‘Why I love Joke Silva’ – O.C Ukeje


Okechukwu Ukeje is an award-winning critically and commercially acclaimed actor. His star has shone further brightly recently and he is on course to becoming one of the country’s greatest actors. He however tells ENTERVAGANZA that he also has a huge interest in music as well as fashion and TV production aspirations.

Why did you go into acting?

The interesting thing is that I stumbled on the arts. I watch movies a lot and when watching them, I am convinced I can do the things the actors in them do. But it is one thing to know that one can act, and another to have the opportunity to do so.

Acting on stage for the first five years helped me a lot because it was a learning platform for me. In addition to that, when I felt it was necessary to acquire additional skills, I embarked on an eight-week workshop at the New York film Academy, in Los Angeles. I spent quite some money; it cost over $10,000 including fees, accommodation and other bills.

You became an household name when you won the Amstel Malta Box Office acting talent hunt show. Do you think you would have been this successful in acting if you didn’t win AMBO?

That is a question I have asked myself before and I’d be honest with you, I don’t know. The reason I say that is because of the way the industry is here in Nigeria. I know that winning AMBO did a lot for me and I thank God. Maybe without it, I may still have been scratching the surface. It could have been anything, but let’s just say that I’m grateful that it happened.

After winning AMBO, was it tough trying to prove to movie producers and directors that you could fit well into the industry?

I have to be honest, it was really, really tough. Reality TV shows are good concepts here in Nigeria but I think the part the organisers have to work on is how they incorporate whoever wins into the industry at large. We just win and we think that, yes, the world is going to bow at our feet but then we realise that it really doesn’t work that way.

Not everyone who has won a reality TV show has lived up to the expectations of people who watched them during the competition. What do you think is responsible for this?

I guess that for some people, when they were getting into reality shows, they did not have the bigger picture in mind. But I did. I have a very unique and specific design for my life. I guess for some other people, it was just about fame. And for some, persevering and determining to break through was not for them. And then for some, it was just a flash in the pan. Trust me, I would not knock down anyone who has attempted because Nigeria is difficult as it is.

What do you do apart from acting?

I host social and corporate events. By extension, I’m very interested in TV broadcast. I really hope to be able to float my own TV shows in the near future, and these are shows that I’ve started designing with partners. I have a large interest for hospitality business and a line of T-shirts designed by me. And, of course, I have a huge interest in music.

So it’s true that you used to be a performing musician?

I joined a music team in the university. I was also the only singing member of a rap group and we used to go to churches, get invited to gigs and stuff like that. Most of the people who went to University of Lagos with me still ask about my music. What I’m doing now is concentrating on my acting and from that, I’ll open up a market for my music.

You won the best actor category at the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards earlier this year. Was it a big deal for you?

The last award I won was in 2010, and that was City People’s. But there is a difference. This comes from the work I have done. It is interesting because, even though I have done about 13 movies, there are about just three or four in circulation. For me to win an award for the few that I have done, when people would expect that I should have shot more than 50 movies before I would be qualified is a good signal.

Which actor or actress do you admire most?

I admire Aunty Joke (Silva) most. I remember during my first flick, we had different interpretations for the character I was supposed to be playing, and we were looking for the best. When we were driving from Abuja to Nasarawa, she picked up her phone to call a doctor friend of hers, and she was on the phone for 30 minutes, doing research for my own character. That was simply amazing.