The story of Uti Nwachukwu’s rise from the fringes of fame to the heights of national acclaim as a top model, television personality and an actor is a tale of tenacity and a perfect demonstration of the never-say-die attitude of the Nigerians.
Most interviews with celebrities tend to focus more on the glitz and glamour of celebrity life.This exclusive interview with the Big Brother Star offers that and much more. It opens us up to a world of dreams and disappointments on a daunting sojourn to stardom, a drive to succeed against overwhelming obstacles and the big-breaks that brought him continental fame and success plus a heart of gold that always seeks out avenues to give back and inspire others to succeed.It is not just another celebrity interview – it is an inspiring interview with the Uti many out there do not know. See Interview and photos below after cut…..
How does it feel to have achieved so much fame and fortune in like three decades?
The fame part is not that important for me. I am not crazy about the fame but for the fortune part, my brother, I never collect fortune o (laughs). I mean, for me, this is just the pocket money of the kind of fortune I hope to achieve; this is what I am hoping to make in a week. Every week, I like to make what I have now – that is when I will say I have achieved a lot and walked into the aisle of fortune. As for the fame, you know fame without work is wasted fame; it is what we call olofofo celebrity (laughs). So, the fame is not really that important but it sure helps you to achieve more in terms of networking and connections. It opens doors, that is about it, yeah.
I know that one of your favourite quotes is, ‘Those who dare to fail miserably are often the ones who succeed greatly’. Could it perhaps be that, that quote in fact describes your approach to life and your consequent success?
Yes, because I am a big risk taker. I also dream a lot. Another quote I have is, “Impossible dreamers are often the greatest achievers.” I used to have impossible dreams 15 years ago – I remember sitting with my friends and telling them that I wanted to be a television personality. I would tell them that I wanted to be this and that and they would laugh and say, “Look at you…who do you think you are? There is no way, you of all people will shine – guy, you are watching too much of television.” For modelling, it was a bit different; I did not really see myself as being good-looking, because I was skinny while growing up. I felt my lips were too big and my eyes were too slant. They used to call me “Chinese Eyes” when I was much younger, so I felt really odd; but as I grew up, these things that made people laugh at me became my assets. I still find it very funny when people look at my picture and say, “Fine boy, you are sexy.” I say, “Oh, na me be this?!” I still feel it is a joke. For me, looking good started as a joke, it still feels funny to me. That is why I fool around when I pose in pictures, I do not take myself too seriously. So, you have to dream really big; I still dream big today. My dreams have taken me as far as Nollywood. With all my dreams, the only thing left is Hollywood because I have achieved most of my entertainment desires and have won awards at everything I do, which takes me back to dreaming. I used to watch awards and desire to win awards at everything I did. It just assures you that you are on the right path that God has designed for you. I have failed at some things in the past, especially when it came to conducting myself in certain situations. What I have noticed is that the failures of the past have helped me to build a character and helped me to be who I am today. I am, definitely not where I want to be, but I am having a darn good life.
How did you manage to develop this positive attitude in an environment filled with so much negativity?
I think a lot; I am a very deep thinker who loves to analyse situations from every angle. I started experiencing a lot of things right from when I was 11 because I was forced to think independently. As I was growing up, I found out that I had this sense of independence and wanting to be alone. I got inspired by songs, my parents and the Bible. And when I am faced with a difficult situation, I take all these things together and put them in the situation and it has really helped me. I was once a very negative person when I did not understand why things were happening the way they were but when things started to unfold, I started to piece them together and appreciate everything that happened to me knowing that it all works together for good for those of us that truly love God. It’s what I call spiritual education/training. Life is just one huge beautiful puzzle.
On your path to success, did you ever come across a situation that almost made you give up?
Of course! The turning point in my life was when I won a visa lottery. When I tell people about it, they are like, “You win things a lot, you are very lucky.” Well, now I feel lucky! Back then in 2005, it was a different story because I was done with my Diploma and then gunning for direct entry. All my friends were already abroad; I just felt I was missing out on something. Like I said earlier, ‘’Hollywood has always been my dream.’’ I was like, “Why am I still here; Why am I not there?” While I was waiting for my papers, I applied for a visa lottery. While I was praying and fasting, I received this letter that said, “Congratulations, you have won the green card lottery.” I was ecstatic and was like, “This is definitely an answer from God.” I did not need to pay the expensive bills and with my green card I could go to any school in Hollywood or some special Performing Arts School. I just felt it was an answer from God. I more than qualified because I had worked in a bank for a year; the minimum qualification was a high school certificate and I had a University Diploma. I did not have any criminal record and was very healthy.
