Nollywood’s newest intake, Jidekene Achufusi popularly known as Swanky JKA is arguably the luckiest actor of 2019, even though he maintains that luck has nothing to do with it. His unexpected thrust into mainstream Nollywood could not have been orchestrated better by seasoned cinephiles.

His claim to fame, the award-winning ‘Living In Bondage’ movie, has since garnered him accolades like AMVCA Trailblazer Award, Amstel Malta Ambassador and spots in popular TV commercials.

We had an exclusive chat with Jidekene Achufusi where he cleared the air on topics like the Actors Guild of Nigeria, brand ambassadorship and making more deliberate movies in Nollywood.

Jidekene Achufusi

“My name is Jide but I am not Yoruba,” he opens with a smile. It’s easy to make the error if you are Lagos-bred or probably been inundated by the many assortment of western Nigerian names. “It means ‘stand up’” he adds. Meanings of names are an important part of the African convention.

Jidekene is slightly introverted, not in that offensive way that screams diva-ism, but a milder, more intellectual manner; he’s also easy to talk to, like a long-standing neighbor or an overly friendly stranger. The distinction is hard to make.

The idea that ‘Living in Bondage’ is his only flick makes him laugh, as Swanky JKA has been in the industry for 8 years. He exchanges glances with his manager and they reel off almost 8 movies that he has starred in. But the Ramsey Noah-directed ‘Living in Bondage’ movie is easily his biggest flick and his most awarded so far.

Like every other creative struggling to work together while staying apart, we wanted to know how the pandemic has personally affected Jidekene’s money moves.

“Based on the kind of philosophy I operate, there’s no such thing as negative impact. For most of us in the industry, it’s been a reflective time. Without coronavirus, I probably would have been in like three other different random projects. 

We’ve all had time on our hands basically to think about personal projects we may want to develop or career paths that we have always wanted to take. 

Also, I’m probably the only ambassador that was announced in the middle of the pandemic,” he replied, referring to his recent addition to the Amstel Malta family. 

From his award speeches to his industry-wide interviews, Swanky JKA has always had a way of ascribing the smallest of achievements to God. 

“I’m not actually a religious person even though my parents are Pastors, but I have always wanted to have a special kind of relationship with God. To be able to talk to and hear Him, even when I’m driving, because I know what it was like hustling on my own and I know what it’s like now putting God in front,” he explained.

The self-assured actor’s journey didn’t exactly start out smoothly; he was gunning for glory on the football field in Enugu and was probably doing passably well with a nickname like ‘Gattuso’ but a below-average knee and a roving mind deterred him from going international. He then ventured into event planning, runway modeling and a few other unsuccessful enterprises in a bid to strike gold.

With no proper acting lessons, Jidekene’s genius was cultivated from Sunday sessions at a local production house in Enugu, where his naturally animated facial expression was fine-tuned by consistency and practice.

“Hanks Anuku is the reason why I started acting. I loved his films,” he explains, referring to the renowned Nigerian-Ghanaian actor who is known for his consistent role as a villain.

The quirky-sounding prefix, ‘Swanky’ is just an adjective. The dictionary meaning of the word, gives a sneak peek into the kind of brand that Jidekene Achufusi is trying to build. According to him, “Swanky means, expensive fashionable, posh, different, swag- and that was the one word I found that came close to how I wanted to portray the JKA brand. 

On roles that he would be unwilling to play now that he has some kind of recognition in the industry, he answers. “The only roles I would not be taking are roles without essence. You want me to do a movie like 50 shades darker and I frankly don’t see the essence. As an African voice in cinema, I need my work to be able to reflect Africa – a film flick with a message. That’s the only way that Africa will rise to get to the levels of Hollywood, if not surpass it.”

Jidekene has a growing bias for historical flicks, advocating for the overlooked genre, whenever he can. He explains that, “There’s a lot in history and when I mean history, I don’t just mean the ones that have to do with Politics or Presidents alone. I mean stories  like the four boys that were killed in Aluu. There’s the story of the Aba women riot. 

Honestly, I don’t want the role I play in this industry to be to create flicks mainly for entertainment. I am more or less for the message, that’s part of the reason why I took ‘Living in Bondage’ on, because it had a message that the older people understood and the younger people understood as well.”

An audition train across Enugu, Abuja and Owerri and a two-week follow-up rehearsal in Lagos landed Jidekene one of the most coveted roles of 2019 and the enviable AMVCA Trailblazer award. A platform that he is expected to embody for the span of a year.

“It’s a very great platform and one can only appreciate the pedigree of the past winners. Although, I can’t be actively or publicly involved right now because we have been advised to stay at home, but every young person who has followed my story has an idea of what my journey was like – no connection, no squad, just God,” he finishes proudly.

Swanky reels off ideas for a couple of TV shows he’s trying to create post-covid, while bemoaning the dearth of kid-friendly local content on Nigerian TV stations. “We need content that the African kid in Diaspora can watch to understand what it means to grow up in Africa. To be honest, that’s the kind of catalogue I am looking to create with MultiChoice,” he adds.

The fact that his first endorsement is from a family friendly brand is important to Swanky, stating that the audience he is expected to influence with a multinational brand like Amstel Malta will be a large and diverse one. “I told God that when I get an endorsement, I want it to be from a multinational. I don’t want it to be a ‘my-guy-open something-come-call-me’ thing (laughs).”

Movie production is one of the many things that Jidekene wants to add to his list of achievements, but that is way into the future. “I would like to do a film about Bishops and Pastors. That’s one place the industry has never really touched in a compassionate manner. I feel like there’s never really been a film that shows us what behind the scene looks like for a Bishop or for a Pastor,” he reasons.

Jidekene Achufusi favors the generation of old actors and says their seasoned professionalism as one of the reasons why. “Ramsey Noah is one actor that I have always wanted to star alongside and l have hit that milestone. Idris Elba is another actor I would like to do something with.”

The Actors Guild of Nigeria is the representative body of acting professionals in Nigeria but Jidekene insists that he would change everything about the body in a heartbeat. “The Actors Guild of Nigeria is quite docile and I would propose a revamped agency that actually takes care of their members.”

Jidekene Achufusi, like most actors, never passes off the opportunity to use words, but with Swanky it feels more strategic, his words feel almost authentic. This may be based on his belief that every artist should be able to position themselves in a way that the universe or the God they serve favors them.

This article was first published here and written by Henri ‘Yireconnect on Instagram with him here

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