Hot, sizzling and more-hot are just a few words to describe Bryan Okwara, the first ever winner of the Mr. Nigeria pageant in 2007. As a model, Bryan has graced the catwalk of stages across Africa and Americaand has served as ambassadors for brands such as Audi, Guiness, Knorr and Globacom. He made it to the semi-final stage at the Mr. World pageant in 2007 and won the award for Most Outstanding African Male Model at the Nigerian Models Achievers Awards 2010 and Model of the Year at the Mode Men Awards 2011. His acute dancing skills were brought to the fore as a contestant in the Reality TV Show, Celebrity Takes 2 and more recently, he has graced our TV screens with movie roles in “Heart To Heart”, “I’ll Take My Chances” and yet to be released “Weekend Getaway”, “True Citizens” and “Awakening”. The 6 feet 1” model with well-chiseled abs and an attractive face is a favourite for magazine covers and has graced the covers of magazines such as WOW, Bloke, Shakara and Greenland.
Five years after winning the title as Mr. Nigeria, Bryan Okwara is still being called “Mr. Nigeria”. At the E-center in Lagos where we meet for the interview, everyone still calls him that. He is friendly, greeting the security guards, waiters and shop attendants who all seem to be familiar with him. “Silverbird is my home”, he says about the organizers of the Mr. Nigeria pageant whose office is just beside the E-center. We sit down to chat at Koko Lounge which is quiet in the morning and I had an interesting time getting to know Bryan behind the glam of lights and cameras.
The “Bryan of All Trades”
Tell me about your journey across your different careers – TV presenting, modeling, acting…
I originally started out as a model, and coming from back then, it wasn’t anything to look forward to. And then, I went in to NIGEZIE and started working as a TV presenter for a couple of years before I went in for Mr. Nigeriapageant. Luckily I won and then moved on from there. For someone who is multi-talented, you get to a point in life where you ask yourself that “Are you going to die with all these talent, why don’t you just explore” so I came out and here I am.
You’re quite famous for TV presenting, modeling, dancing and acting. Which one do you feel more comfortable with?
Surprisingly you haven’t mentioned it. I have a passion for singing. If you hear me in the bathroom, you’d think I was Michael Jackson. My manager is pushing me to go to the studio but I haven’t done anything yet. I’d love to sing R&B.
So you’re still just a bathroom singer (pun intended)
Honestly, I really love singing.
The Nigerian modeling industry is more saturated now than when you started out with a lot of new models and new faces. How do you remain relevant as a model now that you have more people to compete with?
You have to be very consistent and hardworking. You’re not getting any younger, any fitter, any faster so you have to train yourself. But with us experienced models, we’ve been there and we know what the clients want so it gives us a little bit of an edge over the new models.
You entered for the Mr. Nigeria Pageant during its maiden edition which was a time when male pageants weren’t as popular as they are now in Nigeria. What made you take that decision?
Initially, I didn’t want to go for it because I thought I wasn’t cut out for it. The image I had of a Mr. Nigeria was someone who could speak all the Nigerian languages, someone who was very Nigerian in his ways, had tribal marks and stuff like that. But a lot of people advised me to go for it. I went for it and saw that it was actually bigger than what people perceived. They take someone who is an all-rounder. I won the competition not by myself, but because a lot of people brought out things in me that I really didn’t know that I had.
Bryan with some of his award
What was your experience like during your reign as Mr. Nigeria?
It was amazing. I won Mr. Nigeriain 2007 and people still call me Mr. Nigeriauntil tomorrow. I think I made a great impression on people but I really don’t know what it is. Going for Mr. World was also a great experience for me.
Getting On to the Big Screen
How did you get your first movie role?
My first movie was shot in South Africa called Heart To Heart. A lot of people don’t know that. It was directed by Mr Remi, the CEO of Africa Awake in 2008. He got a group of people, gave me a crash course and handed me my first script. It was a really good story but acting is very rigorous. I did my very best. It was later when I came back to Nigeriathat I was casted for “I’ll Take My Chances”. They called me and offered me this really huge role. Desmond actually took time off to coach me. I spent four hours every day for two weeks learning a dance routine. It’s an accomplishment that I was happy to be part of.
You had a lead role starring alongside Ini Edo in “I’ll Take My Chances”. What was it like working with her?
It was a really great experience. Ini is a five star actress. If you are acting alongside Ini, you just have to be good because if you are not, her reaction to you would make you sit up. She is the kind of person that will be laughing with you one minute and when they say “action”, she is another person. Working with her at an early stage of my acting career has been a blessing because I got a lot of grounding with her.
Bryan grace the cover page of WOW Magazine
What informs the choice of movies you agree to be cast in?
