Chidi Mokeme is not only a stylish dresser, he is also stylish in the way he answers questions. Ask him any question and he will first repeat it before responding. At an event in Calabar, Cross River State, on Sunday, February 23, 2014, YES INTERNATIONAL! Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, ran into him and without much ado, the Oba, Anambra State born actor, model, success coach and businessman gladly consented to an impromptu interview which dwelt basically on his career, marriage and more. Come with us…
What is your definition of acting?
That’s a good one. What is my definition of acting? Acting is life! First and foremost. Everybody on the face of the earth is born an actor. We act in our relationship with family, in our relationship with siblings, in our relationship with colleagues, in our relationship with our bosses; we are all born actors. And then some of us take it a step further. It’s an inert talent with which you are able to internalize situations, characteristics, characters, from different times and different places and be able to portray what you have internalized. So, acting, long and short of it, is a mirror of the society.
What makes a good actor?
What makes a good actor? Like I said, your ability to internalize a situation and a character and re-project that is what makes a good actor. A good actor basically should be able to jettison who you are as a person and take on the complete personae or the character you are trying to interprete and the believability of your performance is what goes to show that this guy is a good actor.
What is the greatest thing that acting has done for you?
What is the greatest thing? I’m going to say right now that acting is my life. So, everything that I’m doing now, everything that I’m gonna do, everything that I’m gonna become, is in one way or the other connected to acting. So, I’m sure that the heights that I’m yet to attain are still connected to acting.
What has acting not done for you?
What has acting not done for me? Hmmm! If there is something that acting hasn’t done for me, it is probably something that I don’t want done. Because so far, so good. This is what I wanted to do; I’m doing exactly the thing that makes me happy, the thing that makes me wake up every morning and want to go. It’s acting, and from that platform, I’m able to achieve everything else that I wanna do. So far, acting has given me everything, and anything that hasn’t come yet, maybe I don’t want it.
Which is the most memorable role that you have interpreted?
The most memorable role that I’ve interpreted? Hmmm! Well, a couple of roles come to mind…
Just tell us one…
(Laughs) – One! Okay, I think the first role that really, really left a mark; that really, really stretched me and tried me was my character in the movie called Igodo. That was a very challenging character. I mean, it wasn’t challenging for me as an artist, it was challenging because there was a lot of perception. Igodo is an epic movie, set way back in the ancient times and at that point in time, people felt that I had been stereotyped into playing the yuppy, hommy, homeboy, playboy kind of roles. Nobody had really seen me in an epic movie before Igodo. So, when I was cast for that character, some people didn’t think it could happen, some people thought oh no, this guy is too ‘yuppyish’ for that character. So, it was one character that I really had to go and internalize and say okay, this is the time to really be an actor; to forget everything that I knew, everything that I was up until this time and just take on the character of Izu and just bring him back to life.
Which is the worst role that you have executed?
Which is the worst role? I wouldn’t particularly use the word worst. You know, some characters are more challenging than some. Some characters don’t really task you as an artist, some characters don’t take you deep enough. So, it might not be a good, better, best or bad, worse, worst situation; it’s just that some characters are more tasking than the rest and then when I started, you know, in the early years, there were characters that I took on for the purpose of just honing my skills and carrying on with the job. Characters that probably if you give me now I wouldn’t take them. Not because there’s anything wrong with the character, but because at this point in time, they are not challenging enough for me to put time and effort in. So, I will rather say maybe some characters were challenging, some were not.
Why do some people attain success and they are not able to sustain it?
In life generally, it happens all the time. People get to the success pedestal from different angles. So, it depends on how badly you want it and how badly you focus. Some people get to what they call success by accident, some people don’t even know when they’ve gotten to a level of success. So, I think that the most important thing will be to focus; for you to keep a focus and keep track of your progress. You can be able to evaluate yourself every year and say okay, I was here last year, now I’m here. Is there something that I need to maintain or do I need to push forward? If you keep doing that evaluation, run your life like it was a business, then you are able to take stock all the time and see if you are moving forward or moving backward and decide what to do to correct the situation. For some people, they don’t take stock. So, you attain some level that you think for some reason is a successful level. Now, the hardest thing to do is to maintain success. It’s easy to get there; it’s easy to become a millionaire. You wake up one morning and there’s a million in your account. The hard thing is how do you maintain the million in the account and keep the account running in millions? For some people, it’s easy to wake up in the morning and you have a good life, you wake up, you are healthy. How do you make sure that by the end of the day, you go to bed healthy? So, we have to constantly watch, evaluate and keep a focus on where we are going. Sometimes, we are lucky, sometimes we are not, but we have a big role to play in what we call success.
