My name is Bob-Manuel Obidimma Udokwu. I hail from Ogidi in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State. My father, Geoffrey Nwafor Udokwu, worked in the Ministry of Works in the Old Eastern Nigeria. My mother is Ezelagbo. I am the fourth and the second son in a family of six - three males and three females. I was born on a Thursday April 18 sometime in the 1960s. All I know is that I am as old as I look. I had my primary education at St. Peters Primary School (now Hillside Primary School) in the Coal Camp, Enugu. I had my secondary education at Oraukwu Grammar School, Oraukwu, from where I proceeded to University of Port Harcort where I obtained a Certificate and Bachelors of Arts Degree in Theatre Arts. I equally bagged a Master's degree in Political Science with specialisation in International Relations from the University of Lagos. I am married to Cassandra and we have two children. I named my son after the great Marcus Garvey.
I was given a name before I was born. My mother told me that when she was pregnant, a prophet told her that the unborn baby was a boy and his name would be Emmanuel and that he would be recognised. But very early in my life, because of the qualities I displayed, some of my peers started calling me Bob Marley. Marley was still alive then. But I knew I had some qualities in me which I should not allow the personality of Bob Marley to submerge. I told my friends that for the fact that I am Emmanuel, they should call me Bob- Manuel.
After leaving secondary school, I watched a play on NTA, Enugu. After watching the play I said I could do better than what they did. I copied the name of the producer; Rose Ofieli (now Mrs. Rose Nwanna). I went to NTA to tell her that I liked what I saw and that I would like to be part of it. She later gave me a script to read, I did and I never knew it was an audition. Her colleagues were in attendance, but I was very bold. After reading, she invited me to her recording the following day. She told me what I should bring as my costumes. The following day, I was at the location and she gave me a role to play. Subsequently, she started giving me more roles.
I act on stage, radio, and television. I must say that every role I have played was quite challenging. I do not only act, I also direct and produce. And doing these three together is quite challenging, yet I combine them. For instance, I produced, directed and played the lead role in Wedding Bells. I did the same in Matters of Hearts and Master Strokes. But Woza Albert was quite challenging.
I attended the audition of Checkmate as national president of the Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Association (NUTASA). I met Amaka Igwe (then Amaka Isaac Ene), Bolaji Dawodu with Tami. When I was auditioned, Amaka started calling me Richie. But Dawodu kept on reminding her that they have not made up their mind on who would play the role. After that I went back to Port Harcourt. They later invited me to the shooting of the pilot in Enugu and Udi. Later they sent me a letter that I should come to Lagos for another audition. The crowd at the audition was quite intimidating. But time proved me right that what I had in me was more genuine than what I was seeing in the Lagos boys. After the audition, I was given the role, Richard Haatrope.
Interpreting Richard Haatrope
Irrespective of the challenges of staying in Port Harcourt then, I knew I had to give the role my best because it was a rare opportunity. I was in my final year then. Richard is a character from a very rich family in Rivers State, but he is a student in America. He comes home during the holidays. Then I had never travelled out of Nigeria but I have to play a role of somebody living in the USA. So a lot of experiences I have acquired over the years helped me to build the character in addition to what the script dictated. So it is all about talent.
My relationship with the late Professor Ola Rotimi was like that of father and son. The bond between us was such that we ate from the same plate or I could go to the pot to dish food. I could visit his house any time. He loved jokes.
List of productions
I was a presenter on radio. On stage, I played the lead roles in virtually all Rotimi’s plays - Gods Are Not To Blame, Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again, Hopes of the Living Dead;then, Rasheed Gbadamosi’s Behold My Redeemer, Wole Soyinka’s Death and King’s Horseman, Lion and the Jewel. Also, a South African play, Woza Albert on apartheid. It is a two-man play, but by the time the play ends, each of the actors must have played 50 roles. I have also done several dance performances. Then in film, as a result of the success of Checkmate, and my outstanding performance, Kenneth Nnebue of Nek Video Links wrote me when they were about to shoot Living in Bondage, inviting me to be part of it. I am grateful to God that I was part of that history that has turned Nigerian filmmaking into a world class phenomenon called Nollywood. From then on, there has been no looking back as more came - Circle of Doom, Evil Genius, Beyond the Vow, When the Sun Set, Piccadilly, and so many others.
