Okechukwu Chukwudi Ukeje, better known in Nollywood as O.C. Ukeje, is one of the most sought-after young actors in Nigeria. This Marine Science graduate from University of Lagos won the 2006 edition of Amstel Malta Box Office reality show and has since carved a niche for himself in the industry. Born into a family of three, thirty something years ago in Abia State, O.C. took up the lead roles in award winning movies, White Waters and Two Brides and a Baby. He opened up to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine at the Silverbird Galleria on his career and the truth about his alleged cassanova label. Excerpts…
I was in the university then and I heard about an audition for a movie. So, I decided to try my luck and I got it. I eventually got the lead role. The move was shown at the University of Lagos and the Muson Centre and when it was shown at the Muson Centre, a bigger organization came and invited me for another small role which I did and this made them give me quite a bigger part which I did very well. Then I worked with that organization for like four years before I made my first attempt at screen. So, I was on stage before I got to screen in 2006 and 2007 was my first hit.
Talking about your first hit, what role made you who you are today?
That would certainly be White Waters, because the pay was beautiful; the movie was nice and finally, it was directed in a wonderful environment. If there is anything I have done that really changed who I am today, it would certainly be White Waters; it was on the stable of Amstel Malta and this really gave me the platform to work with other great people like Joke Silva, Rita Dominic and a host of other notable actors in that movie that really assisted my performance and that actually created a niche for me in Nollywood.
Your role in that movie was more of an athlete. Are you really an athlete?
(Laughs) Actually, I’m not really an athlete even though they had to put me in the stadium for almost a month so that I can keep fit for the rigorous task of carrying out that role to the director’s taste.
What has acting done for you?
Oh! It has done a lot of things. It has helped me take the act more seriously, given me the opportunity to know more about the various processes of film making and production. It has also brought me on the map, both in Nigeria and outside. Basically, I can now discover myself to know who I am. It has also put some change in my pocket and extended my network where I can meet with different people in the world.
What has it not done for you?
So far, it hasn’t set me back. I don’t really think there is anything that I can point to. It has been good all the way.
Well, I would say it is my ability to work on myself, my weakness and being able to develop my craft. Trying to get better every day and improving on my skills to make it better off than my previous jobs.
How many scripts do you get per month?
I have not got to the point where I can be counting how many scripts I get per month, but we get them in seasons. You don’t get scripts at all times. At times you get a script and something comes up and they cancel it. But, all together, I get like three to four recommendations per month. Whether they become scripts or not depends on if the producers are ready or whether the agreement and terms are good.
How would you describe Nollywood?
It’s growing compared to when we used to watch what goes on in the industry. The viewership keeps increasing every day. We can now talk less of piracy because going to cinemas to watch movies is gradually taking Nollywood movies to the next step and producers can now make some gains from their investments.
Who do you look up to in the industry?
For a long time, I have been a huge fan of RMD, Sam Dede, Norbert Young, people like Ramsey Nouah and others. They are really fabulous.
Who do you enjoy working with most?
Whao! Very difficult question, because everyone I have worked with, I have gotten one form of energy or the other. But sincerely, I’m yet to work with most of the A-list actors in Nollywood, but I have derived different sorts of energy from different people with different interpretations.
What are you working on currently?
I’m currently working on a movie which we are shooting in the Northern part of the country which may be ready before the end of the first quarter of this year.
Scandals are very synonymous to Nollywood. How have you been working to avoid scandals?
The truth is that whether you merit or you don’t merit scandals, people out there will still have one thing or the other to say about you. So, I’m not bothered about scandals. I live a free life, but I keep those things that I think I can keep.
What is the worst rumour you have ever heard about yourself?
There was a time they alleged that I was dating a married woman and also got involved in a marriage that didn’t work out. They said that I was going out with different kinds of girls at the same time.
But don’t you think there is an element of truth in the rumour?
In my case, I don’t think so. Human beings will always be human beings. They would say whatever they could when you are on the verge of success.
You are a ladies’ man. Are you thinking of marriage now?
Yes, of course! It is on my mind. Hopefully, between a year or a year and a half I should get married.
Are you in any serious relationship?
Yes, of course! I am in a serious relationship with a woman which I would like to keep very private.
NB: First published March 2014