You happen to be one of the few celebs who have anchored Gulder Ultimate Search reality show. What fond memories of your stay on the set can you share with us?
Ah, Gulder Ultimate Search Show! That would always bring back fond memories; it’s a show that I will never forget, it’s a show that I’m part of for life, it’s a show that is part of me for life, considering that it was the first time we were having a reality show like that in Nigeria; first time, fully home-grown, sponsored by a Nigerian company, run fully by a Nigerian production house and it was a wonderful experience. I anchored the first and second editions and then went off to do other things and then I came back; I anchored the 9th and 10th editions and hopefully subsequent editions. So, for me, the Gulder Ultimate Search was a trailblazer. It opened up a lot of opportunities; it came and gave the youths something to look forward to. You know, at that point, there was really nothing happening, there was nothing new on TV as far as entertainment was concerned. This was an avenue that the Gulder team of the Nigerian Breweries thought about, put together and said okay, we can engage the youths. I mean, we can get people busy, we can get people talking, we can get people playing and at the end of the day people can be rewarded through this process. And I was very glad to be part of that process. So, I’m never gonna forget GUS.
What made them settle for you as the maiden anchor?
I think it was pure merit. You know, when GUS came up, I was invited for an audition. I went for an audition and of course, I was told that there were loads of people, because people were given different time lines to come in and do a reading and do a screening and do an audition. So, we all came at different times. Like I heard, there were over 30 people who came in for audition. They kept short-listing and they kept short-listing and they kept short-listing and after a couple of weeks of short- listing, I was the last man standing.
What distinguishes Chidi Mokeme as an actor?
What distinguishes me as an actor? First and foremost, the first thing that I do – when I read a story; I re-read the story from the point of view of the character that I’m playing. Then, I come out, re-read the story a third time, to get an angle of how this character inter-mixes with all the other characters in the movie. Now, having done that, the next thing to do is to get Chidi Mokeme to take on the personae of this character and in doing that, no matter how small the character has been that I have to play, I always have to go out and find something similar to that character; go to a place where I can find a person that has similar characteristics with the character that I’m trying to play and have to watch people, see how they behave, internalize their actions, see how they react given certain situations. I think for me as an actor, my strongest point is to always be able to, when the director says action, forget Chidi Mokeme and immediately become the character that I’m about to interpret.
Why do people see Chidi Mokeme as a ladies’ man, a playboy?
(Laughs) – When you say people, which people? The guys, the ladies?
(Still laughing) – Well, the truth is, given the trend of things now, I think I’ll rather be a ladies’ man than risk 14 years (Referring to the Anti-Gay Bill which the President just signed into law). So, from that point of view, I think being a ladies’ man is a good thing. But having said that, I don’t know. I’m just a regular guy, I like to have fun, I respect women; I respect women a lot and I’m just myself, basically. So, how I turn out to be a ladies’ man, I really don’t know. I didn’t give myself that tag. But like I said, I’ll rather be a ladies’ man than the alternative.
You are one the best dressed actors in Nollywood…
(Cuts in) – Oh, thank you very much. That’s a compliment.
How did you cultivate that habit of dressing well?
