Prince Sonni Chidiebere is a Nigerian born South African actor, who began his acting career through television commercials. Thereafter he got various roles in different television series and Hollywood films. In this interview by Daniel Abel, he talks about his recent role in an ongoing BET series, ‘Redemption,’ in the South African movie industry and other issues. Excerpts:
What are your motivations and why did you choose to be an actor?
Acting has always been in my blood I guessed, I’ve always seen acting as a means of expressing oneself and right from my primary school days in Nigeria, it’s something I’ve always done. I’ve always took part in local primary school drama. It’s something I find joy doing so, it’s in my blood.
How would you describe your journey so far?
It has been quite fulfilling considering where I come from. It’s been a long journey though, having come all the way from Nigeria. There is an expression that ‘if you can survive in Nigeria, you can survive anywhere in the world,’ So, it’s been great, coming from Nigeria many years ago to South Africa and having the opportunity to discover professional platforms in terms of acting and it has really taken me far. I’ve featured in many Hollywood films and local films as well so yes, it has been great.
What made you decide to be part of ‘Redemption’ which is your recent project?
When I read the script, the character, Pastor Akim was something that I could relate to having come from Nigeria, you know Nigeria is multi-religious, so when I read the script it was something that motivated me in terms of a character that is able to bring back faith to the congregants, a character that is able to be there when the congregation or the church is going through some moral turbulence. The Akim character was able to hang in with the church and body of Christ to instill faith, discipline and give hope to the congregants and it’s something I’m passionate about.
How easy was it for you to embody the character of pastor Akim?
First of all, they say for you to carry the cross ‘Christ’, you have to portray the image of a lamb and when it comes to a lamb as an animal, when you observe its characteristics, they are very powerful animals but they are very submissive and not aggressive. Therefore, I had to tailor my character towards such animal’s characteristics as a character that is not aggressive but very strong internally but at the same time very humble. Humility being the background of my character, I am able to take a lot of humiliation, insults and all kinds of shenanigans but the main focus for my character is to carry the body of Christ forward so that you can restore faith in the people that believe in Christ.
How was it working with other cast and what was your most challenging experience on this project?
The toughest for me is my character, you know having been with the Zikode family and the church and having helped to build the church from the scratch, so it was very tough for me as a character to turn around and not be want to be a member of the church.
So, it was quite difficult for a church I built after so much sweat and hard work and all of a sudden, you have to leave it behind, so it wasn’t easy emotionally. Also, one of my toughest moments in the series was the death of Pastor Simon. During the memorial service where I had to become a father figure to his son, Zwalaki and even though I am not happy as I know what is going on in the church, I had to keep that behind to be the father figure that the church needed at the time, so it was quite difficult.
What is the take away for viewers in the series and what should they expect?
‘Redemption’ is a story told within the backdrop of the church but this is about family, this story is about greed and it sheds light on what family can do and what length a family can go to protect each other even in doing things that are not right. So, the viewer’s takeaway for me would be that, within the context of a family, we all go through issues as family and individually but it’s very right that you protect your own but there is always the law of karma, there is always a price to pay at the end, so it’s important that we do the right thing and continue to have faith knowing that with God, all things are possible. And whatever issues you are having in good time, it will be resolved in the right way.
What was the fondest moment for you on the set of Redemption?
The fondest part of the film for me was basically the fact that I had to learn to forgive, learn to grow and rise above petty politics within the church or the family and became a growth point for me and at the same time, it was fun for me working with all of the cast even though I am the only Nigerian in the entire cast. It was fun learning from other actors and their cultures and what they bring forth to the story.
So stepping away from Redemption, you have been in South Africa for a while now, how would you describe the movie industry and how have you been coping over there?
The South African movie industry has come a long way in terms of many years ago, when there was no platform such as DSTV, Netflix and all these platforms today. The growth opportunities are there and currently, there is an emergence of a lot of young directors and lots of interest in terms of local stories and content and it has definitely grown. Compare to the Nigerian industry, the Nigerian film industry grew organically and surpassed anything you can think of within the continent, so South Africa is still doing a catch up in terms of large content creation compared to the Nigerian industry. But I must say it has grown, currently there are a lot of stories being told and most of these stories seem to be African stories which make me to believe that African stories are beginning to come to light globally and it is a huge opportunity for everyone in the industry so, it’s something to keep our eyes on.
What influences you and how have you honed your skills?
First of all, there are lots of tools to help you from the scratch, from the streets of Johannesburg and over a period of time, I was able to have access to great tools like local acting classes and voice training classes and it has been great. I also have to give credit to my agency, Emalay, they were able to provide me with resources such as very reputable acting coaches and other things which helped to brush one up in terms of talent and make one more competitive. I was able to tap into these tools and to be able to foster one’s talent.
Which actor is you role model and who influence your love for acting and inspires you?
First of all, I’ve been inspired by many great actors from the ones I’ve played roles with such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Don Cheadle, and many other Hollywood actors. You always learn something; you are constantly learning and improving so you learn from each other. So, I’ll say I’m like a sponge; I like to soak it up from different actors. I remember one time, we did a story called ‘please forgive me,’ this was a short musical story for Drake and was such an intense and exciting experience so, you always learn from different characters and different actors not a particular actor but from different people.
Is there any project you are currently working onthat you would like us to lookout for?
Nothing in the pipeline but I tested for one or two other Hollywood films and I am still waiting for the directors’ final decision and hopefully, I will be able to give a hint from that point.
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