Efa Iwara is a Nigerian rapper and actor who has featured in various movies including, ‘Put a ring on it’ and series like The Men’s Club, Rumour Has It, Ajoche amongst others. In an exclusive interview with, ROSEMARY NWOSU, he talked about his career, how he fell out of love for music and the distribution problem in Nollywood. Excerpts…
How would you describe your first acting experience?
My first acting experience was when I was nine years old and it was a stage play in school; Staff School at the University of Ibadan. I remember it was Ola Rotimi’s book, ‘The gods are not to blame.’ I remember my dad helping me with the lines. It was a really fun experience for me.
How did you go from wanting to become a doctor and discovering the cure to HIV to dabbling into entertainment?
I wanted to study medicine because my sister, Kapoona Iwara, who used to make me read was a doctor at the time. I also used to watch this interesting show called ‘House.’ Through my sister, I could see the impact of doctors in people’s life, saving lives and finding cure to diseases. And I just said ‘Oh! This HIV scourge seems to be really crazy,’ so let me try and do that. But I realised that at the end what I really wanted to do was to put smiles on people’s faces and luckily I have been able to do that through entertainment, acting especially.
You are a rapper, then an actor but it feels like you’ve retired the rapper in you for the actor. Wasn’t there a chance for both careers to coexist?
The truth is my contract had expired and I was starting to fall out of love with music and acting was like running into the arms of the one that you always loved and abandoned. I actually love music but for a couple of years now, I just didn’t find happiness in music. After a couple of years, I started enjoying making music again but releasing music is very stressful. I don’t know if I will ever roll in releasing music but I have always find myself in the studio recording music for myself to listen to and my friends but to release it to the public, it depends.
One of your recent works is Seven; a film that elevated Nollywood’s storytelling and cinematography technique a bit higher and did well critically, and commercially. How does it feel being the face of that film?
Yeah! I was the lead actor. Seven is like a puzzle. There are so many integral characters and pieces in this puzzle. Though, some people appeared more than other people, without those other pieces we won’t have a perfect picture and it was really exciting going to the cinema and seeing myself as the lead character. It was humbling and exciting at the same time.
How did you land the lead role in the film?
How I landed the lead role in ‘Seven’ is the weirdest thing. The director, Tosin Igho, told me about doing a movie in 2015. I think it’s the last share of my record deal contract, and was talking to him about dabbling into film in 2015. He had this idea for the movie and I asked him if there is a part in it that I could play. He said yeah. He auditioned me for a role but the movie didn’t get made. So fast forward to 2017, it turned out that we stay in the same estate so I saw him one evening. I called him up and went over to his house to just get talking about film, comic books, music; just bunch of stuffs. He told me there is another movie and he auditioned me for a role in it. It was called ‘The Eve.’ I went for it and that was the first time we got to work together. And I guess he saw something he liked and he said, “We are doing the movie Seven.” It’s a bit weird and a really interesting journey. We sat down and talked about it. This was 2017 and I remember we had just finished shooting The Eve. Then in 2018, about a year after, it was time to shoot. It was dream come true.
What was it like filming with the likes of Richard Mofe-Damijo and Sadiq Daba?
To be honest I have always been a fan of Richard Mofe-Damijo. I am talking about since ‘Checkmate.’ I was a kid and my older ones were always talking about ‘Checkmate’ and I was a fan of his in movies like ‘Diamond Ring,’ ‘To him stand’ etc. I was a huge fan and the first time I saw him, we were working together. I was star-struck but it had to do with the job. Meanwhile in between takes, we talked about Arsenal and how the club can move forward and I learnt a couple of things from him. He’s really a cool man. He is someone that actors should try to emulate. He is a legend. But we didn’t talk that much to be honest but to be on the same project with him was really big for me.
Does the success of the film in any way mount pressure on you to want to outdo yourself in your subsequent projects?
I don’t think the success of any movie for me especially will mount any pressure on me and force me to try and outdo myself. I have always been that kind of person to outdo myself in anything I do. If I am doing something I like to put in my best. In life generally that’s just my motto, to always try to improve. It’s just my life.
What’s your process of choosing the scripts you want to work on and the ones you don’t?
Something has to stand out. It’s either the story or how it was shot or the character like when I did Rumour Has It Season 2, where I played Femi who I think was a psychopath but I still think he was a functioning sociopath. Femi was just a lover boy and I wasn’t necessarily excited but once I read the full script and I saw where everything was going, I was blown away. For, Ajoche, having to start at a younger age, I lost a bit of weight, shaved my beards and hair off. I didn’t know how it was going to end at the time but knowing that it was going to grow was exciting enough. Ajoche is my first movie on Africa Magic. Then Seven, it was a journey of a young man who had no bearing in life but he was too sad to find himself becoming a better man. Like I said, I am excited for that as well. So, for me it’s about what’s in you with the characters and storyline. Even with The Men’s Club, basically, I haven’t heard of a story been told from the perspective of guys, it’s always from women’s perspective. So to see an all guy perspective was a bit exciting for me. So that is what I look at. The angles and what’s different and what they are trying to say.
You’ve been in the movie industry for some time now. What according to you will be that one thing that needs to be addressed in order to make the industry more structured and sustainable?
I think for the industry to grow what we have seen is probably like some injection of funds into the industry, and one reason why anyone would inject funds is if they would get a legal profit. So in order for that to happen we have to work on our distribution network. And I think we can work on distribution where we have Nigerian movies shown not just in Nigeria or Africa but globally. Then we can make more money. Having people see that they can make more money than they invest in the movie industry and then that in turn will make them shoot better movies than what we are shooting now.
So, what’s the long term plan for you? Any plan for diversification of your creative prowess?
My long term plan is to evolve beyond being viewed as just an actor but as a super creative too who can direct, produce and executive produce too. I’d love to own my own TV station and a distribution network. You want to become a best version of yourself and I can possibly be a super creative and someone who can inspires other people, just the same way I was inspired.
Does your career as a rapper stand any chance of a rebirth in all of this?
Yeah! I think so actually. Some new music might be coming out soon, fingers crossed. Let’s see what happens.