A Konnect Africa Interview with Keppy Ekpenyong Bassey; the Nollywood Megastar

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Top of the week Konnect Africans, to start you off on a beautiful and rewarding week; we bring you another amazing interview. Now guess who we have here this beautiful Monday morning!!!!!

Well, it’s one of Nollywood’s finest actors and producers; Keppy Edet Ekpenyong Bassey.

It was a beautiful conversation at the airport a few weeks ago; one I didn’t exactly prepare for, but just a couple of minutes with this great actor resulted in a paradigm shift for me, especially regarding the Nigerian Movie Industry and  increased my hope in Africa.

In this interview, the ingenious thespian talks about his journey through life, Nollywood and his motivation for staying on course.

His detailed and apt answers blew my mind. I am confident you would say the same after reading this interview. Enjoy a good read, and while you are at it, thank God for Konnect Africa. The very place you get it hot, fresh and truly inspiring. Have a beautiful week ahead.

Keppy Ekpenyong Bassey with Segun Arinze and Fred Amata.
Keppy with Segun Arinze and Fred Amata.

Who is Keppy Ekpenyong Bassey?

Like you already know, my name is Ekpenyong Edet Bassey-Inyang. I was born on March 21 to Dr, (Col)/Mrs. E.E. Bassey –Inyang at the Military Hospital, Yaba, Lagos at a time when my Father was the Commanding Officer of the hospital.

I hail from Ikot Antuen, Oku-Iboku, in Itu Local Government Area of Akwa-Ibom State. I am the 3rd child and second boy in a nuclear family of 6.

Where and what did you study?

I started off at Corona Schools Crèche, Ikoyi and then went on to Corona School Victoria Island, all in Lagos for my primary education. There, I served as the House Captain of Weaver House. I was a great sports kid and I was also involved in drama.

For my Secondary education I attended Government College Ojo between 1974 and 1979 where I was a pioneer student of the institution. I served at various times as House Captain/ Social Prefect. Even in secondary school, my flair for drama and sporting activities increased.

And then between 1980 and 1982, I was a student at the Federal School of Arts And Science in Victoria Island, Lagos. After which I proceeded for my first Degree, at the prestigious University Of Calabar, Cross River State, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Linguistics. In School, I emerged the first ever Mr. UNICAL. My flair and interest in dramatic arts was always noticed and commended; you know like a tree planted on a hill (smiles).

My Post Graduate Degree was at the University Of Lagos in 1989, there, I obtained a Masters in International Law and Diplomacy (M.I.L.D).

How did you get into acting; is it a flair you’ve always had or did you have to take any additional classes to hone your skill?

Yeah! You can say that acting is a flair I have always had, even from my days in primary school, but then I made efforts to sharpen it, especially after my school days.

After graduation, I served with the programme department of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Headquarters as associate Producer between 1987 and 1988. During this period, I was trained and involved in Drama, Script-Writing, Voice- Over, Producing and Presenting.

I was also involved in acting, especially on productions generated by the T.V Station. While at NTA, I came in contact with the Producers of “RIPPLES” a high peak soap which ran for 5 years on NTA network and which enjoyed air time transmission monopoly at the time and carted several awards during its several runs.

Armed with my Masters degree, I resumed work almost immediately with Crystal Waves Ltd and Multimedia Communications firm as a Manager. I was involved in the production of Documentaries, and T.V. Coverage’s of Major Social Events. The Company being Chaired by the then Presidential Aspirant, Alhaji Bashir Tofa was exposed to a lot of productions and as such owned high end state of the arts production and post production equipment. (1990-1993).

Tade Ogidan, was another major force that propelled me into acting. He literally beat acting into me with the production of ‘Boys Next Door’. He helped discover and polish the natural flair for acting.

K.A- Tell us about your acting experience…

I must say that it’s been a successful and interesting journey, from the time I started, till this time.

With the advent of Nollywood’s first home video film, a few professionals at the time got together and set up Maxims Communications Ltd, a production company set up for the purpose of film making. On that Platform, I produced and acted on the award winning “Unforgiven Sin” a movie which examined the ills of the Osu cast systems in Igbo Land. I have also acted in several major/guest appearance roles. Some of the movies I have acted in include; Village Headmaster”, “Ripples”, “Behind the Siege”,” Jaded Options” “Doctors Quarters”, “Cyberia”, “Patriots”, ”Solitaire” ,”Circle of Three”, ”Impressions”, “Hope Bay”,  “Tinsel”, “Living Next To You”,  to mention a few.

