TIFF City to City Spotlight – Ifeanyi Dike
Ifeanyi Dike in Green White Green
Meet Ifeanyi. At just 25 years of age, this writer, actor and part-time doctor has accomplished more than most people who have had a 15-year jumpstart. During his short, but very busy career he’s appeared on Nigerian television shows such as Tinsel, Desperate Housewives Africa, Shuga and Gidi Up. He’s written content for Nigerian Idol and a Rhythm 93.7 – a station in Lagos. In 2013, he was named one of the ’12 Most Powerful Creatives 25 and Under’ by WOW Magazine and has a humor column called “Monkey Business” which will debut on the website Bella Naija in the next few months.
When I sat down with him on the eve of Green White Green’s premiere, he was also on the eve of another major accomplishment: being the first Nigerian actor accepted into UCLA’s Theater School graduate program. I chatted with this Jack-of-all-trades about inspiration, balancing two passions and why being considered “unconventional” is a plus.
Lauren: How did you become attached to this project?
Ifeanyi: About a year ago, I was doing my internship working at the general hospital and I got an email to come to an audition. I was reluctant to go because I said I’d take the time to serve more at the hospital because there are people’s lives that needed saving. It’s an honor to be able to help people in that way and in addition to acting that is a passion of mine. My friends had to push me to go to the audition.
I was a little apprehensive because I’d never done a feature film before, only TV. When I got there, they had me read for another character. I thought since I’d never done a film before, let me try for the lead and see how that goes. They said, try another role first and I did. Later, Abba the director called me for a separate meeting. It was so weird because I had worked with him before but in a different capacity. I was a writer for a website and he was directing, but we never spoke to each other or anything. We spoke to other people, but we just never spoke to each other. I kinda just thought he was a douchebag because he had his sunglasses on inside and didn’t speak. (Laughs). When I saw him at the meeting I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know about this because we met each other before and we didn’t really hit it off.” Then we found out we had so much in common and we knew we definitely needed to work together.
I got the script and thought it was fantastic. I was a little skeptical because it was different from what you normally see in Nollywood. It was satire, it was funny, it was serious. It’s easy for people to look at this kind of film and say decide to skip it because they don’t get it. So to make the decision to do it regardless was a very scary process. To go from that to TIFF, one of the biggest film festivals in the world is amazing. I still haven’t seen the film actually. I’m waiting for the grand premiere tomorrow so I can watch it with everyone else. To be here is just so surreal. It’s fantastic.
L: Is this is your first time at a film festival? Do you have family or anyone else coming over for the premiere?
I: Yeah. My first film and my first film festival – ever. My parents are doctors, my sister is a doctor, so everyone is pretty locked down with work and unfortunately they won’t be able to make it.
L: The desire to serve and heal runs in the family? That’s very commendable.
I: Thank you. I appreciate it.
L: How do you plan on balancing that passion with your upcoming graduate studies?
I: I’ve already spent eight years in medical school so I’m sure it must look strange to spend another three years for this. For me, I don’t know if it’s an African thing or a Nigerian thing, but education is super-important to us. Someone may ask, “Why are you going to study acting? Didn’t you just finish medical school?” But it’s a challenge and I like a challenge. To get into the program in the first place you have to be talented. Not everyone puts their mind to something and follows thru until the end. It’s great to be in that space where you’re learning from the greats and at a place that taught greats like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
The thing about acting is your life and your experiences always come in handy and you can draw upon them later. Traveling, moving to another country is much more important and influential than anything else. I won’t be practicing medicine full-time, but what I’d like to do is take a couple of months out of the year, go home and give healthcare to people in rural areas. I won’t have the time to be a clinician, but I still want to contribute that way.
L: Are there any actors that have had a profound influence on you?
I: I find that European actors are very, very good.
L: Many are classically trained, more than most American actors.
I: Yeah, many have gone to theater school. If I could have, I would have gone to theater school in England. But after that I’d have to travel to America to break in and I thought I’ll just skip a step and just study in America.
L: I asked Abba to talk about his top 5 influences and dream collaborators. I’ll ask the same of you.
I: That’s tough to pick 5, but I think I can do it. From Europe – Colin Firth, Christoph Waltz and James McAvoy. From America – Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp. I’ll add Don Cheadle too. I feel like he’s maybe not the most popular in Hollywood, but as far as range is concerned he’s really got it. He’s gone from playing the lead in dramas like Hotel Rwanda to starring in The Avengers, his show on Showtime and he produces as well. That inspires me because you look at him and think someone has probably told this guy he’ll never be successful because he doesn’t look like A-list material. In many ways I don’t consider myself conventional leading man material. Maybe more misleading man (laughs), but I don’t look at myself like Idris Elba for example. I see why he gets all the leading roles. But when I look at people like Don Cheadle and Eddie Redmayne, I’m okay being unconventional because it can work in my favor.
L: Different is good, right? Because there are a lot of actors who look like they just came off an assembly line. Especially White actors. We like variety, we like to see people who look like us, like real people. It’s refreshing to see new faces.
I: Well, I hope that works in my favor. (Laughs)
L: More of our stories are being told and we need more of us in them.
I: Not people who look like they just stepped out of a Givenchy photo shoot. (Laughs)
L: What’s next for you? Will school keep you busy full-time or do you have other things in production right now?
I: I have writing projects that are in development right now. And now that I’m going to LA, I won’t have as much time to go home and do as much as I’d like, so I’m taking my time and choosing my next projects carefully. The same way that I chose Green White Green and look where that’s lead me. My schedule is tight. But I intend to take my summers and winters to do something.
It’s here where Abba walks over to tell Ifeanyi that Green White Green was just added to the Stockholm International Film festival lineup. As he calls his manager and everyone goes to celebrate the good news, I take my leave.
For more about Green White Green, visit Osiris Film and Entertainment and the film’s Facebook page.