While growing up as a young boy, Ani Iyoho looked forward to becoming a celebrated actor.
He was emboldened to embrace acting as a profession by what he saw on television series, especially ‘Tales By Moonlight’ on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and he later realised his ambition, when he had a chance meeting with popular Nollywood actor, Jim Iyke. Twelve years after taking a bold step into the make-believe industry, he appears to have achieved his dream through a weird and daring stunt that assumed he was burnt alive.
The talented actor spent his earlier years in Kaduna and Lagos before relocating to his home state, Akwa Ibom.
As someone with a flair for arts, Ani joined the church choir and drama group then and many people knew that he was cut out for the acting world.
Ani Iyoho, who is now popular as ‘Man On Fire’, narrated how he dared to act a fire scene in a soon to be released box office movie entitled; ‘Behind The Wheels’ directed by Stanlee Ohikhuere, and produced by Ugo Azikiwe and Kelechi Udegbe.
Dressed in a blue jean, stripe shirt and black shoes to match, Ani was anxious to reveal all the details of what gave him the nickname; “Man on Fire,” from the movie, where he was convinced to do a fire scene stunt, but which would later backfire after the picture of the scene was posted on the Facebook by the Director of the movie.
Reacting to an enquiry if his role in the movie and the controversy that followed the release of the picture from the fire scene has brought him fame, Ani reacted in the affirmative saying; “Yes, it has, but I still lost a bit of work. However, what I gained is more than what I lost. Some producers put me on their black list, they thought I scammed the world, when the pictures from the film were released on the social media, they felt that I am a black sheep.
“It is one of those things that added pressure and made me lose weight. But I gained more followers on the Facebook and instagram. I have got more people interested in my passion. I went extra miles to make the scene. We watch foreign movies and we are excited by what they do and we wonder if that could be done in Nigeria. Our viewers say a lot of things, what we did was what Hollywood and Bollywood had done several years back, we are trying to promote Nollywood,” he narrated.
As revealed by Ani, with disappointment written all over his face, many of his critics are oblivious of the fact that the pictures were sent to Facebook by the Director of the movie; Stanlee Ohikhuere.
He said; “the Director of the film actually put the pictures on Facebook and it went viral. Before you know it, the whole thing had been twisted out there and it went crazy. This happened because such a scene had not been shot in Nollywood and probably in Africa, before. So, people considered it unusual, which was why they did what they did.”
Iyoho revealed during the interview that he actually played the role of a Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) officer named Officer Benjamin in the movie, who had a big heart, and who would go about educating tanker drivers on safety procedure.
“However, there was a fire scene stunt we were to do in the movie, where I was supposed to get burnt. When I read through the script, I thought it would just be an ordinary scene. But when the director went through the script, he said he would like if I was on fire with my hands up in frenzy all over, and I said ‘wow.’
“Actually, the credit goes to the make-up artiste, Dorothy Koffi, who said she could make it happen. She is actually my fiancee, and she did a lot to make it happen, she was in contact with the people in Hollywood. She contacted the people that would make the protective material that I would use for the scene.
“We finished the film earlier on, but we had to wait to achieve the fire scene. Some directors would have just done it anyhow, but Stanlee said no, the producers were Ugo Azikiwe and Kelechi Udegbe. They both made sure that it was done. The scene took about a quarter of the budget of the film. They were willing to do it because the director wanted it,” he stated.
The average height artiste, who was once nominated as the Best Supporting Actor for AMAA Award, described the aftermath of the release of the picture on Facebook as a very stressful period for him and Dorothy.
As he stood up to drive home his point during the interview, he emphasised that it was an emotional period for him, but that some people even sent their prayers and he felt loved.
“Actually, I lost weight and my woman also felt bad because of the rumours that came with the incident. It was mentally stressful for both of us, there were times she broke down and I would have to console her.
“People should know that we didn’t find it easy as well. We had a reputation that we had to repair; they were saying I wanted to use it to make myself popular. But really, I acted a few scenes in the movie. I have done major movies, played sub-lead roles, acted in movies through which they recommended me for awards. I decided to take up the role when the director mentioned the fire scene and I felt I was going to do something new.
“The producers ensured that they took all the necessary precautions, there were fire extinguishers, the police, the military, FRSC officials and fire brigade officials. I was not scared, though the money was okay, Kelechi Udegbe is a good friend of mine, we joined the industry almost at the same period and we have been close.
“I also wanted to work with the Director, Stanely Ohikhuere, it was just a short scene. He is one of the best cinematographers in the country. I believe that was the first stunt in Nigeria, and probably the first in Africa, where someone was supposedly burnt.
“It was a first time for everybody, including the director and I had done a lot of practice, he worked me out, he tested me. The make-up artiste had put the fire on me and tested it on herself with the safety devices so that she could be sure it would work.
“She got a fire blanket, she also got another costume, an anti-fire suit that I was going to wear. To make sure that the anti-fire costume was safe, she carried it and dipped it in the gel that she had ordered from abroad. I had so much protection such that I felt it was safer than walking on the streets of Lagos.
“I had at least 200 per cent assurance that nothing was going to happen to me and I came out with no burns. We had five fire extinguishers, and we had been using them and tested them, but one of them failed during shooting, yet four others were working,” he said.
Raising his voice higher and using all his body to express himself, Ani disclosed that the location that was chosen for the movie was close to Eleko Beach in Lagos and that the area is sandy.
The worst case scenario, he stated, would have been for him to jump into the sand, revealing further that a generating set was used to pump water from a stream in the area, and that everything was on ground and that he was really safe for the role.
Ani was not actually a fan of Nollywood movies initially as he did not hide the fact that he was not watching Nollywood films then and that he didn’t know who Jim Iyke was, when he met him.
He stated that he told Jim Iyke point-blank that he would like to be part of Nollywood and start a career in the industry as an actor.
“Two weeks later, he called me and asked me to come and play a role and I was excited because it would be an experience. I started from there and he advised me that if I wanted to get more involved, I should register with the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) at the National Theatre.
“I went there, and I was registered. Later, I was auditioned for a movie that was produced by Emem Isong and directed by Lancelot Imasuen. From there, I kept going for more auditioning.
The fast rising actor believes the industry has been extremely challenging, but he made it clear that the challenges are not more than what happens in other industries, and what happens to bankers, lawyers and others.
Most times, he stated, what attracts people to the industry are money and fame. “You would think you would get rich the next day, but it doesn’t work like that, a lot of hustles and work go into it. You have to build your network and contact list and go with the right people and the right auditions and all that.”
Ani was initially under the impression that there is a lot of tribalism going on in the industry.