On the final day of screening, I went for the interview (I am not one to broadcast good news before it manifests; I keep it to myself, which was what I did). I got there and everything was on point. They went through my papers, everything was on point. The guy was about to give me the slip to come back for my passport and then he looked at my passport and then he pulls it back and then he looks at the passport again, rolls back his glasses and he calls someone and they talk for a minute and next thing he asked, “What is your first name? Is it Uti or Nwachukwu?” I am like, ‘’My first name is Uti, my surname is Nwachukwu. So, he said, “Why do you have Uti written as your surname?” And I am like, ‘’What does this fellow mean?’’ He says, “Your first name on the application is Nwachukwu and your last name is Uti but on your passport, your first name is Uti and your last name Nwachukwu.” And I told him that in Nigeria we write our surnames first and he said, ‘’Uti Nwachukwu and Nwachukwu Uti are not the same thing.’’ Then I said, “But the names are mine, there is Charles in there.” Then he says, “This person has the surname of Uti, you have the surname of Nwachukwu. You are not the same person; so if you commit a crime, they cannot hold you because of the difference in names.” Then he said, “Even if we had not figured it out here, you would have wasted your money, gone abroad and during immigration checks, they would have sent you back.” And then I said, “But it is me”, then he said, “I am sorry but we are going to have to disqualify you.” I was not in School; I did not have a job anymore. I was between 22 and 23. Most of my mates had graduated from the University or were in their final year and so I was like, “Where am I going to start from?”
I went out of my mind, I was blank. But at the end of the day, someone I will never forget, Hamilton Udeh, an older friend living in the estate where I was, helped me get over the bitterness. He was someone who for some unknown reason would say, “Ah, this boy you get potential.” I was always like “Hmmm, which potential? When then don reject me?” He then said to me one day when I was bickering and complaining, “You won something like visa lottery and they rejected you and you are here crying and saying you would not go to church? Do you know what that means? That is a huge sign that you have a bright future ahead of you.” I was like abegi and he said, “Uti, there is something God wants you to accomplish here.’’ So, I went back, took God more seriously and my life just changed. I went back to school and started picking the pieces of my shattered life. After that, I started getting gigs on television – my first video appearance was on TWO’s Mogbo Moya, then Celtel’s billboard, then the Next Movie Star and ultimately BBA3 and of course, we all know how my life has gone after that. It is an inspiration for me – my own life inspires me. So, whatever situation I go through, when I remember where I am coming from, I am like,’’ It cannot be that bad, nothing is that bad.’’ In fact, the worse things seem to be, the more success you would have. So, every time things seem like they are going bad, I just say, “Ah! Baba God is about to bless me with something”, because, even before I won Big Bother, I went through another stage of hell, and then the victory was sweet. The only painful part, till today, is that I lost my Dad, but yea, all these things inspire me. My whole life is an inspiration; I can only imagine how much it would inspire people out there – that is why I never fail to tell people about what I have been through. Some people are broken and they do not have the kind of strength that God blessed me with to come out from that place that they are at. So, I feel it is my God-given responsibility to encourage and motivate them, which is why He probably let me go through all that. I can tell them where I am coming from and He can use me to give them strength and hope.
I was going to ask you if you were going to pick up a career in motivational speaking?
Well, I have done a couple of motivational speaking, to young people especially. Officially, I have done about two or three, and several behind the scenes. I was recording Jara and this intern who was in his teens, spent about ten to 20 minutes just picking my brain. I found that very smart of him. He sent me a message and said, “Bro, you really inspired me,” and that makes me happy because that is another part of giving too. Yeah, it is part of my responsibility.
What is the bad side of success that you have had to come up against?
