By JAMES EMMANUEL
Ifeanyi Joshua Ezekwe, better known as Mr. Fix It, in Nollywood is many things to not only actors and actresses in Nigeria who hold him in high esteem, but also to his teeming fans who see him as a versatile actor-cum -producer.
After many years of stage performances where he endlessly dazzled diverse audiences across the nation, Ezekwe ventured into Nollywood proper in the late 90’s, with the hit flick entitled Unforgettable. His outstanding role interpretation skill in the blockbuster opened new vistas for him and earned the MBA holder, lead roles in subsequent movies like The Spider, Gray focus, Assassin Practice, among others.
The Imo State-born thespian in this encounter spoke like never before. He talked passionately about his career, losing his ex wife to another man and how his son died in his hands. He also offered a thought-provoking perspective on the challenges facing the movie industry. Excerpts:
Tell us about yourself
My name is Ifeanyi Joshua Ezekwe and I hail from Ngor- Okpala area of Imo State. I went to Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Sokoto where I obtained a degree in History. I also hold an MBA, Professional Diploma in Public Relations, Diploma in Commercial and Industrial Law and by God’s grace, the CEO/Team Leader, Kleenmates Limited. Now, I am more of an actor who dashed into movie production because as you grow older you start looking at what you can do for yourself when you won’t be able to jump from one location to the other for shoots.
How long have you been acting?
My first acting experience was in 1982 under the tutelage of Larry Williams. Larry Williams taught me speech in acting. I did my first stage drama in that same 1982 during a fund-raising event that attracted personalities from far and wide. I actually wrote the short play that we performed entitled The Clarion Call. In that event we had in attendance so many renowned artistes like Onyeka Onwenu, Bright Chimezie, among others. It was a huge national event which took place at the National Theatre.
What was your first major movie and when was it?
Professionally my first major movie was entitled Unforgettable but I don’t think I can remember the year because I’m not good with dates. It was a Mike Nliam Production. I starred alongside Rita Dominic, Hanks Anuku, Jim Iyke among others. The movie was a huge success in the market. I played a comic role.
But before then I had done series of other acting, including stage performances and soap operas.
How did you venture into acting?
I was the head of my dramatic society back in school. The current deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha was my classmate then in school and they all used to gather to watch us perform especially during events at the school cafeteria and hall. So it all started from there.
Were your parents supportive of your chosen career?
My father was not but my mum was in support. I came from a very religious family. My father believed I would derail from our faith if I should go into acting. But I later proved him wrong because I went into it without becoming the bad boy they had thought I would become. By the time Unforgettable came out my father bought it, watched it and I think he was impressed. I later went on to feature in other productions like Heaven’s Gate, Gray Focus, Spider, among others. Gray Focus has not been released in Nigeria. As at the last count, it had won about 17 international awards. It is currently showing in cinemas in US and other places of interest but not yet in Nigeria.
What does acting mean to you?
It is a passion to me. Something I derive joy from doing. It doesn’t really put money in my pocket because I have other businesses that I do. I run a couple of businesses that are thriving.
I was once living in England where I worked as a cleaner with all my degrees and qualifications. Having returned from England I worked for a while and then decided to set up my own outfit. We are involved in total facility maintenance. I also run a movie and television outfit, alongside my oil and gas business.
What do you think are the challenges facing the industry?
Our major problem is lack of facilities. We do not have the best facility for productions. Another problem is the fact that most of our production managers are not properly schooled. That is why in my opinion we should have qualified production designers who can plan and put a time frame to every production. There are so many hitches during production which end up constituting nuisance to the production. That is why you keep on hearing that a particular person abandoned set. They really do not abandon sets out of their own volition. It is always a function of production problems, including time table. If for instance, there is no light, you might have to keep on waiting for it before you commence shoot. Most times, the people you are supposed to use their building might delay you and you would also need to get security permits if you are shooting movie that has gun scenes. The people who would give you these things are working with time. They might give it to you just for an hour. In the process of being in hurry you make a lot of mistakes. Most times you get to a location and discover that the person you are paired with is yet to arrive or he or she might not have even read the script. Some stories don’t even have substances. It is about mass productions now because marketers and producers want to recover their money. Piracy is another great challenge which is worse than cancer. There is a particular movie I bought for 1000 Naira; my neighbour’s son bought that same movie for 100 naira. People no longer care that the picture and sound quality of the pirated movies and the original ones are not the same. My car CD has not played for almost one year because I slot in a pirated CD. Before I bought the CD I asked the seller to swear and he swore with God’s name that it was original.
Why has there not been any concerted effort supported by all in the industry to tackle the menace of piracy and some other challenges you’ve just mentioned?
