Even though today, he has carved a niche for himself in the acting industry and is becoming a force to reckon with, Nollywood actor Emeka Okoye had it rough as a young thespian. However, the actor and comedian, also a movie producer, started acting in 1999 and have featured in several Nollywood and Ghallywood movies and television series.
In this interview by Legit.ng’s Femi Oguntayo, Emeka Okoye, popularly known as Papa Pepe, a character he played in the television series Jenifa’s Diary, speaks about his humble beginning and how he got into the limelight by moving to Lagos, among other issues.
How he acted alongside Pete Edochie, Stephanie Okereke others in 1999
Actor Emeka Okoye started acting as a kid actor in 1999, and his first experience was with veterans in the industry like Pete Edochie, Stephanie Okereke, and the likes. It could, however, be imagined why he is so passionate about the trade.
As a young actor, he was so excited about getting featured in a Nollywood movie that he didn’t mind if he wasn’t paid for his service. But, according to him, he only got a plate of rice as a reward for his actions.
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“I started acting in 1999 with the movie Prophet of Darkness, shot in Nawfia Anambra state. I was still in secondary school then. Actually, we heard they were filming close to our school, and I went, and luckily my confidence got me the role of a mad man in the film.
“It starred Pete Edochie and Stephanie Okereke and Emeka enyiocha and others. It was quite an exciting moment for me. Though I was not paid. I only got a plate of rice as my reward for acting in the movie.
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“My Awka experience in acting was worse”
Even though he wasn’t that popular then, Papa Pepe explained how he started going for auditions as a young actor in Awka in Anambra state and Asaba, Delta state.
These times were not sweet and smooth for him, but rather were times when he said he sacrificed a lot but never gave up because of his passion for acting.
“Then I acted in another film in Awka with Maureen Solomon Okereke and Holy Prostitute with Cosy Orjiakor and Angela Philp. The experience back then was so discouraging, honestly. If not for the fact that I was determined and focused as a young boy who would choose not to eat his dinner but to watch a Nigerian movie on an empty stomach, I would have left Nigeria on my parents’ advice and persuasion.
He explained that his Awka experience in acting was worse. He said he would go for acting rehearsal at Tracy hotel Awka and sometimes did not get roles when any movie producer brought a project job to Awka.
“Our leaders would first cast themselves in the movie and give us waka pass roles to play.One day I got upset with myself. I entered bus without my parents’ consent to Agbakoba Park Osha. I attended an audition and got a role in a movie to be shot in Enugu but ended up not going because I was scared to tell my parents about the movie role,” he told Legit.ng
This, however, didn’t discourage him from dropping acting but only took a break when he got admission into the university, and things became very tough. Then in 2008, he returned to Agbakoba and attended another audition which got him a support lead role in a movie titled Oma the Evil.
“It was hell playing a fake pastor who was made by a possessed girl he was asked to deliver. The movie was directed by Ifeanyi Azodo. Honestly, I almost went mad for real. The director at a point asked the crew to hold me and not allow me go further into the waterside which was river Niger bank were we shot in Asaba. So many risks taken but God continued to shower me with his favours.”
He also explained how he would feature in 10 movies and be paid for just one or two of them and how production managers cheated the actors.
“Asaba experience was also so terrifying like you will feature in 10 films and they pay u for just one or two of them. They won’t give you food or water. You will feed yourself and pay for your transport in most cases. Sometimes some good independent producers will give the production managers money to pay actor but they will embezzle the money and tell you stories,” Okoye told Legit.ng
“How moving to Lagos changed my story for good”
Just like a lot of entertainers in Nigeria whose stories changed when they relocated to Lagos, Okoye’s story changed for good when he moved to Lagos state.
He revealed to Legit.ng that it was after he starred in the movies Dream Maker, The Shepherd, and Wedding Day by immortal films and participated in over 60 films that he took his bags and hit the road to try his luck acting in Lagos films.
“Moving to Lagos in 2011 was the best decision I ever took and I never regretted. Even though I have this funny picture in my archives that reminds me of how I looked when I got my first good role in a Lagos. The movie was shot in satellite town in by global update production. The title of the movie was First Class.”
Papa Pepe said his worst audition experience in Lagos was when he attended one on the island. According to him, they used him to audition everybody; at the end of the day, he was told there was no role for him.
“They told me I was a good actor, but my body stature didn’t fall into their script. I cried on my way home. But something kept telling me to be patient and that I would be popular someday. Those words were my healing tips from depression.
“I was focused and determined, and then one day, I took up a job presenting in Mitv station Wazobiaplus. I did that for 2yrs without a salary, then moved to teach the Igbo language part-time in schools for a salary of 20k. Then featured in Tinsel for a long time and went into advert jobs.
The stories changed for Okoye when he finally got a role in Funke Akindele’s Jenifa’s Diary, in which he played the role of Papa Pepe, a name many call him today.
“I did so many TV adverts, before I successfully got a role in Funke Akindele’s star making TV series Jenifa’s diary as Papa Pepe which till date has blown me worldwide. Even though I have done more good jobs, Jenifa’s Diary remains the best brand that people can put my face to and scream when they meet me anywhere,” he said.
Actor Emeka Okoye recounts his experience acting on set alongside Majid Michel for the first time
Legit.ng also reported that Nollywood actor Emeka Okoye has recounted how he was star-struck the first time he acted alongside Ghanaian movie star Majid Michel some years back.
The Jenifa Diary star explained to Legit.ng how he got auditioned for the movie and how he also missed his line because he was looking at Majid.
Okoye added that behind every success story, there is always a story to tell and that Rome wasn’t built in a day.