I think that some of the worst things I have ever experienced were jealousy, INGRATITUDE,envy and betrayal by certain people I tried to help – so called friends that were close to me – that is the most difficult thing to get over. I am still fighting that emotion of feeling let down or betrayed. It is not easy to get over that emotion especially for someone like me that was very genuine with my intentions and emotions. I have even experienced being set up and I thank God that I escaped an attack in 2011. My car did not escape so well but it took me out of that situation and God took control of the situation. I later found out that some of my friends tipped them off. It is just very sad.
What has it taught you?
It has made me a bit closed-up because I used to be a very open person. I used to be the kind of person that you can come and see me, with like ten friends. I am just very hospitable and nice to people. I am very free but in Nigeria they would say, “Na who dey your house, na them dey kill you.” I am not open to having close friends anymore. I still have the friends I had before I became famous, after that; I do not think I have had any close friend that came after the fame because I am very careful now.So, it has not been all rosy for you at the top, as most would like to think
Yeah, it has been rosy career wise but personally and spiritually, I have fought a lot of battles and I am happy I did because it has trained me. I do not think I have ever been this strong inside and outside, because there are some things that used to matter a lot to me but now; I will not even batt an eye lid. I will not say it has been all rosy, I would say it has been adventurous and every adventure has its ups and downs. That is what makes it very interesting. I have had an interesting life.
Talking about rumours or “stupidity” as you called it, after you appeared at the Nollywood Movie Awards with rising act Beverly Naya, an entertainment blog reported the story.
Then a National Daily also reported the same story under the headline, “Uti gets new escort”
Is there any intimacy between you and Beverly?
(Laughs) Even if there was, do you think I would answer that? My personal life is so personal. We are all buddies. So, the next person they see me with, will they say I have dumped two of them for the new person? I think for the next event, I would go with a Doberman, so that they will say, “Oh, his new partner is a Doberman” (laughs), since to them; I seem to be sleeping with everything or everyone that is seen with me. It is just crazy; no matter the age, no matter the sex, no matter the specie, they say,’’ Uti is following this person.’’ Am I that bad that I cannot be with something and not sleep with it? (laughs). That is the price for fame.
You once mentioned in an interview that you dislike liars…..?
Yes, with a huge venom. One of the reasons I do not have close friends again is that I cannot stand liars, fake smiles and back stabbing. It takes a huge coward to conceal the truth to your face especially those kinds of lies where you know the person is lying and the person probably knows that you know he is lying but he would not want to give in. I cannot stand liars. I have cut off so many people from being close to me because of lies.
So does this mean that Uti is ever the perfect guy who never lies?
I am not perfect but I do not have a reason to lie. I think the only thing is that if I could lie to anybody, I would lie to God because I fear God. But the thing is that, God sees all we do in private and in the open and so I cannot lie to Him.
You have great looks…..
If you say so (laughs).
That is always an attraction, but what other qualities do you think have endeared you to your fans and people in general because one thing is certain, people love Uti
Ah! We thank God that they love me o. Sometimes, you are not so sure but I think God gives you different qualities for a reason. I think first of all, you can ask any psychologist out there, your appearance is one thing that will first strike a person. I think my appearance has helped. When they got to know me, like on Big Brother, I was very real. People watched me for 91 days – you cannot fake your personality for 91 days. So, one thing that people really told me was that, ’’You are real – you are a very real person.’’ If I was not a religious person, I would be what they call the realist.
Being a top model and a very fashionable person, are you thinking of starting a modelling agency ?
I would love to but Nigeria is not favourable for a modelling agency. I cannot count the number of people that tell me they are upcoming models or I am driving and I see someone and I would often think to myself, “This chic or this dude would do well as a model.” I would love to start one in Nigeria but the modelling industry is not taken seriously in Nigeria. There has been a revolution in the music industry but the modelling part is still being disrespected. People disrespect modelling a lot, they think it does not require talent. However, I keep telling every model to keep improving on his or her acts, maintaining good looks, that body and try walking in front of thousands of people. What would magazines look like without models? They are models for a reason but Nigerians do not see it like that.
There is no denying the role that hard work plays in success; what are the routines, extra work and personal sacrifices that have made you a success story?
