–Story by Emmanuel Benson
I came off the hustle and bustle of Lagos streets into the cool ambience of a posh restaurant, the venue of my scheduled interview with a budding actor. And as my eyes scanned through the place, I quickly spotted him seated alone on a table. He was sipping a drink while flipping through the pages of a newspaper. I hurried over, apologizing profusely; my tardiness! It was the traffic, I explained as I took my seat right opposite him and we proceeded to discuss a whole lot of issues ranging from his acting career and Nollywood in general.
Paul Utomi! Just in case you never knew, he is a major industry player in Nigeria’s Nollywood although he wouldn’t just agree to that. “I honestly don’t think I am” he told me humbly when I mentioned how famous he is. But indeed he’s famous even though he’s been acting professionally for not more than five years. Within this rather short timeframe Paul has featured in a number of productions including O-TOWN, APOSTATES and +234. I asked him if he always set out to become the actor that he is today and his immediate response was a split seconds of thoughtful sigh. “I’m not sure” he said. “But then I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing at the moment.”
E. Benson: Really? But you studied Economics at one of Nigeria’s best universities. You could have made a fine banker for instance…
Paul Utomi: Yeah. I studied Economics. But I realized early on that I was drawn to the magic of movies and I am happy to have pursued that dream. Today I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to thrill audiences.
And thrilling audiences is truly one thing I’m sure he does best. His acting is captivating; pure talent merged with passion. But how is his life as an actor, I asked, and then he flattered me with one of his quick responses- “It’s a constant hustle to get jobs” he said. To this I laughed because Paul Utomi has featured in quite a number of Nollywood productions. This could only mean that his hustles must have paid very well indeed! Yet while this may be the case, Paul reiterated that the journey to the top is never easy. For the benefit of young [aspiring] actors and writers hoping to have their break into the industry, he said it’s never an easy feat. But that is not to imply impossibility:
“I’m still trying to overcome the challenges I face as an actor. It’s more like an ongoing journey; you will have to work as hard as you can, constantly improving and honing your craft… You may also probably have to get used to being disappointed ever so often”.
Away from his acting career for a while, I asked Paul to appraise Nollywood. And without disappointing, he was as objective as I’d expected. It is an industry constantly evolving, he said. And while he is not one of those that would spend time reminiscing about the supposed good old times the industry had seen, he never hesitated to candidly remind me that “for you to have a clear idea of where you are going, you need to remember/acknowledge where you are coming from…” I also wanted to know if he is one of those advocates of New Nollywood. And to this he responded:
“Well not quite. The only constant thing in life is change. Even the cinematic techniques in Hollywood are always evolving. Same goes for Bollywood and France/Europe. I don’t know about labels and labeling; but art is art. And all forms of visual expressions can coexist side by side and even burrow from each other”.
Moving on, our conversation soon shifted to Paul’s career and personal life. I asked him to pick out the best production he has ever been a part of, and of course it was a difficult thing to do. Instead he told me that all of his work has been unique with their special challenges, but most of all have all meant for learning experiences.
E. Benson: So has your craft brought immense financial success your way?
Paul Utomi: Hahaha… Hardly! We’re still hustling, bro. The industry still has a long way to go.
E. Benson: Really? But the general perception of you celebs is that y’all are quite monied.
Paul Utomi: Hmmmmm. Perception isn’t always reality.
And he was right; the perspective that Nigerian celebrities are money-spinners is false. But then this is not to say that Paul is broke. He has a penchant for being humbled, I noticed. And that’s equally a good attribute which must have contributed to making him the star that he is today. So in the face of his fame, how does he deal with excessive admiration from the girls? “Hahahaha” came his immediate reply. Yea he laughs quite a lot too. “I haven’t actually experienced it, boss” he said , referring to excessive admiration from them ladies. And even though I’m certain he might have chosen to tactfully evade the question, I agreed with him and proceeded to ask him about the most pricey gift acting has given him yet.
Paul Utomi: Hmmmm… Probably opening my eyes to how imperfect/fallible I am as a person. It has also helped me in my little understanding of the human condition.
E. Benson: Would you ever quite the profession?
Paul Utomi: Well I don’t know; life’s a funny thing. But…I don’t think so.
E. Benson: Okay. So on a last note, is there someone in the industry whom you admire their professionalism? Would you consider producing your own film someday?
Paul Utomi: There are a few people… Hopefully; it’s an industry we all want to see grow.
E. Benson: So would you date a fellow celebrity or anybody your heart calls out to?
Paul Utomi: Hahaha… Yeah, I would date a fellow celebrity or anyone my heart calls out to.
E. Benson: Well then…it’s been very nice having this sit down with you, Sir. Thank you so much for your time. And do permit me another interview when next I call on you.
Paul Utomi: Most definitely. You are welcome.