Veteran actor, filmmaker and politician, Kanayo O Kanayo, was recently a guest on the Honest Brunch podcast, where he spoke about his career, movie industry and other issues. FAITH AJAYI brings excerpts

I was scrolling through Instagram this morning and I saw a video of you, where you seemed so angry. What prompted you to make that video?

It borders on professional misconduct. This is the only industry that has kept me and a whole lot of others for the past 30 to 40 years, so we need to protect it. I was calling out a particular woman, Mrs Unigwe, who is the mother of a young actress, Angel Unigwe. I felt very unhappy about the young girl whose mother I feel is messing up her career. It borders on a breach of contract. Imagining hiring an artist to make content for YouTube, and they can only give you three days. Meanwhile, we usually shoot for four days, and sometimes five. But, since the artist gave only three days, they should not allow the three days to expire. A day ends by 12am, but imagine her taking away her daughter at 9pm, without shooting six scenes.

There was nothing we didn’t do and people who didn’t intervene for the woman to bring her daughter, so that the shoot can be concluded. But, she didn’t listen. Then, when I went out and was talking to people, I heard reports that they also had similar experiences with her. It was alleged that after she collects money for a production, she would start changing the terms of the contract. That was why I called her out.

As a longstanding member of the entertainment industry, it behoves me to protect those who cannot speak, those who don’t know when their rights are breached or violated. I stand in that gap. She has done this to a lot of people and many of them called me yesterday.  There was nothing we didn’t beg this woman with, but she wouldn’t listen to anybody. Unfortunately (for her), she didn’t know we had all the evidence of our transaction. Even the people she was talking to pleaded with her on our behalf, so she could come and finish the shoot. Eventually, she refused to bring her daughter.

Are issues like this not supposed to be handled by the associations in the industry?

That’s where the problem is. Most actors think they are bigger than the Actors Guild of Nigeria. They never attend meetings. As a matter of fact, some of them would tell you that they don’t belong to AGN; that they are doing their thing. But, do you know where you catch them? When they go to embassies to get visas, they ask them which group they belong to in the industry. It is then they would start pleading with the AGN president to write them a letter. Meanwhile, they never contribute. So, when it comes to associations, there are some people that, once they attain stardom, they start behaving like they’re bigger than the guild.

Is that not a problem created by older practitioners in the industry, because for example, if people look up to somebody who has spent quite a number of years in the industry and the person is not a member of any association, or has disregard for the associations. Don’t you think that would make younger artists who attain stardom say, ‘I have no business with this association’?

Exactly! That’s why there needs to be a clarion call for everybody to know that we are better off being under a guild or association that will protect our general interests, because operating individually does not help us. People need to have that understanding. But, when people don’t feel that, it is bad.

But, it’s a work in progress to call on the actors and the AGN president with his executives to keep on working to bring actors together. Actors should also know that it is not just when we go for funerals that we should work together. Team work makes the dream work. If we work as a team, we will have more respect.

It is so bad that when a fund is set up in a way that a percentage of what actors earn is deposited in that fund, so that in the case of a health issue, money can be taken from there.  It is because of things like that you see actors always coming to social media to ask for money, because many people have refused to be part of the association. If I earn N1m per movie for instance, what is one per cent of it that I cannot set aside for my future? I wonder why people wouldn’t contribute N10,000 to a fund that will be used to take care of them if they are sick? A rainy day will always come when you cannot function effectively, and your health deteriorates. That’s the idea behind the social security system in some other climes, so that when you are not working and you’re not in good health, they would take money from there and take care of you. But, people don’t want to align or contribute to this. As far as I’m concerned, that is very bad.

How have you managed to be relevant over the years? For many entertainers, there shelf lives do not exceed 10 or 15 years; but you’ve been consistently relevant in the industry for decades. How have you done it?

On a lighter note, I have never gone anywhere in the dead of night to be more successful or relevant than anybody else. Perhaps, there is an unseen finger or hand that has said I should continue doing what I’m doing. I am not the best actor, even though I won the Best Actor category of the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2006. I have not done anything special, but I am a professional to the core. I try to do things the right way. I have tried as much as I can on my own, because if you play your part, God will also play His part.

Also, I have tried as much as I can to take care of my health, and I’ve tried to obey the laws of nature.

Unfortunately, there is no insurance in the industry, from which we can draw from a pool of funds. It is like you only earn when you’re working. There are no royalties, so it means that when you’re not working, you’re not earning. You need to be very discerning with your health, so in terms of remaining relevant, I haven’t done anything special, but I’ve tried as much as possible to align with professional conducts. I just do my job and leave the rest for God. When the younger ones come, I bring my wisdom to the table, and they bring their strength. We then join them together.

Are you aware that most artists are on drugs? These are things I have spoken with the AGN president about, and he said we should treat them in-house first. There are many people we need to rescue. Most times, when they come to a location, they stay in their cars for the next two hours.  If it is a lady, don’t forget she needs the next one or two hours to apply make-up, so you end up having some people coming at 8 for a production, and shoot not starting till about 11 or 12. It is a bad situation, and I don’t reserve my comments on things that will take the industry forward. They should remove their hands from all these things (illicit substances) they take.

For some actors, when they have reached a certain point in their careers with a lot of fans who like to watch them, they drastically raise their pay and make it so high that producers would go through a lot of stress to get them. Is there nothing that can be done to control or regulate what people charge in the industry?

No, you don’t regulate. It is an open market economy, so you don’t regulate what people charge. If you can’t afford one, go for the one you can afford. It helps to build new artists. There are some people in the industry now that if you want to shoot with them, they would say they can only grant you one day (to shoot), and would charge about N1m to N1.5m. For someone of them, if you contact them June, they would tell you they don’t have any available date until the next February. So, that gives one the option to start discovering new talents.

On this note, I also want to say to those in the entertainment industry that we should start discovering those who would act as back-up (to established stars). That a person’s face ‘sells’ a movie on YouTube does not mean it will ‘sell’ on Showmax, Amazon Prime, or Netflix. It is not good for the industry, but it is also an opportunity to start discovering those who are not under the wings of those guys (established acts). To sum it up, regulation of price doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.



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