I have been part of over 100 great movies including; “Tears For Love”(Ameze Imariagbe, Kanayo O Kanayo), “Claws Of A Lion”, “Mutanda”, “Raging  Storm” (Francis Onwochie , Lanre Balogun)“Inale” (Hakeem Kaszim, Caroline Okezie), “Magic Money”(Segun Arinze) “Total Control”, “Deep Love”(Enebeli Elebuwa, Stella Damasus), “99th day” (Bimbo Akintola), “Streets Of Calabar” (Maynard Ezieachi, Tony Ofoebu, Wale Ojo) etc

To put it simply, it’s been a beautiful experience.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

Well, I can’t readily point to any of my achievements as the greatest. I thank God at every opportunity he presents for me to be celebrated. He has permitted great opportunities to come my way.  Recently, I was named as goodwill Ambassador for my Alma Mata, University Of Calabar and also Zoda Phone Ambassador, a Telecommunications Firm.

In the first week of October 2011, I was again awarded by the Lagos State Chapter of the Actors Guild where I was conferred with a ‘Life Time Achievers’ Award.

I have also served as a delegate to CONCA representing the Actors Guild of Nigeria. I am a member of Havana Project Services, a new dimensional campaign against human trafficking.

These are just a few I can mention now.

Sarah

It’s interesting to know that you’ve been married for about 20 years, how has your career impacted your marriage?

Yeah, my wife and I have come a long way and it’s been a very beautiful journey I tell you.  Marriages demonstrate the best models of management. Challenged by all the imperfections imaginable and propped by integrity in a rare mix with responsibility. Foundational pillars of tolerance! Understanding and compromise help in keeping the exclusive union going. Fortunately, I get that and more from my family in the execution of my adventure. It’s never easy to strike that balance but it happens usually by Divine Grace! There is nothing empirically verifiable about marriages and careers to prescribe a workable template! And just to add, I have been happily married to my wife Nyong Bassey-Inyang who is the principal partner on the family business involvement for over 21 years. We have two lovely children.

You’ve been off the radar for a while, what have you been up to?

Hmmmmm, I have been busy with a whole lot of things. I have worked as a Consultant to various reality television shows like “The Intern”, “Big Mamas House”, “Feet of Fire”, etc. I have also served as judge/facilitator on” The Creative Academy” Talent Hunt Reality Show, “Ambo House”, “Power City Ministries International” The Capstone Church” several beauty pageants, product launches, etc.

I am also a youth Ambassador, working on the sensitization and awareness campaign for HIV/AIDS. In this regard, I find myself attending several workshops and conferences such as ICASA Nigeria and the 4th National Conference on HIV/AIDS.

On yet another platform I have worked as a developmental film maker, with some of my colleagues on Nollywood Concepts Promotions Limited, a privately driven initiative, which has over the past 5 years, exploited the potentials of Nollywood as a medium of information dissemination towards the realization of the MDG’s and Vision 2020.

In this regard, I have functioned in a consultative capacity in the war against gender based violence against women and in partnership with NCP/UNFPA and have produced works as campaign material, like; “Freedom in Chains” which I produced and acted in. This work has been screened in the UN Headquarters in New York, Aso Villa, Burkina Faso, at least 10 States of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, several schools (secondary/tertiary) and select audiences that include Ambassadors, members of the federal/state legislature etc. HAAJA is another interesting film project I took part in during the campaign.

The campaign centered largely on Maternal Mortality (VVF), Population, Gender based violence, etc.

And then in November 2011, I was part of a Center for Communications (Programme, sponsored by John Hopkins University) delegation representing Nollywood’s participation during the 5th International Entertainment Conference in New Delhi, November 17th – 20th 2011. In March of 2012, I was nominated as ‘Ambassador to BCA Africa’ (Bedrock of the Children of Abraham) a platform which seeks to employ good offices in the betterment of street children.

Keppy at the Cancer Walk
Keppy at the Cancer Walk

In your opinion, how well has Nollywood done since its inception

Actually, Nollywood crept in rather anonymously into the consciousness of the Nigerian Polity in 1992 with the production of the now fabled ‘living in bondage’. It announced the renaissance of the hitherto dead film culture in Nigeria. It was derogated at first instance and even today, in spite of its wide acclaim nationally and internationally, pockets of resistance still continue to greet this phenomenon. I have been made to understand that this conflict is ethnic in complexion and I don’t understand why.
The film history in Nigeria started way before independence in 1903 with a film screening in Glover Hall,Lagos by Herbert Macualay in association with the Balboa film company of Spain.

The 1st film was produced in Jos in 1904 ‘Palava’. (I have had the privilege of working with Frank Macaulay, a Nigerian Director based in London) In 1957 pa Amatas’ ‘freedom’ further announced and accentuated this culture. Then came the 60s’ with several film productions on celluloid parading Hurbert Ogunde, Ola balogun, Wole Soyinka, Eddy Ugbomma etc.

