Nigerian creative and talented actor, Emeka Nwagbaraocha, is known for movies such as ‘Kasala’ (2018), ‘Zena’ (2019), ‘MTV Shuga’ (2013) and Rattle Snake (2020) among others. Popularly known as, ‘Boy OnFire’, he narrates the hard times of yearning to become an actor and more in this interview. Excerpts…
What is it like to appear on screen as part of the cast of a movie?
I always had this intuition that I will appear on TV someday. So being in a movie cast and actually seeing myself is a dream come through and I’m so excited. Sometimes when people send me pictures, I’m like, ‘oh wow’. That has been a great feeling. I’d always been part of the drama group from Primary school. It was drama and debate club too in secondary school. I did a play in JSS3 and when I got into the University, I became part of the drama group in my fellowship. So, it has always been, I know I can do this. I found out I’m really good at this when I started getting feedbacks from the play I did in the University. Then I was like, ‘wow, you’re really good at this, maybe you should take it a step further’.
So, why do you call yourself ‘Boy On Fire’?
I think it was actually a meeting with my Pastor and we were talking and he said this is an apostolic movement and an apostolic movement is carried by fire, just like harmattan fire can’t be easily controlled. He actually asked me to get a personal day of fasting and I think that’s where the whole ‘Boy On Fire’ came from. So, I thought, if he is an apostle of fire, ‘Boy On Fire’ works and it has scriptural backing. That’s how the name came about after the conversation with my Pastor and he was talking about how the move will be carried on by fire. So, you can’t stop Boy On Fire!
What movie was your breakthrough in your career?
I feel like in every stage of my career, every project has been announcing me to the next level. Every project has been for me ‘you can do this, you can be here’ and things like that. The first ever breakthrough I’d say I received was when I did, “Life 101”, for EbonyLife TV. It was my first push and then, I went on to do, ‘Kasala’ and then I did, ‘Sugar’ and then, ‘Rattle Snake’. So, it’s like every stage of my career, a project comes along and reemphasises: “this guy can do this, this guy is available, this guy is present”. So, it feels like at every stage of my career, a project just comes and announces me like that. And I’m grateful for that. So, I will say, ‘Life 101’, ‘Kasala’ and currently ‘Rattle Snake’ are movies announcing me at this point.
What’s your most challenging role?
Every role has its challenge. You know, trying to be a particular character and all that. I think one of my most challenging roles will be ‘Kasala’, because I had to learn how to drive in three days and it wasn’t easy and trying to be loud, because I’m not really a loud person. I’m more put together but I had to be loud, wayward. It was so much fun, but then it was very challenging. Then there was the fact that I had to speak Yoruba which I wasn’t so comfortable with. So, it was really challenging but then it came out well and I’m grateful for that.
Aside from acting, what else do you do?
Well, for now it’s just acting that I do. I’m currently doing my NYSC as well and I’m still trying to juggle the two. It hasn’t been easy but after one year, it will just be acting. So, it’s just acting I’m doing.
Will you say that your stature has given you more roles in movies than your talent in auditions?
On the contrary, I will say that my body stature has actually made me loose roles, because sometimes you go for auditions and they’ll say, “oh you’re too small”, “oh you look too innocent”, “you look too babyish, and tiny.” And that’s a disadvantage. But it could also be an advantage too. Maybe it hasn’t got to the point where it could become an advantage. For the most part, it’s been a disadvantage but then I can’t complain because I believe that every disappointment is a blessing. Not even in disguise. It’s actually a blessing. Most times you go for auditions and they are, “oh, you are talented but you’re too small”, we need someone bigger and that’s it”.
You studied Accounting in Abia State University. Why did you go into acting rather than accounting?
It’s actually a long story but all I can say is this: Before my NYSC, I was looking for something I could do in the meantime; just to make some money and to settle some things I needed to do for myself. Acting seemed like the most valuable option, you know when you look at yourself and say, “what can I do”, acting is a thing you can do, acting is a thing you were doing in University and then I said, ‘okay let’s do this and let’s make this make sense.’ That’s how I got into acting. As for accounting, I don’t think I have abandoned my certificate. I’m still going to do advanced courses for myself but acting is mainly the thing that I do. I actually went into the business to look for money to settle debts. The most important thing was that I was trying to use this passion to make money.
What exactly have you noticed that Nollywood is lacking?
We are lacking a lot of things. But then my major excuse for Nollywood is that, we are still a growing industry and we are finding our voice in the global market. I think we are trying our best basically but then, I think we need to do more. We are lacking a lot of things compared to our brothers and sisters in Hollywood and in Bollywood but there are also places where we are doing better. Never the less, as a growing industry, we can only say there is room for growth.
How can the movie industry become more developed?
Like I said, there a lot of factors! If I was outside the industry, top of my head I would have given you a direct answer, we need to do better scripts, better action scenes, let’s invest in customs and all that. Then, the major demon we are fighting is piracy because, you will release a film today and next thing your film has not recouped your initial investment and you’re seeing it everywhere on CD plates and people are paying peanut for your film and it’s really heartbreaking. So, first, I think we should fight piracy in the industry. Let filmmak-ers be able to get a secure channel where their films can come out and not be pirated and they can make money from their films. People need to make money from their films and be comfortable. The next thing is development. So, I feel like, if we can come together and fight piracy as an industry, we will do ourselves a whole lot of good. Do you intend to train young actors? Of course, I intend to do that sometime, it’s in the global plan. But for now, I feel I’m still in the learning process myself. You can’t give what you don’t have. But then, if young actors reach out to me in my Direct Message and tell me they need help, I will give them advice from the little pot of wisdom that I have. A time will come when I will organise classes and train young actors, that’s when we start climbing and getting to the legacy state. It’s a gradual process. I will definitely get there and it’s still in the plan, but not anytime soon. But definitely, I will do that.
What should we anticipate in your recent movie, Rattle Snake, The Ahanna Story?
It’s such an amazing project. I don’t know how to describe it. I feel like, people should go to the cinema and see it for themselves and make their own decision. A lot of love and hard work was put in this film and it’s rare to find cast with such energy. It’s just like we just had each other’s back, from the producer down and then we started seeing the rushes. I feel so happy to be part of the project. You should expect very genuine acting which is one thing the movie excels in; beautiful acting, beautiful scenery of Cape Town. And then you’re going to see chemistry among the gang and actors. It’s so beautiful to see. It’s the most anticipated movie of 2020 if I’m not mincing words. When the trailer came out as an actor on the project, I was blown away by the genius of Ramsey Noah. So yeah, it’s amazing and I can’t wait for you to see it.
What do you have to say to young actors who are going for one audition to another?
So, one thing I can say is that, first and foremost, never pay for an audition. Keep working on yourselves no matter the negative responses you get. Secondly, keep pushing and keep growing. It’s going to happen. I’m sure it’s going to happen. The sky is so wide and big for all of us to shine comfortably, so keep pushing and doing your best.