Red-hot and highly sought-after. Abundantly talented and also hugely gifted. Deliciously handsome and cutely bearded. Ever articulate and equally eloquent. Fantastic dresser and repeated dazzler. Brutally frank and fearlessly futuristic…
Top actor, Frederick Leonard, is all the above and even more. Currently doing all those that know him proud with his exploits in Nollywood, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, couldn’t resist sitting down with the likeable and admirable gentleman on Friday, May 7, 2021 for an exclusive interview, during which we looked at how it all began, what has kept him going, the trouble with his sector and wait for this – why he’s still single as well as his take on love. Excerpts…
First, how did your involvement with acting begin?
It was just love at first sight. Sometimes love is good to you, sometimes it’s not fair. So, I will say that my love with Nollywood has been profitable, it’s been a beautiful love story, it’s not been a sad love story. I went to a place called Winnis (Hotel, in Surulere, Lagos) in 2001. I’ve been in this business for 20 years. Yeah! I went to a place called Winnis, I saw all the actors there… For me, I think it was a spiritual connection. I walked into that environment and I was at peace. You know that some people you date, some people you marry, some cars you buy, some houses you walk into and then your spirit is just at peace. I walked into that environment, as imperfect as it was and still is, and I just found peace! And I’m like hey, I’d love to be here, what would it take to be here, learn the trade and be here; own your craft and be here, polish up your skills and be here and then hey, the rest is history. So, it was love at first sight.
Now, what was your first experience on a movie set like?
I was very confident, I was very, very confident. I was in my early 20’s, I was really young, but I was very confident because, look, as much as we make choices, I am a Christian and I believe that there is nothing that you do that does not have the hand of God in it. So, for me, I don’t know where that confidence came from, because my mom was alive at the time and when she saw my first performance as an actor, she said, “yeah, you are a bit rusty here and there, so much to learn, but why are you so confident?” In Igbo language, she said, “keep the confidence, it is good.” And for me, you know when you love something, when you love someone, whatever it is that you are in love with, you give your all unreservedly. So, I think that’s what happened to me. I was so in love with this thing I had just found, that I had just discovered and I gave it my all. So, that’s it! It was just a sweet love affair.
Who gave you the most encouragement when you started?
My mom! Obviously, my mom. Well, let me say good mothers are the best. My mom was a good woman and till tomorrow, you see my eyes are a bit misty now, till tomorrow, you know, mothers are the best. She gave me all the encouragement. And then in Nollywood, it would be the late Theodore Anyanji; he taught me the rules, he taught me how to stand straight, he told me how to talk, he told me what to do, he showed me the difference between a Nollywood actor and a superstar. He said, “listen, you have the potential to be a star, but then you need to be guided.” So, he was like my father as much as we don’t have a lot of age difference. He’s late now, but then he was like my father in the business. You know, he showed me so much and then again, he saw that I was really in love with this thing and I had so much I wanted to do, I wanted to show and he gave me the early guidance in Nollywood. May his soul continue to rest in peace…
Alright, your mother, what’s her name?
Okay, her name was Josephine Ogochukwu Leonard. Lovely, wonderful woman. I miss her everyday and I’m not going to stop missing her. It’s five years now, but you can see how I still get so emotional. When people are crazy about Frederick and they are like, “oh, Frederick is awesome, Frederick is mature, Frederick is principled, Frederick is this and that; oh, Frederick is my role model”, I tell them, listen man, all the credit goes to my mom. When you’re a good woman, you give your children the best, you give them the best home training they can have, you give them the best orientation. People thinking of “Frederick does not smoke, he does not drink”, it’s thanks to my mom. “Frederick does not have a scandal”, thanks to my mom, “Frederick is this, that, that; oh, he’s such a star”, thanks to my mom. That woman gave me every tool that I need to work with in life.
Interesting! Now, you’ve been acting for over ten years, what would you say has kept you going?
Oh, the quest to know more, the desire to tell more stories that affect lives. I mean, I get dms, I get messages from fans across the world and they let me know how the stories that I have ever produced or interpreted as an actor have impacted their lives positively, how I have saved a lot of people from commiting suicide, how I saved a lot of marriages that were at the verge of failing. So, you know, the fact that this is like ministration to me and as a filmmaker, I see myself as an evangelist preaching through storytelling. It’s inspiring, it’s my way of giving back to the society, it’s my way of touching lives and to top it up, I would also say, you see arts generally, you keep running until it’s your time to walk out of this place. So, the quest to keep learning and discovering myself and how many more layers there is of me as an actor and how many more roles I can get into and be convincing.
So, what makes a good actor?
