Fred Amata, the handsome bloke of Nollywood is a veteran actor, producer and director. His professional career spans more than two decades in the entertainment industry. He’s currently the President, Director’s Guild of Nigeria, DGN. In this interesting interview with VANESSA OKWARA, he shares fond memories of growing up in the Amata dynasty, his career and the women in his life
What was growing up like in the Amata family?
Oh, that’s an interesting one! It was fun.
Then the family was very close and was spread all over Nigeria, Lagos, Kaduna, Benin and the tradition was that every festive occasion, like Easter, Christmas, we gather generally in someone’s house. Someone else is cooking rice, another is bringing bitter leaf soup; you just hear someone else is also bringing goat from Umunede.
One of the most interesting ones is when we gather in Lagos; Uncle Isaac, who was our Father Christmas figure, has a big house in Ikoyi. It was fantastic but the most interesting time was when we actually had Christmas in the village. It was ‘ikodo’ that was the Christmas treat for the family, we all looked forward to ‘ikodo.’
Is that your traditional dish?
‘Ikodo’ is a special mix of yam and sauce that we eat with a lot of meat, usually goat meat and the intestines. Also we had peculiarities, at one point in time, I discovered myself as a dramatist.
My father was a dramatist. I also started having my own small group of friends and took daddy’s roles. One of my favourites then, I think was the story of the ‘Three Wise Men’, who came to offer gifts to Jesus Christ.
Was it by choice that everybody in the family decided to go into film making?
I think it’s just by orientation. As at that time, my father had done a film, an international film actually that travelled the world called ‘Freedom’ in 1957; it happened to be one of Nigeria’s first ever entries into film making.
This was a time when there was no television, not even black and white televisions in most homes. He was such an endearing personality; he got everybody glued to the TV.
He believed in the ability of people, he would take a bunch of people who had never acted before, groom and turn them into actors.
And so seeing all that, I just wanted to be like daddy. At one point after my graduation, after I got my BA in Theatre Arts, I decided that acting will not be enough, Theatre Arts is not going to pay me; I didn’t want to soak garri like my aunt usually said. So I wanted to work in an oil company during my NYSC but destiny didn’t work out the way I planned.
For my Youth Service, they posted me to NTA. When I got there, I met a lot of great people who influenced and imparted on all I had acquired in the university.
Before I knew it, I was working under a group of artistes and they were going to do a soap opera, called ‘Legacy’ and I went for the auditioning, and of course I got the role. And that was my first audition.
But before then, I had been on television in University of Jos, for a program called ‘Fun Time’. We had differe n t seg- ments like acting, drama segment and disco dancing school; I dance a lot by the way.
My first time professionally on television was dancing. We created from that program a full dance program that was like ‘Soul Train’. What better way to make money than doing what you find entertaining? Yes, generally, we all panned out towards daddy.
Has it paid you?
It’s a difficult question to answer. First and foremost, I’m a huge fan of this song, ‘I’m content with what I have’ to that end, the answer automatically is yes. But then again, because the truth must be told, financially, it has been an uphill task over the years.
But being a film maker has other good things attached to it. I don’t have any challenges going to work as a film maker and I can work for four days and forget that I’m actually working. It has its little perks too.
The other day, I was going to be stranded at the airport, my ticket was for regular but because somebody recognised my face, they upgraded it. There’s a lot of gratification from acting.
What is it about you that people don’t really know?
It would be hard because I’m very open. I think everybody knows that I’m cheerful, easy going and fun loving.
So what gets you angry?
That will be pretense, lies and assumptions.
What do the media say about you in particular that ticks you off?
Over the years, you develop a thick skin for it; sometimes it gets to you, but you develop a response.
For you to get to the position of the President of the Directors Guild of Nigeria, have you always been directing?
I started directing even before Nollywood was born. I finished Youth Service in 1987 and by 1988; I was directing a soap opera for National television, ‘Ripples’. By 1988, I was already an associate producer/director and by 1989 and 1991 I was sole director for ‘Ripples’.
The practice itself of directing as Nollywood claims to understand is a product of directors who were working in NTA then, who moved over to start working in Nollywood. Among these directors, Fred Amata was the best and independent producers actually bought him out. So you find out that a whole lot of these Nollywood directors were working under me. When Amaka Igwe of blessed memory was to work on ‘Checkmate’, she sought my expertise.
So even Amaka Igwe, before she became a director benefitted from working under me and also people like Teco Benson, Chiko Ejiro, and a whole lot of them.
They all benefitted from working under me and their style began to change and evolve. If you look at most of the directors at some point, you’ll see that in time, they might have worked as my assistant and have benefitted from me. So, at the risk of boasting, if you see it that way, I’ve made a huge influence on the practice of directing in film making in Nigeria.
What has kept you looking good all these years?
I don’t know if you’re the one trying to flatter me now; everywhere I go, they are saying I’m growing gray hairs. Thank you, you know how we use to say, it’s all Jesus, all glory to God.
But there is something you have been doing to stay in shape?
I’m a cheerful, happy person. People have said that is part of my charm. I do not take things too seriously, so I don’t have so many worries.
What’s your fashion style, what do you like to wear?
Nigeria is very hot, so I like to wear shorts a lot. But for outings, I’ll find something that is glamorous, it could be native. I’m not necessarily a designers’ person. Everything I’m putting on now is made in Nigeria, even the shoes.
I’ve a friend that makes them, we play soccer together, and he’s my goal keeper. I’m also the team leader of Nollywood Football Club, but I’ve not played ball for over a year, because of an injury. So I can say that is how I keep fit.
Is it by choice you decided to wear only made in Nigerian clothes?
Yes it’s by choice. I grew up close to a family who were tailors, so I came to understand the power of a tailored suit as opposed to suits that were bought. I’m not a designer freak.
You’ve had some relationships and marriages that have been frequently exposed in the media, what do you have to say about the women in your life?
I’ve only been involved in one marriage. Usually, I wouldn’t answer this question but over the years, you develop a response and you develop an understanding. Yeah, let’s put it like this, I’ve been lucky to have met great women and lucky to still manage to keep their affection.
Have you found a new love?
Yes, I’m lucky.
When are we expecting the marriage to come up?
I’m not saying anything, who knows tomorrow, nobody knows tomorrow. A lot of times, I’ve been quoted out of context, so I’m not saying anything.
Fatherhood, what does it mean to you?
Yes, I have kids, I have beautiful children. I wish I could be much more and a better dad.
What’s your passion, what drives you?
I’ve passion to help, to make a change and contribute to life. I’m the President of Directors Guild of Nigeria, so I’m passionate to ensure that the guild is structured and things can go smoothly with the profession.
What is your resolution for the New Year?
I stopped having resolutions for a while now.
If I decide to do something, I usually do it. I like to do things well rather than putting it down and not actualising them. When you take resolutions at this point in time, sometimes, it amounts to naught.