Greater years, surely, lie ahead of multiple award-winning actor and director, Ali Nuhu. Clearly one of the biggest and most successful actors in Kannywood, that is the northern arm of Nigeria’s film industry, his professionalism and humility have continued to clear the path and bring down walls for him.
Born on March 15, 1974, he was educated at the University of Jos where he read geography. Happily married to Maimuna and blessed with two angelic children, Fatima and Ahmad, Mr. Nuhu actually got into acting in 1999 and since then has neither relented nor dropped the ball.
Quietly breaking boundaries and standing shoulder to shoulder with mainstream actors in Nollywood, the gentleman, whose teeming fans affectionately address as the King of Kannywood, spoke to me about his career. The date was Wednesday, October 27, 2021, and for nearly one hour, he patiently shared his story. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can bet that you too will. Excerpts…
What specifically got you interested in acting?
For me, acting has always been a passion right from when I was a kid. I watched television most times and I think that, that was where I just grew the passion and since then, I started nurturing myself, right from when I was a kid till when I grew up and decided to just give it a try and fortunately, it worked for me.
Interesting! So, what makes a good actor?
There are a lot of things that you put together to be a good actor. First of all, would be believing in yourself. That’s the first thing I’d say because in a society like ours, Nigeria as a whole, when movies started, people were looking down on anyone that came into this profession. Some will even tell you it’s something for dropouts, it’s not a professional thing that you should do. It’s something that people who have nothing to do usually go into. That’s what the belief was in those days, but you know, with time, the narrative changed and people now believe that it is a profession you can own throughout your life. Secondly, you have to be patient. Thirdly, there’s a lot of struggle involved in being an actor and you have to stand up to those struggles. Then, as an actor, there’s this preparation you need to do, analyze the story, understand your character, see if you could pick one or two things from real life situations, how people live their lives, what profession your character belongs to, etc. You have to master all these things and know how to play around them to be a good actor.
What do you like most about being an actor?
What I like most about being an actor is that I enjoy what I’m doing. Secondly, I get paid for what I enjoy doing. That’s the fun of it. Then, there’s this angle of you being a doctor today, tomorrow, a policeman, the day after tomorrow, a thief or a cultist. You get to play everybody. You have a feel of how this profession is, how that profession is. You just get that feeling of everything. That’s the pleasure of being an actor.
What don’t you like about being an actor?
Paparazzi, first of all. Let me not lie to you, everything you do, people are watching you. There’s this thing called privacy that you lose. You are our property now, wherever we see you, you just have to attend to us, we just have to know everything about your life. That thing about you not living privately anymore is what I don’t like about being an actor.
Your fans call you King or Sarki, why do they call you the king of Kannywood?
I just woke up one day and everybody in the North started calling me king and that was it. But I think to an extent, it’s related to one of the royal movies I did called ‘Sangaya’. It was such a huge success and you know, afterwards, there are some countries I go to that they even call me Mina. Mina is the main character, the prince and that’s what they are calling me in countries like Niger and Ghana. So, I think this whole this started from there.
So, how do you feel being addressed by your fans as king?
Well, it’s fun that people refer to me as a king, but I don’t let it get into my head. You know, I am in this profession and I just feel all my colleagues and I are equal. We are all equal. There are fields where you excel more than other people and somewhere too where other people excel more than you. I mean in terms of interpretation. There’d be someone that could interpret comedy better than some other person. Same with romantic roles. So, I don’t let it get into my head. I just feel like it’s a normal thing. If the audience chooses to address me as king, thank you. I mean, it’s a good thing, but I don’t let it get into my head.
What is the greatest thing that being an actor has done for you?
Not a thing o! So many things. You go to places, people will identify with you, you go to places and you’re expected to queue up and the people will tell you, no, don’t queue up. You know, that feeling that people love you and you get concessions when it comes to things; people identify with you. That’s one of the things I really enjoy and I’m grateful about.
What would you have wanted acting to do for you that it has not done yet?
Well, I don’t think there’s anything I’d want acting to do for me that it hasn’t done, because as an actor, what is expected of you is to do your best. When you do your best, when you come to limelight, you try as much as you can to see that you become a brand. After becoming a brand, then you get the proceeds you should get from that stardom and to an extent I’ll say, Insha Allah, I’ve been able to do that for myself.
