Interview: Joseph Benjamin, The Evolution of a talented star
The TV host and actor stirred his career towards a path that is leading him to the peak. Starring in one of the biggest movies of last year, “Tango with me” with Genevieve Nnaji, his entrance into Nollywood went straight to big screen – something many actors can only dream about and since then he has been making blockbuster features that are clearly above the average! For 3 seasons, he ha co-hosted the biggest music reality show in Nigeria, MTN Project Fame – but 14 years ago Joseph Benjamin was working as a conductor… his life is one of many colors.
Enjoy our interview with this talented star.\
Somewhere in the family history, there was a silver spoon but along the line Joseph admits they lost the spoon and as a child he was left to fend for himself. For a child, the transition was difficult to comprehend but not for too long as he had to concentrate on the more important task of survival.
“It was tough and I was confused most of the time; but my mind was alert and my dreams stayed in my heart even though I found myself in situations that were far from what I had expected for myself.”
He grew up with his mother and his step-father, a Dutch. “He was a good man, very loving. For a child that is really all that matters beyond material wealth. Emotionally I was rich as a child” he says. It is easy to see that those intrinsic values have played a major role in the man he is today. The native of Igala, Kogi state grew up in Port-Harcourt and also had a good chunk of his maturing years in Makurdi.
“I have fond memories of my childhood, I wasn’t denied the opportunity to learn from my own mistakes. So when I look back, even though it wasn’t always smooth and comfortable for us, I remember it all with a smile.I believe I experienced a very robust childhood which I am grateful for.”
Life on the streets
Apart from the fact that he comes off as very pleasant and easy-going, there’s no trace of a rough and enduring past when you look at Joseph Benjamin.He has great confidence with a very piercing stare in his eyes that smacks faith in something sublime.
My life story is one that can give hope to many people. Sharing, for me, is a way of giving back to society, helping young and old who have giving up to dust their faith and let it work for them. In all of the tough years of my life, I never took my eyes away from the goal, and no matter what I was doing then to survive I knew I didn’t belong there, that conviction was the reason I would wake up every day. 15 years ago I still had my eyes peering into entertainment. I had done a few TV series and had made my ambition clear from the start that this is what I’d like to spend the rest of my life doing. 15 years ago I clung to the hope that there was light at the end of the tunnel;
I was still crawling in that tunnel and all I had was hope. I had done so many things to survive before getting into acting and entertainment – I had been a conductor, I had worked as a security guard, worked as a waiter; sold women’s shoes at Balogun market, and I also dabbled into IT.
“I had been a conductor, I had worked as a security guard, worked as a waiter, sold women’s shoes at Balogun market, and I also dabbled into IT”
Being on the streets trying to eek out a living was a whole educational process for Joseph. “They call it school of hard knocks,” he states. “The streets taught me the importance of standing on my feet; the significance of being independent. Since I have seen both ends of life – in lack and in comfort, it ingrained in me the value of hard work. There’s very little you can achieve if you despise hard work. The streets made me whole; it made me confident and wiped every trace of naivety.” And he came out of it stronger and ready to face a bigger world with more rewarding opportunities.
Life in the limelight
The first time we paid serious attention to the Joseph Benjamin brand was when he walked up that stage with his cohost, Adaora Oleh, for the second season of MTN Project Fame. The match was flawless and when they spoke it was certain the organizers got the pair just right! From diction to composure, witty banter to good spirits, they dulled any other show of its kind on TV. It was Mr. Benjamin’s one-ticket flight to fame! “I owe my present position of success to the opportunity of hosting MTN Project Fame.
It is a platform that brought credibility to my brand. It exposed my talent and gave me that continuity that is very important for any TV personality; and because the show has grown bigger in every season it also gave me the opportunity to grow into my own and become more confident and assured of what my brand can deliver on different platforms – as an actor or whatever I choose to do as a creative person.”