Art is subjective; good acting means different things to different people. For me, what would make a good actor is one who is hungry to learn.
Interesting! To have a taste of success as an actor, what must one do?
Be consistent. Be consistent, be focused, keep honing your craft, keep honing your craft. For every level, much more is asked of you. You know what they say, to whom so much is given, so much is expected. Yes! So, consistency is important. When we started out, there was no social media, there was no Facebook, there was no Instagram, but right now, I feel like the actors, people who are aspiring to get into the business have a better opportunity at excelling because now, if you are serious-minded, which is what I find lacking with these people. If you’re serious-minded, you will be able to come up with things that you can put in social media, monologues and all of that; it’s very important to understand that success is not overnight, it takes time, it takes consistency, people need to understand that; very, very important.
What do you like most about acting?
Well, I get a rare opportunity of becoming different people. I call it rare because I don’t know if I believe so much in reincarnation and even if there is reincarnation, I don’t know if I would remember that I was here before, but that’s a topic for a different day. However, this one chance that I got in life, I got a chance to be different people and I also like to sit back and enjoy the feedback that I get from the viewing audience. Oh, if they’re able to connect with this character, if they’re able to connect with that character that I have played, and without wanting to sound Spanish or French, I think I hit orgasm when I’m acting.
I like that. Now, I’d like to find out from you, what don’t you like about acting?
Well, I would not say I do not like it – I just wish that people were more educated. The fact that they think that you’re the characters that you play, the fact that they think that that’s how you are, the fact that you’re judged by the roles you play. At the early stages of my career, I took on a lot of roles that had to do with domestic violence and a lot of people have an opinion that I’m probably a violent person. I’m not even violent, not even with same sex. I mean, I would never reduce myself to a point where you and I go physical, even as a fellow guy. I’m sorry, people who get physical are people who are not literate enough; there are other things to do, there are other ways go about it. If we don’t agree, we don’t agree. We don’t have to get at each other. Not to talk of a woman who is supposed to be pampered and cared for and loved. So, how people get to hit their women is beyond me. But like I said, because I see acting as evangelism, I decided to take on those roles to touch on those topics, you get what I’m trying to say, because I have to look at those people who would see the aftermath of being that very bitter man, you know, because that’s where the moral lesson is, that’s where the people get to take a message from. But I started playing those roles and a lot of people began to think I hit women. So, I’d say that’s not what I hate about acting, but that’s what I really do not appreciate – a few audience forgetting themselves and thinking that okay, we are the characters that we play. No, we’re not, we’re just working, trying to earn a living. Fortunately, we happened to be in front of the cameras and asked to be the people at different times.
What’s the commonest mistake that any actor can make?
Thinking that you know how to act. For every character, it’s a new challenge, for every character, it’s fresh, you have never played that character before. Just like 7 billion people in the world and we all have very different character quirks, behavioral patterns, orientation and all of that. Why would you think that oh, because you have played a similar character, you’re going to approach it the same way? No, you cannot! That’s wrong. So, thinking that you’ve arrived, thinking that you know how to act would be the biggest mistake you can make because that cuts you off from learning and wanting to improve, knowing that the career that we’re in requires that you learn everyday on the job.
How does an actor continue to remain relevant in your line of business?
Oh man! That’s a tough one, that’s a tough one. But I would say to continue as an actor, as an entertainer generally; continue to reinvent yourself. When you’re stagnant for too long, people get bored and get tired; you have to reinvent yourself. I tell people often times, those that are upcoming in the business, I say when you become a star, that’s the beginning of the journey, that’s not the destination, that’s when people want to be like you, sound like you, talk like you, do things like you, especially now that you have social media; you’re an influencer, whether you like it or not. So, your orientation and your mentality, your captions and what you put up, the life you live influences people, whether to live a noble life or a terrible life. And if along the line people find out that you’re quite misleading them, that could affect the brand. You know, so being a celebrity is beyond you; the moment you become a superstar, you lose yourself, you become a public property. So, it’s very important that you watch what you put out there. So, reinventing yourself constantly, I dare to say, of course, by the grace of God, will keep you there.
What distinguishes Frederick Leonard as an actor, what stands you out, what sets you apart?