What fond memories of your first acting role do you still remember and cherish?
What I would not forget is the fact that I kept looking into the lens and the director said no, stop looking into the lens. That’s the first thing you should learn. Afterwards, I never looked into the lens. In fact, when I shot the first scene, it was in Jos, and anytime I drive pass that place, I’m like this is the place where I was looking at the camera. I don’t forget it.
What was the title of that first production?
The title is ‘Based on the True Story.’ It’s actually a Telefest entry for NTA, Jos. You know NTA used to do this programme called Telefest; like a film festival.
Now, who gave you the greatest support when you started and what exactly did the person do or say to you?
You see, it wasn’t just one person. They were about three. I can’t forget them. They are Awwalu Salihu of the National Broadcasting Commission. He is my mentor. Then, there’s Waziri Zayanu and Magaji Mijinyawa. Each one of them encouraged me in their own way. Awwalu Salihu built that confidence in me because I was scared when I came in. He encouraged me and when I took the first shot, he said, “Wow, you did very well, you have very good expressions and you can go far.” That was the word of encouragement. Afterwards, Waziri Zayanu started nurturing me and briefing me about this thing called characterization and what characterization really is – when you’re given a script, this is your character, this is how you get into the character profile. Then, Magaji. When I started, the industry was still a baby industry in the North and there were few or no productions. Just one film or maybe a TV series and you wait for about four, six, eight months for another. But he encouraged me and said don’t worry, there’d be a time when you’ll have a lot of productions coming in and you will feature in them and this is exactly what happened. So, these people, I don’t forget them. Everybody contributed in their own way.
To have a taste of success as an actor, what must one do?
To have a taste of success, you need dedication. Secondly, you need to just have that passion. Forget about the luxuries you get to see around the actors, the endorsement deals you get to see and what you have. Just be dedicated and be hardworking and before you know it, everything will just fall into place. You won’t even know when you would be in that luxury. You would gain that wealth when you get the endorsements and so on. So, dedication matters.
What is the commonest mistake that most actors make?
The first one, I’d say, is when an actor gets the break. For most actors, they just feel after getting the first break, that’s the first film that brings you to limelight, that made you popular, that made people to identify with you; they just feel they’re made. It’s usually a mistake doing that, because you need more and more productions. Secondly, retaining that position. Of course, you can’t be there forever, but then there are certain things you must do. There are names you call, you might not be seeing their faces frequently in movies, but everybody knows they are worth their salt because they’ve been able to get to that point and they held it down. Genevieve (Nnaji) doesn’t feature in movies frequently. They only see her from time to time, but when they mention that name, everybody knows yes, she’s there and she has maintained that position. RMD (Richard Mofe Damijo) and the likes. That’s what they do. So, you see, retaining that position is hard. But most actors kill it with the tantrums they throw. For some of the ladies, the diva attitude they bring on set. Those things really affect them and these are the things that we really need to look into.
With the benefit of hindsight, what would be your advice on the best way to cope with stardom?
Well, the best way to cope with stardom from my point of view is to just be yourself, respect everybody. We’re not saying you should just be out there and allow everyone to step on you. But you know, there’s something about humility. Humility places you on a platform that you can never imagine, it opens up doors for you. So, I think the best thing is for you to be yourself and then as an actor, when you get that breakthrough, and movies keep coming in, it gets to a certain time you need to be selective about the kind of productions you do. You also need to branch out, do other things, get into other businesses. In a country like Nigeria, the proceeds you get from being an actor cannot be sufficient to support your celebrity lifestyle. That’s why we get endorsements and what you get from endorsements, you try to invest in other things – real estate, petty trading or whatever you feel is lucrative. You can invest in all that. That’s what I advise and you know, those things give you that security and that sense of belonging, because sometimes, for some actors, when you see the way they behave, they’re not doing that because they want to. For some, it’s inferiority complex. So, they try to build up that shield and in trying to build up that shield, they end up destroying their image in front of someone that wants to contract them, maybe for a job or someone that wants to relate with them as a fan or maybe an establishment that wants to engage them as brand ambassadors or whatever.
What is the best way for a male actor to cope with female fans?
