How Tinsel changed my story –Gideon Okeke

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Gideon Okeke plays the character of Philip Ade-Williams in MNet’s popular TV series, Tinsel, and is also a former housemate in the Big Brother Nigeria Reality TV show in 2009. He takes JOAN OMIONAWELE through his childhood days in Ajegunle and his journey into the world of fame. Excerpts

YOU announced sometime ago that you were jetting off with your music career. We haven’t heard anything from you.
That’s basically because I’ve been busy. I am so busy with film now. If you check my Twitter biography, it states “the actor”. My hands are full. Music is another career path that is as time-consuming as the movies are. To be honest, I am not done with what I am doing yet. I hope to be able to incorporate my music-in-film – that is, musicals and stuff like that; but to set records straight, I wouldn’t do music for commercial sake.

Why not?
I am a story teller. So, movies are told with different elements, with sounds, light, music. That’s where I hope to incorporate my music-in-film.

How has acting in Tinsel impacted your life?
It has really changed my life. If you knew where I was coming from, you would know it has definitely changed my life. Before now, I was nobody. Even if I did Big Brother Nigeria, that only gave me fame. But after doing Big Brother, everyone started asking questions. What can you do? We all went to school, but I did not see myself chasing a career path with Biochemistry; so I had to look inwards to get the gift that I have out.
Basically, it has opened more doors and is bringing in more jobs.

So, you studied Biochemistry? When did you discover the talent?
I have been acting since I was six. From my primary to secondary school, I have always been on stage. I have never had a time in my life where I wasn’t performing. I actually wanted to study Medicine or Pharmacy; you know boys’ dreams and trying to fulfill parents’ wishes. So, I chose Medicine and did not make the cut for Medicine. The second choice was Pharmacy and I still did not make the cut for Pharmacy. So, I said I had to go to school anyway, so I settled for Biochemistry.

You grew up in Ajegunle, but it seems you have forgotten your roots.
Really?

Yes, it doesn’t show in the way you act and look.
The fact that it doesn’t show doesn’t mean I have forgotten it.

What was life in the ghetto like? Don’t you blame your parents sometimes for making you live there?
Well, let’s give the credit to my father, because in the midst of the whole madness in Ajegunle, he raised me right in that neigbourhood. I moved out of Ajegunle when I was 22.

Did living in Ajegunle have any impact on your life, despite the fact that you said your parents did their best?
I am an only child, so I grew up by myself most of the time. I was alone. They gave me what I needed not what I wanted. My parents weren’t rich people, so they gave us what they could afford. They kept a very watchful eye on me, so they put all their energy on me, which is why I am this person now. So, it might seem like a lie when someone says I spent 22 years in Ajegunle, but it’s not a lie. That’s my story. My mum is no longer there and my dad is late now, but I still go by all the time because my family house is still there. The people we grew up around are more like family; so, every Sunday, I dedicate one or two hours to visiting my people in Ajegunle.

What are you doing to raise the standards of the people living there?
Whilst we grow in our career, we grow in our capacity in responsibility. There are kids on the streets of Ajegunle. As much as Africa needs food to eat, as much as people call me a celebrity, the most that I can do is to lend myself. There is this project called Born throway, for kids who are not in school, to talk their parents to getting them to school. As a collective, we try to make it possible to make them return to school, by showing them that if I could do it, they can also do it.

Can you recall your most memorable event in Ajegunle?
I had applied for the Big Brother show, so the organisers had to come and check out my background and do a back story interview. I woke up and got this call. I looked out of the window and there were nine white guys outside waiting for me, with cameras. The whole neighbourhood came out to see; they were asking questions like what is it with you that nine white guys have come to talk with you. No one in my neighbourhood would forget that. It had never happened before and hasn’t happened again after that.

What were you doing before you delved into MNet’s TV series, Tinsel
I modeled a bit and partly produced and presented a TV talk lifestyle magazine talk show called The Scoop, produced by Storm 360, headed by Obi Asika.

You went for Big Brother Nigeria. What was your weakness in the House?
It is a popularity contest. I remember my dad coming to my hotel room after I left the House. He said, ‘Son, I am proud of you, but why would you follow one girl and lose cash, when you can get all the cash and get all the girls?’ That was a joke, but he was serious.

You were in love with a girl in the house and forgot the game right?
Let me tell you one thing. When you are locked up in a place with people you don’t know, you smell their body, fart; you hear their thoughts; you are in their space. They become desirable to you, for at least 91 days.
The game of Big Brother is doctored in a way they want you to do it; they want you to commit. When you fall for it, it is a good piece for TV.

Are you saying they made you fall?
No, it’s a set-up. There are condoms in a big jar, there are little innuendoes. They hope that you play to it. The viewers enjoy what they are seeing; they pay more subscription to watch. You are gathering female fans on the other side, and you are hooking up with this one girl in the House, and other girls have this fantasy of you and become angry with you for hooking up with one girl; and would do anything to get you out of the House. I did not go in to win; I went in to show myself. It was my moment. If I got the cash, great; but if not, let them see the Ajegunle boy.

If God gave you the chance to change something about yourself, what would that be?
Hmn…God, there is nothing wrong with growing up in a rich home, so that I wouldn’t have to struggle the way I did (laughs). The truth about my story is that my dad handed me the best button ever – education, like every other thing a parent would do. I value what my parents did with all my life. But if I had a chance, I would have said ‘Dad, hand me over the button of education and hand me a few cash too, and let me top off what you’ve done’. But right now, I love where I am. I am not complaining.

In Tinsel, you are also the only child of the rich mogul (Fred-Ade Williams); and in real life, you are an only child. Do you sometimes see the character of Philip in Gideon Okeke?
Do you believe that acting is not a representation of life but a continuation of where life stops? Take the definition of acting to be ‘a brief moment of suspended disbelief’. The actor is not necessarily who he claims to be. Do you want to tell me that in Flight, Denzel Washington is a real alcoholic?

(Cuts in) Flight is just a 40-minute movie, while Tinsel is continuous. So, the character might become part of you.
I feed from him and he feeds from me. I am weak, while Philip is strong. I pick from his sense of style. I feed from his confidence level. He is also arrogant because his father is rich. If you were the only child to a guy who had all the stuff, and you see competition from here and there, you would try to mark your territory; but Philip is a very impatient person. That’s his flaw, but I am a very patient person.

As an attractive young dude, don’t you get tempted to go out with female fans who throw themselves at you?
Well, for everybody whom a gift has been invested in, you are an angel and it’s your job to share. It’s our job to win souls. This is what I mean: If you love my work, you should know that I didn’t put the gift in me. I did not bless myself; somebody blessed me. So, when you say ‘Gideon, I love your work’, I say ‘thank God’. You admire my work, leave that there. I say ‘thank you’. The glory is to the Being who sent me. We are very vulnerable people. The higher you climb, the lonelier it gets. Sometimes you make mistakes, but if your eyes are on the price, you can’t be deterred.

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