His delicately trimmed tiny sideburns form a luscious, dark, low beard on his effervescent face. Dressed to the nines, a wide smile of confidence plays on his lips; spick and span, he finds himself irresistible to both women – and men. Meet Benson Okonkwo, Nigeria’s latest controversial actor in Nollywood, also known as Mr. Packaging. Known for his raunchy roles in especially in sexually explicit movies, Okonkwo easily catches the eye. He speaks with Oge Ezeliora about the controversy trailing his latest movie mopping up acclaims and vituperations on YouTube, on public opinion that he is gay and the role money and message play in deciding to act nude and bawdy in movies
• I’m Not a Gay Though I Look Like One
• I’ve All It Takes to Be a Ladies’ Man
• I’m Proud to Be a Super Actor
• I Have No Regrets Acting As a Gay in Movies
• I Have Been Harassed Sexually; I Always Turn Down Gay Advances
You starred in a movie in which you were completely nude. Why did you do that?
I did that because I am a professional actor. And, there is nothing wrong playing that part. You know one thing with Nigerians, when you play a role and play it well that’s what you are. I have acted as a gay in three movies. But, I have 50 movies to my credit. I know Nigerians love watching my movies and I will not stop acting because people are criticising me for acting completely nude. It is what I do for a living and I am proud to be a super actor.
Tell us about the movie acted nude in.
It is an interesting story. It is a 35-minute movie. The plot, the sound, lighting and props are good quality. In the movie, I was a sex addict who sleeps with both men and women. And I acted along Shirley Igwe, who was my wife in the movie. She had a torrid time containing me because I slept with virtually anybody I admired in the movie – both males and females – regardless of family ties or status. I was also a drug addict (in the movie) who was into all sorts of shady deals. I don’t really need to talk much about it. People should just rush to YouTube, Real Moneytv, to view it – people have started tagging me ‘Benson, the Maniac.’ But, I don’t care because I am making my money and getting more fans every day. It is an award-winning movie.
Is it your first movie as a producer?
Yes. It is my first movie as a producer although it is a short film with good background and I worked with so many A-list actors, like Cossy Orjiakor, Uche Elendu, Shirley Igwe, Paschaline Alex, Denrele, Chizzy Alichi, Beverly Osu, and a host of others.
Who directed the movie?
It was directed by Image Frameworks.
How much did it cost to produce the movie?
The entire production costs me a lot of money with recession ravaging the country. Let me say I spent up to N2.5 million on the movie in total.
How many movies have you starred in so far?
I have done over 30 movies and I’m still counting.
Which will you consider most challenging?
The movie I did with Ifeanyi Onyeabor, ‘Games Town’ starring Mama G and many other stars. I sustained an injury while on location. I fell off a bus while acting a kidnap scene. In the movie, I kidnapped Kenneth Albert, and had to jump with him from the bus. Unfortunately, the location driver suddenly zoomed off, leading to my falling flat and rolling on the ground. I was really injured in the process.
What’s the secret behind your charming looks?
I started my career as a model. So I have always liked to look good. Even in Nollywood, I am known for my dress sense. That’s why I’m called ‘Benson, Mr. Packaging.’ My fans also love me because of the way I dress. I am crazy when it comes to clothes. I also like to combine colours well. I have always loved fashion and I inherited that attribute from my mother. I costume myself; most times the costumiers recommend me to directors. It has taken me to places and also makes me stand out.
If you are not gay, why you are not married and why do people accuse you of being gay?
It’s really funny that Nigeria is a country where people attribute an actor’s role to his real-life character. It’s quite funny that because I played a gay role then I’m automatically gay. I just have to thank my fans who repose so much confidence in me – that’s all. You know one thing with Nigerians, when you play a role and play it well that’s what you are. I have done three gay movies. But, I have 50 movies to my credit, I am unhappy about the negative reactions that trailed my decision to star in those movies. I insist that the public is ignorant of the fact that actions in movies are not real. Although these movies sparked off controversy about my sexuality, I will tell you that Nigerians are hypocrites. They secretly enjoy watching porn movies, yet when they see Nigerian movies that contain suggestive scenes, they secretly watch them online and then drop anonymous comments. I am only acting and doing my job.
How is the pay like in Nollywood?
When we started newly, we were paid depending on scenes and the number of times we made appearances. A scene was about N1,200 and really not worth the stress. But we did that because of the passion we had for the profession. I thank God the pay has improved now. I know that with time, it will be much better.
How many times have you acted as a homosexual?