Tango with Joseph Benjamin
After 3 successful seasons of the music reality show, and over 20 Neo-Nollywood features buttered with great reviews in the press and an impressive lifestyle, credible awards and tons of nominations both home and abroad, Joseph is not only grappling with the amazing reality of his turn-around success, but he has to keep up with the stereotype of being a “ladies’ man”.
“The fans are important,” he states “and at no time should anyone disrespect or disregard their fans. But you need to draw the line and that is where wisdom and a lot of patience come in. Everyone wants to be associated with something rare and positive, you can’t blame them for that and you should never take advantage of it. The fact that people admire what you do and are inspired by you can be very intriguing, but it can be burdensome sometimes because you are placed on a pedestal that makes you unable to make human mistakes without being judged ruthlessly.
To have so many people appreciate you is to ensure that you keep them believing that you are above certain mistakes which can be exasperating. Nonetheless, any misconception is a small price for the goal ahead. So if it can be handled, I handle it professionally. If it can’t, I let it go.”
The next phase
It will come as a surprise to many that Joseph Benjamin can sing and is about to make a life out of it. “Music is actuaLly my first love. I am not about to experiment with it. I have been singing actively for many years in the choir and have been honing my talent for years.
It just happened that TV and acting came before music, but music is dear to my heart and I am not a rookie. I was just waiting for the right time to push that part of me, and I believe the time is now. I know people are weary when actors branch into music and some will say most of them never make it through, but how would I ever know if I don’t give it a try? I know passion is not enough, but what I have is passion and talent in music and I owe it to myself to give it my best shot, so that’s the next phase for me and I am very excited about it.”
To have so many people appreciate you is to ensure that you keep them believing that you are above certain mistakes which can be exasperating…
Apart from music, Joseph is putting together an inspirational book about his evolution. “Yes, I am working on that. I got feedbacks on an interview I had on radio where I shared my story and I have decided to make a coffee-table book of what experiences I gathered whilst becoming who I am. If the book can inspire one young person to hold on to his/her dream then it would have achieved its aim.”
Nollywood, Dear Nollywood!
Joseph is not one of those who would try to knock Nollywood down even if the reasons are valid… “and that is because Nollywood is a progression we all must appreciate,” he says. Having featured in some of the best works from Nollywood in the last couple of years – from Tango with me to Mr&Mrs, “Single and Married” and “Kiss&Tell”, Joseph stands on the premise that… “Nollywood has come a long way. People had to start from point A so that others can get to point Z. Coming into Nollywood when I did, it was only proper for me to position myself for big screen and take on roles that are far and above average. So it is a deliberate plan to build my brand on a platform that defines what Neo-Nollywood is trying to achieve, which is better quality in filmmaking. But we wouldn’t have gotten this far if we don’t understand and appreciate the undeniabLe growth this industry has recorded in such a short time.”
The life of a believable actor
Being able to carry the viewers along is a huge task for any actor, and the good ones take it to heart. What makes one a good actor and the other poor? Joseph believes real emotions play a key role. “I believe it has to do with building emotional connection with the character. It is the ability to plunge into the reality of the character. Be embarrassing if you must; do not unconsciously have it at the back of your mind that it is a character – let go and sink deep into it. Explore new realms of acting possibilities.”
Trivia on Joseph Benjamin
What are you in Love with at the moment?
Music. When it is time for the next level you are obsessed with what might take you there. I have real hopes for my music career.
Everyone has a cocky side. What are you cocky about?
I am sure I can deliver whenever I am called to get the job done.
What conclusions have you drawn from being a celebrity in a hard- to-contain vain society?
I know that life will make way for you no matter the opinion of others. You owe it to yourself to get better, but you can’t please every single person out there, it is not your job.
Do you think your talent would have been recognized if you didn’t come with good looks?
Talent is big enough to get you anywhere you want to go, no matter how vain the world gets.
What’s your best movie role so far?
I would say my best movie role so far was the role I took on in the movie STRIPPED. It was quite challenging and demanding.
Where do you see yourself in another 10 years?
A great music career, international awards, and a good fuse with Hollywood’s best.