GENTLEMAN ACTOR, ZACK ORJI RECALLS HOW IT ALL BEGAN + His love story
Whenever award organisers in this country make up their minds to create a category for ‘gentlemen and ladies’ of the screen, handsome and bearded actor, Zachariah Orji Oke (aka Zack Orji) will most certainly smile home with one. The 1984 Estate Management graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, until 1996 when he committed the ‘Unforgiven Sin’ by romping unabashedly with Glamour Girl, Eucheria Anunobi, was in most people’s good book. He could still be; who knows? In this no-holds-barred exclusive interview with AZUH ARINZE, the sauve, soft-spoken and easy going gentleman who was born on February 4, 1958, in Libreville, Gabon, opened up like never before on how that singular role almost ruined his marriage, how he weathered the storm that followed, and more. Enjoy…
Any special reason for this?
Nothing. Before, I used to shave and leave the moustache and a little goatee. But one of the reasons I decided to leave it was that I used to have a lot of bumps after shaving. That is one. The other is that I saw that they look good and decided to leave them.
What’s Zack’s definition of acting?
Acting is just a representation of life. That’s the way I see it. It’s make believe. You want people to believe what you tell them, you use words and pictures to tell it with as much realism as possible. Acting can also be a representation of imagination because people create things in their minds and in real life, and some of those things might never happen.
Okay. Had you not settled for acting for your sustenance, what else would you have opted for?
(Thinks for sometime) I probably might have been singing. I probably might have been practicing as an estate valuer (he read Estate Management at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka).
Now, let’s get back to how your romance with acting actually started.
I’ve always looked at life from that point of view that what will be, will be. God makes a divine connection and uses somebody to bring it to pass. There was a time that I was into commodity produce, buying and selling for export. On this particular occasion, I was looking for cocoa to buy and supply to some prospective buyers. And Ekenna Igwe who happens to be a friend came around. Then, I casually asked if there were some guys who could help me do that. And that was how we went. He happened to have known Matthias Obahiagbon and Keppy Ekpeyong with whom he had attended the same university (UNICAL). We drove into their side and met with them. That was how it started. They didn’t have the cocoa, but they knew who had. Incidentally, this was when they were putting the script of Unforgiven Sin (his first movie) together. The rest is history.
Sorry, I didn’t get how you got roped into Unforgiven Sin. Could you please be more explicit?
Well, Ekenna told me what they were doing and I said aaaah! I would like to be in the movies and that was it.
What are the highest and lowest fees that you have collected as an actor?
I usually don’t like disclosing my fees.
Because that of the others that I’ve read in the papers are either over-quoted or under-quoted. The basic thing, for me, is job satisfaction. I’ve done jobs for people based on my friendship with them.
Okay, just tell us the lowest that you have ever collected?
My lowest was in my first movie, Unforgiven Sin. I earned N13,000. But back then, it was plenty of money because I’ve heard what others earned in their first movies.
And the highest…?
(Cuts in) I thought we had reached a compromise on that. It’s my secret.
What about your best and worst roles?
(Thinks again) Do I have any? I have movies that I like. Movies that I have done and can still sit down and watch. I like the first movie I did (Unforgiven Sin). Maybe because a lot was put into it and maybe because it was my first.
What about your worst?
Glamour Girls II. It has turned out to be my worst because of the furore it generated. But then, it still turned out plenty of money in the bank for the investor (Kenneth Nnebue of Nek Video Links Ltd).
I was coming to that but now that you have cast the first stone, let’s know what actually happened between you and Eucheria Anunobi in the Jacuzzi scene. A lot of people (even your fellow actors) said you made love to her?
It’s not true. I don’t see how that could have happened with other actors, the producers, the cameramen, the director, the light men, etc present.
Your wife (Ngozi), how did she take it. I mean the role?
Naturally speaking, she didn’t feel too good about it.
How then did you eventually resolve the whole thing with your wife?
Time takes care of everything. I believe God was in control and didn’t allow what people expected to happen. God took control and healed all the wounds.
Will you try such roles again?
Why? I’m no longer the same person. I’m now a new creature.
Who is this new Zack?
I’m now an older person. Not as if it’s a matter of age. It is just that time changes all things.
Did Kenneth Nnebue compensate you for all the trouble you went through because of that role?
Yes, he did. But I won’t mention the figure.
