With experience spanning over 30 years, Bob Manuel-Udokwu could be regarded as one of the foremost actors that made Nollywood what it is today.
In this interview, the actor and now Senior Special Assistant on Creative Media to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State, talks about his career, family, passion for politics and latest music project. He equally shares fondest memories of his late parents. Enjoy it.
How did your journey into the entertainment industry begin?
The first time I appeared on stage was in primary two. When I got to primary four, I acted king in a full-length play. By the time I got to primary six, I had been selected for inter-schools programmes on radio and television in Enugu where I was born and bred. In Oraukwu Grammar School, Oraukwu, Anambra State, I was made the vice president of the junior debating society. In my senior year, I was a house prefect.
After leaving secondary school, one evening, I watched a drama programme on NTA Enugu. I immediately went to the television station to look for the producer of the programme, Mrs. Rose Nwanna. We discussed and she gave me a role in her next drama production. That was how I began to feature on television. Later, I was involved in a theater group, which comprised mainly students of Fine and Applied Arts, Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu. From there, I became a guest presenter of a music programme, Guess The Tune on Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Enugu. Eventually, I got admission to study Theatre Arts at University of Port Harcourt. I had earlier done a certificate course in Theatre Arts before proceeding for the degree programme. I graduated in 1991 with second-class upper division. I did my youth service in Ibadan, Oyo State where I formed the NYSC theatre group. Providentially, I got involved in Checkmate, which was the biggest soap opera on NTA from 1991 to 1995. Thereafter, I was invited to feature in a movie, Living in Bondage. Twenty-seven years after, in 2019, I also featured in an upgrade of Living in Bondage.
Which movie would you say brought you into the limelight?
It was the drama series, Checkmate where I played a major character of Richard Haatrope. Apart from being aired on NTA, it was also aired on ITV London. It was indeed the soap opera that brought me into the limelight both locally and internationally.
What were your major challenges in the industry?
I think they can be categorized in different sections. I featured in Checkmate while I was in my final year at University of Port Harcourt. Then I had to travel from Port Harcourt to Lagos by bus every two weeks to record my scenes. This was before Nollywood was born.
In the early days of the industry, some of us were arrested and detained by the police on our way to location. They threatened to charge us to court for wandering. That time, the police didn’t understand what we were doing, driving around town long after midnight. In developed countries like America, actors don’t experience such. Another challenge is that we don’t have the best of technology like our foreign counterparts. We work under a very challenging situation, but my joy is being able to tell our African stories from our own perspectives.
Despite your political appointment, you still make out time to act in movies, how do you cope?
My portfolio in the government of Anambra State covers movies and the entertainment industry generally. So, I have to be out there in the field some times. Acting is my first love. I didn’t just find myself acting; it’s a natural gift from God, which I further developed with education. I would rather say that acting is my destiny. I’m overjoyed that my industry recognised me with Veteran Actor of Nigeria (VAN) award for my contribution to the movie industry. I was the longest serving anchorman for Gulder Ultimate Search. I was in charge in the jungles for five seasons out of the 10 seasons the show lasted.
How did you get your appointment as the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Willie Obiano on Creative Media?
I believe that my work in the entertainment industry spoke to the authorities in Anambra State. In January 2013, I received a phone call from the government house that the former governor, Mr. Peter Obi had offered me an appointment. The caller didn’t say what portfolio, not until I received the letter of appointment that I found out that it was Senior Special Assistant on Creative Media. This was the last year of his second tenure. Luckily, after my participation in the campaigns/election of the incumbent governor, Chief Willie Obiano in 2014, he reappointed me as Senior Special Assistant on Creative Media for Movie and Entertainment Industry. In November 2019, he also appointed me as a member, Board of Directors for Anambra State Broadcasting Service, and Anambra State Newspapers and Publishing Company Limited. Earlier in 2015, I resigned my appointment as SSA to the Governor and vied to represent my constituency in Anambra State House of Assembly, Idemili North Local Government. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the party ticket but the governor was magnanimous to reappointment me as SSA.
You featured in both the old and new Living in Bondage, what would you say differentiates the two movies?
The original Living in Bondage was shot on Super VHS tapes; it got good actors and actresses, including good director from NTA. Twenty-seven years after, the story moved to a new generation. The remaking was shot with modern technology, more updated equipment, and very good storyline that people are now clamouring for the part 2. The movie became the biggest hit in its first weekend at the cinema.
Do you still have intention of vying for elective position?
I still have interest in partisan politics. With a Master degree in Political Science from University of Lagos and the experiences I have garnered both in life and government, I’m more than well equipped to vie for any elective office. Again, I believe you don’t stay on the sidelines and criticise; you need to get involved to make changes.
Could you tell us a bit about your family?
My family is doing great! I respect the individuality of myself in relation to my family, so I keep them away from the media. More so, I don’t think I can exchange them for anything.
What has life taught you?
Life has taught me that with patience, hard work and belief in God, you can achieve that which you may not have dreamt about. Also, if you work hard, you can achieve whatever lofty heights that life offers. I have been to places where I met people that ordinarily I wouldn’t have met if I were a regular person. Life has taught me that there is nothing impossible.
What should your fans expect from you?
I just finished recording a 6-track reggae album produced by Orits Wiliki. One of the tracks is a tribute to Ras Kimono, who was a personal friend. Two tracks are gospel songs and the other tracks were inspired by happenings in Nigeria, and Africa at large.
Why reggae music?
Reggae music makes you think, not just being happy listening to it. Reggae allows you to express disapproval of wrongdoings in the society. Reggae music is also highly spiritual because it leans heavily on the Bible for themes and inspiration. It gladdens my heart that in 2018, the United Nations classified reggae as World Heritage Music. I want people to listen to my music with open mind and think about our country; think about Nigerians and the life we live, and how we can make the world a better place.
What would you say are the fondest memories you shared with your late parents?
That’s a difficult question really! When you lose your parents or parent in a twinkle of an eye, your whole interaction with that person will be flashing back in your memory. I have lost both parents. What I miss most are the moments I sat and talked intimately with them, where no outsiders were present. I remember how my mother told me that I was just two years old when she knew how great I would become in future, because of my activities as a child. Families should learn how to bond with their children, which is lacking in our society today for reasons best known to some parents. I try to bond with my children irrespective of my job schedules, and I tell them things like, how I met their mom and they feel excited. Parents are like umbrella covering their children. When that umbrella breaks, you will be forced to grow up and strive for survival.