Sleep has been sacrificed! When I say sleep, I do not mean being up 24 hours. I am not resting the way I should. At times, I switch off and just travel out and come back refreshed. I work so hard, even though it looks like I am having all the fun. I work hard and I play hard. I am always unto the next one. One of my craziest days was when I had three big engagements in one day. I was on set for a movie and immediately we wrapped it up, I went and compered an event; immediately I finished from there, I left for another engagement – changed clothes in traffic – I wore a complete suit in traffic (I stopped at every red light to change) and then I went to anchor a charity show. After that, I ran all the way back to be on the runway for Mai Atafo and Munachi. That day, I did a lot of things in one day – that is how hard I work. I just have to keep moving; I have the rest of my life to rest. I am going to work as hard as I can till I am 50, then I can start taking some time off.
What particular invaluable life lesson did you gain from BBA that has stuck with you?
Resilience. Sometimes when success is certain to be achieved at the end of a journey, there are bound to be a lot of distractions; the devil is going to cause traumatic distractions. I faced a lot of distractions in that house. First, there were all sorts of temptations by some housemates; they wanted to make me react to some of their taunting in a violent manner but I thank God that I am not a violent person. I always managed to make jokes out of it all. Then, my father died and people started sending mails to my family saying,’’ Nigeria will never win, tell your brother to get out of that house. Why is he still there when his father just died? What is wrong with you people” Are you people that hungry for money?” They did not understand that it was not about the money. I remember the last thing I told my father before I went to the house; he was already on the sick bed before he was taken to India, and I told him that Big Brother had called me back and he smiled – approval. I remember that he once told me that I ought to have won BBA the first time around. I said to myself that I could not quit because I am not a quitter. I was on set for Tinsel when he first went ill and I said I was going to join him in the house and my mom was like, “I am sure you do not want your father to hear that you left work to come when he recovers.” My father has always been the one saying, ‘’ Move on, do what you have to do.’’ I am the last born in a family of six, what would they have wanted me to do? Come out of the house, sit and look at everybody? They announced his passing in the house and I was given the option of leaving to return soon afterwards or leaving forever. But if I had left to come back, they would have restricted me from communicating with anybody else in the house. I had agreed to that but luckily for me there was a flood in the village and so the burial was pushed back. So, if I had left the Big Brother House before they had come up with the date, then I would have been filled with thoughts of what could have been. We now know the rest of the story. There were so many factors that tried to work against me in the house. Sheila came back into the house and all of a sudden she said she loved me and I started to ponder what was happening. I did not know how to react to that which was why I told her that, if she was for real; we would talk about it after the game. There were so many things that could have affected my game but I had my eyes on the prize. Not the money per se but on the victory. For me, it was all about my country. One prayer point I had was, “God, because everybody expects Nigeria to lose, the only person they would give the glory for this victory is You , because they would be like, ‘’If not for God, you nor for win this thing.” That is why God is great. He makes all impossible things possible.
Before you went to the house you launched a debut single, Go Down. What is up with your music career
Go Down was an experiment; something I wanted to do in the studio. I wanted to go the rock way but my producer said, ‘’Let us do one Rock, one Techno and one Gbedu music.’’ So, we did Go Down first and later the unreleased, Once in my Life. I told him not to release it till I came out of the house. And then, we did Noah. I got a lot of mixed reactions online for that one, but the thing is that, you cannot really take online comments seriously. People just hide behind fake names and talk trash because they hate what they cannot become. So, I took personal comments more seriously from people that were able to use their names and identities. Biola Shogbo directed the video for Once in my Life and we did it the right way. I won an award, Nigeria Music Video Award (NMVA) for Best Alternative\Soft Rock Video. I grew up listening to a lot of Pop and Rock songs and will not be true to myself if I start doing all these Gbedu music.
I just met a producer call McRock and we have recorded a brand New single. It’s really deep and thought provoking and I can’t wait for people to hear it. The album is going to be a 12 track album , God willing.
Acting is not a new experience, you have been doing television for a while but now you are getting cast in movies too. Could you take us through all that….?
