With the gait of an A-list Nollywood actor, the mien of a big bad boss with dark glasses and swag of a fashionable man, he saunters unto the red carpet. As he grins and poses for the light, camera and action, a battery of photographers clicked away to have their fair share of this delectable dude. With a figure that commands an immediate acknowledgement of his presence and the suave of an accomplished gentleman, Emeka Ossai is one of a kind in Nigeria’s movie industry. Ossai over the years has become one of Nollywood’s finest producers. As an actor, he began acting as a kid with the likes of Olu Jacobs. A man of many parts both in the film industry and in politics speaks with Oge Ezeliora about his new lease of life; his second marriage; why left politics and his newfound love for movie production; and the fulfillment he finds in being part of the TV series, Clinic Matters cast.
What informed your recent acceptance of a chieftaincy title in Delta State?
It’s just a homecoming for me – I am from Delta State – as a son of Chief and Mrs. Felix Ossai. I was lucky to be crowned with a title in my town. This is my state; I am an Ikwuani man from a place called Otagbauno, Isiunkpe, Ikwuani, Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State. Whenever I come to Delta I feel very much at home and it’s always nostalgic when I come back home. I am delighted because my people recognised me.
You’ve starred in and produced many movies; which is your most favourite?
Well, the one that I hold most dear to me is ‘Court of Rose’. It was my first movie as a producer and it was wonderful; a lot happened with that movie. Another movie I loved so much was ‘Amina’. We passed through a lot shooting it. We did it for one good month across the northern and eastern parts because it was a story about both parts. The movie was quite challenging but God saw us true. I will not forget ‘Dead End’ on NTA, which was my first TV series. I acted that movie when I was still in school.
As one of Nollywood producers, how come you have not been given an award on any of your movies?
That is not true. Can you remember the movie called ‘Checkpoint’? The movie was focused on the activities of the Nigeria Police. I never knew it would fetch me an award until I was nominated by AMAA as the ‘Best Actor in Supporting Role in 2008.’
Is it the movie that brought you to limelight?
I didn’t even act in the movie that brought me to limelight; I produced it. I actually fulfilled my aspiration of becoming a producer. Because when I started acting, I told myself that my aim was to get to the pinnacle and that is producing my own movies and running my own production company which I’m doing very well today. But the first attempt was a glimpse into the reality that yes I can do that; so it’s quite memorable.
How did you feel first time you handled a camera?
How did I feel? I had to discover a lot the first time I handled the camera but luckily for me I was on the programme with Olu Jacobs. It was my very first time to appear on the screen and on a film on NTA called the ‘Third Eye’. So after my first and second attempts at changing my light I seemed to be stuttering. I had initial apprehension but he told them to give him five minutes to talk to me so he called me aside gave me some pep talk and since then I have never looked back.
You are a qualified food technologist. Why did you end up as an actor and producer?
You can be wherever you are as long as you are good. I started acting in 1987. As a student, I just had an interest in acting. Nobody forced me into it. My friend then, Fred Amata’s father use to be the head of the Theatre Arts Department. He was the head of department and when students were having stage plays and they needed kid roles, they would invite students like us to act with them. My first appearance on TV was at NTA. That was before the birth of Nollywood. The title of the film was ‘Third Eye’ and I acted with Uncle Olu Jacobs and the producer was the late Lai Aransomi of NTA. And I was so happy.
So what has been the secret behind your success?
From one job to another came its own success and from every success I look forward to the next success. So, it’s like conquering at every step in a new horizon because I’m actually not in this field. So coming into this field was off my chart but then I was doing very well so I liked it and so I felt that I had conquered two worlds and I needed to go on.
Did you grow up loving movies?
I loved watching movies but I would not say that is the reason I wanted to act. I just felt that being able to represent a character that is not me would be very exciting to do and to convince those who are watching that I’m actually the person.
What does it take to be a producer or a director?
It takes a lot of passion for the job. You know most times the younger people would say ‘no be passion I go chop na money I want.’ But the truth is just like what the Bible says, ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God and all its righteousness and every other thing would be added to you.’ If you seek first the passion of the job, every other success will follow because the passion will keep you going; the passion will make you grow and the passion will make you do better things and the money will follow.
Your role as a medical doctor in the popular TV soap, ‘Clinic matters’, has given you an edge in the industry. How did you come about this?
Well, this is not the first time I am acting as a medical doctor. That is what makes a professional actor. You must be able to interpret any role given to you. ‘Clinic Matters’ started in 2009 and we have unleashed different episodes so as not to bore our viewers. I believe God has been on our side. The first time I acted in Nollywood I played the role of a doctor. The whole thing started long time ago. And the movie was titled ‘Dead End’. It was produced by Chico Ejiro. That was in 1996. Acting as a medical doctor in ‘Clinic Matters’ is like bringing back the name and tag that I was known by. Some people even thought I was a real doctor. I am not a medical doctor. I only had an aunty who was a nurse. She is late now. She motivated me a lot. And I watched her do a lot of things while attending to patients as a nurse and that gave me an insight into what medicine was all about. And today everybody is calling me ‘doctor’ because they watch me acting as a medical doctor on ‘Clinic Matters’.