Who says that I stand out? Do I stand out? Don’t put me in trouble! Don’t put me in trouble! Do I stand out? Well, for me, I would just say that I love to take my job seriously. That which your hand finds to do, you give it your best, that’s my philosophy. If I happen to be a fashion designer or an interior decorator or an architect, I’d like to be, if not the best, one of the best in my chosen field and that can only come with putting in the work and taking your job seriously. Sometimes, I’m up till 3am studying my script. You know, then I get to work the next day with swollen eyes. I just love to take my job seriously. And sometimes I get really, really irritated when I get on a film set and them, I see people who are there to joke and those are people who will tell you how Frederick is not friendly and how Frederick is this. I just look at you like you are wasting your years and you don’t even know. Nollywood is not where you come to joke and that is why people think that actors and musicians are not serious. You’re a filmmaker and someone has the balls to ask you, “apart from acting, what else do you do?”, because they have the impression that it’s not a serious business and how did they get that impression? The bad eggs amongst us, the very unserious ones amongst us. They sold the world that impression, but I am here to correct that impression. I get on every platform to ensure that I correct that impression. Trust me, this is serious business and it can be quite lucrative if you are at the top of your game and again to whom so much is given, much more is expected. So, if a producer writes you a very good-looking page, you are expected to bring it out. They’re not just paying for your craft, but also what you represent and your brand. So, you can’t afford to not be serious. So, for me, I just like to take my job seriously and at the end of the day, it just pays off and the hard work shines through and they all say Frederick is special, and I go like, “well, thank you, I’m work in progress.”
Talking about Nollywood, what do you think are the best ways to take Nollywood to the next level?
Well, we’ve been talking about taking Nollywood to the next level for many years and it’s almost becoming tiring. I think that practitioners should take this thing we’re doing seriously. This is not a joke. This is a profession that has the potential of making your 4th generation very comfortable, if you take it seriously. Nigeria has a population of slightly over 200 million, this country is big, we have people, the most populous black nation in the world and the United States of America has slightly over 300 million people and then Hollywood rakes in millions every year. So, I can confidently say that Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry rakes in about 70-75% of what Hollywood rakes in… We tell African stories, we have the crowd, especially people in the diaspora, they are very faithful and they follow through with the work that we do. However, Nollywood is struggling because the government doesn’t take us seriously and we will keep struggling probably until some certain policies are passed into law that will protect content creators. Until that happens, we’re going to be speaking this English. I started hearing this thing in 2001. Look, I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I’m tired of hearing this. We have to sit up. The people who get the chance to sit down with government officials, they go there to talk about personal problems, you forget that even if you’re given a brown envelope in a government office, it just solves your problem for now. But we’re talking about solving our generational problems, we’re talking about creating generational wealth here. So, don’t give me money, create an enabling environment here for me as a filmmaker, let there be a film release, help me fight privacy to its barest minimum, take the power away from exhibitors and give it back to content creators. Alright, content creators are the bosses, but here content creators are being tossed around. I cannot produce a film and someone who is an exhibitor, who is supposed to begging me for my content is tossing me around and taking me in and it’s because I’m not protected. I’ve been in this business for 20 years now. I’m not just an actor, I’m a producer now, I’m an executive producer, I’m an investor, I’m also investing in an industry that has blessed me. So, the two reasons I started investing – I have to give back to an industry that has blessed me, I also have to employ labour because somebody had employed me when I needed to be employed and people still employ me. So, if the circle continues, the world would be a better place. I say it all the time, you must love the way you want to be loved. So, it is not enough for us to sit back and continue to talk about this thing. If you know anybody in government and you’re sitting down with someone in government and it’s someone that can help us out, don’t go there and talk about your problems. Problems don’t end, the problems of man are insatiable. While you’re here, you can leave your name on the sands of time and make history by ensuring that you impact positively on the industry that you’ve found yourself. So, we need lawmakers to make laws that protect content creators, basically everybody. Nollywood is almost lawless and that is why you have our content all over the place. It’s a lot of challenge. I’m not here to wash our dirty linens, but if it has been said, I’m sorry. I’m not a diplomatic person because diplomacy does not do anything to anybody. Most times I tell people speak up, because if you ignore people and you think that they’ll get it, unfortunately, they don’t get it. So, we’ll keep going in circles. Trust me, Nollywood can compete with oil.
Earlier on, you were talking about acting with other things, are you saying that actresses or actors generally can live off acting without having any other thing that they do?
It becomes a question of ambition – if you want to live an average life. A successful actor in Nigeria earns better than any banker that I know; quote me. A successful actor earns more than anyone in an oil company; quote me. But then again, you might want more for yourself, you might want more for your life, so nothing stops you from owning a petrol station, nothing stops you from owning an airport. I’m not saying that if you’re successful as a filmmaker you should not do more; you can do more. But to answer your question, if you take your job seriously and you’re really good at it, yes, you can survive on it.
But the challenge is that the money is irregular, it doesn’t come always. So, how does an actor sustain himself under such circumstance?
