Love him, hate him, Kenneth Okonkwo is in a world of his own. He launched himself into stardom with his A- grade performance, as Andy, in Living in Bondage, a movie directed by Okey Ogunjiofor.
The movie, critics agree, started the revolution in the movie industry that also gave birth to what is today known as Nollywood. In this interview with nfc, Okonkwo speaks on his new career as a lawyer, his new wife, Nollywood and more.
You must be a superman joggling as an actor, student and now a lawyer…
With God, all things are possible because I know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. So, that’s just it. You are trying to pose a threat by using God…. Okay tell me, how could it be possible without God? When I was about embarking on all these, I kept asking myself if it was possible. So, it’s just the Lord’s doing.
When did you become a Christian?
I’ve always been a Christian from birth but I decided to have a personal relationship with God in 1994.
Was it after Living in Bondage that you decided to have this relationship with God?
But the information I have is that you got born again when you met your ex-wife….
How possible is that? From her pedigree, she wouldn’t associate with unbelievers. I got born again in 1994 and started having a relationship with her in 2000. So, that information you have is wrong.
Your ex-wife is a pastor’s child …
My wife today is a banker.
I mean your ex-wife.
No, I don’t want to go into that. She was my wife in the past and that means old things have passed away. I don’t remember anything about my past now.
You said you’re born again and the Bible you carry forbids divorce.
Well, the same Bible approves one husband to one wife and I’m married to one woman now. If you can quote the portion of the Bible you’re talking about, then I’ll understand. Secondly, I don’t want to delve into my past. I’ve forgotten everything about my past for good. I believe in the present and the future.
Since you’re insisting on the present, how are you enjoying your present marriage?
Fine, but I wouldn’t want to talk about my marriage on the pages of newspapers. From what I know about marriage, I believe that marriage is a sacred institution which is meant for a man and a woman. So, the only thing I can tell you is that I’m happily married and that’s all.
What informed your going into the legal profession, or have you left acting completely?
Acting has never been my profession but a hubby. That is why it has never been part of all the profession I’ve gone into. So, originally, acting is a way of unwinding and entertainment for me. But after Living in Bondage, people began to associate me with acting and it’s something I love doing.
My first course of study is Business Administration. Then I went to a Bible School where I studied Theology, then a lawyer and I’m also a diplomat. I’ve been trained in four different areas of life and acting is not one of them. For me, acting is a talent which I like to explore.
Ngozi Nwosu recently said the first kiss in Nollywood was initiated in Living in Bondage and you were the person she kissed. Can you still play such role now?
(Laughing). Living in Bondage initiated a whole lot of things and whenever I’m on set, I do exactly what my script says. I will never accept a script if I cannot do what is written in there.
Are you an arrogant person?
(Laughing). I want you to judge that yourself.
Okay, I think so…
So, why did I decide to talk you if I’m arrogant? What gave you that impression?
Maybe, the way you carry yourself like a superman…
(Laughing). Are you now mistaking confidence for arrogance? I think you have to really deal with a man to confirm that he’s arrogant. But you can smell confidence. I can tell you authoritatively that I’m confident and I dislike arrogance.
Living in Bondage was your first movie. What were you doing before it?
I told you earlier that I read Business Administration. So, I was working as a sales executive, already established as a business man. So, after that movie, I became an importer. I had offices at Idumota and my offices are still at Trade Fair (Market).
Today, I have trained up some people who are managing those businesses because I cannot be everywhere at the same time.
As a practising lawyer, there are things you can’t do. Are you ready to give up acting for your new profession?
As a lawyer now, I’m going to be more decent than I’ve ever been. But I don’t think being a lawyer stops me from practising any hubby I’m used to.
That’s to say that you’re not quitting acting?
No, since it’s a hubby, it has to be subject to my profession. So, I want to practise law which is my profession. This could also mean that my acting will be limited somehow.
When did you go into acting and why?
I’ve always known I’m an actor from childhood because it’s talent based. My father and mother have always wanted me to be a lawyer. But as a young man, I wanted to establish myself before going into the profession.
Will this new profession change your dressing code also?
I dress for the occasion. So, I’ll still put on my jeans trousers and T-shirt if I have to. Suits and traditional dresses too if I have to.