Only a handful of film makers producing works that were few and far between. We owe that to the capital intensity required for production on celluloid. So Nollywood, a gem in the rough suffered massive anger knocks from not just the hand full of active filmakers but slaps and punches accompanied those knocks by the viewers. Some of the early Filmakers are, Afolabi Adesanya, Adebayo Salami, Moses Adejumo, Ladi Ladebo, Adeyemi Afolayan.

Some early films on celluloid include: ‘Kongis Harvest’ in 1971, ‘Alfa’ in 1972, ‘Bull Frog in the Sun’ in 1974, ‘Amadi’ in 1975, ‘Ajani Ogun’ in 1975, ‘Muzik Man’ in 1976, ‘Bisi Daughter of the River’ in 1977, ‘Ija Ominiran’ in 1978, ‘Aiye’ in 1979, ‘Kadara’ in 1980, ‘Efuasetan Aniwura’ in 1981 and ‘Ija Osogan’ 82.

The “look down’ (condescension) on our local attempt by the more sophisticated and influenced elite gave it very little to survive on. But living in bondage tipped the scales. It was no where near the 1st attempts at video film productions as the yorubas had been making video films long before 1993, but the language employed and culture captured at the time coupled with the injection of trained professionals and a timely banning of the trade of pornogaphy created an ambiance of resounding acceptance and instant commercial success.

The name Nollywood came to stay after a reporter; John Stinglass of New York Times referred to the Nigerian Film Industry.
However ‘Nollywood’ has resolutely stayed and inspired wider positive ramifications than u can ever imagine. For instance, many successful actors broke away and established the refreshing comedy industry in Nigeria. Employment opportunities soared as defined professional categories evolved and most personnel trained on the job and subsequently acquired formal training in camera handling, Make up, Costumes, Acting, Directing etc. In Lagos alone, we have over 15 established Acting Academies.

A few more actors broke away and encouraged the growing ranks of voice over artistes introducing creative moderation to voicing. The proliferation of TV/Cabel Networks developed programmes employing Nollywood trained personnel and her productions sustained content requirement for such channels to run.

The print media had a lot more materials to contend with. Sensational journalism promoting and chewing actors satisfied readership with insights yet to be appreciated.
Actors have become mega stars and brand ambassadors endorsing products/services. A few have also enjoyed statuses befitting only for the high and mighty within and without the country at presidential levels.

Several countries had sent delegations to understudy Nollywood from Europe, the USA and Nollywood has so impacted on the continent that there’s no country national TV without Nollywood content in Africa.

In more ways than not, Nollywood has documented our fast eroding cultural heritage and whereas, while we do not have a library of every film that has been produced locally, you can find copies in libraries abroad. Several Ivy League universities have a department purposefully set up to study the myth we call Nollywood. It’s obvious what it has done as image laundering of our dear country more than the diplomatic department can ever accomplish.

This is just a peep into this 100% Nigerian product. Do you know that this culture has trickled into awakening video film productions in all states in Nigeria using indigenous Languages? We thank God for the President who has recognized this great potential and is weighing in his support, a trend many state governors have bought into like; governors Akpabio, Imoke, Fashola, etc.

One day and not in the very far future, Nollywood would seat in the presidency. We have a few appointees spread across the country, a lot more with national awards.

Nollywood is Nigeria’s future!

Where do you see Nollywood in the next 50 years?

If I’m alive then I’d still be working, I hope (smiles). I can’t even think that far but from current trends locally and the recent conversion going on from celluloid to videos, Nigeria would have established a trend that would have impacted globally inordinately. I was fortunate to have been interviewed by Bob Marley’s grand-daughter when she came to Nigeria on a fact finding mission. They hope to establish a video film industry modeled after Nigeria and go into possible collaborations. That will definitely be done before 50years!!!!!

 

Keppy with Ini Edo
Keppy with Ini Edo

These days lots of people confuse stage acting with acting for television, could you please clarify the difference between both.

Plays are performed while films are made!

I see largely 3 major differences but let’s run through the processes to appreciate these differences.
Stage actors are drilled through physically rigorous exercises to achieve full interpretation of characters persona. The stage is only a little distance away for members of the audience in the front row but in scenarios where the hall is large, members of the audience must be drawn into empathy and carried along. The stage actors have to be trained enough to convey nuances of dialogue and possess a wide variety of vocal expressiveness so breathing exercises become imperative.
Acting in the theatre is ‘real time’ with every performance exuding the illusions of a first time for every performance! I have been in a production where we ran 3 performances daily over the weekends and the energy level had to be that sustained.
Now that we appreciate to an extent the responsibility of the actor on stage whose performance is judged instantly by members of the audience let’s go to the 3 categories I mentioned earlier.
The stage actor’s voice must be loud! His projection of dialogue must be received without altering the messages. He does not shout but employs built skills to convey and conduct.
The stage actor’s body language cannot afford to be fleeting! No slight movements would cut it for the stage actor. His actions and reactions have to be slightly exaggerated ‘loud’ so members of the audience even at the back of the hall will appreciate his performance. Since this isn’t television or film, no close ups or medium close up shots can be called by the directed.