Well, are we talking about superstar actors or are we talking about upcoming actors? Sometimes, it depends on where you fall. There are different stages in the business – if you are up and coming, your paycheck is not bulky, so you need to do a couple of other things by the side. But if you’re at the top of your game, trust me, to survive off your acting paycheck, that’s okay. I got comfortable as an actor financially, but I got into other businesses and I got into producing because I just want more. I want to do more, I want to employ more people, I want to make more money, I want to make more impact, you understand? But if I wanted this as an average life, trust me, I’d do really good, but the reason I’m doing a couple a lot of other things is because I turned 41 a few days ago, I haven’t even started my life. So, I’m investing, I’m doing a lot of other things. But I like that you asked that question so we can correct that impression.
You dress well. I’ve seen you a couple of times and can attest to that. How did you cultivate the habit?
My mom! There’s a place called Balogun market in Lagos. My mom would take me there in the 80’s and early 90’s and you know my native name is Emeka, so she will say, “Emeka, stand and look around, whatever it is that you like, point at it and I’ll get it for you.” Not just my mom, my father was also quite fashionable, so maybe I got that from him too. But my mom was very fashionable. So, I looked at that them all the time and everytime I got the opportunity to pick something, I always picked the best. So, when I grew up and started making money for myself, when I want to pick stuff for myself, I always get the best. You can see I’m tying a scarf, there’s more to me than the actor that I am; there’s more to me than the Frederick Leonard that they know, there’s just something about me. So, when it comes to fashion, I can read the mood in the room, I can say oh, this is what everybody is going to be wearing. I try to do things out of the box. So, I take the compliment Frederick Leonard is a fashionista, but the question is, do I really go out all the time? No!
You’ve said so much about your mom, tell us about your dad, what’s his name?
My father is also late, so I’m an orphan. My father’s name was Tagbo Ositadinma Leonard. He was very disciplined, very educated. My father, I dare to say, was one of the most eloquent men I’ve ever heard. He spoke English like it was his mother tongue. He was very principled and very strict. I think I got that from him – strong Christian, very traditional and cultural man, believed in what we represent as Africans and of course made a very good choice when it was time for him to pick a wife and then my mother again…
Where exactly is Freddie from and where did you grow up?
I’m from Anambra State, I’m from Nnewi Local Government, I’m an Igbo man. But all my life has been in Lagos.
I don’t know whether you’ve noticed this also – 99.9 percent of the people commenting here are women, drooling over you. They seem to be so much in love with Frederick. So, how do you deal with female attention?
Well, it’s humbling, because it’s a privilege to get compliments everyday – how you look, how you sound; it’s quite humbling, it touches me in a special way and I try to reply messages everyday, I try to be cordial. You cannot marry everybody, you cannot date everybody, but you can be cordial to all. For me, it makes me smile, it makes me feel good. But I also thank God for the grace. Yes, I dare to say I’m one of the most good looking men around, but I’m not the most good looking man in the world, so that makes me understand that as much as I’m being appreciated, I have to reciprocate the appreciation. It’s not easy for people to take time off their very busy schedule and give you a message. I really love them, my fans, they’re here; I set up a page called ‘Freddienation’ because of them, because I really love them and I love how they love me. The truth is, my fans have brought me this far. The fact that they always want to see my work, they always pray for me, they put up posts about me, they have nice things to say about me, it has given so much to the brand called Frederick Leonard. And then, the guys have also joined in. You see my fellow guys telling me, “oh Frederick, I’d like to be like you when I grow up, oh Frederick, keep doing what you’re doing, the Lord will bless the works of your hands, Frederick, you are a mentor.” I’m beginning to have a lot of guys who admire the work that I do too.
Is Freddie married or you are still single?
Freddie is not married, but I’m not searching. I’m taken. I’m in a relationship, I’m not single.
What is your take on love?
Love means a lot of things to different people, but it means a lot of things to me. It’s a very simple principle – give what you want to receive. I’m going to write a book titled “Nobody’s Fool”. Give what you want to receive, love the way you want to be loved, stop making your relationship a game of chess. I put it up the other day, I said, “What logic cannot fix, wisdom will fix”. If you meet someone that you really, really love, do not take out your past experience on them, just go in, give it your best, bring God into your relationship, if you know God and just give it your best shot. But if the other person does not reciprocate, walk out, it’s the other person’s loss, but don’t be there and start playing a game of chess. Love is a beautiful thing, it makes you live longer, if you play it right.