I have deliberately chosen not to do comedy, because it makes the character unserious. One thing I try to avoid is to look unserious before anybody. Everything I do in life, I do it with seriousness. So the seriousness I give to the roles I play is the seriousness I attach to life. Life is just about laughing to forget your problems. But after laughing, you must tackle them. I am not saying that comedy is not good but with the kind of things I want to do and be, I need seriousness. Theatre is a serious business. According to Ola Rotimi, it is in the theatre that operation, the most important thing in medical profession, takes place. Production is also the most important thing in theatre arts.
I do not realise how popular I am until I walk down the street. People scream on seeing me. I would wonder why they do that. But I do not let it get into me, because by the virtue of the training Ola Rotimi gave me, I learnt humility. When Evil Genius came out, some people who watched saw me took photographs with me, but told me they love me as a good actor, but they would not want me to play that kind of role again. When I asked them why, they said if not that they knew me in other roles, they would have felt that I was just a devil’s incarnate. I must say that when I see my fans react, I thank God for making me what I am, even as I beg Him to give me more opportunity to do more.
Shortly before Christmas in 2003 when I visited US, I landed at JFK international airport, and as I was moving, there was a crowd, people from all walks of life surrounded me. I took photographs, signed autographs for them. One old man told me that whenever a white actor passes by, that is the way they welcome him, so what they have done was to show that they have popular actors in Africa too and I am one. They arranged for a Limousine to drive me out. So I became an ambassador for my country, Nigeria.
MORE INTERVIEWSQ: How does your typical day look like?
A: My typical day is always very busy from morning till evening. I wake up by 6 a.m. everyday, say my prayers and other things follow like normal chores, brush my teeth, shave my beards, take my bath, iron clothes and all other things.
Q: When do you normally set out for the day?
A: It depends, something can come up and I will need to set out early, but on a normal day, let's say around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., I'm out of the house.
Q: Any form of exercise?
A: Yes, I do a little exercise everyday.
Q: What's your favourite food?
A: I don't have any favourite meal because I'm not particular about food, but I love well cooked and delicious food, while the best drink which I love so much is water. I also love wine, but I can't say a particular one because I have not been paid for advertisement.
Q: Which movies are the best you ever watched?
A: Yes, movies I appear in. Let others pay me for advertisement because I watch a lot, but I wouldn't be specific.
Q: Favourite music?
A: I play reggae music, that's my very best music, especially the ones played by Bob Marley, because they are always about situations around. As an African, I have discovered that we still have problem of bad leadership. Although most African countries are more than 20 years old, we still have problems that ought to have been solved long ago. So, I play reggae to remind me that we have a lot to do in Africa. Q: Are you married?
A: Yes, and I have two kids.
Q: So, what time do you have to play with your family?
A: When I'm not working, either within or outside Lagos, I stay at home to play with my family. I play with my kids a lot, we joke about so many things, play about abnormal things that you think father and children shouldn't involve in. It's a father-friend relationship and although we draw lines, we cross borders at times. I also join my kids to watch movies, tell them stories, while they ask questions and I never stopped them from asking questions because I'm a family oriented person.
Q: How do you spend your weekends?
A: I spend my weekends with my family if I'm not working because most times, it's my work that determines whether I'm around or not. I enjoy staying with my family, we go out together to visit family friends, spend quality time together.
Q: When do you retire to bed?
A: Really, it depends on what's going on. When I'm at home, children go to bed first, while I may be catching fun with my wife. Let me just say that I go to bed after the last news on television, but not the last around 3 a.m. The last news I watch may be that aired between 8 and 9 p.m., at most 10 p.m., to know what is going on in my country and to keep me informed always