I have acted as a homosexual three times. I mean I have acted up to three movies where I played the role of a gay and I am not regretting it. Although it was hard for me to accept the role initially, it took a lot of convincing and support from the director before I could play the role.
Before producing your latest movie, you acted completely nude in another movie few, why?
It was done by Mr. Brown Ene and directed by ifeanyi Onyearbor. The name of the movie is ‘James Town.’ Mr. Brown called me up and we negotiated and I took the role. It’s a must-see movie. Now, before you start to ask me why or crucify me, that’s the character, I was asked to play. So, like I said, as an actor your ability to interpret any role given to you is what makes you a good actor. So, Nigerians should understand that I was only doing my job. It’s just a movie. It’s a ghetto movie and I was one of the lead characters in it.
Were you well paid for the role?
I was well paid. Sincerely, anytime I act a nude scene just know that I am well paid for it and I also took the role because the pay was so right. I enjoy the support of my loved ones in spite of the criticisms. Do you know that the gay controversy has brought me fame? I want people to remember that I have not starred in only gay or adult films, contrary to what some persons think.
Did you act the movie for the money or the message?
I did it for both reasons, sincerely; because the message and the money matter a lot to me and my fans.
Have you ever been sexually harassed by homosexuals?
Not openly by homosexuals; maybe because they believe I am part of them. But I am not gay. I just look like one.
Are you saying homosexuality does not exist in Nollywood?
I don’t know if it exists. But I have not experienced it before in the industry – although I have been harassed sexually outside the industry. When they approached me, I simply rejected their request, telling them they met the wrong person. I might look like a gay, but I’m not (a gay). Interestingly, I try to convert them to become my friends whenever they approach me.
Why is the issue of sexual harassment common in Nollywood?
Sexual harassment is everywhere, even in the banking sector. Thank God I have not been sexually harassed before now. It is not about how many producers or directors you sleep with. What matters is if you are talented. You can sleep with everybody without being able to deliver. But if you are good and God is on your side, you can go places. They feel threatened because of my good looks.
With all the beautiful women in Nigeria and outside the country, why did you choose men?
I am not a homosexual. Notwithstanding the negative comments, it took much will power to get into (a homosexual) character (in the movie I acted in).
As a guy do you still get erection when you set your eyes on beautiful women?
Of course, yes. I love women. Anytime I see a beautiful woman, trust me I will go for her. I am not a log of wood. Blood still flows in my veins and my body system is working. So do not get it twisted.
How did you manage reactions that come from relatives and family members after acting nude scenes?
My family understands that I am only acting and the roles have nothing to do with my personal life or character. That’s why they stood by me and continue to stand by me. I believe that versatility is one thing any actor must possess before being a professional. No negative reactions from my family members.
So, are you in relationship with the opposite sex?
Being in a relationship will not convince people that I am gay or not. Some people already have a fixed mindset based on the movies they have seen me in and the roles I played. So that’s it for now. But I don’t want to talk about my relationship anymore. I have decided to keep it private.
Why do you like to be called a ladies’ man?
Why not? I’ve got all it takes to be a ladies’ man. I am hot, I am a head-turner anywhere I go and I am handsome.
Why did you choose acting as a career?
I love acting. I usually acted for my siblings when I was growing up. It was my mother who advised me to get registered with the Actors Guild of Nigeria. Later, I registered with the Enugu State chapter of the guild when late Pete Eneh was the chairman. My mother provided the money I used to register. That was how I started my acting career.
You meant you didn’t set out to become an actor?
I have always known that I’m good-looking. I have all it takes to be a model as well as an actor. But my mum introduced me to the trade. And, so far, so good, I am not regretting it.
Do you think you are sexy?
I’ve got a charming smile, great height, romantic eyes and good posture. I am a head-turner anywhere I go.
How do you keep fit?
I don’t really work out much because I am always on set. But I’m always very conscious of my diet.
Before you came into the movie industry, would you say you had a crush on anyone?
(Laughs) No comment.
If you had the chance to make love to a beautiful actress who would that be?
(Laughs) No comment.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to be a famous actor and producer. I just finished working on a movie and my saloon. I pray it sells. Although it is a short movie, I want people to go for it.
Any plan of getting married soon?
I will settle down but marriage is not in my plan for now. I want to make money. I believe when it’s time to get married I will concentrate on that. But I am not ready for now.
Will you want to settle down with a man or a woman when the time comes?
(Laughs) Press, haba! You will not kill me oh. I will settle down with a woman. I am not gay.