There are two people I will credit for believing in my skills. The first person is Moses Inyang – he was the first person to introduce me to the people that matter in the movie world. I met Moses online because he works with Richard from Big Brother. But then, when it comes to meeting people in general, I will credit Rita Dominic for that. She was so supportive when I was in the house and took me like her own brother. Of course, people were talking trash then but we did not give them any attention. She introduced me to a lot of people and that was how I met Desmond Elliot and starred in over three movies directed by Desmond. I trust Desmond so much and he is one director that has helped me to grow as an actor and A lot of people have seen and watched In the Cupboard. Since then other movies have rolled in! Fracture, broken Silence,Weekend getaway,Red hot and most recently- Finding Mercy. Finding mercy was the closing film screened at the 2013 African international film festival (AFRIFF) and everyone, including the First Lady of cross rivers state , loved it! It’s in the cinemas now and I’ve been getting so many positive reviews. So I’m greatful. Watch out for the Lancelot Imasuen directed flick Deep Inside soon to be released. I will not reveal the others yet but hopefully, we will be having their screenings soon.
In all of your acting, which actor or actress has made the most impression on you as an actor?
Ini Edo has helped me grow on television while Desmond trained me to be an actor – he is a great guy. Ini also helped me to enter my characters quite easily. I learnt a lot from Genevieve. I have had a pretty fun life as an actor and worked with people that others would only dream of starring with and it has been awesome.
Were you wowed by those experiences?
I am not a star-struck person. I have always dreamt big. If I am wowed, I am wowed inside when I think of my whole life’s experiences and I thank God for all He has done for me. After all, we are all humans with flesh and blood, there is no one that I will see that will make me go crazy. If I had met Michael Jackson, I would appreciate him but would not jump out of my skin and go ‘Oh, my God!’ as though the person was God. We are all flesh and blood; we are all the same thing, just that some people are more favoured than others or they tapped into their blessings before you. I really appreciate them and feel blessed to be with people in that category.
I am sure you had to kiss superstars like Genevieve in some of your roles?
(Laughs) You guys have to wait for the movies to come out. I am not going to spill the beans. I have done a lot of kissing in almost every movie I have been in apart from True Citizens and one other one that I did not kiss.
What was it like?
It did not feel like a kiss except you want to sound like a pervert, who would say, “Omo, I did not give a crap whether people were looking at me.” And most times we do that – we take a few shots that require you get numbed to every other thing around you. While we were looking at the tapes of one of the movies with one of the actresses (I will not mention who), she said to me, “Uti, this kiss is real, see how you are doing your mouth,” (laughs) and I was like, “No naa.” She said, “Come on, shut up, see you,” and we just kept laughing and I was so embarrassed. But you know, we laughed and it was cool.
For someone who majored in Computer Science back in UNN, you have not done badly in the Arts, what is the story behind your choice of study and your divergent career choice (you worked in a bank as well)?
You have to be very eclectic with your life and my parents wanted that certificate. How many of us can go and tell our fathers that we want to read Dramatic Arts? Most parents are not really supportive of that, let us be honest. For me, I have always been a Computer whizkid. I recall that when I was younger I wanted to be an Engineer but hated Mathematics and loved Physics but had Maths in Engineering. I had a back-up plan; you cannot just go straight, always have a back up plan. Right now, I have a back up plan for everything I am doing. My Computer Science is my back up plan. I graduated at the top of my class with a 3.9 GP. I read like a mad man, cramming seriously. That was the first time in my life I read with candles because there was no electricity. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, you know.
Now that will encourage a lot of young ones out there who do not place a premium on formal education and are aspiring to be entertainers?
Yeah, because when I went back to my final year, I had come out from Big Brother3, so I already had fame and everything, but I had to humble myself. I went back to School and finished my final year. In as much as I was disciplined for missing out on some continuous assessments, I had to score as high as 60\70 in some papers. That was how I made a 3.9. So, if I had my assessments, I would probably have made a first class. I thank God that I was older with a lot of maturity – if I had been much younger than I was then, I probably would have finished with a second class lower or third class. I recall the Proprietor’s wife handing me my certificate and saying, “Wow, you are famous and you have got brains” (laughs). I am quite the perfectionist in all I do; I like to be the very best at everything I do.
Your impressive academic performance corrects a false impression that entertainers are dull?
