Day a fan ‘embarrassed’ me in USA- Zack Orji

Zack Orji is a veteran actor who has seen all the tricks in the movie industry. Though he recently took up the cloak of a pastor, it doesn’t appear the vineyard of the Lord has taken all the tricks away from him as a consummate thespian.

What have you been up to lately?

I’ve been up to a lot of things. I still act, produce and direct. As a matter of fact, I have a shoot in South Africa this October and thereafter, I have a movie premier in the US and Kenya.

I’ve also been involved in a lot of training; training young actors, training people who are desirous of a career in film-acting, costume designing, cinematography,  film production, script writing and post production.

I put together different professionals who are on top of their game in motion picture practice and then create the environment and the platform for young people to be trained in different crafts by these professionals.

I’ve also been involved in motivational talks in churches and in other places. We are also putting together arrangement for the first Nigerian Academy of Film and Television Achievement Awards.

It’s going to be the highest award for motion picture practice in Nigeria and it is going to be held next year but we’ve already started planning for it and very soon, we will start calling for entries from film makers and television houses.

What’s the idea behind the project?  

The idea behind the project is very simple. This will probably be the first time an award is combining both film and television.

It is going to be designed in such a way that it will be the one major cinematic event in motion picture practice in Nigeria and the reason is that after all these years, we need something very credible, something that is going to be well sought after, an award that people are really going to look forward to because it is going to be very credible.

We have something like this in the UK and in South Africa which are being organized by different bodies and I am in touch with some of the organizers of these events. We’ve spoken over a period of time concerning this and I now see the need for us to have something like this in Nigeria. It’s going to be the main award for motion picture practice in Nigeria.

Is it going to cost you a lot to put this project together?

Yes, it is going to cost a lot of money because there will be lots of trips to be made. There is going to be a nomination event, separately and also the award itself, both of which will take place sometime next year. It is also going to cost a lot of money in terms of putting the whole thing together, flying all the award winners to the event, and taking care of other logistics and so on. All these will involve a lot of money.

Do you have sponsors?

There are corporate bodies that have already indicated interest but we are still in the process of negotiating.It’s an academy and it’s also going to be part of the Nigerian Academy of Film and Television Achievement Awards.

An academy is not just an institution that specializes in training of some sorts in different disciplines, it’s also a society that takes care of the needs of people, so this academy is also going to be involved in training people who are desirous of a career in film and television by bringing together first of all, professionals who are on top of their game who can train these people and make them readily employable.

It is also going to be a way of associating with government, both at the state and national levels in reducing unemployment in the country.

How has your journey in the movie industry been?

It depends, because the journey of life and career are so varied and multifaceted. My journey in the movie industry has been very eventful, informative, inspiring and has taught me a lot of things and it’s a continuous thing.  I mean it’s like a journey that you keep embarking and re-embarking on, because as long as there is life it is going to be a continuous journey. It’s an industry where you never really retire.

If you had the power, what would you like to change in the industry?

The area of scripting, we still need to improve in script and in screenplays. But apart from that, the film makers themselves and producers must be ready to look for good writers and pay them well to write good scripts for them.

The reason there are a lot of mediocre and crappy films is because film-makers sometimes do not look for people who can give them good scripts. If you want a good film, you should be ready to pay for it. I would like to see an improvement in that area.

How would you compare your recent role in “Half of A Yellow Sun” with other roles you’ve played in the past?

Well, I just did a very brief appearance in the opening scene. It was just one scene where I played the role of a father to two daughters.

They are foreign actors and it was fun in the sense that I had to fly to London just to shoot that one scene. Even though it was a Nigerian scene, they had to fly me to the studio in London to shoot the scene and I spent some days there.

Tell us about your pastoral work?

I’m an ordained pastor with Power Line Bible Church.

Was it a divine call from God or did the church just decide to ordain you?

(Laughs) If it’s not a divine call, what then is it, a diabolical call? Actually, the church decided to ordain me, but you know before the church decides to do that, there must be a prompting by the Holy Spirit. So when it came, I couldn’t say ‘no’, because you don’t say ‘no’ when God says ‘yes’.

As a pastor, how has the experience been?

I’ve been coping very well, it has taken me around, it has taken me to preach in Canada, South Africa, Liberia, Ghana, Morovia, Toronto and then all around Nigeria. I’ve been to at least three to four cities in South Africa to minister the word of God.

How do you manage being an actor and a preacher?   

I’m not a full-time pastor in the sense that I’m not a pastor who owns a church. I’m a member of Power Line Bible Church. The difference is that I’m a member of the pastoral council, but I still do my work.

