Chinedu Ikedieze of the Aki and Ukwa fame is one of the most successful male role interpreters in the Nigerian movie industry. Aki, who is known with his counterpart, Osita Iheme, (Pawpaw) began acting around 1998. During the week, the Abia State-born actor told Newton-Ray Ukwuoma in a chat how his physique turned life around for him in the movie industry among other things. Excerpts:
What are you doing right now? What is occupying your time?
I am on the set of the Johnson’s, Africa’s number one TV series rated as the best. The Johnson’s is a family show, and so it is for everyone. The Johnson’s is keeping me busy for now. We are shooting every day for eleven months. By all definitions, I do not have much time for anything else, but aside that, I have a personal project in the pipeline. I have started discussing with the production management and by February 2019, I will be traveling to Florida, USA to shoot a feature movie. It is going to be a big one. I am working towards getting it not only done, but well done.
We all know that you and Osita started the child comedy movie in Nigeria. But would you say it came by accident or by design?
I would say that taking the role of a child was designed and that being funny is natural. It was a part I didn’t see as anything serious about. The funny part is my normal life until people began to talk about it. Sometimes, I would be like, “What did I do? Why are people saying that I am funny?” So, when I started taking the role of a little boy, it was easy because my height gave me the advantage to get into character and be that little boy. Also, so some of the roles I played were my little antecedents. I had passed through that phase as a little boy, not that I was completely mischievous.
What I was asking is that Aki naUkwu shot with comedy in mind or did it happen accidentally?
It wasn’t a comic movie especially on our part. We were acting normally. The person that wrote the script did it for the lessons and morals. Maybe there was a bit of comic expectations especially from some other actors like my father in the movie and some other big comic actors, but not from us. From us, we were acting like little kids with no intention to make people laugh or roll on the floor. No. We were just acting normally. If you look at it again, you will notice that we were just interpreting the role innocent of the comic angle.
What then made that movie a global success?
What made that movie a success I would say was may be because of the chemistry Osita and I share. It was something Nigerians and the movie industry hadn’t seen until then. This was the first time people will see two ‘child-actors’ who blended easily. We are one in a million.
One will observe that between the two of you, there was always a time to say, “Aki, you are right.” What do you have to say about that?
Naturally, I am a fast thinker. I don’t believe in giving too much time to digest facts. Before you finish saying what you are saying, as you are talking about it the answers come in, in their numbers in my sub-consciousness. It is because of that maybe that I assumed that role.
You nearly made a first class in Mass Communication. Was it your dream course?
To be frank, it wasn’t my dream course. As a little boy, I grew up with so many aspirations. I wanted to become a doctor because my uncle is a doctor. After I had some encounters in secondary school, I then wanted to become a lawyer. But all those aside, I nursed a love for acting. It, however, wasn’t a part of my dreams. I always know that I could do those things I watched on TV.
As a little boy I did not believe that anything was impossible. I always had the belief that if I tried I could do it, even though I may not have the financial capability to achieve it. I had a lot of wild pool of ideas. I was denied admission into law because I didn’t get the JAMB cut-off mark. I accepted to study Mass Communication at that time after my sister-in-law persuaded me to. I took up Mass Communication in a polytechnic with the thought that it was part time that I would sit for another JAMB exam so I can try law again. I tried JAMB and got Law, but at that time, I had already fallen in love with Mass Communication so I rejected the admission. The moment I fell in love with Mass Communication, I began to see a path to Nollywood and I grabbed it.
You once said that God gave you everything but height. How has your height defined who you are?
You know there are things you can’t change. If it was easy to add some inches to my height, I would have done that. But since I can’t change it, I have to play along. I have to be who God has made me. Yes.
Do you think your height has limited you in any way?
No. It has not. It is just that in my other kind of imagination, of course I am human, there are little, maybe unnecessary things I would have done with a taller physique.
Do you want to share some of these little things?
No. I don’t need to. But I think I have become the person I dreamt of becoming. So, I can’t give less, or compare myself less of who I am.
Do you think that you would have been more successful if you had a taller physique?
I don’t know. I believe in the law of nature. If God had destined that I would be very successful, no matter my structural description, I would still be who I am ordained to be.