The movie industry has gotten to a point of rat race. It’s now a matter of me, myself and I. Survival of be fittest. In a clime where attention is paid to the movie industry, money is being budgeted for things like security, cinema, publicity and other areas that would boost the film. In our own case, what we bring money out for is just for shooting, accommodation and welfare. Nobody pays attention to other areas. On the part of the government, they have not shown commitment to the fight against piracy. Either because they lack the political will or some of them enjoy the sufferings of the artistes. Those who are supposed to make the law and implement them are just not doing anything. Ineffective distribution is another problem that has slowed the pace of growth in the Industry. In the aspect of distribution, the only way to make it right is to go back to cinema. But how do you go back to cinema when you do not have light, no good road, no security and things like that. When you are leaving home for cinema what is the assurance of your security? Again how many Nigerians can afford to pay 2000 Naira to watch few hours of movie in the cinema, especially when the quality of our movies are always in doubt?
Let’s talk about your last movie-Assassin Practice.
It was a fantastic production. It was shot in October last year here in Nigeria and UK. We had on set actors like Justus Esiri, Kate Henshaw and other notable faces. The movie is currently showing in UK cinemas. We had foreign and local artistes coming together to make the film. The producer and its director are based in the UK- Andrew Ukpokor and Dele Ajakaye. Mike Nliam was the production manager. For me, I have watched movies; I do not know any aside Mirror Boy that can compete with Assassin Practice. I played the role of a very funny and useless police man who thinks he knows it all but was a daft in the real sense. For me that kind of person is not fit to live. When I was given the role I said ‘no this is not me’. Even doing the acting proper I was making mistakes until I picked up.
What are you working on now?
I am about going on location for an Igbo film series entitled Kachifo. It’s my production and it’s all about modern day Nigerian Igbo family and their deviation from the norm, including the struggle to survive by the girl child. Why is it only the girl child that should drop out of the school whenever there is an economic problem and what is the guarantee that the boy child would do well after the school that was denied the girl child? And do we have examples of successful girl child?
What is the first thing you do when you get a script?
I look at it and ask: how is this script going to educate? And secondly, how would it entertain the viewers? What are we teaching the generation of people coming after us; not like the American film where it’s all about shooting without lessons to be learnt. Those are what I look out for in a script before other things.
Is Ezekwe married?
I have been married three times. My first wife died. The second marriage broke because of the woman’s insatiable appetite for sex.
What do you mean by that?
If you have a wife who you just got married to and she got pregnant for another man, what do you do than to take a walk.
How was the feeling like?
Devastation was the right word.
How long did it take you to recover from the shock?
Swiftly because the action showed that the marriage was never meant to be.
Was there any issue from the marriage?
I wouldn’t say yes or no. what if there was and I am not the biological father? You can’t be sure until you do the needful. But I have a wonderful family currently because I walked into another marriage two years later. That was in 2004.
How was it like losing your first wife to death?
It was too painful. She was my friend and my wife. A girl from middle class family falling in love with the son of a poor man…I came from a very poor family. So it was an undiluted love from an innocent girl to a hungry actor. At the point we fell in love I was moving from one place to another, performing and getting something like 50 Naira. She knew I was sleeping on the floor in a one-room apartment with an uncle. That was in 1983. And she loved me for who I was because I worth nothing then as a man. She died after a protracted illness. We were married for four years and the marriage produced my only daughter.
How was your love life like before marriage?
I had too many women because I was handsome. This is the little thing that attracts women most times. In a month you could get about ten girlfriends because we were celebrities in our own way and most of the girls were coming based on that. But at a point I asked myself, is this what I am living for? So I took a break. That was the period I left acting in order to regain my sanity.
What does poverty mean to you, having experienced it?
When you have to go to school in the morning hungry, come back hungry, and eat one meal at the end of the day. When you have to use a bar soap to bath at the age of 17. When you eat fufu in the morning and manage to eat at night. When your mother had to fry only an onion for people to perceive and think she is cooking rice whereas she is cooking yam. When you can’t go back to retake WAEC because of 90 Naira fee. When you have to become a steward in a restaurant in order to get little money to go back to school!
Did you actually experience all these?
They were all my experiences and many more.
So how did you break away from that bondage?
It was God. At a point I called on God and asked why He was passing my generation’s status to me. I handed everything over to God and He helped me. I was determined to go back to school by working hard and associating with the right people, doing away with the mentality that I come from a poor home. Mentally I refused to accept poverty; I decided to break away from it. On these basis, I put my hands on any kind of work, as long as it was an honest work.
What are the other pains you’ve gone through in life?
My first son died in my hands. I don’t think I would ever forget it. I cry each time I remember that experience. Much later I lost the woman, my first wife.
If given the chance, what mistake of yours would you love to correct?
That is to have driven away a woman who claimed to be pregnant for me based on an accusation that she was sleeping around. I wish I never drove her away because she later fell into a wrong hand.
Is Ifeanyi a born-again Christian?
Depending on the angle you are talking about. I am not a religious person. I do not believe in religion because it doesn’t work. But I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. Though I still fall into temptations as a human being.
What kind of temptations?
Which other temptation is greater than money and women (Laughter). There is no other temptation for a man rather than money and women. And maybe power which I’m not interested in.