You probably must have seen his face in a foreign movie or commercial TV ad without knowing he’s Nigerian. But in South Africa where he’s lived and worked since 2006, he’s won renown in that country’s entertainment industry. Welcome to the world of Dexter Nwanyi, Nigerian born but SA based actor, voice over artiste and model who has rubbed shoulders with the biggest names in the global movie scene including the likes of Nicolas Cage and Andrew Nichol. And now he wants to contribute his quota to Nollywood.
His story to the silver screen began in 1995 when he landed his first movie role in The Testament, which was directed by Lloyd Weaver, where he worked alongside Tunde Obe and Reginald Ebere. And ever since, he’s never looked back.
Dexter, a graduate of Public Administration admits that acting was never on his front burner, though as a youngster, he’d participated in dance dramas in school. However, a new passion was born after The Testament hit the screens. More appearances followed, notably in Cross Roads, a TV series, but the lure for greener pastures became enticing and so he left Nigeria for SA in late 1996.
In SA, his debut appearance was in a Lewis Stores video, directed by Clive Morris in 1998. Encouraged by the success, Dexter embraced the SA film industry and embarked on courses in Television Presenting & Directing.
This culminated in challenging call parts in local TV series like Egoli and Jozi Streets. Dexter began getting involved in TV commercials for South African brands such as Hyperama, ABSA, VW Polo Playa, and Nutriday. He also worked on TV commercials for Guinness, Milo, Gordon Spark, Globacom and FedEx.
In 2003, the Nigerian played the lead character, Rudolph, in a Sci-fi short film directed by acclaimed Swedish Director,
Jean Jonsson, which was later compressed into a popular commercial for Festis, a Swedish drink.
Commenting, Dexter said: “That appearance prepared me for small parts on big international productions such as The Long Firm, a BBC London TV production and Lord Of War, where I worked with Nicholas Cage and Andrew Nichol.”
He also acted in films like award-winning Cutting Silence, Linda Sokhulu & Vatiswa Ndara and Diamonds alongside Derek Jacobi and Judy Davis to mention a few.
If you’ve watched Jacob’s Cross, the highly successful TV series, then you just must have come across Dafe, the resilient fighter fighting for the rights of the Niger Delta. Nevertheless, Dexter considers more interesting, the quality of work and the experience garnered for almost three years the series ran in SA.
Among others, Dexter recently performed at the launch of Falling Skies, a Steven Spielberg/Fox TV production in South Africa and scripted and directed Armageddon, a stage production. He has also directed short films such as The Yeovil Apartment and The Inner City Drumbeats.
What does he consider the turning point in his career? “It would be that point I came to the conclusion that ‘Dexter, this is what you want to do.’ And to make it work, I needed to explore further. Since I was leaving the country, I knew I was going to pursue it. I went to the US where I spent time before moving over to South Africa where I got professional training in Television Presentation, Film Production and Directing.”
Dexter left Nigeria at a point Nollywood was picking up. Why did he make such a move? “I wanted something different, I wanted international experience and I’m glad I’ve got it now. Nollywood has grown over the years and achieved so much but there is still much to do. Nollywood is the biggest film industry in the world outside of Hollywood and Bollywood and I know I can add value,” Dexter says.
Every artiste has that moment when he feels most impressed with his effort, when cloud nine beckons. Dexter recalls with nostalgic smiles as he shares his cloud nine moments.
“I like the latitude I got in Festis, a science fiction film that was later converted to an advert. Festis is one of the leading soft drinks in Sweden. It was amazing and fascinating for me to do a proper science fiction film and play the leading role, Rudolf.
“Another one was Jacob’s Cross, where I played the character of Dafe. I liked the role because of what that character stands for. It was a vehicle for me to interpret the plight of the suffering masses in the Niger Delta. It is the area where most of Nigeria’s wealth comes from yet they are very impoverished,” he notes.
Having made a name in South Africa, you begin to wonder why Dexter would want to spend more time now in Nigeria.
“I am not really relocating to Nigeria but I want to do more work here,” he says, “there’s much more to be done in Nigeria. This is my home first and foremost and I need to leave an indelible mark.”
Specifically, he wants to do films differently: “I am talking about films that prioritise social ills; films that will help us understand each other better as human beings. Nollywood has done great. its impact is felt round the world, especially Africa.”
A comparative analysis of the film industry in SA and Nigeria by Dexter will disappoint Nollywood buffs who think we hold the ace in moviemaking in Africa. He explains why: “The industries are completely different. First of all, the South African film industry is specialised unlike Nigeria. In all the departments of filmmaking, they are properly trained and so organised that whatever you want, you get. And they have the right infrastructure because the government has taken a keen interest in the film industry because it is a money-spinner.
“Nollywood brings in money but it is in the hands of the private sector. Nollywood needs government to come in and set it up properly. If Nollywood has the right infrastructure, you will see it achieving greater things,” he says.
In the years to come, the Nigerian hopes to win an Oscar. This he believes would be a testament to his class. “My ambition is to win an Oscar. I have three movies I will be shooting soon. I am going to direct myself and they are very critical stories. I am going to shoot one in SA and I would be shooting the other two in Nigeria. I believe one of them will give me an Oscar,” Dexter concludes, upbeat.