Ali Nuhu is one of Nigeria’s most talented movie stars. He has featured in over a hundred movies and is one actor who has found balance in both Nollywood and Kannywood movie industries. Here, he talks about the relationship between both industries, life outside it, his latest movie and more. Excerpts:
Weekend Magazine: You are arguable Kannywood’s most successful actor. You are also one to be reckoned with in Nollywood. What will you say contributed to your success story?
Ali Nuhu: You need to have an opportunity to try out your craft in whatever language or religion you find yourself in. If I find value in a script, I try to blend in. Also, I am very good with languages. If I travel to Yoruba land, I try to learn a couple of Yoruba words and fit in with the setting. The same goes for when I am in the south-east. So I think these have been my strongest points. However, I speak Hausa, English and Hindi fluently. The language I am trying to learn and which I find difficult is French. I have a lot of fans in countries like Cameroon, Niger Republic and Gabon and sometimes they send messages to me in French, so I feel the need to learn the language. There was a filmmaker from Chad who contacted me and wanted me to be part of his production. He actually wanted me to speak in French, but I didn’t come to be part of the production.
WM: In Kannywood and Nollywood you are almost two different persons, particularly because of the dancer that you usually are in the former. How do you cope?
Nuhu: When I am in the North, I have a different mindset because I am well aware of the culture, people, religion, the industry and how it works and the kind of stories relayed in Northern Nigeria. When I go to the South I do the same.
WM: Have you faced any major challenge?
Nuhu: Yes, there have been challenges, especially where it comes to roles that have to do with kissing, hugging and some things that a large number of my fans in Northern Nigeria aren’t comfortable with. So sometimes some scripts come to me and I have no choice but to turn them down because of some scenes or sequences where you have to do some stuff that your fans will not be pleased with.
WM: You have featured in over a hundred movies. What strikes you the most about your first outing ever?
Nuhu: The first day I faced the camera, I kept looking at the lens. The director wasn’t very comfortable with it and told me “you don’t look at the lens. Pretend it’s not there.” He told me four times before I became used to it. That’s one thing I don’t forget. It happens a lot to newcomers on set and I see people on the internet complaining why a person is staring at the screen.
WM: You’ve been nicknamed ‘Sarki’ (king). What will you say earned you that name?
Nuhu: Well, first of all, I give the glory to Allah (S.A.W). I just woke up one day and heard everyone calling me Sarki. So I started asking questions. I learnt it is due to my level of professionalism and the intrigue I create. For the audience, a lot of people actually started calling me that right from the time I shot the movie called ‘Sangaya’. I played the role of royalty and they felt that I handled the role well and they started calling me Sarki.
WM: You once said you never knew you were going to be this famous. How have you been able to manage it so far?
Nuhu: It’s as a result of my dedication and consistency. You give your all into what you do and then try to experiment. No matter what field you are in, you have to try to bring in new things. For instance, I had to groom myself to act in comedies because it speaks to a lot of people. These are things you do to experiment. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. When about 85 per cent of the experiments work for you, then it becomes a success story.
WM: What actor or actress do you enjoy working with the most?
Nuhu: I love working with almost all of my colleagues, especially those who are very professional, those who get into the skin of their character. In Nollywood, I love working with Omotola and Rita Dominic. We get along very well and are friends. In Kannywood there’s Adam A. Zango and Shua’ibu Lawal and actresses, Jamila Nagudu and Nafisa Abdullahi.
WM: What role will you describe as the most challenging ever for you?
Nuhu: It was my role in ‘Sitanda’, because it was the first time I was on set for over a month, shooting in Jos. I had to shoot under conditions that weren’t very favourable, in the jungle where there were monkeys around. Also, it rained all through and there was no place to seek shelter. So you can imagine at 12am, sleeping in the bush and in the rain. It was not a very conducive condition but that was how we did it and we were fortunate that the movie did very well and won many awards.
WM: What’s your all-time favourite film?
Nuhu: I love Sound of Music. I love miming songs when I see them on the screen and that movie was full of songs to sing along to. Also there’s Hum Aapke Hain Koun, a Bollywood movie.
WM: How would you describe the growth of the Nigerian movie industry?
Nuhu: The growth is phenomenal. A few days ago I was watching a movie that grossed N21.5 million in a day. The Nigerian movie industry is producing great movies now and the audience is accepting these movies very well, all thanks to the Bank of Industry that is there to support the industry and cinemas.
WM: One of your most recent movies is ‘Nasibi’. What attracted you to the script?
Nuhu: When I read the script, I saw that the character had a hunchback and is elderly. But despite that fact, he fell in love with a younger lady, so that posed a challenge. People have seen me in love stories, but this concept was quite different. I gave it a try and was nominated as best actor at two awards. I eventually won one and I am yet to get the result of the other.
WM: The fact that you and a number of your Kannywood colleagues have crossed over, with you of course pioneering, into Nollywood, it is difficult to say that you are part of Kannywood since you are part of both. What do you think about the lines that used to exist between those two industries? Are those lines still there or are they blurry?
Nuhu: The lines are still there, but seem to be invisible because the criteria for some of the distribution houses to accept your movie is that you have a national actor, international actor, a regional or some regional actors. Regional actors are those that usually act in movies that are produced within a region and hardly cross over to another region. But sometimes you need some faces because they are popular on the graph sheet in the region. That jinx needs to be broken. For instance, I have up to four cinema type movie scripts that have been submitted to me in the last three months. All are going to be shot in Lagos because they need an actor that is prominent in the Northern region and I am sure it is the same for some of my colleagues too. Very soon that line will be invisible.
WM: As a producer, what do you usually look out for in movie scripts?
Nuhu: I look out for relationships between family members or people, because Africans are very sentimental and emotional where it comes to relationships, which basically means having sympathy. But I want to try out comedy because it is something I haven’t tried and it will hopefully work out for me, seeing how well the comedy movies do in the cinemas.
WM: What’s the update on your children’s work in the industry?
Nuhu: As for my daughter, she woke up one day and decided she wanted to be a fashion designer, so I can’t force her to continue acting. But my son wants to give me a run for my money. As we speak, he is on a movie set and one good thing is that he reads his scripts himself and decides which he is interested in and if he finds anything challenging, he tells me. He is currently working on a film called ‘Ba Maraya’.
WM: What efforts are you making as one who has attained remarkable height to see that the younger generation find their way in the industry?
Nuhu: That is what I have been doing. I have been promoting actors and actresses these past ten to twelve years, and a lot of them have made names for themselves. When you look at actors like Adam A. Zango, Sadik Sani Sadik, Lawal Ahmad, Rahama Sadau and the likes, I nurtured their careers singlehandedly and today they are successful. Presently, the movie I am working on, titled Mansur is introducing one of our singers in the industry.
WM: What is life like for you away from the screen?
Nuhu: You would be surprised that when I am away from the screen, I live a normal lifestyle like every other person. I am also human and need to unwind.
WM: What’s your favourite meal?
Nuhu: It’s Tuwon Shinkafa and Miyar Taushe.
WM: What project are you working on at the moment?
Nuhu: It is titled ‘Mansur’. I am directing and acting in the movie. It is about a young man who wakes up one fine day to find out the people he calls his parents actually aren’t biologically, so he begins to search for his parents.