21 April 2013

Nigeria: Unwanted Guest Ushered Me Into Nollywood - Chet Anekwe

Chet Anekwe is a New York based Nollywood actor. The dude who hails from Anambra State has featured in a couple of flicks notably Phat Girlz, the popular movie and Unwanted Guest. In this chat with SAMUEL ABULUDE, he speaks on his career, working in the United States and other sundry issues.

The movie industry in American has made a lot of stars from Africans who embraced Hollywood while living in the States. Among Nigerian actors that have made their mark in Hollywood, it won't be out of place to say Chet Anekwe is the next big thing to come out from the United States. He stole the hearts of Nigerian movie lovers playing the role of Ike in the flick, Unwanted Guest. Prior to that, he had starred alongside Jimmy Jean Louise in the Hollywood flick Phat Girlz among other productions, both foreign and local.

Born in Nigeria but raised in New York, the actor and screenwriter started out by featuring in a TV series titled Sheena in 2001 and another, Dream Job in 2004. Starring in Phat Girlz a movie made popular by Mo'Nique, celebrated African American comedienne in 2006, Chet played the role of the flirty Nigerian and received applause for a good role interpretation. Since then, he has featured in Spy Games in 2008, Busted Life with Ramsey Nouah in 2010 and recently Unwanted Guest, a movie he acted along with Mercy Johnson in 2011. Presently, he is among the star-studded cast of the yet to be shot flick, Heaven's Hell.

Speaking briefly about his background, he said, "I am from Anambra but I grew up in Lagos and I can find my way home. At least I can get on Ekene DiliChukwu and get there (Laughter). I have done it before. In the United States, you are from where you grew up. You are not from where your parents are from. You are from your hood. I was talking to my friends and I told them that if that were the case, I am from Surulere. I grew up in Surulere most of my life. "

Presently, the Nigerian artist is not married but has a fiancée and according to him, he hopes to probably get married later this year. However, his fiancée is not a Nigerian but an American.

Chet stormed Nollywood with his entrant movie Unwanted Guest which he acted along with Mercy Johnson but how has the movie improved his profile? He has this say.

"Interestingly, someone once asked me if I was popular and I said no. I think we ought to concentrate on the work being good like Unwanted Guest. Some movies are like that. It doesn't matter if you are popular. Slowly we are doing that kind of work. Unwanted Guest was good. If you think about it, I think I was the most known face there and it was in the Nigerian theatre because it was good. That is what we have to get.

Someone like Ramsey is a very close friend of mine. In fact, I've gotten several jobs by him recommending me. But it is not always the face that should sell something. You should sell something because it is good, because you know it is coming from Nigeria so the quality has to be good and that is what this is.

"Actually, since I shot Unwanted Guest, I haven't been too busy because I have been a little more careful in picking films. The industry back home is far more mature. There is a small Nollywood/USA community, if I can call it that, coming up but it is not as mature and they are still making the same mistakes people have made before, not casting correctly.

So I try to hold back and try to take only projects that I know are good. I did a film that is actually out now with Mercy Johnson. It is titled Baby Awful. We did that in the US. I have had a lot more offers but I have been taking more time to pick the right ones.

"I have done about five to six films right now. I have another one that I did with Emem Isong's outfit, the Royal Art Academy, directed by Lancelot Imasuen. They are so professional; they are so great to work with. I worked alongside Chioma Akpotha. That should be coming out soon. Baby Awful came out recently. It is a very funny film. Mercy Johnson is brilliant. I have a couple of other things in the works and I'm trying to see how it goes but hopefully, I will come back here more.

He spoke further, "The interesting thing is that because I have been doing more work on the Nollywood side, I have done less work on Hollywood side. That is actually kind of normal. There are some other actors like Hakeem KaeKazeem, Jimmy Jean Louise who are now doing more Nigerian films. I don't think we are appreciated as much in Hollywood. We are typecast. We are all going for the same roles because they are so small in Hollywood whereas here, Jimmy and I would be opposite each other. We can be cast in the same film so I think we are looking to do more films here because this industry is the third largest in the world.

"Before Unwanted Guest, I was doing a lot of New York City theatre; I was doing some TV shows. In Hollywood, I did a couple of movies. I had done a Nollywood movie with Genevieve Nnaji that did not get wide release. It was titled 30 Days. We did that in 2005. It was directed by Mildred Okwho who did The Meeting.

That was her first film. She cast me from New York. She was in LA at the time and that was the first film I flew back to Nigeria to do. It didn't get a wide release but it was a very fine movie. I had also done a TV series with Amaka Igwe which featured Bimbo Akintola but I didn't come back as often as I should. It was Unwanted Guest that put me in the eyes of the public".

Apart from his surname, it is hard to fathom that Chet is a Nigerian. How did you end up in New York? "Actually, I was born here but I grew up there. Overall, I have spent about 25 years in the United States. It just happens that I wound up being there and the opportunities came but home is always home. I am a complete Nigerian o, although people have accused me that my Nigerianesse is poor. I get accused a lot but it is there. When I was growing up we thought that, at a certain age, you should be putting on Agbada, you don't wear canvass and stuff like that. Now as a society, we have gotten a little more hip.

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