But doesn’t it affect the kind of roles you play?

It doesn’t, it hasn’t affected the kind of roles I play, but I’m very careful about the kind of roles I accept to play now, because of the long years I have put in the industry and the fact that I am very critical about any particular job that comes my way.

I want to make sure that the script has been well written before I take part in it and also make sure that all the elements of production are in place.

Do you plan to set up your own church in future?

No, not right now. I have thought about it but it’s not something I intend to do. But we can’t say what God would want us to do in a few years from now, but right now it’s not in my agenda at all.

Would you mind a political appointment?     

If it agrees with me, yes. We are all called to serve in different regards. You may be called to serve spiritually, you may be called to serve your country in one capacity or another, it all depends. I have shouldered responsibilities over the years.

As far back as 1978, I was the leader of a delegation of Nigerian students who were sponsored by the French embassy on a three-week holiday programme in Lome. There were about sixty students from Nigeria and I was the leader of that delegation.

Right from time, I have served in one way or the other in different capacities, so it all depends. If it’s something that agrees with me; why not?

In my secondary school, I was senior prefect. I was the old Anambra state school champion in shot-put and discus. I even represented the state in the national sports competition from my University. I was also the president of Estate Department Students’ Association.

As a popular actor, how do you relate with your fans?

I just try to be nice to everyone. This job has taught me to be humble, because just a smile can make someone’s day, just a ‘hi’ and spending few minutes to say “How are you?” can really make someone happy. I have come to take it in my stride, though sometimes it is not convenient for me, but I believe that anyone who must acknowledge somebody else must first of all humble himself to do that.

Can you recall any embarrassing moment with a female fan?

Yes, some time ago I was in Washington DC when a lady saw me in a super market and there were a lot of people there. It was unbelievable to her and she said, “Oh my God! I just watched you this morning, oh my God” She started shouting and called the attention of the entire supermarket, “Come and see, he’s an actor from my country, Nigeria.

I just watched him this morning!” I begged her to stop and she paid for everything I bought in the supermarket that day. I was also in Johannesburg sometime ago, when a lady walked up to me and just stretched out her hand. I was a bit embarrassed because she just came, looked me straight in the eyes and stretched out her hand for a handshake.

I looked back at her and said, “In my country, young women do not stretch out their hands to shake older men or to shake a man”. She said, “Oh I’m very sorry, it’s just that I’ve been watching you and I can’t believe that you are in my country”.

She then said “Ok, what am I supposed to do? I said “You will bend down and I will pat you on the back”. Immediately, she bent down and I patted her on the back and she just stayed like that, walking, shouting and saying, “He patted me on the back!” (Laughs)

Can you talk briefly about your son’s musical career and why did he choose music over acting?

He has acted before. He studied media and television at the University of Bradford in England and graduated in 2012. He’s doing his youth service now. He said music is what he wants to do and I said okay, fine, no problem.

He’s a grown man, right now he’s above 21years of age, so he can decide for himself what he wants to do. What I have discovered is that any young man who has gone to the university has the right to decide his future.

You can’t stop him because at the end of the day we follow our talent, skill and passion. I advise a lot of young people I train, I tell them you must discover who you are, your calling, gifts, skills, talents and strengths.

Now, he has dropped two songs and we are now planning to shoot the video and after that, we will begin to promote it on radio, television and in clubs.

What have you got to say about movie producers sexually harassing female actresses?

I don’t know. There may be some truth in it and there has to be proof.  I know that as a producer, I have never harassed anybody. Besides, people are so desperate these days that they offer themselves. Also, some of these people just want to give producers a bad name, sometimes, some of them do not measure up.

They think it is by sleeping around that they would get a juicy role. It’s not necessarily by sleeping around, but by applying your strength, talent, expressing and proving yourself. I do not deny that there is sexual harassment, but it is everywhere, not just in the movie industry. The thing is that human beings are predators.

When human beings are in a position where they can dole out some largess, some now exhibit their terrible characters. Some people just need to be put in a position of authority and you will see that they are animals.

That doesn’t mean we do not have genuine producers who are thoroughly looking for talents to want to use in their movies, because at the end of the day a good actor is a good actor. If you do not deliver, people will watch and they will see that this guy is not good or this girl is not good.

How would you rate the kind of movies that are produced in Nigeria these days?

There has been a lot of improvement both in terms of scripting and also in terms of treatment and production quality, but there is also a lot of plagiarism going on. We have terrific actors in Nigeria who have proved themselves as far as the acting craft is concerned.