Long before he became a Nollywood star, Chinedu Ikedieze lived with his grandmother in Abia State, his head filled with big dreams of being a lawyer and later an actor. He got his wish, becoming one of Nollywood’s most successful actors after he landed a role in the 2002 comedy flick Aki Na Ukwa. The instant smash success of the film ensured that he became a star overnight, earning him a brother in the person of his ‘co accomplice’ Osita Iheme, better known as Pawpaw. Despite his burgeoning popularity, Aki as he is fondly called, remains very down-to-earth and assuming. In this interview, he tells PREMIUM TIMES that it was not an easy journey to stardom for him.
PT: How did you come about playing child roles?
Aki: I would say that playing child roles in movies was by design however being funny comes naturally to me. Long before I became a comic actor, people had always told me how funny I was. Sometimes I would be like, “What did I do? Why are people saying that I am funny?” So, when I began taking on the roles of a little boy, it was easy to fit in because my height gave me the advantage. Also, some of the roles I played were a reflection of my childhood antecedents. The roles reminded me a lot about my life as a little boy, but this does not mean that I was completely mischievous.
PT: Please tell us the back-story behind Aki Na Ukwa?
Aki: When Osita and I got our scripts, we didn’t think of it as a comic movie so we were acting normally. The screenwriter wrote the script and intended for it to be a film that was heavy on life lessons and morals. Maybe there was a bit of comic expectations especially from some other actors like my father in the movie, the late Sam Loco and some other big comic actors, but not from us. We were just acting like little kids with no intention to make people laugh or roll on the floor. We were just acting normally. If you watch the film again, you will notice that we were just interpreting the role of innocent children.
PT: Did you foresee the film becoming a success at the time?
Aki: I didn’t really think that the movie would be an instant hit but I think it was a success because of the chemistry Osita and I share. The movie was a first, something Nigerians and the movie industry hadn’t seen until then. It was the first time people would see two child actors who blended easily in one movie.
PT: How does it feel playing the role of a child as an adult?
Aki: It feels good as an actor but it has its own challenges. It is not easy bringing myself down and getting myself into the character of a little boy. It takes a lot of professionalism to do that well. I began acting in 1998, in my early 20s and I have gotten better playing child roles over the years.
PT: Having starred in over a 100 Nollywood films, do you have a favourite?
Aki: It definitely has to be Aki na Ukwa because it was the film that shot me to limelight. I am also eternally grateful to the late Chukwuka Emeliyeonwu, who died early this year in an auto-crash. May his soul rest in perfect peace. He took a very big risk when he invested his money on that movie. Even though he didn’t write the script, but for him to agree to invest his money, even after he was banned by his union for distributing the movie, he managed to market the movie using his brother’s distribution company. Aki Na Ukwa became the highest grossing movie for him selling throughout African and other parts of the world. He made money, even though the movie was massively pirated as well.
PT: Do you sometimes wish you were taller?
Aki : Yes, I do, but you know there are things you can’t change. If it were easy to add some inches to my height I would have done that. But since I can’t change it, I have to play along. I have to be whom God has made me. Yes.
PT: Do you think your height is a shortcoming?
Aki: No. It is not. But, of course I am human, so there are little, maybe several unnecessary things I would have done if I were taller.
PT: What are they?
Aki: No. I don’t need to make it public. But I think I have become the person I dreamt of becoming. So, I can’t give less, or compare myself less of who I am.
PT: Do you think that you would have been more successful if were taller?
Aki :I don’t know. I believe in the law of nature. If God had destined that I would be very successful, irrespective of my height, I would still be who I am ordained to be.
PT: What was it like growing up alongside your peers?
Aki: I thank God for the kind of parents and my grand mother for raising me as a confident and self-driven. I had a bit of disadvantage growing up because I was taunted many times by children, my peers and other people who didn’t understand my height. It really affected me psychologically. At some point, I got so mad that I kept asking God why I was born like that, but now I think that question has been answered.
PT: You appear to have more fans outside the shores of Nigeria especially in Europe.
Aki: I think aside from my movies, social media has ensured that I am relevant globally. Whenever I go live on Instagram, people call me from as far as Russia, Croatia, Norway, and from every part of the world. I am always very shocked and surprised. One woman called me and was speaking Spanish. Of course, I couldn’t understand her at first but after listening carefully to her I could pick some lines from a film I featured in. I just couldn’t figure who introduced her to Nigerian movies. I have had great receptions from every country I have visited from Nigeria to Africa to the Caribbean Islands, to the U.S. and to every part of the world. I am so grateful for these opportunities to be relevant globally.
PT: I’m sure some people don’t even know your real name?
Aki: Aki Na Ukwa was released in 2002 and this is 2018, it is 16 years now people still call me Aki and I am thankful for that. Even five-year-old kids still call me Aki. I am still Aki, even kids call me Aki and I love it. And the interesting thing is that their mothers were either teenagers or young adults when the film was released.
PT: You recently received an award in the U.S. Tell us more.
Aki: I went to Florida for an award and beauty pageantry organised by Mr Murphy Folorunsho, a Nigerian living in the US. It was an awesome outing. I didn’t anticipate the goodwill and the gestures I received while in Miami. I was given the key to city by the Mayor himself, signed and endorsed. That means I am welcome to Maimi city any time. It was a big one.
PT: Will you say you are fulfilled? Are you living your dreams?
Aki: In all sincerity, I will say yes. As a little boy, I grew up with so many aspirations. I wanted to become a doctor because my uncle is a doctor. After I had some encounters in secondary school, I wanted to become a lawyer. But aside, I nursed a love for acting. It, however, wasn’t a part of my dreams. I always know that I could do those things I watched on TV. As a little boy I did not believe that anything was impossible. I always had the belief that if I tried I could do it, even though I may not have the financial capability to achieve it. I had a lot of wild pool of ideas. Looking back, im glad I took to acting and I am beyond fulfilled.
PT: What happened to your law ambition?
Aki: I was denied admission into law because I didn’t get the JAMB cut-off mark. I accepted to study Mass Communication at the Institute of Management & Technology (IMT) in Enugu after my sister-in-law persuaded me to. I took up Mass Communication in a polytechnic with the thought that it was part time that I would sit for another JAMB exam so I can try Law again. I tried JAMB and got Law, but at that time I had already fallen in love with Mass Communication so I rejected the admission. The moment I fell in love with Mass Communication I began to see a path to Nollywood and I grabbed it.
PT: Many people are itching to know how you met your wife. Can you share your love story?
Aki: I like to keep my private life private. So, no comment please.
PT: What are you up to these days?
Aki: I am on the set of, Africa’s number one TV series, the Johnson’s. The Johnson’s is keeping me busy for now. We are shooting every day for eleven months. I do not have much time for anything else, but aside that I have a personal project in the pipeline. I have started discussing with the production management and by February 2019 I will be traveling to Florida, USA to shoot a feature movie. It is going to be a big one.
PT: You are quite fashionable. How do you love to dress?
Aki: If you spot me wearing an Ankara shirt, joggers, a native cap and sneakers, it is my way of defining my fashion. I just love looking good at all times.