Chief Chinwetalu Agu is a veteran actor, writer, comedian and movie producer, who came into limelight through two popular NTA soaps, Baby Come Nvow in Enugu and Ripples in Lagos 31 years ago. He spoke on his experiences in Nollywood with Reporter LUCY EAZEE. Excerpts:
Where is Chiwetalu Agu from and how did this your name come about?
My name is Chinwetalu Agu, I hail from Amokwe in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State. I was born March 5, 1956, in Enugu the capital of Enugu State. Basically, I have spent about 31 years in this profession with tutelage in NTA and the then Anambra Television, ATV Channel 50 of old Anambra State. I schooled at St Lukes’ Primary School Ogui Nike, College of Immaculate Conception (CIC) both in Enugu, Wisent College West Germany. I started out in this profession in 1981 when I came back to Nigeria. I had my own theatre group known as the Inspirers in those days, I acted in many NTA progammes, like the Ikoro produced by Joe Onyekwere. Things Fall Apart in 1986, after which I put up a soap opera entitled The Advocate which never saw the day light. In 1987 I went to Lagos, where I featured in The Ripples produced by Zeb Ejiro. I played the character of Chief Abunna. I am popularly known as the Okemilinaezoluora I of Etiti and the Odezulumba of Ogbunike town. In 2002, I was awarded the Best Actor in Nollyhood, also the most popular actor in 2009. Look, I am one actor that might not be too wealthy, but I am fun to watch any day, any time and that is the reason why my fans so much believe in me. I conducted the first ever audition of what later became Living in Bondage, a film from the stables of Kenneth Nnebue, that produced stars like Kenneth Okonkwo, Kananyo .O. Kananyo and others. From there we moved on to the production of 8Taboo, where I played the role of Ichie Ogwu and numerous productions that we did in the 1990s.
Today you are a producer, actor and director of movies, how would you rate Nigerian movie industry or Nollywood?
Nollyhood has expanded; in fact, we have developed from where we used to be previously. Back in the 1980s it was nothing to write home about because that time one was earning N5.00 as artist fee. Then, they will prepare voucher and send it to the accounts, audit and cash offices and it will be there for three weeks before you get the so-called N5.00. But then one was being influenced more by the passion not the remuneration. That’s why one was able to sustain until we hit the boom, there is boom today. I have received numerous calls today from people who want to join Nollywood asking me how to go about it, even students that are in different areas of studies are switching over. Undergraduates in different fields are also switching to theatre arts. Everyone wants to be part of it, the glamour, benefits are there even when you aren’t given fantastic pay but doors are opened for you because actors are sought after. Governments want to be part of the ceremony. The last governorship election that was won by Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, he told his aide-de-camp (ADC) that he would want me in his inauguration. I was preparing for the inauguration of Governor Chime Sullivan, because I am from Enugu State, uninvited with my relatives, when I got there, I took the shine off everybody. Governor Akpabio asked me, “What was that movie you did where red cap was coming from the sky and perching on people’s head and you will tell the person ‘prepare to leave this world you are going to die.’ He asked the slogan I used in the movie. I told him Igba nni na ofe. When I said that, the man in the course of laughter wanted to slip and fall and had to be supported. Even the former Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Idris Abubakar, has hosted me; it has availed me the opportunity to meet many state governors. This shows that it pervades the whole government sector because they call people like us to attend their ceremonies. If you view this very well, you will see that it’s worth more than the financial remuneration.
How many films have you acted in and produced since you joined the movie industry and which won you the best actor award?
I am approaching 500 productions. I call them productions because music and some other things are involved. The best actor award was not as a result of a particular movie. Even when I got the most popular actor award by the Catholic Church in Nigeria coordinated by one Rev. Father Ofor, they accessed many movies that I had done but couldn’t help, but be filled with joy. But the ZAfA London awards were for Maidens the catch point was etelu ugba etelu ose. People don’t just access a particular movie; they are interested in the catch phrase because of the fact that in every movie there must be a catch phrase that must make you laugh. The fever today is that my fans are no longer interested in the kind of English I use but are interested in the kind of cliché that I have come out with. Whether I pass on a powerful message or not they are interested in the aspect of entertainment. I am glad that God has used me as an instrument to bring joy in many homes not just in Africa but outside Africa.
You have been playing roles based on contemporary events, but most times your roles are both wicked and devilish. Can you reconcile these roles with your real person?
I must tell you that the two are in opposition because like my mother will say that ‘she knows the son she bore to be a gentle man, whether he plays a wicked role or not, whenever he comes home he remains the gentle Chinwetalu Christian Agu that I gave birth to.’ That goes on to tell you that what I’m doing has to do with talent because years back I couldn’t believe I can play a wicked role to such extent that people will marvel. But as the years went by I got used to playing wicked roles and even put mastery in my acting. I didn’t know I would go to the extent of becoming a master in wickedness.
Do you agree that piracy is a major setback to the growth of the entertainment industry?
There is no doubt about it. It does not only affect sales, it also affects the take home pay of the actors. The marketer who is supposed to make 100 per cent profit makes less than 20 per cent and consequently he pays the actor less than what he is supposed to get. Actors in Nigeria are supposed to earn millions in few months but because the sales are affected, they can’t help but pay what we regard as simple artist fee. But by the grace of God, my own outfit, Chinwetalu Agu Productions, will conquer this problem in the sense that my own distribution format will be different from what obtains today in the society. I am going to be distributing directly to the consumers and not through the market because it’s only in the market that pirate can launch his attack. My movies won’t be seen in the market unless the one taken to the market by the pirates and if he takes it to the market nobody will buy it because I must have distributed it to everybody in their houses or offices. Therefore, I am going to have in my computer the data containing the addresses of every house in this country and I will get the information from institutions like NIPOST. When I get the information, it will show the number of streets we have in each state of the federation, I will have a minimum of 10 distributions vehicles for circulation. In Lagos alone, I will have up to 20 because of the population, the same goes for other cities in the country as well. When I distribute it to the state groups, each state group will distribute it directly to the houses of the people who have paid.
There have been counter claims that most female actresses that cast in Nigerian movies are exploited through sexual demands and appeals by producers, directors. Give us the true story since you are a producer and you have been in the industry for a long time.
What I see happening has to do with nature, not just Nollywood. For instance, if you are passing along the road, and see an attractive lady, will you not turn your neck to her direction to have a second glance? Everybody likes beautiful things. Men particularly appreciate beautiful women, and our Nollywood ladies are well endowed. So these things happen in all facets of the society. What of the one that government officials organise girls, popularly called weekend chics every weekend to have fun, money exchange hands in bundles because they get this money so freely? They throw the money as if it is of no value again and when some of them can’t sleep with them because of their old age, they just sit down in their hotel room and permit the ladies to cat walk or dance nude before them. So, all these are not just in Nollyhood because people watch them act this role in their movies and address them the same way. It is not peculiar to Nollywood; it has to do with nature.
How does your family cope with your acting, especially the wicked roles?
I have very understanding wife, she is very calm and kind. This is a woman I will like to marry if there is another world. She gives me happiness and joy. She is very religious and God fearing. Now, I have five children: three boys, two girls and a household of 10. I must feed them everyday by the grace of God. It is a very happy home, they don’t joke with God. That’s our first foundation.
What is the secret behind the stability in your marriage taking cognisance of the fact that many actors and actresses’ homes have broken up?
I pity anybody who did not use God as his foundation before he married. When God is the foundation, marriage will last even up to 100 years. It’s the woman that holds the family not the man, and a bad wife brings forth bad luck.