu, you just gave me an idea for a movie’. The next time we spoke, he said the script was ready and that movie is ‘Dr Mekam’. One thing I like and hate about Ikenna is that he knows me too well. He knows that once I am given a good script, I become a slave to it. I will not rest until every scene works for me.
One thing people don’t know is that acting comedies are very hard. It is not easy being funny. Your timing has to be correct. You have to understand that you doing the acting is the fool and the audience have come to see a fool. The comedy part is that you ‘acting the fool’ must not know that you are the fool. You must not show it. For example, if a chair has only three legs and the act is for the comedian to sit on it and fall so the audiences have a laugh, the comedian must act like he or she has no idea the chair is bad. That is how you act that part well. But if you are aware that you are the fool, you would be conscious of the sit and sit quietly so that you don’t fall, and then there is no comedy.
It’s like a man whose wife is cheating on him in a movie. Everybody knows, except the man and he goes about shouting ‘my wife is so good to me, she is so beautiful’. He is the fool without knowing. His action because he is ignorant is the comedy. That is the same thing with Dr Mekam in the comedy movie. Dr Mekam thinks he is the smartest person on earth. He came from America to teach his local indigenes how politics should be practiced. What he does not know is that Nigeria has a way of doing their things but he came with arrogance. Same arrogance he exhibits with his spoken Igbo language which formed the main part of the comic in the movie. He thinks and believes he speaks Igbo better than his village people. So I had to put myself as a fool, not knowing that I am a fool.
Would you say it is one of the hardest characters you have ever played?
Yes, I will say so. The second movie ‘Benevolence’ that I was nominated for the best actor in drama, acting the depressed character was not difficult at all. It didn’t feel like I was working. To interpret the character of a depressed person, I had to stay away from talking to people even on set just to put myself into that character. Everything around you is a tool. But for Dr Mekam, I have to read the whole script, read the whole scene, get the gist of it and then in your mind, your pick some and throw away some because as a fool, you are not supposed to be away of things around you. I have to choose my words and the timing of it. Even my facial expression must show that I am a fool. You must have a clueless face. You as an actor have to know how to make the facial expression, not to loud like slapstick and not too serious. It was so much work. It was not easy acting as Dr Mekam. I respect comedians because it is very tough acting as one.
Speaking further about challenging roles, have you thought about acting the role of a gangster with guns or a street tout?
I have done gangster role. I think I will love to act as Lagos area boy. But I must be given time to do research. I won an award with a movie where I played a taxi driver in ‘Back Drop’. I acted as a very cranky driver that is always fighting. That is why a child is the father of the man. The experiences you went through as a child, influences you a lot when you grow up. The experiences I have from entering taxi drops in Enugu gave me the inspiration for that movie.
It was difficult doing that role at first, because I just returned from England from visiting my mum and I took up the role almost immediately. Usually when I travel to England, the accent comes back strong and it would take me up to a month before I could switch to normal English, but it was God that helped me get into that role which eventually won me an award. I believe if I put my mind to it, with enough time to research, the area boy role would be a walk over. i keep to my name ‘Ikeagwu’ which means I never get tired.
Tel us about your family, you are a father and you have a baby boy. The last time we spoke, you said you have phobia for babies, has the phobia disappeared with the arrival of the charming little boy?
I became a father right from when I had my daughter and it is amazing. It is amazing because I had to transition from being single to being married. In fact I became married and a father at the same time. To have this person trust you and love you, it is very special. After these years together, I am reaping the fruit of the love. Sometimes, I talk to her like a father to a child and sometimes we talk like friends. She tells me about what she would do for me when she grows up. I mean the bond is there. And then the baby boy comes, with his beauty, strength, it’s just special. My children are my inspiration for things I want to do this year. With them, you understand that love is sacrifice. Love is willingness to give all of you.
The love killed the phobia completely.
Do you help out with the baby?
My wife won’t let me change diaper. She says am too clumsy. Even my daughter is allowed to changes his diapers.
Many Nigerian men would say that you are typical western kind of husband and father, marrying and loving a child of your wife from another man as your own, do you feel any different looking at the little girl?
I am far more grateful for my daughter. My son is mine and he is mine. When God gives you a child and says, ‘this is my child, look after my child for me’, that is real God’s love. I don’t just think about this earth. I think about the world beyond this life. Every one of us is going to give an account of what gave us. my wife and my two children are my most important mission on earth.