Sunday, December 12, 2010

Interview with Ngo Okafor: "I can be Anything I Want to Be"

The most downloaded black male model on the internet. And yes, he is Nigerian. I got a chance to catch up with him on his current projects, and how he keeps in shape.

E&W: I know you have your hands in a lot of things, but when people ask you what you do, what do you say?
Ngo: I tell them that I’m a brand. The reason why I do so many things is because I have the opportunity to, and it’s all part of my brand. Because what I’m trying to promote is the idea that you can do anything if you just work hard and focus. I started out doing Computer Science, which is what I studied in college, and was successful at it. And then I went into modeling, put my energy into it, got pretty successful. And then I got into acting, and then boxing, and I’m getting successful at that too. I don’t want to put myself in a box so that if say I wake up one morning and want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, I can do it without hesitation. I have no desire to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, but you know what I mean.

E&W: I laugh. I mean you don’t see too many Nigerian men climbing mountains and what not.
Ngo: Exactly! But if I wanted to do anything, I want to wake up and feel like I can do it. I want people to hear my story and feel like they can do anything they want, and not fall into one box.

E&W: Tells us a little about your history and how you got into boxing, modeling, and acting?
Ngo: When the economy was going up and down, I got laid off from my job as an IT Specialist. That was great because it got me thinking and I realized that I didn’t want to go back to the corporate world. I felt like I wanted to try something new. The arts were really always at the back of my mind, but growing up Nigerian, it was always about science, science, science. There was a photographer at my gym that had always said he wanted to work with me, but I ignored it because I felt I had a comfortable job and I didn’t need to venture out.
So after I lost my job, I asked him to take some pictures. We took the pictures to modeling agencies and they really liked the images, so they agreed to represent me, and started sending me for jobs. I was really lucky that I started working right away.

E&W: With boxing you were pretty bold though, right? You said you started doing it seriously in your thirties?
Ngo: Yes, I remember my first day at the boxing gym was October 2005. That was the first day I ever walked into a boxing gym. I was so mesmerized that I started training every day. I felt like this was my chance to play a sport. Luckily, I advanced so much and won the Golden Glove championships twice within three years.

Readers, if you didn’t know, the New York Golden Glove Championship is like the most prestigious amateur boxing championship outside of the Olympics. People come from all over the world to fight in the Golden Glove because it’s a great place to showcase your talent.

E&W: So are you planning to go further with your boxing talent?
Ngo:  Right now, it’s not my goal. My goal was to compete in the tournament and win, and I did that. But as a competitive person, I do wonder from time to time about how I would do if I took boxing to the professional level. But I want to focus my energy more on acting and producing films. I still train every day though, and the truth is that in life, you never really know how much your goals can change from one day to the next.

E&W: So you’re Nigerian. Can you tell me a little about your ties to Nigeria right now?
Ngo: I was born in Massachusetts while my dad was getting his PhD. But he always knew that he wanted his kids to grow up in Nigeria, learn the culture, the language, and get close to family. So when he was done, we moved back. I was probably about a year and a half when we moved back, and I live in Nigeria till I was 18. Half of my life actually. 

E&W: Where in Nigeria did you grow up?
Ngo: I grew up in Enugu, which is in eastern Nigeria. My parents live in Maryland right now, but I still have a lot of family back in Nigeria so I do maintain a lot of ties back home.

E&W: Okay. So I know you were working on a documentary about your life in Nigeria. Can you tell us a little about that?
Ngo: Yes, it’s called ‘Triumph of the Will’. I’m still working on it right now, but we’re hoping to have it done early next year.

E&W: You’re also releasing a calendar as part of the same project, right? 
Ngo: Yes, it will be part of the documentary because the funds that we raise from the sales of the calendar will go to charity in Nigeria, and the calendar sales will be shot as part of the documentary.

E&W: Can you tell us a little about what the documentary will be about?
Ngo: We’re basically going to try to show my life full circle. Coming from Nigeria definitely helped shape who I am. Nigerians are taught to be strong, tough, and proud from the day we’re born. The toughness has definitely helped me in the ring, but the pride was also what kept me from giving in whenever things got a little tough.

