Uzee Usman is an actor and film producer who has developed finesse of combining the peculiar standards in Nollywood and Kannywood to produce acceptable movies.
Usman who hails from Kwara State grew up in Kaduna. He holds two degrees – in Political Science and English Language from the University of Abuja and the University of Jos before proceeding to study Special Effects in South Africa. Usman began his career in 2003 as a make-up artist.
In 2013, he made a foray into filmmaking and has produced award-winning films, both in Kannywood and Nollywood including Oga Abuja, which won Best Hausa Movie of the Year at the 2013 City People Entertainment Awards; and Maja which won Best Film of the Year (Kannywood) at the 2014 City People Entertainment Awards and was nominated in the Best Picture category at the 2014 Nigeria Entertainment Awards.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, he shares his journey into the movie industry as a make-up artist.
You started out as a makeup artist in the movie industry. How did the switch happen?
IT all started in 2003. I used to come all the way from Kaduna to Lagos for auditions and I still I didn’t get picked. I would return to Kaduna to continue my education. However, there was a day I went, as usual, for auditions and a movie director, Andy Amenechi, who was one of the biggest at the time, looked at me and said, ‘you will never make it in this industry, all you need to do is to go work behind the camera.’ Then, auditions were done in the open in front of thousands of people. Thankfully, I have had this maturity right from a tender age so I didn’t take that to heart, and that inspired me to take on makeup.
So I became an assistant makeup artist with Gabriel Okoli Gabzini, now a producer based in Germany. Then, I would carry his bag and follow him around. This went on for about two years, and in 2005, I got an opportunity to learn Special Effects in South Africa to boost my knowledge of makeup. When I returned, I became one of the most sought after makeup artist after I shot a movie titled London boy. In 2008, I won the AMVCA as Best Makeup artist and so after the awards, I knew I had made my mark in artistry and I wanted to start producing. I chose to go learn Production Management for two years. In 2010, I produced my first movie titled Under in Ghana. In the process, I met Ali Nuhu who told me I needed to come back to put the northern industry together. But then I knew I didn’t want to stick to the north and so I chose to be the link between Nollywood and Kannywood. And so, I started blending Nollywood’s Jim Ikye, Nkem Owoh and the Kannywood actors, with a movie I produced, Maja. This earned me the 2014 City People Entertainment Awards as Best Film of the year (Kannywood).
Then I realised I have stamped my foot in producing and I needed to face acting, so I met with the filmmaker Rogers Ofime. I shared my thoughts with him about having an Oprah Winfrey kind of show centred around who-is-who in the North. That was how Taurarin Zamani started and became one of the biggest talk shows in Northern Nigeria.
After the success of the show, Ofime told me, ‘Uzee, you have all it takes to be on the big screen.’ That was how we shot Voiceless, as the lead character. Afterwards I met with Mary Remmy Njoku of ROK TV and I played a lead role in a movie titled, Mustapha, which became a household name of me. Now the rest is history.
In your years of producing films and acting, how would you say you have evolved?
It has been tremendous. The acceptance has been unprecedented. I give thanks to Almighty Allah
How easy was it for you combining Kannywood and Nollywood?
At first, it wasn’t easy. A lot of backlash from all sides but what has to be done has to be done. I kept the naysayers on their toes because I told myself I must succeed. That is why whatever movie I produce or in which I act, I always remember where I’m coming from.
What new project should we be expecting from you?
I have a lot of projects that are currently in the works. I am currently filming a project called, Conversations in Transit by Rogers Ofime and directed by Robert Peters. Also, look out for Farin Jini on ROK2. The rest of the fantastic projects will come to the cinemas near you nationwide. It’s been a busy year for me already. I have a lot of projects you should be looking out for.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion is a form of self-expression and autonomy at a particular period and place and in a specific context of clothing, footwear, lifestyle, and accessories. For me, fashion is a lifestyle
What’s your style?
Simple and classy.
What’s your favourite food?
Okra soup and pounded yam
What are your hobbies?
I love to play football, travelling, playing tennis and eat.
If you could change one thing in the country right now, what will it be?
I would want to make power change hands. Let the youths lead.