Did you produce ‘Clinic Matters’?
No. I only worked with the producers and also act in TV series.
Let us talk about your relationship with the nurses in ‘Clinic Matters’. Working with women can be challenging sometimes; how do you cope with them?
The ‘nurses’ in ‘Clinic Matters are wonderful and unique actresses. They respect me a lot as a senior colleague in the industry. We have good relationship and they value my presence in that production. We are united; they are fast in learning and I am proud of them. Even while working on set they are eager to learn more and that is what kept ‘Clinic Matters’ growing because we work as a team.
Apart from acting, what else do you do?
I run my private business and I write. I also plan events and produce film.
Would you say Nollywood is evolving?
Well, I would say Nollywood is growing a lot. I mean it’s very different now from when we started but we are trying our best to ensure that we don’t lose the very essence of the industry. The channel that shows most of the African movies starting with Nollywood is called African Magic. Now, that name was derived from the near impossible process that we follow to make our movies and group of people out there would say this is magic…. African Magic and that was how the station started and what I would not want us to do is to lose that very essence of why we are what we are and try to mimic other (film) industries. So we are doing our best to remain on that path.
It is noticed some movies produced today in Nollywood are of low quality, especially those produced in Asaba. What is your view on quality of movies in Nollywood?
That (movies of poor standard) is what I wouldn’t encourage in the industry. There will always be different shades at any film industry even when you go to the US. All the films there are not like the ones we get to watch have and each and every kind of film that is made within the system have their own makers. Now improving standards of movies has nothing to do with the distance of the themes of the kind of movies you make. The films that are made here in Asaba are mostly the kind of films that relate directly to those who watch them. Whether you like it or not, there are some people who love and would die for those movies. Now that does not mean also that the quality and standard of treatment of those same films that would still convey the kind of essence that it has should not be mocked at any point in time. So it exists on its own, people love it, it’s making money.
Some actors seem to prefer the low-standard movies because they don’t discriminate while others prefer cinema movies. What do you think is the reason for this?
It is a personal thing. Everybody has his own base. Some actors prefer to act only cinema movies while others prefer to act normal movies or stage play. I believe it depends on the producer and the set of actors and actresses he or she wants to work with. This life is all about choice. As an actor nobody will decide for you; you know what you want. So it’s better you go for it. If you believe the low-standard movie gives you more income and promotes your fame then you go for it; same to those actors that prefer cinema movies.
Many actors are now venturing into politics. Are you interested in politics?
I love politics. I was the first person that joined politics during the regime of Governor James Ibori in Delta State. But one thing led to another, so I changed my mind.
How did you cope with your acting career when you joined politics?
I stopped for a while and focused on politics but at the end of the day I noticed there were various planks in politics. So I retuned to my career and I focused more on being a very good producer and I am not regretting it.
Years back, you lost your first wife, Jennifer. Why did you it take you so long to remarry and what attracted you to your present wife, Jumai?
My first wife is gone and I don’t want to have a flashback because it is my past. Today, I am married to a wonderful woman who is Godsent. She is a golden fish and I appreciate her a lot. We met at a dedication ceremony of my friend; Chico Ejiro. I wasn’t even feeling well that day but I chose to attend the ceremony because Chico is a good friend. That was where I met her. We chatted; I liked her – yes, she was my spec (my kind of woman). We became friends; we became lovers, and one thing led to another and today, we are happily married. I remarried in 2007. The marriage is blessed with a set of twins – Chukwuka and Chukwuamaka Ossai after five years.
What really was the attraction to marrying her?
Like I said, she is beautiful. She is someone with a very good heart and she is very industrious; very serious minded and not the type that would be lazing around. She also has the fear of God, which is very important especially when you are married to an artiste. For a woman, the fear of God is important in every marriage. These are some of the things that I saw in her. She looked like a wife material even though she is a professional. I never looked at all that. I just liked and went for her.
With her name many people will mistake her to be a Northerner. Where is she from?
She is from Edo State. She only bears a Muslim name because she comes from a Muslim background. But she was a good Christian before I married her. She is my pillar.
As a producer in the movie industry, what do you consider problems facing Nollywood?
One is distribution channel and piracy. This has actually limited our capacity; because people have not focused on how to go above the normal places they sell their movies. Another thing is bad contents; you can only sell what is good to people – most of our movies are now coming out well because we do research. I thank God that many of us are working hard. We are doing our best to bring back good movies in the industry at a greater level. Check out the kind of cinema movies that we have with Hollywood on ground. It’s of world class standard; we are really competing with Hollywood. We are even working with many of them and inviting famous international actors to work with us. This is great work. I am happy with our industry and I pray that piracy will not kill our good work.
- Oge Ezeliora