Justus Esiri, OON, is a force in the movie industry. A veteran, with over 40 years experience as stage actor, he was the Headmaster in the monstrously popular TV series, The Village Headmaster. Though he trained as an engineer in Germany, he returned home when a delegation from Nigeria invited him to perform in a Nigeria-governmental sponsored programme.
And after honouring the invitation, he never went back to Europe. We asked him his regrets and assessment of Nollywood. His candid views…
What does it take to be a good actor?
Knowing what the people want. We are Africans, and our interpretations of roles must take cognizance of our cultural heritage. You can’t be more European than them. So, you do your own thing to appeal to your people.
Would you say that knowing what the people want really contributed to your success in the industry?
I don’t know about that. I am not a judge. It is other people that would judge if I am a success or not. All I said that a good actor should know what his people want. And because I know, therefore I am good. Again, you cannot be a good actor if you are not well- trained or groomed in the profession.
You have been in the industry from the beginning. You are more of a pioneer. so, what has been your driving force?
To know what the public want. To understand the psychology of my people. This is a country of well over 4000 languages. So, your act must unite them. Over the years, I have tried to harness the rich culture heritage of my country. I see myself as an act ambassador.
And I am not giving up on this project. It is my life and my contribution to the nation.
Has there been any time in your career you felt like walking away?
No, no. You see, once you believe in a project, you have to give it all it takes despite the challenges. For me, it’s acting as long as I live. It’s acting forever.
What do you think is the biggest problem of Nollywood?
They are numerous. The problem of Nollywood is not knowing what the people really want. Most practitioners don’t know what their people want. We also have to understand that once you are good, money will come to you. You don’t have to look for it. That is the problem of Nollywood.
Would you say you are better off now than you were years back?
You see, I am happy because a son of mine, who is a dentist by profession, Dr. Sid, has decided to join the entertainment world. So, what is more rewarding than seeing you have inspired a lot of people, including your own family. And in terms of material wealth, I am just there.
By the time you joined Nollywood, did you envisage the kind of growth and popularity the industry would attend in the future?
Yes, I knew. But I did not envisage there would be leadership crisis, squabbles in the guilds, and a whole lot of unprofessional conducts going on in the recent times.
That wasn’t the Nollywood of my dream. I am, however, optimistic that we would return to the path of growth and progress. It would come to pass.
What is the way forward?
When a child is born, he has teething problem. Now, we have identified this, we have to cater for the baby until this natural phase evolves.
You were among Nigerian professionals, who left their lucrative jobs in Europe and America to build the entertainment industry in Nigeria. More than 40 years on, would you say you regret your action?
There are so many regrets. I remember how I came. I remember how Larry Williams came. So many people came back because we thought our return would be a stepping stone to building an industry that would be the pride of the nation, an industry that would make the young ones grow. But after FESTAC 77, it all died.
You have the OON national honour. Is the Federal Government doing enough to reward Nigerian artist?
There are too many problems, members of the National Assembly want to receive N42 million. But there are lot of people who are serving this country more than them. So, what are we talking about? It is ridiculous. We in Nollywood have served Nigeria more than any them. Those who make this country happy and have worked to promote national unity through the arts should be rewarded and honoured.
I don’t have anything to write home about apart from the six children that God gave me. Have I not tried?
- UCHE OLEHI
- This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, June 8, 2010