O.C. Ukeje is an award winning Nigerian actor, singer and model. He shares his experience working on Half of a Yellow Sun, Nollywood at 20 and how he likes his woman’s hair.
2013 – the year of OC the Great. Remind us just how many awards have you won and how many award-winning films you have acted in?
Lol! This is a very interesting question! Uhm…I think that I have been in thirteen films as a whole but I have won seven awards.
Wow! Well done, we know you always had it in you. What would you say made 2013 so special?
Honestly, I feel like one thing that opened up the floodgates was winning the AMVCA (Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award) in March. It just seemed to be the beginning of many more interesting appearances here and there. I’m not saying it started making people consider me for awards but maybe they started looking a bit more closely at my work. I also think that with the fact that I had a couple films lined up and popping out around the same time, 2013 certainly started a new phase.
No, surely, you must have done something differently?
I have to say that I have done exactly the same things I have done all these years and just prayed that one day things will open up more for me. I can’t tell you that there are new strategies that I have employed but I’m just glad that I stayed consistent and finally, a bit of recognition has come. And that’s part of what I’d like to say to folks who want to be here as well. Be absolutely and undoubtedly sure this is your space. And when you cross that bridge, then work hard and stay focused and determined. And after some time, you’ll come through.
What have all these awards done for your career?
Well, for one, people have paid a bit more attention to my work. Because when a man gets a couple nominations from different circles all in the same year, you beg to ask what he’s doing that qualifies him for the nominations. It’s also opened up an international audience to me as well. It has made me more critical about my work process. And of course the market value is also at a sexy point.
Has it increased the pressure on you?
Well, it has increased pressure on several fronts but you have to decide on what you want to pressure you and how you handle the pressure that seems unavoidable. There’s pressure to look good, to know everything about everything, to be the quintessential role model, to always be right, to always have money…and these pressures have always been there, but it comes to a brand new scale when you’re on this new level.
Let us talk about your craft. How instrumental was your training at the NYFA? Was it really worth the thousands of dollars?
It was worth every buck I spent. I think that exposure is a very important thing for an actor, so to begin with, being in a circle with other actors and filmmakers from different parts of the world made the world a better place. And the training process opened my eyes to the intricacies of acting and filmmaking and why I made the choices I made when I did do some acting. Every cent was well spent!
I’d like to play the role of a radical. An extremist. It appears it will be a really exciting choice to make. Just to see how I do it. It’s the wiring of the characters that interests me.
Nollywood meets Hollywood, describe your on-set experience working on Half of a Yellow Sun?
My on-set experience was pretty much as I expected it to be. Fortunately, I had worked on some standard projects before this film so I had the same professional experience. I didn’t meet Anika because we didn’t work together. Thandie was very bubbly and vivacious. Chinwetel was a hard worker, is a hard worker. Biyi Bandele was very liberal with his actors’ contributions. It was a good experience in all.
What did you take away from the experience?
My dear, I have more desire to work on international projects. Period.
It must be very hard for you to choose among your babies but what award meant the most to you and why?
Every award so far has been significant. They have all had their validating feelings at the points that I won them especially because I only felt very great to have been nominated at all. AMAA and AMVCA have meant a lot more though because they were make-or break points of my career.
You got a new car through a lucky dip at the 2013 NMAs, was it just luck or you got the Midas touch?
Hahahaha! I think I was just blessed that night to have the heavenly touch. All contenders are hard workers and deserving of it. But I was just the absolutely fortunate cookie.
Theatre vs TV vs Film?
Hmmm…I still don’t have the answer to that question.
Nollywood is turning 20, what is your take on the industry’s progress?
I believe we deserve to celebrate ourselves and where we are. I also think it’s a good time for us to look back and see what we did wrong that caused the dip in our journey and what we need to do to correct that. We need to harness all our strength to move us notches higher, especially in the areas of distribution and international collaborations.
We know you have a special woman in your life, when do we come and eat our rice?
Aha! If you shall be patient for three more years, you’ll be in luck.
As a lover of style, how would you love your woman’s hair and fashion?
I have to say that I have a thing for well-done, well-catered-to natural hair. Not all natural hair appeals to me. I can’t really tell the difference between the Brazilians and the Peruvians, just as long as the presentation is key. Fashion on the other hand, has to be high-end impressionable. It doesn’t have to be a name brand. But you must know how to ‘wear cloth’! how to mix and match and just be breath taking… that is crucial.
We’ve seen you model in Stlye Mania and sing in HoodRush, what other secret talents do you have up under your sleeves?
Ah! You have discovered all my trade secrets then. Lol! Seriously though, I won’t call myself a model but I know that my face and physique are good for brands. And yes, I’m a singer. And I intend to explore both of them real soon.
What was the last Nollywood DVD you bought?
In 2014, what should we expect from you?
I believe there are a few amazing films I have done that have 2014 as tentative release dates. I don’t know if we shall release them but I’m expectant about more international work.
Interviewed by Isabella Akinseye.
This interview first appeared in Issue 01 of Nolly Silver Screen magazine.