Ramsey Nouah: We built Nollywood out of nothing - and now we're shooting for the stars

Story highlights

  • Ramsey Nouah won the 2010 African Movie Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for "Figurine"

(CNN)It's probably the most important advice Nigerian movie superstar Ramsey Nouah ever received: "My friend said," Nouah recalls,"'you look like a great actor, why don't you act?'"

That was some 25 years ago, when Nouah was looking for funds to cover his school examination fees. Nouah took his friend's suggestion and started auditioning for TV shows. He quickly landed a role in a successful soap opera, and soon after he made his debut in Nollywood, Nigeria's mighty movie making machine.
    Today, Nouah is one of the industry's most popular names, having starred in dozens of films and won several accolades. His latest movie -- "Thy Will Be Done," by director Obi Emelonye -- became last month the first Nollywood film to premiere at London's BFI IMAX, Britain's biggest cinema screen.
    CNN's African Voices caught up with Nouah to talk about Nigeria's film industry and present him with the questions you sent via the #AskRamsey and #CNNAfrica hashtags.
    CNN: How have you seen Nollywood change and grow over the years?
    Ramsey Nouah: There have been several phases in Nollywood, like in everything in life. We started off Nollywood almost like making bread out of stone; there was nothing, no investment, no structure, nothing on the ground to actually help the industry but we've brought it this far and we are very happy.
    Ramsey Nouah on Nigerian politics

    CNN: How do you see the political situation in Nigeria and what do you think about the recent security tensions?

    RN: I find it quite dicey, it's a case of uncertainty, not knowing what is going to happen ...however I'm actually endorsing the present government because he [president Goodluck Jonathan] has contributed immensely to the growth of our industry -- call me selfish call me what but I've been in this industry for 25 years, no government ever spoke about my industry like this one. He gave us audience, he listened to us, he gave several grants to help the industry, he sent so many of the practitioners outside to big film schools ... he's giving money for distribution -- so for all these reasons.

    There was a point where there was a nosedive, when it was hitting the rocks because it was predominantly dependent on DVDs, and the quality of the production was poor. It was successful up to a point until piracy came in and intellectual properties weren't protected and practitioners weren't getting their worth. But now there is the cinema, which is growing drastically in Nigeria and that has really helped bring back Nollywood.
    So I would say right now it's getting better ... because cinema culture is beginning to come -- if you're going to shoot a cinema movie then you've got to be thinking about the quality of the production and of the story.
    CNN: So what have you learned throughout this journey?
    RN: I learned a whole lot of lessons, when the chips were high -- many people knew me and everything but I was so deeply passionate about the industry that I wanted growth and I wanted something better.
    I wanted Nollywood to look like Hollywood and Bollywood, I wanted it to have that appeal ... and at some point in my industry it wasn't happening. Because I'm one of the very top actors, knowing that with my influence I could make a difference, I decided at some point ... to be like "look guys, lets upgrade, the new technologies are coming, how do we move forward."
    Most of the people I was working with wanted to live in that mindset, and I felt "no, I need to make a change,"... and then I was just picking movies deliberately that I knew would stand the test of time as I grow old.

    YOUR QUESTIONS

    Ramsey Nouah: I think my greatest inspiration is my passion for my art. My passion is my major drive, I love what I do and I like the competition, I like the circumstances that surround my industry and how to make it better -- if it was too easy and too fluid, maybe if it wasn't as challenging, my passion would have died but I think the challenges make it stronger for me.
    Ramsey Nouah: I'm not very certain -- I've come to learn about life that never say never. I was thinking maybe in the next 10 years I'll probably be behind the camera, directing and working on my own flicks but at the same time,of course, if in the next 10 years I am still good enough to tell a story and get into characters then I will still be there acting. Besides that, of course, humanitarian stuff mostly.
    Ramsey Nouah: I think it's a public service kind of thing that everyone is beginning to think that "OK, we can make a change" ... and most of my colleagues are thinking, "if people believe in me that I can do it then I can make it happen."
    For me, I'm too much of a creative person than a politician so it's going to be really hard, but I never say never ... I'm not ruling it out and I'm not saying that I'm keen or I'm going to go there.
    Ramsey Nouah: I stay under the radar (laughs). I don't know I'm not a scandalous person by nature so I guess that's what it is.
    Ramsey Nouah: Yes, yes my pair, my partner -- of course, I will, some time hopefully soon, we're looking forward to working on another very good blockbuster some time in the future.
    Ramsey Nouah: I am spearheading the "New Nollywood," so it's more of getting a good production out and getting a good production out is quite capital intensive. You need investors and you need to explain to the investors and let them know what they're going to benefit if they do get involved.
    So it's a long thing, unlike how we just used to do cheap movies and it was like quick -- people could actually tell most of our stories from the beginning, they could tell the end already. I want that to change, hence I don't do too many of them movies anymore, but the cinema movies are now coming out and when that starts to come out then it would give room to people getting more from the movies.
    Ramsey Nouah: I usually like to unwind by playing my sports: I like to play squash a lot, and I love adventure so basically when I'm not working I like to do crazy things, the things that people would least except that I'd want to do like skydiving ,bungee jumping, mountain climbing, all of those things.