By Tony Ogaga
From humble beginnings in the eastern part of Nigeria, Chinedu Ikedieze popularly known as Aki, hit the limelight after he starred in Aki na Ukwa in 2001.
Ever since, the pint-sized actor has continued to grow from strength to strength, winning awards both within and outside Nigeria for his exploits on the silver screen. The climax was when he was awarded an MFR by the Goodluck Jonathan administration a couple of years ago.
Sharing his grass to grace story in a chat with Entertainer, Aki reveals that despite his small size, he knew he was headed for the top of his career in Nollywood, and even when he was paid a meager N500 for his first ever role, he was not discouraged.
In his words: “As a little boy and like every other kid around me, I had dreams. We all had it at the back of our minds that when we grew up we wanted to be this or that. What I am saying in essence is that when I was much younger, I had the dream that someday I would make it. To God be the glory, I just knew that there was something peculiar about me; my life has been exceptional, I must confess.”
For Aki, the journey started in 1998 after he got admission to study at Institute of Management & Technology (IMT) in Enugu. Luckily for him, he had been a member of the Debating & Dramatic Society and had acted in a couple of movies, so when he got into IMT, he wasn’t much of a green horn; and his likable nature made him blend easily into the fabric of Nollywood.
“I used to admire the late Gary Coleman,” he recalls. “I thought he was a small boy like me. I used to watch Different Strokes and I was keeping my hair like him. Each time I looked at him, I felt I was seeing myself; there was this resemblance. He inspired me a great deal and I took a cue from him. I was like, ‘if Gary Coleman could do this then I could do it’. And then I found out that he was a man and I was like ‘wow!’ In deed, Gary Coleman was my mentor.”
Enter Aki & Pawpaw
Together with his friend, Osita Iheme aka Pawpaw, they have carved a place for themselves in Nollywood, winning various diadems including AMAA Lifetime Achievement award and being honoured with Member of the Federal Republic (MFR).
But how did the duo hook up? Hear Aki: “I started acting in 1998 and he (Pawpaw) came into the industry three years later. I was in school then and we had this opportunity to shoot in Enugu. He had just started acting then. We met in the hotel lobby where we were lodged. We talked and I discovered he was a very shy fellow.
“Before then, Amayo Uzor had been telling me that ‘Chinedu, just hang on, there is a boy I have seen that looks just like you, and guess what, he is in the industry and I am working on a script for the both of you.’ After our meeting, they called and gave us scripts; that was the first time I did pure comedy. The movie was Aki na Ukwa.”
Debunking rumours that they have parted ways, Aki continued: “We are still friends and together run an NGO and a company, Aki & Pawpaw Child Care Foundation, and Aki & Pawpaw Entertainment. We have shows five times every year. However, people should know that we also have our individual dreams.”
How much was Aki paid for his first movie? “Very interesting, you won’t believe it, I was paid N500,” he says, as we share a hearty laugh. “I did not do that movie for the money. I used the N500 to buy a ring boiler. I was not discouraged. The movie was Evil Men Part 1.”
What is the secret to his success? Aki responds thus: “The secret to my success is ‘God first’ and I try to be myself. I try to research and learn that which I don’t know, and that has really helped me.”