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Managing stardom harder than being a star – Nkem Owoh

Enugu State-born actor and one of the biggest Nollywood comic actors, Nkem Owoh, popularly called ‘Osuofason’ is a gem on and off screen. The actor who stands the risk of been ‘sandwiched’ by his fans whenever he appears in public place, is reportedly one of the highest paid in the industry. In this interview with MUTIAT ALLI, the actor cum producer speaks no-hold-barred about stardom, challenges, his person outside the movie world, marriage among other things. Enjoy…

You are one of the busiest in the industry; do you have time for family?
I travel a lot, but I try to have an understanding with my wife. If you appeal to your wife and she appreciates that this is the place where the pocket bulge, I don’t think she will lose her cool. The thing is you don’t have to overdo it. What I do is that my children, my wife, I let them understand, yes it is not right for me to be leaving them but if I don’t leave them, I will not make this money. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon. So it is a question of understanding. The only thing that causes trouble is if your wife or your family wants to query you, that you are not always around and you begin to raise your voice, get angry. But when you put them in the picture, they will understand. Every time you appear, the crowd just almost mobs you.

How do you handle that?
It’s not something that started today. So I am used to encomiums and crowd. But I’m this sort of person when I am doing my private business, I don’t like crowd. When I am doing the crowd thing then I can come and entertain the crowd. But honestly, I still feel so shy when I am in the crowd. At times, because of the management of my stardom, I hold myself back from betraying emotions because at times they do certain things as if we are not human too.

As one of the biggest in comedy movies, how does it feel really?
It feels somehow if you agree that you are the biggest. I feel just like you, so you find out that that kind of mindset will not pressure me. If I’m feeling big because people say I am big, that is when I need to construct a metrics to deal with the idea. My own reaction to public perception his diagonal, from the professor to the labourer, from the general to the cook, from the highest in the religious body to the lowest, I relate with everybody the same way. People acclaim you for what they think you are but I just see myself as that actor.

What took you out of Lagos to the East where you are based now?
I was in Lagos for twenty years. What started bringing me down to the East was, if I needed something that has a Calabar touch, I come down to Calabar and shoot it. If I needed something that has Igbo touch, I come to the East and shoot it. But when you try to create Calabar or Efk in Lagos, to me it’s Jollof. It is adulterated. It’s inorganic. I want those organic ones. I have fought some little wars in the cause of our production but now I feel very comfortable.

What kind of person is Nkem Owoh outside the Osuofa we know on TV?
I’m just like every other person. I’m somebody who likes to learn from everybody. I like to learn from the smallest. I like to learn from the biggest. If you come to production ground, I am more in tune with the PA’s than with the bourgeois in the industry. It’s not as if I do not have my closeness or things that bring us together but I feel freer talking to people that are free. If I cannot come to you and talk to you freely, I am sorry I just stay away. If they need a very long protocol to talk to you, you are in prison. I like to talk to people who are free.

Having come this far, what sort of challenges did you face?
A lot of challenges and still facing. Well, there are two challenges now; challenges as an individual and challenge of the industry. As an individual, the challenges that people place on you, the length of stardom is always greater than the length of your purse, in our own case. People think because you are Osuofa in London, you must be stinking rich and they over access you. It is not as if your name is commensurate to your bank account. It doesn’t work like that. I appreciate the fact that.

My name has a lot in its account than my bank account because that one can open doors. It can infuence minds. Money, yes you need money to get things going and all of that but the name can do a lot more. Stardom too has it challenges. Now personally, because I act comedy, everybody thinks I am what I act on television. If you’re moving around, you will see some people will say hey, Osuofa come, come, come, let me give you drink. Probably you are acting a poor man, and you are drunk, they assume you are like that.

They now say come and drink. If you look at the person, if you want to manage your stardom properly, you don’t rebuff the person, you don’t embrace the person, you just politely walk away. A lot of challenges like that. Should I talk about my phone? It’s another thing.

My phone is supposed to be a very big advert to me but it’s turning into a nuisance. You know, I can’t rest, I can’t eat, and I can’t drink, because everybody wants you to make them happy, but nobody is asking whether this guy is happy. Just make us happy. That is it. You will be in middle of fracas probably with your workers or in your family; somebody will just come, a small boy, and says, ‘make me happy’. Or all these apprentices in the marketplace, you hear Osuofa, there is bad market o, please put us on a lighter mood.

If you cannot manage it, you will explode but politely for those people who say come, come, come, come and greet me, you politely wave and continue. I tell my friends, I don’t answer calls. Rarely do I answer calls but if you write me a message, I can call you back if I see the subject of your message. It has been written a lot of times that you earn over N2 million per movie. So naturally it is expected that you are a millionaire.