I guess it came from way, way back. You know I’ve always been fashion – inclined. I cut my teeth in the industry coming from the fashion industry. Like I always say, I started out modeling and with modeling, we had to do photography modeling, we had to do fashion modeling and I did a lot of fashion modeling. I modeled for a lot of the big fashion houses at the time. I modeled for Dakova and a lot of the big names at the time. I was always, always in one way or the other in and around fashion – conscious people and if you’ve worked with people like Dakova back in the days, then you will know that fashion is big business. You know, you walk into Dakova’s office, he says to you, what’s wrong with your tummy, you’re growing tummy, don’t come here looking like this? Or you come in, he says hey, your shirt doesn’t fit right. No! Next time, make sure this place is tight. So, subconsciously, you get to imbibe these things and I mean, growing up too, I didn’t grow up in a home where you had clothes thrown around. You always had to find a way to make yourself and your clothing look different, especially if the clothing was something that had been seen before, over and over again. So, if I had two pairs of jeans, I always had to look for a way to make my pair of jeans appear new. So, if I wore it plain today, tomorrow, I will splash some paint on it; next tomorrow, wash off the paint and cut a few holes. You just keep experimenting. So, I guess that kind of started me out being very fashion – conscious. And then I believe that looking good is feeling good. So, if you look good, you feel good, if you feel good, well, you have good.
You got married years ago, how is married life treating you?
Oh! Very well! Very well!! I mean, it’s an experience that I’m still getting a grasp on and so far, so good.
How come you live in Nigeria and your wife, Jean lives in America? It’s a new marriage and both of you are supposed to be together…
Well, when I met my wife, this was our default setting, let me put it like that. Our default setting was that I live in Nigeria, my wife lives in America and then we started a relationship and decided to take the relationship further and decided we are gonna be man and wife. So, having taken that decision and having crossed that level, the next thing is to find a way to ease into a location. Everybody knows that you don’t just pack your bag and move in one day. There are things that need to be sorted, relocation needs to be sorted. So, we are taking our time with it. But then again, by virtue of my job, I have a pretty much very flexible timing. I own my time, I decide when to work, when not to work. So, really, I can be with my wife anytime, every time that I so desire and it makes it easy for us. If I was working a 9-5 and she was working a 9-5, then we will always have to wait for when somebody was on leave. But that’s not the case. I can be on leave the whole year round, if I want, just to be with my wife.
So, when are you people going to start making babies? And building a family…
Well, Azuh, if you are expecting me to tell you a secret now, you are not going to get the secret. But when the secret pops, you will be there (Laughing). When it drops, you will be there.
Away from work, what does Chidi do for relaxation?
Let me start by saying work is relaxation for me, which was one of the very first things that I learnt. I’m very glad, I’m happy that I have the privilege and the opportunity to be doing something that I really love doing; something that I grew up doing for free. You know, growing up in school, I was a member of the Dramatic Society. We used to go around doing this thing. We never got paid for it. You go to competitions, you lose, you win, you are just happy that you were there doing the thing. So, now, to turn around and have people pay me for going to fool around is a great thing. So, that relaxes me. Aside that, I think I only do things that I love doing. I don’t stress myself, I don’t do something that stresses me. If I don’t feel good about doing something, I don’t do it. So, everything that I do, in one way or the other, even if you relate it to work, ends up being something that I really enjoy doing; that I can do 24 hours a day without getting tired.
They call you GQ, can you tell us how you came about the nickname?
Yeah! It’s still the fashion conscious thing. A lot of people relate the GQ name to the very popular GQ magazine, which everybody knows. It’s like a benchmark for male fashion. But I think it was just out of my dress sense, my dress style and the fact that I didn’t like to fit in with the crowd as far as my fashion style was concerned and that’s how that name came up and again, I have a fashion label; I have a cloth line now called GQ Wearhouse. It’s a retail outlet. We have our store in Ikota Shopping Complex (in Lekki, Lagos); we are opening two new ones, back to back. Another one in VGC, one in Lekki Phase 1. That’s a multipurpose retail outlet. We are selling every collection from around the world. Then, I have the Chidi Mokeme Label that we are working on. There’s so much that is coming.
Besides those, what else do you do?
Okay, I was trying not to go in there, but you are driving me there. I have the Chidi Mokeme Label coming, I have also Baron by Chidi Mokeme. I think I’ll probably have to show you pictures. I just came back from a shoot in Istanbul. We just did a shoot for the Victor Baron Label. Awesome shoot! You know, some images coming out soon. Apart from that, I have a production outfit providing content, entertainment content. It is called Renegade Productions. Apart from that, I have a Chidi Mokeme Foundation that I’m working on and then we do a lot of mentorship, a lot of life coaching. So much!
NB: First Published March 2014