The 3rd for me is the medium. For stage you perform before a live audience, who have varying expectations of fulfillment and who the actors have to perform for, not cameras or technicians, and carry along without a take 2!

Stage actors build into the performance almost ritualistically until they form a unity amongst the cast!
A lot more stage actors find it easier to cross to film but that transition is usually not as easy for traditional TV/Film Actors!

How do you keep motivated in the face of failure/disappointment?

Motivation in face of failure is truly ironic as the tonic is in reversals. The fear of failure in itself, the trick of setting out. Fear operates largely in complex proportions. The mantra is to keep at it. Failure finally happens when fear stampedes you into not trying. Motivation should be in seeing life as a function of your attempts a breakthrough rather than in comparative competition with whomever! You are a product of your labour when intelligently employed without fear.

Lovelyn, Your motivation is to achieve this session with me and as much as possible extract my position based on your probes. If you had been timid, if you hadn’t been purposeful, you would have approached two much older men sitting on the table across from you. Your age could have played up, the public nature of the setting could also have inhibited.

Failure was imminent but you confirmed your target, you got up and made your move. You probably considered being turned down or carefully dislocated but you forged ahead probably running through strategies and pulled a workable opening with wanting to take a picture. You then sat down and introduced the fact that you were a Lawyer which caught my attention and from then on, it was no holds barred! I would probably do the same and whisper a prayer for divine assistance. Afterall, at the back of our minds, if at first we don’t succeed, we can keep trying until we hit our target. Nothing ventured…

What would you say is the most important tip for remaining successful? 

Success is as transient as life. One minute you have it and then you don’t appreciate it and treat it well and it’s gone. Lessons are to be learnt. It’s not comfortable being at the top. At the top, you need to stay there. You need to be level headed and focused enough to make the right decisions.
You need to be smart enough never to invest in vanities with recourse to reason. A lot of lucky people just want to be like the proverbial ‘Jones’. Buy this car, do that trip live in particular neighborhoods because u feel that qualifies you membership into the world of success.

I wouldn’t subscribe to stretching your ‘mirage’ because you suffer that complex. Success as a status is earned. It is groomed and nurtured deliberately to be relevant. Success requires a constant review of templates. It calls for the humility of wisdom and the play of knowledge. Success isn’t pride; it isn’t the uncouth presentation of being brazen. Success is the non pronouncement of achievement. It is delicately built and gingerly handled.

 when love happens

What would you say is the best way to translate dreams to reality?

I think God Almighty allowed us have dreams so we can enjoy a sneak preview of what our universe can be. The problem I think we are largely confronted with is waking up from that dream. So many times, we find so much attainment in our dreams we never really wake up when we are up. The popular analogy is the young people who wake up only to sit by street corners in groups smoking marijuana and analyzing what they could be or have become if…

And that goes on for hours on end and finally they retire home with nothing ventured but the dreams. I think a lot has to do with the drive you have. You pick a direction and as much as possible, you acquire knowledge.

The Bible says you must study to show yourself approved. Competition is fierce so in aggressively building capacity, you may want to exude confidence from your competence and then you throw yourself at every opportunity to engage your proficiency not letting off opportunities to upgrade.

With patience, you need to pray to recognize the opportunities as they present themselves and with luck and humility, hook on with integrity and consistency, your dreams will come true.

If you could change one thing about your life/past, what would it be?

Life is full of twists and turns and sometimes the incidences we consider as accidents are life chargers. I don’t know now or can’t tell ever if things had gone wrong as a young person if my life would have been different.

Possibly, I could have been better off or even worse off and who knows if I changed the past I could easily have been dead.

 I believe I’m living my life within my limitations and fear to challenge myself, fear to adventure or perhaps even inhibited to come into my own.

 I believe in what will be will be (que sera sera)

What advice do you have for potential and upcoming actors?

Young actors must be ready to come with a rare passion and be built in terms of capacity. It’s a fierce battle out there because bars have since been raised and a lot more people are looking at the industry desperately as escape.

Younger players must be consistent humble and full of integrity. They need a fair amount of luck and they must be personable! What is key above and beyond is to be patient and not desperate! That’s where they miss it. They want it now! And then it’s all kinds of ‘acting’ behind the camera.

Nigeria and Africa will truly rise when…

Nigeria and Africa will truly rise when we establish a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. (Integrity)

Inspire a young African person in one sentence…

Be unafraid! You’re good enough, strong enough, smart enough, and talented enough, don’t let your insecurities take over and ruin your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2014 – 2017, Lovelyn Okafor. All rights reserved.

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