In Conversation with Veteran Actor Charles Okafor
by Awuli Okocha
Charles Okafor is recognised as one of the veteran actors in the Nollywood film industry. In 1996, he appeared in his first movie Domitilla and in 1999 rose to fame after starring in the blockbuster movie End of the Wicked. Since then, Okafor has won many African movie awards including Most Prominent Actor in Nigeria at the African Movie Academy Awards, Best Actor in Nigeria at the City People Entertainment Awards and Best Male Lead Actor at the African Movie Viewers Choice Awards.
Tell us about yourself?
I am from Umuleri, Anambra State. I was born in Lagos and attended St Gregory’s College, Lagos. I earned a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts from the University of Port Harcourt and a Master’s degree in international relations from the University of Lagos. I completed the mandatory National Youth Service programme at the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and was retained at the end of my youth service where I then worked for 6 years before resigning to set up my outfit C& E Production. Here, we engage in filmmaking but beyond that advocacy, projects and business. We also generate discourse on internal businesses for African development.
Can you tell us about your work experience before you started acting?
The SEC afforded me a visible platform for understanding the dynamics of Nigeria. It helped to sharpen my skills in administration and handling materials. I am entirely grateful to the SEC for the opportunity to handle corporate activities.
Have you always known that you would end up acting and producing, or was it spontaneous?
No, it was not spontaneous. Acting has always been a latent ability I believe was given to me from creation and of course, informed my conscious choice of study at the University of Port Harcourt. I was convinced I needed to study theatre arts because I wanted to be an actor and a filmmaker.
Were there personalities at the time that made you want to settle down as an actor?
There were people that we looked up to in those primitive years; the likes of Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett, Olu Jacobs, Harrison Ford and Denzel Washington.
What role has film and acting played in your life from your early stage till the present day. Were you also acting while at the SEC?
While I was at the SEC, I had encounters with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), which opened me up to television. You must understand that there is a big difference between what we call Nollywood today and Nigerian television soap operas. Then, we didn’t have many network soap operas; however, I had the honour of playing the lead role in one, Memorial Hospital. This was before the advent of Nollywood. I had already to some extent become an established face of the network television. It became much easier for us to migrate into Nollywood as established faces. This explains why perhaps an actor is recognised as a major character because he has already been on TV and enjoyed a level of visibility.
What major problems did you face in the industry at the beginning?
Like every emerging enterprise, it came with a few problems such as the lack of advanced technology unlike what it is available today, for which we are grateful. Another issue is that the industry wasn’t as lucrative as it is today. We were able to collect the pecuniary sum to take home at the end of the day because there was an overriding passion that was fundamentally the drive for our practice. The people of my generation majored more on what we were churning out over what we were making. It was a challenge because we didn’t have a comfortable life yet we didn’t complain. Some of us worked hard to become more successful by doing other jobs on the side. The joy we had was in knowing that we were contributing to the development of an industry like we have today; was what kept driving us.
What was the general opinion about acting and film as a full-time career, when you started?
It consisted largely of serious-minded, focused career building people. We were more focused and driven by a disposition towards constructing a career in contrast to what we have today, where prostitutes have become movie stars and anybody can do whatever is immoral just to be in a movie. Those years the kingpin for accessing Nollywood was a bit more stringent because we knew each other either from the university or experientially. For those in the industry who didn’t study theatre arts, you would observe that they became professionals by reason of their many years of experience on the job. We had people who were either graduates, pursuing careers and others who probably had diplomas and had garnered a lot of experiences in the various compartments of filmmaking. They were equally as professional as those who went to school to study. If you conduct a comparative analysis of our generation and what obtains contemporarily, you would observe that there has been a sharp drop in quality and content as can be captured in the script and morality. The actor is a mirror of the society, so when we expose the shortcomings in our society, we ought to in our private lives, be ambassadors and be disciplined in terms of how we speak, dress and abstain from scandals. These things make one a role model. Unfortunately, we have a wrong sense of stardom. We celebrate people who sleep around, are alcoholics, scandalous in dressing, and are cultists. In those days, we had a stronger template of decency, discipline and professionalism even though we didn’t make a lot of money. This is why today, people still recognise me on the streets, as they remember classic movies I acted in such as Oracle, Igodo, Omalinze and Conspiracy. What made these movies classic is the fact that the script went through several workshops. Then, there were also serious auditions before actors were selected. All of these informed the reasons why we had the best and stood out. In addition, because of the good moral system, people in my generation are till date happily married as compared to this generation.
You mentioned that you set up a production outfit after you started acting. How did you combine producing and acting?
Firstly, I trained at the university. Secondly, I wanted an opportunity to make the wrongs right, and to of course advance myself financially, even though at the end of the day, the issue of piracy and intellectual property has not been fair to independent filmmakers like us. Now, especially as we have too many sub-Nollywood productions.
I know it is easy for you to juggle acting, directing and producing because you have been trained in that regard. It would also help reduce costs but shouldn’t the director, producer and actor play separate roles?
Yes, I am a filmmaker and producer by profession, but I engage other directors and producers on the job. For example, in my recent project, I had an assistant film director because I had a lot to do and needed assistance. There is no way one can direct and produce all by one’s self.
You have not been active for a while now. Have you been working behind the scene on your creative process?
I am still an actor, but a time comes when one has to evaluate his steps. I had to ask myself some fundamental questions. I have done a lot of acting and gained enough popularity. I found the need to embark on advocacy acting and decided to be critical. This then informed my being selective about the kind of script that I do. Also, my spirituality is a factor. I have been a Christian for 21 years and there are things that I cannot be seen doing anymore. When scripts come and I see that they don’t agree with my faith I respectfully turn them down. The consequence is that I lose money, but I am happier this way.
I searched for you on Google and found an article that says you have been ordained a pastor. Is this true?
Yes, I have been ordained a pastor. As needful as the social media is, they bring up many scandals. So it is a good thing that my name is not soiled on the Internet.
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