Growing up, before you became grateful about who you are, what were the challenges you faced?
I thank God for the kind of parents I have. Who I am had a little of a disadvantage growing up because I was taunted many times by children, my peers and other people who didn’t understand my height. That really affected me psychologically. At a time, I got so mad that I kept asking God why I was born like that, but now I think that question has been answered.
You have done hundreds of films. Which one gives you a sense of fulfilment?
I would say the one that brought me to limelight, which is Aki naUkwa, is because it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back of my movie career and I am grateful for that. I am also eternally grateful to the late Chukwuka Emeliyeonwu, who died early this year during a ghastly auto-crash. May his soul rest in perfect peace. He took a very big risk when he invested his money in that movie. Even though, he didn’t write the script, but for him to agree to invest his money, even after he was banned by his union member for distributing the movie, yet he managed to market the movie using his brother’s distribution company. The movie Aki naUkwa became the highest grossing movie for him, selling throughout African and other parts of the world. He made money, even though the movie was massively pirated as well.
You got the stage name Aki from that movie. Do people call you by your real name?
No. I am still Aki, even kids call me Aki. Their mothers were either teenagers or young adults when the movie came out. That was 2002 and this is 2018, it is 14 years now. So, five-year olds kids still call me Aki. Social media has made that aspect of my life even more apparent. When I go live on Instagram, I get responses from every walk of life. People call me from as far as Russia, Croatia, Norway and from every part of the world. I am always very shocked and surprised. One woman called me and was speaking Spanish.
I of course couldn’t hear her and I could pick word film from what she was saying to realise that it was from the movie she saw me. I just couldn’t figure who introduced her to Nigerian movie. I have had great receptions from every country I have visited from Nigeria to Africa to the Caribbean Islands, to the US and to every part of the world. I have remained so grateful for these opportunities to be relevant globally.
You have about 500,000 followers on Instagram.
I have millions from across the globe, not on social media only. Because if we are rating it by the number of followers on social media, there are people that have two million followers on social media but if you ask them to take a walk with me, they will be embarrassed. The likes of Mama G should not have only 50,000 followers. I don’t think it is appropriate to measure a celebrity by the number of followers they have. I don’t think there is anybody that has more followers than myself and Osita, Aki and Pawpaw, in Africa.
When it comes to public appearance, you always catch attention with your dress sense. What do you have to say about that?
The truth is I like being unique. I don’t like dressing to draw attention, but I dress to make a statement. When I come close you will differentiate the little boy you watch in the movie and the real Chinedu. What I know about fashion is that it is the creation of man. If the whiteman can influence us so much to wear suit and tie even in a scotching sun, why can’t I create something that will not only suit me, but inspire others? So, when you find me wearing an Ankara shirt, joggers, a native cap and sneakers, it is my way of defining my fashion. I just love looking good.
Between you and Osita, who has the more taste in fashion?
Two of us. Ossy loves looking good too.
What do you like about Osita Iheme?
First of all, I like Osita as a brother. I like him for his sense of entrepreneurship. When it comes to business, he knows how to draw the lines. I am learning that from him because I bring in emotion when I am doing business, which is not good as a business man. Osita is not like that. I sometimes think the reason I am like that was because of how I came into the industry. I respect relationships and I tend to value it more than money. I like his sense of humour. He is a jolly good fellow. He is also very intelligent.
How does it feel playing the role of a child?
It feels good as an actor, but it has its own challenges. It is not easy bringing yourself down, getting yourself muffed into a little boy. It takes a lot of professionalism to do that well.
At what age did you start acting?
I started in 1998, in my early 20s.
You were recently given an award in the USA, what do you have to say about the event?
I went to Florida for an award and beauty pageantry organised by Mr Murphy Folorunsho, a Nigerian living in the US. It was an awesome outing. I didn’t anticipate the goodwill and the gestures I received while in Miami. I was given the key to the city by the Mayor himself, signed and endorsed. That means I am welcome to the city any time. It was a big one.
What do you have to say about 2018?
It has been awesome. Every day in 2018 has been a step to greatness. I am very grateful for how the year has turned out for me.