How true is this?
What is N2 million? Why I say N2m is nothing is, when people hear that you are rich, everybody from the village, if you are somebody who go close to your home people, the church where you attend, everybody around you will be tugging at your sleeve and you fnd out that that N2m will not stay one week, if you are that kind of a person. But if there is no this hullabaloo about your purse, there are certain things people will not come to you for. But once they hear that amount, they over access you, so they come. That’s why I say N2m is small. In fact, I need a house full of money to solve my problems. I have some people under my scholarship and it is because of all these things, they say, you have this kind of money, you are not training anybody. So you have to. I have people on scholarship. If you go to my village and ask them, they will tell you. I started from my people. Those people on my scholarship are not mainly my brothers. I come to a quarter and I say okay, the best student here male or female and I give them scholarship across primary, secondary and university.

Do you have a foundation through which you do these things?
I don’t have a foundation because I found out that foundation at times is playing to the gallery. You have a foundation; you write to some of these outside countries to support you, I don’t want to exhibit it. What I do, I do with my personal funds. Scandal will begin to come in when you go and borrow money to do these things. Instead of borrowing money to do that then I would rather do the ones I can do with my money.

Aside acting, what else do you?
I have a school even though the school is no longer; I decided to close it because my workers started playing games. I have a studio, movie studio; I have camera chains that shoot both our movies and those they use in weddings, though the branch of that one is in Enugu.

Have you produced your own movie?
I’ve been producing and I’ve been marketing my films. My production outfit is called Nonks Production. Even if you look at some of the films or television programmes, you will see post production, Nonks Studio. I don’t have to come out and begin to use microphone to shout. It’s my studio. It’s my company. Once I am reaping from it, my own name is enough. It is getting too much for me too.

How do you cope with female advances?
I cope very, very well.

How do you go about it?
Well, it depends on the angle you are coming from. If you don’t understand women, you won’t cope with them. If I want to talk to a person I appreciate, I will talk to you as if I’m nothing. I don’t like to use this thing, I am a ‘big star’ that is why I cope so well. If you relate with people on individual basis, they know. But if you come to impose yourself on me, I get afraid, I’m sorry. My strategy is just by being polite and by trying to draw a line. Because am are a star and women are coming, should I have to allow them to come? You kill yourself if you do. In any case, I became a man before I became a star. There are people that stardom hit at a very young age; they get confused because they are not mature to manage that stardom. I tell you, to manage stardom is harder than being a star. You may say okay you are a star, you will kill yourself by the relationship you have with your fans.

Any regrets so far?
No, if I come at another time and the opportunity presents itself to be an actor, I will jump at it. Yes, I will, if it is like this.

Was there something else you wanted to do before acting came along?
I read Engineering but I am not practicing Engineering. I read Electrical Engineering. The only tango I had with Engineering was when I worked with one company, Waco Engineering. Even before I entered school, acting has been tugging at the sleeve of my mind.

So why did you end up studying engineering? When did acting explode?
I had already finished reading what I wanted to read. You find out that when people think that you are an average student and you want to impress your parents, you have to read those things that are big. And I was good at sciences, so I went for Engineering and I was taking the accolades for studying Engineering. But what ‘My name has a lot in its account than my bank account’ is feeding me today is not engineering. I’m an engineer by certificate but I am show businessman by profession.

Are you kids taking after you in acting?
Yes, I have seen the pigments in some of them but I don’t want to pressure my kids. The only thing I try to do is to encourage them. In fact, there is one of my daughters that is very good at singing. I used to sing. In my family, it is there. What I did was to buy her a recorder, so each time, the inspiration comes like that, because that thing comes just like that. I gave her the recorder to record whatever comes to her at that time.

So you have a musician in the making?
I don’t have a musician in the making. I am only encouraging her. If she wants to be a musician fne! You also had a stint with music.

What happened? The marriage between branches of arts is so strong and you can’t do one without the other. Outside the country, Hollywood, you see those who sing act. Indian flm is just all about acting and singing. Some of the big time musicians we know in US are actors. Some of the actors are playing music. So these things are interrelated. I don’t think I am going outside the box if I enter into music. I will just have to pick one and do the other one as an associate.

So you do not hope to become a popular musician someday?
Being a popular musician and being a popular actor, what kind of popularity are you looking for?

Does your wife feel insecure at times because of your stardom and women getting attracted to you?
Those who are not stars are even worse. Those who are not stars are bigger risk to their wives. If you are a star, anything I do here now is news. But somebody who is not known can come, perpetrate any kind of atrocity here and goes out and nobody notices. So you have to be cautious of that.



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