Emeka Nwagbaraocha: Never As Far From Home

By Tochukwu Precious Eze

- 8th December 2023

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All photos © NZUKO Brand. Uzoagba, Imo State, Nigeria. 2023.

When we speak of fast-rising Nollywood stars and actors to look out for in the coming years, Emeka Nwagbaraocha easily takes his place on the list. Having discovered his love for acting early on in his life, and gone on to hone and develop the skill, Emeka has grown to feature in big productions like MTV Shuga, Kasala, Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story, The Trade, among others. Many would agree that his biggest breakthrough yet in the movie industry is starring in the Netflix series, Far From Home. This has made it almost impossible to ignore his talent.

Emeka was born and raised in Imo State, Nigeria. He grew up in a somewhat vibrant home. They had a TV in the sitting room and another in the children’s room, and they would always gather around them to watch movies. It also helped that his aunt, who perhaps wanted to be an actress, had developed a good relationship with the shop that rented out films, so Emeka’s family was one of the first in the area to see a new movie once it was out. And on his return to boarding school after each break, he would have new stories to tell his friends, and more films to narrate to his classmates. This, he believes, shaped him into a storyteller.

Emeka’s process of taking on a new character begins with trying to understand the character. It is crucial that he does not judge his characters ―these persons that he must become― that he loves them, no matter what their stories are. Coming from a religious background, this does not come naturally to Emeka, but he does it still, because only then can he justly deliver the role. “And after I’m done, I do this little ritual of cleaning my house as a way to say goodbye to my characters,” he laughs. “It’s strange, I know, but it works.”

Young and in school, Emeka would write vivid and imaginative stories that came out as plays, complete with scenes and dialogues. At the time, he was way too young to really understand drama, or storytelling even, but he had discovered his love for this art, and so he kept at it. This would eventually blossom into a talent in scriptwriting.

Writers often worry that a director or producer would pick up their scripts and change them into something else, something they would not recognize. Emeka has decided, for this reason, to wait until he can afford to produce his own films, so as to retain some creative control over them. Dabbling into different things at once also puts one at risk of being a jack of all trades and master of none, which does not appeal to Emeka. So he has focused on acting, giving his best each day, seeking to master the skill.

As one can assume, his rise to stardom has not been without challenges. One of the major challenges he has faced is having to negotiate his worth. “I wish actors could have their price tags attached to them as we have in supermarkets. And when someone picks up Emeka, they would see the price and proceed to checkout (laughs). Unfortunately, that is not the case for creatives. There are many factors involved, and I do not particularly enjoy going back and forth about money.” He is, however, thankful that he has management now that takes 70% of the work off his shoulders.

More interestingly, he mentions the search for soul-fulfilling experiences as one of the challenges he has faced. This is an industry where you are not exactly in charge of what work comes your way. “Sometimes, you yearn for more. You want a role that stirs something in you and leaves you feeling more fulfilled. And in the case that it does not come for whatever reason, you would have to settle for what the industry can give you at the time.”

While being thankful for the admiration and attention that comes with his work, Emeka admits that it can get a bit overwhelming. People wanting to know details about his private life, having to live up to certain standards that can be financially straining, and the realization that he can no longer simply take a stroll like he used to. “On one part, it shows that your work is making an impact and people appreciate you. But sometimes, I just want to go out, buy water, and run back to my house without having to deal with all the attention.”

When asked which of his projects has stayed with him since he began his career, Emeka replies, “It has to be Kasala.” Kasala is a Nollywood comedy-drama directed by Ema Edosio, which sees a teenager take his uncle’s car on a fun ride with his friends. Things take a quick turn when they crash the car, and must now find a way to fix the mess before his uncle returns in a few hours. Emeka recounts how great it was to play the lead in a feature-length film, especially one with that much character and mood. And to have carried the role, and by extension, the film, in the way that he did was fulfilling.

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Speaking of the things he loves about his work, Emeka shares, “I enjoy that it takes me out of the house, for starters (laughs). And that I get to travel. There are places I ordinarily would not have gone to, but for the nature of my work, I was able to visit those places and I’m thankful for that. Also, the privilege of becoming a different person; that’s not something many people have. I love that my work lets me be different people, share in their stories, and help tell these stories.”

This may not be obvious at first glance but Emeka goes on to emphasize that he takes the things of God very seriously. He does not joke with the spiritual or see everything as a casual occurrence. He acknowledges the presence and guidance of God in his life and career. Emeka is also big on family: his parents and siblings. “They hold a special place in my heart,” he says.

There is a question of how success can be defined or measured in a creative industry such as Nollywood. Does the volume of work done determine whether an actor has had a successful career, or is it more about the quality of work? Emeka shares his thoughts on this: “Some people are always on set, almost every day, yet they are not considered successful. In my opinion, an actor is seen unarguably as successful when they have become a household name. Once their names are mentioned, people immediately think of them, almost everyone knows them. For instance, when Genevieve is mentioned, our minds shoot to Genevieve Nnaji. Which other RMD do you know? Rita Dominic. We can all agree that actors on that level have attained success.”

Emeka is hardly ever as far from home as his breakout movie title suggests. He stays true to his roots, recognizing his identity as Igbo, basking in the rich and beautiful culture and history. “There is always the thrill of finding your brother across borders, knowing that beyond the minor variations in dialects and hometowns, we are family. Nwanne di na mba.” This, and many other values upheld by the Igbo people, have helped build him into the person he is. “I also consider my grasp of the language as one of my many strengths as a person and as an actor,” he adds.

On what he’s working on at the moment, Emeka hints at a new big project. “I just finished a feature film. I obviously can’t share any details but it is one of the biggest films I have worked on so far, and I look forward to when it comes out. I am also excited about “I Do Not Come To You By Chance,” a movie that I starred in, which is going to festivals soon. I can’t wait to see the reactions, and how it is received.”

There are different sides to Emeka Nwagbaraocha, from the sharp, witty reputation he has built on social media to his calmer physical presence, his spirituality, as well as a career built over years of hard work. One thing he clearly places importance on is expertise and mastery of one’s craft. So we can assume that for him, this is a lifelong endeavor: to seek to better understand himself, his brand, and his art; to always seek mastery.

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“I’m not all about being a role model, having people place certain unreal expectations on me, but I want, at the very least, to inspire and to set good examples for others. I want to lead people to believe that with the right attitude to work and guidance from God, they can achieve what they set their minds to. I want to serve as proof that it can be done and it can be done well.”