Life has a way of imitating art. For Ifan Ifeanyi Michael, it has been the other way round. The Nigerian celebrity stylist, actor and filmmaker has come a long way from the destitute 10-year- old he once was.
IFAN IFEANYI Michael starts narrating his life story on a Zoom call from Lagos, Nigeria. A call girl, sexual abuse… and it unravels in ways that could put to shame movie scripts. But that’s how this Nigerian actor, director and brand consultant traversed seemingly impossible odds to become the success he is today.
A FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list-maker in 2021and recipient of the African Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, Michael, at this interview, talks about what shaped his life, and is overwhelmed with emotions reliving some of the most traumatic episodes from his childhood.
He just cannot shake them off.
“I was sexually abused by a barber because I needed a place to stay and I did not want to be thrown out on the streets. But still, I was kicked out of the house at 1AM in the morning,” Michael says starkly.
Today, he is a living testament that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. He left his home in Port Harcourt in Nigeria at the age of 10 to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker in Lagos.
“I came to Lagos to meet a marketer to sell my story to him. When I got to Lagos, his phone was switched off and I couldn’t reach him… I didn’t think I was going to be duped. I was excited to showcase my work,” says Michael.
He was left stranded but made his way to a popular hotel in Lagos frequented by the
film fraternity, hoping to find someone who would believe in his script and help him actualize his dream.
“It was just survival for me. I had nowhere to go. Am I going back to my parents’ two-room where there was seven of us, or who am I going to call?”
He vividly remembers some of the older passengers on the bus to Lagos, who asked where his parents were even as he prayed fervently that they would not take him back home.
Once in Lagos, there was no turning back for young Michael. He had to make things work. He bumped into a lady who was working as a call girl who luckily took him in and provided him a temporary place to stay.
“In the morning, she would bring us in to sleep and in the afternoon, we left so she could get ready for her clients. She felt sorry for me because I was very young. There were times I was not even eating,” recalls Michael.
During the day, he would go to every audition in town to land roles as an extra to make ends meet. He believed the only way to fulfill his dream of becoming a filmmaker was to have more grit and tenacity than the other dreamers who wanted to make it in Nollywood.
“The money was really bad at that time but it was good for food and daily expenses. I used to move all over the place to audition for different roles until I got my first break. I reached out to the producer of the movie and told him how passionate I was. He told me he had someone else for the role. So, I looked for his address and traveled all the way to find him and I told him and he was so surprised.
“I didn’t even have a way to go back home so he let me sleep in his place and that morning he gave me the script for The Evangelist and that was my biggest break in acting,” says Michael.
The hustle didn’t stop there. Michael also began doing public relations for upcoming music artists by taking their CDs to the local marketplace to create awareness about them. The PR hustle landed him a lucrative gig with a new hotel that gave him the capital he needed to finally realize his ambition of becoming a filmmaker.
Lotana, his first feature film, tells the story of a young man who discovers he has to offset a huge debt to a loan shark owed by his father before his sudden death.
Michael admits he has no educational background, but managed to carve out a niche in the Nigerian entertainment industry with nothing but determination.
And he has many roles.
As a fashion stylist, he has worked with some of the top celebrities in Lagos. He is also the founder of a publicity management company dedicated to the media and entertainment industry.
“The dream even at that time has always been to live my truth in terms of bringing my vision to life. I know I wanted to be an actor and filmmaker and tell stories and let my story influence people as well. I see things and approach situations differently so it has been a major motivation. Everything that I went through I just knew I was unstoppable,” says Michael.
Lotana was released in 2016 and went on to win 10 awards out of 13 nominations at the Golden Movie Awards in Ghana. In 2020 too, he won big for his film Foreigner’s God. With his eyes firmly set on his next feature film, he is one of the inspirational young film talents in Nollywood.
The show must go on.