E&W: So when you say full circle, it’s your life coming from Nigeria here and how both cultures have affected you?
Ngo: Exactly. It’s just documenting what my life was like there, my life here, the modeling, acting, and boxing, and then going back and seeing things from a different perspective than when I was there.

E&W: So you’ll be shooting part of the documentary in Nigeria?
Ngo: Definitely. We’ll be shooting in Enugu, going to houses where I grew up, and the schools that I went to. I went to the University of Nsukka in Nigeria for a little bit as well. So we’ll also shoot out there.

E&W: Apart from the documentary, you also had a workout DVD a while back. Do you have any plans to release more?
Ngo: Hmmm… not right now. My focus right now is on acting and producing. I’m not a great multi-tasker. I’m the type of person that picks one thing to focus on at a time, excel at it, and then move on to the next thing.

E&W: For the documentary, workout DVD, calendar, or any other recent movies or projects you’ve worked on, have you had to do any special training? What was that like?
Ngo:For the DVD and the calendar, I had to switch up my training a little bit because the training for boxing and for modeling are very different. For modeling, you train more for leanness and the look. For boxing, it’s more about quickness and strength; a boxer is not too concerned about his looks. So for the DVD and calendar, it was a lot of lifting and dieting. I had to cut down my carbs. So my workout usually went like this: I would run for about 30 minutes and bike for 30 minutes in the morning. Then I would come back in the evening and do my strength training. For strength training, I usually split it into body parts per day. So arms one day, back and shoulders another, and then legs another day.

E&W: Wowee! That’s your schedule for when you want to build lean muscle. So if you were not training for your calendar, what would your normal workout schedule look like?
Ngo:Now my normal training is: boxing for about an hour, and then I would strength train. But one really important thing for me on a day to day basis is to keep my workout constantly changing. So I try to circuit train a lot with bits of cardio in between different sets when I strength train to keep my heart rate up. One thing I try to incorporate into my regular strength training is like six weeks of different body parts per day, and then six weeks of mixing up body parts each day. That is to make sure my body does not get too used to the workouts.
E&W: What about food? I think for most Africans, keeping our diet balanced is even more difficult than heading to the gym. What does your diet look like?
Ngo:Well, I can’t eat pounded yam and garri if I want to do a calendar. I would eat pounded yam and egusi soup every day for the rest of my life if I could. That’s my favorite meal. But to keep in shape, I wake up every morning and eat about four eggs and a bowl of oatmeal. For lunch, I usually do rice or potatoes with chicken or beef. I’m trying to eat my vegetables, so at night I usually eat some vegetables with some meat. I don’t do much snacking, so it’s three meals and that’s it.

E&W: What about supplements? Do you taken any?
Ngo: I try not to. Unless I’m training for a fight, I usually don’t do supplementation. I do the regular multivitamins daily and that’s enough for me. If I was training for a fight, I would take protein shakes during the day.

E&W: What’s your secret though? How do you keep so physically focused? Whether it’s exercise, food, or boxing, how do you stay on target?
Ngo: Fear. Fear of losing. The entertainment industry is not like medicine or engineering where there are thousands of positions. Instead, there are so few spots and so many people vying for that one job. When you rely on your body for your livelihood, that’s certainly good motivation.

E&W: Lastly, at Eights & Weights, we are very focused on the words ‘Healthy’ and ‘Happy’. What do these mean to you?
Ngo: Health and happiness to me is about freedom to think, freedom to do anything I want to do, and being able to do what I want to do health wise. I’m not talking about having a six pack. If I wanted to run up the stairs and not get breathless, I can do that. Health also consists of healthy thinking. Our minds control our bodies, and so whatever state of mind we are in usually reflects how we look. If I can control the way I think, I can get fitter. For example, if I am immediately inclined to take the stairs when the elevator is not working, that’s a sign that I’m thinking healthily. This is basically being mentally and physically ready and strong to do anything.

To learn more about Ngo’s projects, and to buy his calendars (ladies, you know you want to) and workout DVDs (guys, you know you want to), visit Look out for his documentary next year.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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