The best way is for you to be real. Fans are fans, yes, but definitely as a male icon, ladies are bound to fall for you and sometimes, some of the female fans are not actually falling for you, they just like you as an individual. Maybe they like your way of life or acting. It’s not all the time that it is love. But even if it is love, there’s a way you control it. You should be real, be straightforward, don’t lead anybody on, because if you lead anybody on, you might end up being at the receiving end in the long run. So, that’s my advice to male actors.
Of all the roles you have played, which one has taxed you the most?
Sitanda! That’s the first one that taxed me. There were so many challenges that came with it. Then, the second one was an Hausa movie called Harafinzu. In the story, I lost both arms. So, it wasn’t easy playing that role while I actually had my arms on and the third one which is about to hit town is Amina. I played the role of prince in Amina. That too was very taxing. I had to learn horse riding first of all. After learning horse riding, I started learning how to gallop, I started learning how to run and jump and continue moving without stopping. That was not an easy thing. Then, the sword fights. In fact, I had a dislocation in my chin while I was learning sword fighting, so it was very taxing.
Tell me more about Amina and why people should go out there and watch it, including when it begins to show on Netflix?
The first thing I’ll say about Amina is that it is a movie of its kind. The director (Izu Ojukwu) and producer (Okey Ogunjiofor) of the movie are people I place in a league of their own. I mean, when they do things, they do things differently. First of all, the producer, I call the Father of Nollywood. He actually shot the first major box office hit in the history of Nollywood, Living in Bondage, and I think with Amina, the approach, dedication, everything wins. I think he’s trying to break another boundary. Secondly, Amina is a historical movie because we were not there when Amina existed, but you know the session we had with the producer and director gave me an insight into what Amina looked like, how she lived her life, how she ruled the kingdom, transformed it, after she came to the throne. I learnt a lot. So, I think a movie like Amina is one that our institutions should have and document and teach students about. This is a movie we had to carry out the research for about ten years. We are talking about Amina, the Queen of Zazzau’s reign. She really encouraged women empowerment. So, it’s about our African culture. If you go back to history, you’ll discover that we have had them in our system even before now. So, these are the things I’d say about Amina and why people should go out there and watch it.
How does it feel combining your roles in Nollywood, Kannywood and I also think you did a Yoruba movie recently? How have you been juggling all those?
It’s not been easy doing all these, but then, that’s why I’m a Nigerian, and to be a true Nigerian, I think it’s good for you to have a taste of how the industry works from different parts of the country and how you can be able to act in all. Like Bollywood, it’s divided into different language industries and then there are actors that go here and there to shoot. So, I just think it’s something we can try here and we’re at least doing very well here.
Is there any difference between those sectors? That’s talking about the Yoruba, Hausa and English sectors?
Well, I wouldn’t say there’s a difference. What I just feel that’s different is the kind of stories and settings. Aside that, there’s no major difference. We operate almost in the same way.
What are your likes and dislikes as a person?
Well, when you talk about likes, I’m one person that admires people who are truthful and straight forward. I don’t like people that are cunning and deceitful.
What is your philosophy of life?
Live and let’s live.
Anybody that wants to excel in Nollywood, Kannywood as well as in the Yoruba and Igbo sectors of the industry, what would be your advice to the person?
My advice is that one should try as much as they can to learn; if not all the languages, but a bit of the three major languages. That’s important, that’s key.
Have you got any regrets as a person; not necessarily as an actor?
Honestly, I’m just thankful to Allah because things have really been working out for me positively. So, honestly, I don’t have any regrets.
Tell me about your family. Everything!
Okay, I’m Ali Nuhu. Everyone knows that I’m an actor. My wife’s name is Maimuna and my mom and father (Fatima and Nuhu Poloma) are dead. I have five siblings and myself. So, we are six, three boys and three girls. I have two kids, Fatima and Mohammed. That’s basically it about my family.
God, no doubt, has been nice to you. Nollywood has also been nice to you. What more do you want out of life?
What I want from life or what I’m trying to get from life is to leave a legacy and that’s why I’m promoting up and coming talents. Well, because you know this is the legacy we should leave behind, because when you came in, you were given that opportunity and it worked for you. So, you should try and pave way for others and that’s why I’m promoting up and coming talents. That’s what I’ll say.