Christian Paul is a popular actor and clergyman who wears many hats having ventured into the film industry years ago. In this interview with DUSTAN AGHEDO, the father of four who have lived most of his life in Kano State speaks on his acting career, how sexual exploitation and harassment dwell in the movie industry among other sundry issues
I know you have quite a number of movies under your belt but tell us when it all started.
The journey started in 2012. Then, I usually went for jogging at the National Stadium where I met Ricardo Agbor, Fred Amata, Chidi Nwokeabia. They also came to the stadium to jog and I often jogged with them. Whenever we ran, they would bring up discussions on movie industry while trying to convince me to join. But I always told them I wasn’t interested, the same thing I told a certain actress then, Vivian Egbong who first introduced it to me.
So one day, I think it was on a Thursday after jogging, without prior notice, Ricardo drove me to the AGN office and that was how I registered. After I registered, I thought the AGN would start giving me jobs immediately but after a month that I didn’t hear anything, I went back to them and that was when I was told I would be the one to source for auditions. That was how I started going for auditions. My first audition was in Ketu, Saheed Akpapa audition. I was picked and started acting.
Did you have any formal training or acting skills before then?
“Ooh yes,” I acted in school drama, acted in church drama where our ministry had a drama unit that I set up. And a lot of the performers were also into Nollywood. Some were script writers, some were actors, actresses, and they were doing well for themselves before I joined the movie set. I felt, if people I set up and encouraged in the church could be doing well for themselves in Nollywood, I was sure I could do well too. It didn’t take long before I started making waves.
What were you into before joining the movie scene?
I was into full time ministry in Kano. I grew up in the North. Although I was born in Anambra State, my primary to tertiary education was in the North. It was after I was done with my education that I decided to settle in Kano on my own. That was where I did business and started my ministry work, but because of the issues of killing, I had to leave the North and relocate to Lagos.
How was it like tilting from pastoral duties to acting?
I am still doing my pastoral work. Although I was heading a branch before in Kano but now I am one of the pastors in the ministry. I had to withdraw from full time ministry because it was no longer convenient for me to do full time ministry and also act. There was a bit of challenge considering I was coming from a ministry background. I came into the industry and noticed there was a huge difference. I mean morally and otherwise.
Whenever I get to audition grounds, I just sit in one place and observe what is going on because the whole thing looks odd. I saw a lot of indecent dressing, people talk and behave anyhow and it wasn’t like anything where I was coming from. With time, I came to understand that, this was a different terrain that I was in and I just had to adapt and try to carry on and do my thing, leaving the people with the way they chose to live their lives.
What is your take on sexual exploitation and harassment in Nollywood?
The women are usually the victims in this department. Some persons would tell them they were producers,director, production manager, I was the one that made this person or that person; come I would make you a star. And it is a lie. They didn’t make anybody. Anybody that tells you there is no sexual harassment in the movie industry is only trying to deceive people. As a matter of fact, there are more sexual harassment now in the industry than before.
I was in one location and the production manager wanted to sleep with a certain girl. I happen to know but she refused and the PM sent her packing from location, meanwhile she already shot some scenes. This is not even the director or producer, this was the PM. I had to intervene when I heard about it but it was too late because, the girl had already left for her home.
I had to call her on phone and asked her what happened and she explained to me, so I told her to come back. When she came back she was not allowed through the gate; I went to the director and the producer and said “If you don’t give her role back, I am going to leave this place,” and because I have already been paid, if I leave, they would be at a loss. So because of me they had to let her enter. And because she had a scene to do the following day, I had to take her along with me. When we finished for that day.
If I had left her there, they would have victimised her. I have also attended an audition where they selected five men and ten women where each of the women were given one situation, “seduce me,” and it was only one man in his office that carried out this audition. The man experimented that day. I was even disappointed because some women that were there that day were supposed to be married people.
People buy roles with money, with their body and sometimes both, with their money and body together. I have been in places where you hear producers or directors talking, saying, “I don chop this one I don chop that one,” and some of them would even boldly tell the woman, “you just have to give me now because I know when you become a star, you’ll no longer give me, so I just have to chop my own now before you become a star.” And most of these actresses who are stars now, they passed through the same thing but they won’t say it because they are now stars. We have a serious problem in our hands. It’s not as if these people are in the moon, people know them and know that this is what they do but at the end of the day nobody is saying anything, everybody is just keeping quiet.
What is the association doing to curtail this act?
The Producers Association, the Marketers Association and the Actors Guild of Nigeria are not doing so much to stop these people. It is not a fight that one guild will fight, it is a fight the whole guild have to come together and fight. It is a very serious issue even for men. There are people in this industry people know they are gay or bisexual. There are lesbians. There are some of these big actresses who are lesbians and they try to recruit upcoming actors and try to promote them. These things are there, people are aware. But it is not written on anybody’s face except somebody decides to tell you this is what I do, or you hear testimony of somebody that was a victim.
What advice do you have for upcoming actors that may probably come across these predators during auditions?
It is for them to know what they’re coming into the industry to do; know what they want for themselves and stand their ground. Nobody can make anybody a star. The Bible says, “promotion comes from God.” It is not everybody that will be a star. That is the truth. They should be patient, hardworking and focus on what they came to do because some persons still give their money, their body and still don’t get the roles. Before going for an audition, they should know more about the audition and find out if the guild is aware of the audition.
What message do you have for upcoming actors wanting to make a name for themselves in the motion picture?
Up comers that really want to take the job serious need to go for auditions. But some of these upcoming actors want to first belong to one production; it is fine to belong to a production but it won’t give you what you are looking for. When you give yourself to competition, like going for auditions while being put to a test with several other people, it will help to improve yourself. And if you have the talent and you want to harness it, it will also be nice if you can go for film academies, especially the accredited ones because we have some out there that have nothing to offer except to exploit. If they can get themselves attached to those academies and try to also learn certain rudiments of the trade, it will go a long way to not just boost their career but also keep them in the forefront of some happenings. In addition, the place of auditions cannot be overemphasized. They must go for auditions. It is very important for anyone that wants to go far in the industry.
What are you doing as a clergyman to better the industry?
Maybe I haven’t been doing much before now, but I intend to start my production very soon. There are some people who want to partner, should the partnership go as planned before the year runs out. Then actors can start coming for auditions with a particular focus on new comers. I want to be one of the people that will bring light to every dark corners in the industry. I think it’s high time people with good conscience came out and do the right thing because the industry is blessed with so many talents, but usually so many of them end up in wrong hands and they get frustrated and leave the industry to join the countless youths that are unemployed. Right now the movie industry is not making stars unlike before, what we have are old stars. The very few known people that are coming up are those that passed through that exploitation and were able to survive. Some passed through it and couldn’t survive, they pulled out.