Someone said I should find out from you whether Frederick has kids…
No, I’m waiting to get married to have kids. Like I said, I’m very principled. I’m waiting to get married. I don’t have kids out of wedlock, unless somebody will come out and say Frederick, in 1982, this and this. It was what I saw growing up. I was born in wedlock, I have nothing against people who have kids out of wedlock, the world is changing, we’re evolving as a people, I get it. But I hold on to my principles. I want a family and I think that I have the right to want what I want. When I get married, kids will follow by the special grace of God.
I don’t know if anybody has told you this, but you look so muck like Oliver De Coque, the late highlife musician?
I haven’t heard that before. But I’m a big fan though. Most times when people see me in my car bopping my head to a sound, they think it’s the contemporary, no! I love Oliver De Coque, I still play (Osita) Osadebe, Jim Rex Lawson…Those are songs that I grew up with. I’m old school, but I’m a big fan (of Oliver De Coque).
If you hadn’t taken to acting, what other profession would you have gladly gone into?
Aviation. I would have loved to be a pilot.
What is the nicest thing that you have heard people say about you?
What is the worst thing that you’ve heard people say about you?
I’ve heard a lot, but I’m not moved by those things. People meet you at different circumstances and draw up their conclusions. But you see, any adult that is above 18 who judges someone’s character based on one-sided story, that adult’s brain is still in infant stage, the person has a lot of growing up to do. What makes you a proper individual is, before you psychoanalyze people,
please understand why and where they’re coming from. As much as I’ve heard great things about myself, I’ve also heard very funny things about myself.
Would you like to mention one?
Oh, that he likes to feel like a chairman. Frederick is full of himself. I’m not interested in politics, I’m not running for a public office, so let me be myself. People have bad days too, so if you catch me on a bad day, don’t see me as a bad person.
Because of your good looks and your dress sense, some people have this belief that you’re a playboy…
I think the word now should be playman because I’m now a man. It’s okay! You know when you’re beautiful, they say you’re a ‘runs’ babe, you have a sugar daddy. When you’re handsome, they say you’re a playboy. I don’t take it seriously; it’s humour, so I just laugh.
How often do women disturb you?
Well, I’ll say they appreciate me often. Let me not say that they disturb me often. Very often I am appreciated.
What are the new things that your fans should expect from you?
If they noticed, I’m beginning to do more African stories, so they should expect me telling more African stories that have to do with us as a people, our people’s story and of course, I’m getting back into production. I love it when I create, I love it when I’m in charge and control the kind of content that my audience enjoys. I founded City Works Entertainment, my production company in 2016 and our motto is “The audience, our priority.” So, they should expect very good movies off the stable of City Works Entertainment, movies that would elevate, entertain, educate, inform and entertain again. I take my audience very seriously. 2021 would give birth to a lot of beautiful things for all of us.
So, what has been the greatest lesson that life has taught you?
That you don’t have time, that you don’t have a lot of time, you don’t have as much time as you think you have. Nobody is getting out of here alive, so you don’t have a lot of time. If I have to add to that, it’ll be stop thinking of what anybody thinks of you, what opinion people have of what you want to do. It actually holds people back. A lot of people have failed in life because they don’t want to start something because of people who criticize that which they have started, forgetting that the truth is anyone who notices what you’re doing is jobless, I’m sorry. But that’s the psychology. You have two kinds of people in this world – players and spectators. And if you go to the stadium, the players are sweating it out, doing some good work, trying to scores goals and do stuff and the people sitting down doing nothing are gossiping, laughing. So, that’s life. You don’t give a lot of space to what the spectators will say because you don’t have a lot of time. So, time is really, really short, so live your best life, make an impact while you’re here. I do not think that it was God’s intention for us to just walk through the surface of the earth without improving on what He has given to us.
What’s your personal definition of acting?
Verisimilitude. It has to be believable. When I teach acting, I tell my students, acting is a sin, you don’t act, you become. Acting is pretending to be like no, you’re supposed to be, you’re supposed to react truthfully, you’re supposed to accept the situation you find yourself in as your true situation and you react naturally how you would have if it was happening to you.
Tell us your best and worst roles so far…
I would not say I have worst roles, because if it’s not good I won’t even accept it in the first place. I have played a lot of wonderful roles – lover man…Recently I have played a king; a lot recently, people love to see me play a king. There’s one that they’re raving about, King of The East by Ugezu Ugezu. I have played diverse roles, I have played criminal, I have played the government official, I have gone through circles. But I think the one closest to my heart is playing Jesus in the OJ Production flick. Playing the Jesus story was for me, the top. Nothing tops that for me. I gave my all, for the first time in my entire career. I read that script like 50 times. That’s what placed me on top, yeah!