“So, who wants to go first?” Bob Manuel-Udokwu asks the journalists waiting to interview him. Asked if he is the only capable host of the reality television show, ‘Ultimate Search’, which he has anchored three times consecutively, he replied, “No, I don’t think that’s the case.
"I believe it is because the owners of the show, Nigerian Breweries, perhaps felt that I deserve the honour having worked hard for the past two years.”
“Of course, it’s history that the presentation this year was better than the last two from the report we got. I’m a professional actor and it can only get better. They have their reasons why they chose me in the first instance.
"The first time I did it in 2007, 10 of us were auditioned. I was picked and I didn’t disappoint. Last year also, I didn’t disappoint. This year, I have taken it a notch higher.”
“It was more interactive,” Udokwu says of what he did differently this year. “This year, there was a new director, a younger person who knew that we were not working at cross purposes but working to make the show more interesting.
"We had an understanding where he allowed me more creative room and we exchanged ideas on the direction that the show would go as far as my presentation was concerned.”
The actor, who first came into the limelight in the early 1990s when he appeared in Amaka Igwe’s ‘Checkmate’ as Richard Haatrope, was asked if he expected to be called back after the first show.
“My satisfaction was that I did a good show, got good reviews and I don’t think any sensible person will change a winning team even though in Nigeria anything is possible. So, having lifted the visibility of the show through my presentation, I felt happy as an artist that I didn’t fail.”
Nonetheless, Udokwu, who says the fee paid for anchoring the show is not bad, would still like to improve on his performance.
Transition into production
The producer of ‘Wedding Bells’ and ‘Matters of the Heart’, explains that he became involved in production because, “It’s part of the training that I got. When we were in school, we were taught about various aspects of TV and movie making, including acting.”
The University of Port Harcourt graduate, who trained under the late Ola Rotimi, adds, “When we graduated, the easiest way to practise was to be in front of the camera. So, a lot of us went before the camera. But people seem to remember you more as an actor when in actual fact you learnt all aspects of production.
"It is only in our society that people pigeonhole you into a side of a business. In America, a lot of great actors are now producers and directors. Even music - a lot of them who started out as musicians are actors: Snoop Dog, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez.
"It’s not strange that one should move from one arm of entertainment to the other. If you have the training, what does your training do for you if not to equip you for challenges?”
Image is crucial
Though he has appeared in Wale Adenuga’s the Super Story series, ‘Face of Deceit’, and featured briefly in Pius Okugbere’s ‘Beyond Our Dreams’, Udokwu has not been in many TV productions since ‘Checkmate’ because, “I haven’t been quite taken with soap operas.
"Having been in a major one like ‘Checkmate’, I didn’t really give myself in to doing soap operas. I’m not saying there are no good soaps now, but I just can’t lend my image and presence to just anything. It has to be good; it has to have quality, class and verve.”
His stance, he maintains, is not arrogance. “I’m talking about quality. Some people complain about certain productions that are foisted on the public, but I, Bob Manuel, won’t lend my image to such because my fans and those who know me for high standard would be disappointed.
"I was in America earlier this year to shoot a Nigerian-American movie called ‘A man’s Image’. I was invited by the producers. I have offers from other places to do movies. I’m supposed to be in London in October for the ZAFA Award where I got a nomination for the role I played in ‘The Concubine’, a colossal work. When people want quality, they are willing to wait for it.
The first love
The actor - no relation of actress Dakore Egbuson, though they are said to look alike - explains why he chose acting. “It’s always been with me. I believe this is what I am meant to do in life: entertaining people; making people happy. I don’t struggle to act, it comes naturally”.
He adds, “It’s been with me all my life. I don’t struggle to act, whatever role it is. I then had to go get training. By the time I finished training, there was no industry. The best thing would probably have been to go abroad. But then I got involved with ‘Checkmate’.
"I was still doing ‘Checkmate’ when Kenneth Nnebue of Nec Video Links invited me to be part of ‘Living in Bondage’. It’s not a question of when did you get into this; I was already ahead before the industry stopped me and said ‘we want to join you’.
"Nollywood joined me and it is still pulling me back because now I’m doing movies abroad. In 2004, I was invited to Hollywood to audition for the movie that turned out to be’ Phat Girlz’.
I did something for the History Channel, a documentary on the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide titled, ‘Rwanda: Do Scars Ever Fade?’”
The art of pretence
“We are all human beings, there is no gainsaying that there would be a tinge of concern but my wife knows that I have married her,” he says of his absence from home to go to movie locations. “I left all those ones and put you in the house.
"Don’t forget that doctors see naked women everyday yet a lot of girls will give their right arm to marry a doctor, we don’t see. Ours is just to pretend. Acting is pretence but because it’s really not part of our culture to do entertainment and people watch at home, you see it as a new thing.
"People say ‘oh my God, look at the way he is holding that girl.’ For us in the industry, you know you are just going through the motions, physical motions; it has nothing to do with your mind.”