Nigeria: Actors Need Multiple Saving Grace to Remain Relevant - Ben Touitou

8 September 2018

Benjamin Ugo Touitou is a Nollywood actor, an entrepreneur, computer geek and model. Fast becoming a top notch after only just half a decade in the Nigerian motion picture. In this interview with DUSTAN AGHEDO, the half Israeli and half Nigerian fine boy of Nollywood talks about achievingstardom, attaining financial freedom before walking down the aisle and other sundry issues.

How did your Nollywood career kickoff? And who were the notable persons you worked with in your first movie?

Well I was always an entrepreneur, acting was not really my plan but it kept coming for me, a lot of recommendations kept coming. Some said I have the juice the industry needs. So I decided to try it out and give it my best and it has been growing exponentially ever since. I think coming to the movie industry was meant to be because I had a different plan but God had other plans for me.

So my acting career began in 2012 where my first ever audition in Nigeria landed me a major role in my first movie, 'Lagos Cougars,' the movie officially premiered in 2013. It had Monalisa Chinda, Desmond Elliot, Uche Jumbo and Daniella Okeke. It was directed by Desmond Elliot. The movie had a kiss scene with me and Monalisa Chinda that really went viral. So from 2012 till now, it has been a really great journey and I'm really excited for how far I have come and this road I have hit. I just pray that God keeps giving me wisdom, understanding and direction to keep taking the bull by the horn and keep winning.

As a newcomer, did you have any challenges working with these eminent actors?

There was really no challenge. It was really fun and I enjoyed every bit of it. They were older people so I learnt a lot. I had to be humble and I was because it was a great opportunity for me.

How many movies have you done so far?

Oh, I lost count. The last time I checked I have been in over 25 movies. But it keeps growing really, everyday there is a film somewhere, from series, stage, cameo appearances, cinema blockbusters.

Tell us about your recent work?

Starred in recent projects, one hit the cinemas few months ago titled, 'Crazy People.' Everybody loved it and the critiques are still going haywire. Another recent one I featured in was my first ever Igbo movie 'Ego Malaysia,' which was nominated for Best Indigenous Language Movies for Igbo, at the AMVCA 2018, that category was won by Lilian Afegbai's 'Bound.' And last month I was in Enugu for the movie 'Temptress.'

You've only been in the motion picture for five years so it would be fair to say that you're still on the rise. Tell us about the challenge of joining the movie industry and maintaining a profile.

The thing is, a lot of people want to be actors especially most of us youths but the good thing with that is that Nollywood is big enough to accommodate everybody. However, competition will get stiff. But the truth is, if you have the perks, the acting chops, you know what you are doing and you stay consistent, then you are not far from being on everyone's lips. And to attain that, you would need something extra that works for you. You would need a saving grace that will differentiate you from another innate character that you possess because that saving grace is what will keep you relevant. And if you don't put yourself in the same box like everyone else, definitely you will be given a chance. Consistency, working smart and preparation are some of the elements of maintaining a profile. Consistency eventually pays because the faster you rise, the faster you can fall. I for one, I am always on the goal and never giving idleness a chance so that I don't go off radar because I need to make a statement in the industry too.

How would you rate Nollywood at the moment?

This new Nollywood is very different from the old. But of course, there is still the issue of piracy. We really cannot kill piracy, we just have to come to terms with it and have a structure that will allow content creators make money because pirates are people with kids, families, they want to feed, they want to eat and have bills to pay. So we have to find a way to talk with these people and negotiate with them because the truth is that if we continue to try to fight it, they would also try to upgrade their system to remain relevant. That aside, women in the industry are rising to the top when it comes to producing and directing. We have a lot of female filmmakers who are making a statement too thus contributing to reducing any form of sexual assaults of the female folks if there is one. Which brings me to that topic because there is so much being said sexual harassment in Nollywood. In this day and age, any production company that is telling you that you have to give your body or you should sleep with them are a poor company. They don't have money and they probably make church rat kind of budget films. I tell you stay strong, sharpen your skills, carve out your own style of acting and go for really good auditions. Anyone that asks you for your body has just given you a reason to leave what you are doing and right there move out because that is not an audition. Those guys are just opportunist and vultures. A filmmaker can give you a role because you deserve it, you are good at it, and you fit the brief storyline. If maybe along the line there is a likeness and you guys decide to do stuff, then that's fine but not because he's going to give you the job after you've slept with him.

Your only sibling and younger sister is married and lives in Canada with her husband and two kids, what's your own status reading?

Na wa for dis question o! I am single o! I am not married yet. Man got to hustle first. You know all these women, they don't have problems. One rich man can come out from nowhere to sweep them off their feet. But there is somebody I'm seeing though, I have somebody in my life. The talk of marriage is something I take very seriously and any romance without finance is a nuisance. So man needs to be on top gear to keep the finances strong which will have good roots so that once you settle down, you are not looking back.

Would you marry a feminist?

I cannot categorically answer that now, what I can say though is that Nigerians are more patriarchy in style compared to others like the Europeans who are more matriarchy and women are given more consideration than the men. But whatever the case, one thing I do know is that nothing beats mutual love and respect between a man and a woman and if they come to an understanding of how they want the relationship to be, fine. There is no 'one side fix all' when it comes to relationships. There is no one rule. There can be guidelines based from ancient styles that have worked, but there is no one rule. And feminism shouldn't be a forceful thing for other women to emulate. Some women want to be treated as ladies; they want to be soft, they want the men to be the one to take care of them. Some women believe they want to share the bills and they are capable, they have the strength and the financial power, well that's fine.

Tell us about your academic background?

I went to really good schools, I am grateful for that. All my schools have been private, from basic to tertiary institutions. My parents made sure I was sent to the best and very expensive schools and it shaped me in a way that I learnt so many things that most common people will not understand. From the diversification skills, communication skills, critical thinking, it gave me the life skills that I need on this planet. I had my primary and secondary education in Enugu State, while my tertiary education was in Valley View University, Accra, Ghana where I obtained a B.Sc. in Computer Science, in 2010.

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