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Others are ‘Popular Faces’ PLUS…MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MERCY JOHNSON In the over a decade that Nollywood has been in existence, it has been blessed with a number of great directors and producers – people who were able to translate ordinary scripts and turned them into mega hits. From Zeb Ejiro – who is popularly called The Czar – a man who personified Nollywood at its inception, to his sibling – Chico, to Lancelot Imuasen, to Chidi Tchikere, to Emem Isong, these producers have discovered talents, nurtured them and molded them into mega stars. Though most of them operate behind the cameras or lenses, they wield enormous influence on the stars and always have the final word on productions and its mechanics. The directors it must be stated know the stars more intimately than anyone else – professionally speaking and their judgment on them invariably is sacrosanct. Ikechukwu Onyeka today is by far one of the most accomplished and successful Nollywood producers. He has produced and directed some of the biggest Nollywood stars – from Genevieve Nnaji to Stella Damasus, to Mercy Johnson, Patience Ozokwo, to Tonto Dike, Ramsey Nouah, among other leading stars. He has earned respects and accolades from some of the major players in the industry because of the professionalism he brings to bear on his job. Recently, Onyeka was in New York, as a guest of the Executive Image movie distributors and we had a chat on his role as a well-known director, his relationship with the stars and how the industry is evolving. Ikechukwu it must be revealed is not shy to speak his mind, and this tendency came through lucidly during the course of the interview. When I asked him to comment on some of the mega stars he had worked with and how the experience was, given the diva like attitude of some of the stars, he looked straight into my face and in a calm and forthright tone said “I don’t have problems working with the leading names in the industry. They may be celebrities, but when it comes to production, they usually checked their egos at the door.” Asked to name who in his opinion is the definition of stardom in Nollywood, he told me without hesitation “Genevieve Nnaji is in my opinion the only star in Nollywood. I know a lot of people would join issues with me, but I want them to look at the professional angles that I based my assessment on. Now let me explain that: Being a star in the proper sense of the word, and thinking that you are a star are two different issues and people confuse these two angles all the time. Genevieve Nnaji knows she is a star. She acts like one, conducts herself like one, projects herself like one, she understands the mechanics of stardom. She is a complete package – very professional. Now let me illustrate this further. I have worked with Genevieve extensively and if I asked her to be on set at 7 am, she will get here by 6:45 am, and would repeat same throughout the duration of the production. At the end of the session, she will wait to be given further instructions and would depart – no drama.” Asked about other leading stars he has worked with, if they are not stars along the same lines of Genevieve Nnaji, he said “No, there are popular faces. As I said before, a star is an icon – a role model, someone you can look up to. I am afraid some of our popular faces do not 1possess those qualities. As popular faces, they are well loved by the people and I personally enjoy working with them, but just as in Hollywood, in spite of the abundance of talents in Hollywood, it is not all that are seen as certified stars – people like Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts are huge stars, and they are hundreds of very famous faces in Hollywood. The fact that they are popular faces does not take away from them the affection and the adulation people have for them. Mercy Johnson for instance may be the most famous face today in Nollywood, with fans spread across the five continents – same with the Ini Edo, Mama G, Omotola, Uche Jumbo ect.” Mr. Onyeka also used the opportunity to dispel the rumor that he and Mercy Johnson had a fling insisting that “my relationship with Mercy has been purely professional. She is a wonderful actress, and I have worked with her in a number of productions. I respect her professionalism a lot. A lot of people do not know how humble Mercy is. A case in point is when she knelt down and apologized to Mama G, following a little misunderstanding that arose when they both appeared in a movie I was directing, where Mercy thought Mama G, did not show emotions when she ‘fainted’ in one of the scenes. The fall-out of that misunderstanding was played up for weeks in the press, and that created a huge tension between Mama G and Mercy Johnson. Eventually, Mercy shocked a lot of us, when she knelt down before a crowd of school kids – big fans of hers, and apologized to Mama G for all the misrepresentations that were fanned by the media. Mercy is a class act.” Mr. Onyeka is of the opinion that Nollywood has grown tremendously and is gratified to note that people from Bollywood and even Hollywood are analyzing Nollywood to see how we were able to build an industry to where it is today in spite of the technical challenges we face. “With the promise of the $200 million that President Jonathan recently made to the industry, I am sure we will up our production and story ante and take the industry to the next level.” Mr. Onyeka added.
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