Chimezie Imo: Making A Mark in Film With Every Breath
It’s no surprise who our cover star is this week. Chimezie Imo has blossomed from his humble beginnings as Shina in MTV’s Shuga Naija, and now his most recent performance as Elijah in the Prime Video Naija blockbuster Breath of Life confirms that Imo is a force to be reckoned with in the Nollywood scene and fast becoming a household name amongst movie lovers across the world.
A dashing young man with a charming smile, Imo, just like most of us, has big dreams to reach the peak of his acting career and hopes to someday work with international filmmakers around the world and win an Oscar through his love for storytelling.
In this interview, THEWILL DOWNTOWN’s Lifestyle Editor-at-Large, Eki Ogunbor, Chimezie Imo, talks a little about his childhood growing up in the choir, his lifestyle and acting rituals and his role in his most recent hit movie, Breath of Life.
Can you share a bit about your journey into acting and how you discovered your passion for it?
I started acting at the age of 6 when I joined my church Drama group “His Majesty Drama Group.” Then I went to a reality show called The Next Movie Star, where I emerged runner-up. Since then, it’s been attending auditions and seeking opportunities to do what I love. And God has held my hands all through my journey.
Beyond Breath of Life, what other projects have been particularly meaningful or impactful for you in your acting career?
Every project has come with its blessing, whether big or small. But I am grateful for Nimbe; it got me my African Movie Academy Award nomination, and Choke, which got me my first Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award(AMVCA) nomination. Also, MTV Shuga; that was my first biggest job at that time.
Are there specific actors or directors who have influenced your approach to acting?
I watch a lot of stuff, even the not-sogreat films or shows because I feel there is always something to learn or at least unlearn after watching an actor or seeing a director’s approach. So, it’s safe to say every actor or director I have watched or worked with has influenced me in some way.
How do you balance your personal life with the demands of being an actor, especially when working on intense projects like Breath of Life?
I love my job so much. I take it seriously, so I like to put every other thing on hold and pause when working on projects till I am done with it. It’s the same with Breath of Life. We shot 80% of the film in Ibadan, so I had to be away from home and everyone (both mentally and physically) and then get back to my regular programming and personal life afterwards.
Can you tell us about any hobbies or interests you have outside of acting that people might not be aware of?
I used to be in a choir and headed a dance group. So I sing, dance and also write.
Truthfully, I am looking at exploring these other talents more this year. For hobbies, I like to watch movies with a bowl of delicious meal.
What’s your favourite movie genre at the moment?
To be honest, I love them all and watch them all, even music videos and short content on social media; count me in. I like and respect all forms of entertainment, but as an actor, I am curious to see what I will do with an action script. I would like for that to happen. I think it’s going to be interesting.
You mentioned watching movies with a delicious meal. What’s your favourite food to eat?
I love my afang soup and poundo yam. I am also a rice man, lol.
As an actor, how do you choose the roles you take on, and what drew you to the character of Elijah in Breath of Life?
Roles I have played in the past have chosen me and not the other way around. When I read a script, I feel fear and the inability to drop that script until I am done.
That’s one of the signs, and the same was the case for Breath of Life. I couldn’t drop the script. I kept on reading, and it was captivating page by page, and by the time I was done reading, I saw tears rolling out of my eyes.
I quickly wiped them off because I thought I was being dramatic for crying over a screenplay, not until the premiere when I saw it with almost 100 people, and the entire hall was balling with tears.
Breath of Life explores profound themes. How do you personally connect with the movie’s messages or lessons?
One of the most profound themes in Breath of Life is love and sacrifice, some of the strongest qualities in any kind of relationship, whether friendship, relationship, or partnership. I am a product of love. I personally connect to these themes because I grew up in a home of love; my parents sacrificed so much for me and my other siblings to get an education, feed us, and become the humans we are today, for which I am very grateful.
Speaking of siblings, what was it like being Chimezie as a child compared to Chimezie as a young adult?
Chimezie as a kid is much like Chimezie as an adult thinking about it now.
I always wanted to work hard on everything I set my mind on. Growing up, I set up a dance crew cause I thought I was going to be the best dancer in Nigeria; I even joined the choir. My mum said I once told her I wanted to be the firstborn, so I guess I have always had the mindset of getting things done in the most excellent way I possibly could.
What, to you, is the meaning of life? What does life mean to you?
Hmm, life. That’s a very interesting question. The meaning of life is subjective and varies with individuals. For me, life is experiencing reality by interacting authentically with the environment and other individuals. Giving something back to the world through creativity and self-expression, and changing our attitude when faced with a situation or circumstance we cannot change. Above all, I try to enjoy life because we cannot get out of it alive.
In your opinion, what makes a film like Breath of Life relevant to audiences today?
We always need to be reminded that every individual on earth is here with a purpose. We should also remember the importance of love and sacrifice (and how they’re interlinked) because the greatest love of all is for a man to lay down his life for (his son) — God’s love and I think Breath of Life tried to remind us of that. To love, to find our purpose and fulfil it. “To love, to find our purpose and fulfil it.”
That said, what would you say is your purpose in life?
For me, simply bringing more joy into the lives of those around me brings me joy, whether through my talents or different acts of service.
I would say that’s my purpose, but as I go on in life, I discover even more purposes.
How do you balance staying true to a character’s essence and bringing your own unique interpretation to the role?
For me, to stay true to a character’s essence while adding my own touch, I deeply understand the character’s background, motivations, and emotions. I find personal connections to aspects of the character, allowing my perspective to enrich the portrayal.
I also experiment with different interpretations during rehearsals to discover what feels authentic yet distinctive. Balancing fidelity to the script and my creative input helps create a nuanced and unique performance.
Can you share a memorable or challenging moment from the set of Breath of Life that stands out in your mind?
One of the most memorable, challenging moments in Breath of Life for me would be the underwater scene, one of Elijah’s last scenes.
I had to give the director about 70 seconds uninterrupted underwater as it was a one-shot. We shot the scene for hours, and I almost caught a cold, but I loved the challenge.
Did you have to learn to swim for this role, or did you already know how?
I already knew how to swim before Breath of Life but never knew how to stay underwater for a long time, so I had to practice for about three weeks to stay underwater because the director wanted to have an uninterrupted 60-90 seconds of me underwater and we were able to achieve that.
How do you stay grounded and focused amid the film fast-paced and sometimes unpredictable nature?
Staying grounded in the film industry for me involves cultivating resilience. Staying committed to my craft, embracing uncertainties as opportunities for growth, and being adaptable to changes on or off set.
I try to establish routines that provide stability amid the unpredictability. Surround myself with a supportive network of peers and mentors, and practice mindfulness techniques to stay focused during the fast-paced nature of film production.
What advice would you give aspiring actors who look up to your work in Breath of Life?
Rejections are part of the journey. Learn from them, stay persistent, and use setbacks as motivation to improve.
Remember, every actor’s journey is unique. Stay true to your authentic self, and enjoy the process of growth and discovery in your craft.
Are there specific goals or milestones you hope to achieve in your acting career in the coming years?
I want to tell more great stories on a more global stage. Work with international filmmakers around the world, win an Oscar or two or gain other international recognition. Sounds cool, right?
I am excited for everyone to see a couple of projects in the works, and I am also going into producing this year, so keep your eyes on Chimezie.
Eki Ogunbor has a Vogue Fashion Certificate from Conde Nast College of Fashion & Design and also attended Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion and the University of Kent. Eki headed the Design Operations at a top Nigerian womenswear fashion brand before developing her own brand, KISARA. She is the Editor-At-Large at THEWILL DOWNTOWN.