They are not. You have to be smart to excel in entertainment, you have to keep being innovative, and you have to keep pushing the boundaries. An illiterate cannot survive in this area; even the ones that did not go to school are actually very smart too. For us, education also teaches us how to manage certain things in entertainment. So, entertainers are smart; a dull person will never succeed as an entertainer, trust me.
What is your idea of your dream woman?
She has to be spiritual- that is an important factor. She should also be down to earth, patient, kind, intelligent, caring and tolerant of my short comings. She has to convince me to do stuffs that are positive. She has to be very positive herself. She should never be a type to want to pay evil back for evil. We have to connect spiritually and she should love what I do and love me for who I am and not what I am. That is the kind of person she should be inside. Physically, I am not going to attach much importance to how they look because looks can fail you; it has failed me a couple of times so I am not going back there.
So you do not care if she is American, Nigerian…?
I do not care, she can be from Congo as long as she has all these qualities.
On a lighter note now, what is your favourite cuisine
For local, just give me Starch (I am a Delta man) and Banga soup with assorted meat and fresh fish or dried meat like tinko. Then, for foreign, I love Asian cuisines generally.
Your favourite car?
I am not a flashy car kind of a person. I love big rugged cars that look good so I always tend to go for Toyota brands. Right now, I love my Highlander, that is like the best car I have ever driven.
Clothes and Shoes?
Clothes…very African; for suits; Mai Atafo is the best. For traditional, I haveYemi Casual, for t-shirts, Tops on Tees and for polo, SOS clothing is the bomb. I modelled for them, so they made me a full time ambassador. Their stuffs are good. I wear SOS all the time (points to his polo), it is SOS I am wearing as we speak. For tunics and edgy English wears, I go for James Johnson. These are all Nigerians. For shoes, I will take PUSH. I love fresh colognes that make you smell like you just had a shower. I am not known for all those thick strong colognes that make you stink when you sweat. Right now, I am using Paul Smith’s Weekend.
Wristwatches and Shades?
I am a hand accessories kind of guy; I like beads and wrist belts. Wrist watches? As long as it is good; I do not really look out for brands. I love Swatch. I love geek glasses and love shades; as long as they fit the shape of my face, I am good to go. I am not a brand kind of guy when it comes to those ones. I love my cross especially when I am wearing t-shirts on tunics; the cross is always there. I am a Christian, was born a Catholic, you can also use it as a fashion accessory.
Favourite hangout ?
I love and prefer Lounges to Clubs. Clubbing is like a once in a blue moon thing for me but that relaxed feeling that lounges provide, does it for me. I prefer lounges that play mellow house music. I used to love swimming but these days I do not have the time to swim. When I want to relax, I drink in front of my television or laptop when I am online – my own space and time.
What are your favourite programmes on television?
Jara oooo (Laughs). Apart from the fact that I am on Jara, I actually enjoy watching it and actually correct myself. Then, I love Jacob’s Cross. I was hooked on Tinsel but I had to stop because it was taking up too much of my attention and when I miss any episode, I will be like, aaarghhh…’ I actually watch it when I can and love the re-runs of Friends. Comedy Central is actually my best Channel for now; I never get tired of watching Comedy Central.
Favourite movie of all time?
Hmmm – Matrix Trilogy. Matrix 1 and 2. I am not so particular about Matrix 3 and then Avengers; I do not know which one I would choose out of the two.
Intriguing, I loved those too. So, what would Uti love to be remembered for?
I would love to be remembered for the amount of smile I put on people’s faces by inspiring them.
You give a lot through your career, what do you gain in return?
Thank you so much……..
You are welcome.
It has been a pleasure and we hope you enjoyed this interview
I sure did and definitely did a lot of talking too (laughs….)
oh dear!!!!! I bet y’all did enjoyed reading and knowing more about the ‘Mr Fine boi’ Uti Nwachukwu….More grease to Uti’s elbow I will say…hehehehehe!!!! Thanks to my darling Sunmi for furnishing me with such an interesting one…
Photos by Sunmisola Olorunnisola Photography (Ovation International Magazine)
Interview done by Dele Salako; Cynthia Omoijuanfo (Ovation International Magazine)
Styled by:Funsho DOF and Demilade Aloa (SRC)