The legal profession has a way of cutting down on nearly everything you do, like dressing, walking.
Oh, no! What is this thing about the way I walk and so on? I’ve always carried myself confidently. When I was in primary school, some people were like, why is this boy walking like this? When I got to secondary school, some people started asking, ‘is it because I’ve entered secondary school?’
Those who knew me from secondary school told the people who were complaining about how I walk in the University that I’ve always been like that.
It continued like that till I became a movie actor and the complaints became worse. So, it’s not my making. I grew up with that carriage and I consider it to mean confidence. I’m only trying the best I can to be myself and I thank God that people appreciate me for who I am. I don’t try to be someone else, even in the movies. The way I talk, walk and everything I do is peculiar to me alone.
As one of the pioneers of the movie industry in Nigeria, can you differentiate between the movies of yesterday and that of today?
Of course, the only permanent thing in life is change and I really thank God that I was one of those who were chosen to act the first movie which evolved into what we know as Nollywood today. I think it’s an act of grace for which I’m grateful to God.
Today, we have better equipment for production, better trained people are equally involved in this business than before. You can’t compare the quality of the pictures we had then to what we have today.
But if you talk about story lines and commitment from actors, then I’ll still say that Living in Bondage is outstanding.
You’ve done a lot of occult movies. Why are Nigerian movies so much into occultism?
I do not agree with you that our movies are dominated by occult story lines. As a matter of fact, most of the movies we have today are hardly occultic. However, movies are a reflection of the society. In our traditional society, people are very occultic.
You hear a lot about ritual killings here and there. You read it up in the papers every day. Occultism is not just peculiar to our society, it’s a world wide issue.
How’s Nollywood today as regards sales?
The issue is that we got an unprofitable effect when we left VHS for DVD. In my own view, we should have allowed VHS to stay and I’ll give you my reason which is very simple. DVD doesn’t have a second hand value but when we were using VHS, it was easy for you to use the same tape to dub another movie if you couldn’t sell the first one. But with the use of DVD, most marketers are under pressure to sell at any cost because the CDs become a waste when you don’t sell them. You can’t reproduce with it.
The second reason is the issue of pirates. When you already know that the pirates will sell at a cheaper rate, you have to be prepared for competition. You and I are aware that our government is not doing enough to fight pirates.
In Thailand, they have three different types of police force. One of them is responsible for cyber crime, another one for pirates and then for crime.
If we are serious here, we have to create a force like the EFCC to fight piracy, and you’ll notice the difference. If not, then forget it. You know that movie pirates do not consider cost of production, which means they can sell at any rate. Even with all these, the industry will still not collapse.
You just won the Best Actor award. What is it award about?
It’s an award given to me as the best movie actor in Africa put together by (Zulu African Film, Festival Academy Award).
Hope you’ll invite Vanguard to be part of this celebration?
Sure on the 6th of November, I’ll be having a get together and that day too is my birthday. So you’re invited.
That means you’re having a triple celebration (Award, birthday and call to bar)?
Yes. I just got to know that it’s the same company that produces trophy for Oscar awards that produced for ZAFAA too. And I must confess that I’ve never held a more beautiful trophy since I started acting.
That is to say that you are married to your real wife now because good things are coming your way…
Thank you very much. However, the comment you made now is yours, not mine. I told you that I don’t remember anything about my past. Even in the Bible, it was said and I quote “remember ye not the things of the past for I will do a new thing in your life”. The only thing I can remember now is that I’m married to a lovely lady whom I live and cherish.
So, how much support do you get from this lovely lady?
Well, you just made a point and the Bible also said, “he that findeth a wife, findeth a good thing and obtaineth favour from the Lord.” So, all these things that are happening now are favours from the Lord.
That good things are happening when she’s around me is enough support. I couldn’t combine all these things if I didn’t have her support and succeed in all. With the support and love I got from her, I wasn’t distracted. After God, my wife should be the one to take credit for all these achievements and that’s why I can only remember her.
What advice do you have for people in Nollywood who want to go into marriage?
(Laughs). God is the only one that can help you in marriage and not man. Don’t try to hide anything about yourself to your partner because anything built on a false foundation can never stand. So, if you want your marriage to last, then build it on truth.