Who then is the real Zack Orji?
I will describe myself as a hardworking, God-fearing guy.
You look gentle and the general consensus is that most gentle people are dangerous. Does that apply to you?
That’s a sweeping statement. That’s how they have wrongly perceived us to be and I thank God for that.
Under what circumstance?
Just one of those village gatherings in December 1985. The first time we met, I was with another girl. I think both of us came for an interview (for admission into the Lord’s Club). I was standing and she was sitting down all alone, we were having eye contact, then I threw a soya bean leaf at her. We didn’t talk, but it was enough communication. Later that night, an old girlfriend of hers brought her to my place. She didn’t know they were coming to my place though. I visited her later and from there, things began to happen.
What attracted you to her in the first place?
A lot of things.
Her beauty (inside and outside), the fact that I discovered she wasn’t materialistic. In other words, she was ready to go all the way with me, through thick and thin and the years have proved that to be right. We have been married for so many years now.
Some people still see showbiz people as never-do-wells, school drop-outs and all what not. As one of the top players in the industry, how do you see that?
It’s just one of those general erroneous impressions people have about those of us that are in the entertainment industry. People think we are frivolous people, that for us anything goes and that we are push-overs. Of course, all these things are not true. It’s also these same people who wonder why I could allow my wife to go on location and not come back the same day. The whole thing is very funny.
Okay! Does Zack Orji have any regret?
I usually don’t regret things that I do in life. I just look back in retrospect and wonder whether I might have done them differently. I try to learn from the things that I have done. Life is continuous. Life is dynamic. And one has to move on. If one spends his time wallowing in regret, then he will become a bundle of stress and there is no telling what one will do. Some will commit suicide and different things affect different people differently. So, my own philosophy is to move on and strive to do better, no matter what.
Can you recall your happiest and saddest days?
I’ve had a lot of happiest. One was the day I proposed to my wife and she said yes. This was because as at that time, I didn’t have anything. And so many others that I can’t even remember.
That should be August 1982 when I lost my father.
Was he sick or…?
(Cuts in) He just died.
How did you feel when he died?
I felt bad. That was in my final year in the university. One of my brothers, Job came to school to tell me. A year before that, I had lost my immediate elder brother, Leo, an Electrical Engineer. He graduated from the University of Lagos. He died of electrical explosion, a year after his graduation. In fact, the very week they were to be flown to Paris was the week he died!
With those two deaths, how do you see death now?
Death is part of life. Death is inevitable. It’s not as if one does not know he will die or those around him will die, but how it will come is what we don’t know. Like my brother who was going to be married a month before he died. Incidentally, the woman he was going to marry is a cousin to my wife.
What is the bereaved lady into now and how did she take it?
She’s now married to someone else. And of course, she felt bad.
Your face is very scarce. Unlike years back. What is the problem?
It’s not as if nothing is happening. Just that I took a break to produce my own movie. I also spent some time trying to promote it, going to cinema. Then, eventually, I decided to take some time to start work on my musical project too which I told you about earlier on.
Let’s talk about your favourite things. Which brand of car do you like most?
I’m in love with German cars. My first car was a BMW. My second was a Mercedes Benz, my third was a Danfo bus, which I was using for transport. And here I am today driving a German car, a Benz. For me, it’s been German, German…
I like all kinds of music – pop, our traditional African music. That’s why in my album, you will find Igbo songs, Hausa, Yoruba, etc.
I like rice. But for me really, good food is good food. Thank God, I have a wife who has an anointing for good cooking.
That’s lovely. Your wife must be happy to hear this. Which colours are your favourite?
Any colour. But in my wardrobe, you will find a lot of blue, green, yellow and red and other colours that go with them. I’m in love with black and white too. So, by the time I finish, you will see that I’ve exhausted all the colours.
I’m sorry to take you back. I read in a magazine sometime ago that you were once a shoemaker. True or false?
True. But it’s a long story. It started by me visiting Tejuosho market (in Lagos) and Balogun (also in Lagos), buying different animal skins, travelling to Enugu with them, spending between 2-3 weeks in Ogbete market, supervising the work with a friend. I later learnt how to do it myself. I even opened a shop in Lagos, bought shoe making machine etc. I got to the shop one day and I saw that thieves had broken into it and that sent me in the cooler. In fact, that was how that dream died.
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