If the script has a very great story line and I can see myself being that character, I’ll do it. If I don’t like the story, it would show in my acting because throughout the movie, I would be forcing myself to be that character and I won’t do that.
A Peek into the world of Bryan
I doubt that you studied acting in school. What course did you study?
I studied International Relations part-time at the Lagos State Universitybecause I was working at Nigezie at that time.
When you were younger, what did you dream of becoming in future?
I always wanted to recycle. I wanted to own a company where I could recycle stuff like bottle, plastic, paper. When I was little and anything spoils in the house, I take it and I keep it; so if you were looking for anything that was broken or spoilt, I had it. I always thought I could bring them back to life.
Where did you grow up and what is your family like?
I grew up mostly in Satelite Town, Lagos, but I spent a few years in Americawhen I was a teenager. Most of my family don’t live here, they live abroad. I have two sisters and four brothers – the famous seven, seven lucky kids. I lost my Mum in 2003. The rest of us keep in touch. Now my siblings are everywhere- America, Paris, Turkey, Bulgaria, South Africa, and Dubai.
What is your definition of a beautiful woman?
A woman who is comfortable in whatever she sees herself in. A woman who exudes confidence whether she’s slim, fat, not attractive; a woman who is not oppressed easily.
And what is her beautiful name?
Her name is Bunmi Ademokoya.
Are there any plans of you taking your relationship with her to the next level?
We’ve been dating for over three years. There is no point being in a relationship with someone you are not committed to. We are committed to each other and we are just going to give it all we can.
You have a physique that most guys would envy. What do you do to keep fit?
When I was in South Africa, the facilities to work out were more available to me than in Nigeria. I try to work out three times a week, but I would love to do more like five times a week. I do my push-ups, sit ups, squats, sometimes I do mountain climbing and I pretty much eat right.
When was the last time you had a hair cut?
It was in late 2008. After I won Mr. Nigeria, I cut off the relaxed hair and started growing virgin hair. But I wasn’t in Nigeriaso nobody saw me.
Did you just decide one day to grow your hair or was it more like an experience you later felt comfortable with?
If you are going into a career in the entertainment industry, you have to evaluate yourself and see if you are marketable, find good selling points that would make people take a second look at you. So when I was going into modeling, it was one of the discussions I had earlier with my people and they said- “give it a try”.
We are used to seeing you in your traditional corn rows. What informed your choice of your new hair style?
I make my hair at Hair Whispers Den somewhere in Lekki and the lady that runs the place is really talented, she became my personal stylist. And she looked at me and said “Bryan, you have a lot of hair, why don’t you try something else?” She said she was going to do a ‘Twist Lock’. I was skeptical but she turned my back to the mirror and started twisting my hair. At the end of the day, it came out well.
Bryan and Bunmi Ademokoya
How long have you had this style on?
About a month and a week ago.
How much do you spend on your hair every month?
Not more than N20,000
Nigerian men are now more fashionable than ever before. They are wearing colours that were formerly strictly for ladies and getting really daring with fashion. What do you think is responsible for this?
The fashion industry now is something you can’t do without; it is something that has pronounced itself. Men of before would want to keep the conventional black suits, short hair, but now we have embraced a lot and now with the way things are done now, we are getting there. We have created a really huge niche in the fashion industry and those who dare to be different have stepped up. We are now embracing it.
What is your own fashion style like? What informs your choice of dressing?
I dress to impress. Sometimes I just want to look different, sometimes presentable, sometimes I want to dress to the occasion and not look apart. There are some designers whose attention to details fits my taste. Designers like Mai Atafo, House of J’Ola, Iviano Signatures.
Tell me about your most embarrassing moment
I went to the ATM to withdraw money and I forgot I had spent some money in my account such that it was less than what I wanted to withdraw. I met a long queue. When I was tired of standing, I sat for a while but when it was almost my turn I got up and a lady who had taken up my position and got into a mild argument with me. Eventually, I had my way and went to the machine only for me to punch in the amount I wanted to withdraw and got the message “insufficient funds”. The lady who was standing right behind me saw the screen and burst out laughing “Ha ha ha, he no even get money sef”.
What was your most romantic date?
Valentine’s Day in 2009. I was in New York with my girlfriend and while we were having dinner, I gave her a Valentine gift which she was quite happy with. But earlier, I had given the waiter a bigger and better gift to bring for her saying it was from an anonymous person. They brought it while we were eating. It was awkward at first but at the end of the day, she knew that it was from me.
I was 13. We didn’t know what we were doing; we were just doing what we see on TV.
Ralphie has no memory of a phlegmatic moment from childhood but grew up to be described as composed, 'calm, cool, and collected', controlled, serene, tranquil, placid, impassive, imperturbable, unruffled... loves reading, writing, traveling, making friends and sharing thoughts. When he's not working on projects and executing startups, he is researching and writing.