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‘Curiousity led me to acting’

Could you tell us what your first acting experience was like? I have been doing this for seventeen years. My first experience was actually on…

Could you tell us what your first acting experience was like?

I have been doing this for seventeen years. My first experience was actually on the soap opera, Checkmate. But I played a very small role in it. After that, the late JT Tom West took me to my first audition for the role of ‘Omono’ for the film When the sun sets. There were so many people there when I got there on the second day. As you know in Nigeria, man know man syndrome came in to play with those who were known being called in first. After waiting for hours and with hunger pangs setting in I decided to leave.

I didn’t even know what it was about; curiosity,really was what took me there. So, I said to JT, “I am hungry and I want to go home.” He took me down to get some snacks when we stumbled on Reginald — a producer and writer. He inquired about me and persuaded me to stay on and promised me to audition me in good time. True to his word, he did.

There were Opa Williams, Dan Onuigbo, and Madu Chikwendu. There were also Sandra Achums, Victoria Iyama and about two other people. Then they told me, ‘Your sister is a prostitute and she just came tell you. React.’ I was taken aback because I was expecting that they would give me a piece of paper to read and act something out. But I had to do what they asked and I did what I could. When I finished they told me they would get back to me. But in my mind I had shot it off and concluded that nobody would call me. Two weeks later, I got a message saying we had been narrowed down to two for the lead role. The other person already had experience with film but I was new.

The executive producer thought that my face would not sell the film if they used me as lead. I was referred to as a greenhorn and asked me to take the second role. I was very happy being given that opportunity and willingly accepted the offer. But the director, Ifeanyi Anyafulu, kicked against it and insisted on having a fresh face. That’s how I got my first chance at acting.

Many actors and actresses have the same experience that you did initially which seals off the opportunity for them, unlike in your case. What is your take on that; because if nobody gives them an opportunity, how do they get to be known?

It obtains everywhere because nobody wants to take a chance on somebody new. All over the world people are not willing to take a chance on new faces. There is always scepticism. The onus lies on you to prove yourself. You just have to keep trying and eventually somebody will likely pick you out if you have distinguished yourself.

How much were you paid for that?

Thirty thousand naira.

That was a lot …

O yes. For 1993 in Nollywood it was a lot and for a first-timer. I think I saved it up. I don’t remember what exactly I did with it. I have always been very thrifty with money. Even during my NYSC days I never touched my allowance because I did many other things on the side to make money.

Was it joblessness that made you accept JT’s offer?

No, I think I was just inquisitive. I was not entirely new to the screen; I had done the advert with Shield deodorant in 1990, I was already modelling, I had been on calendars and all sorts of other things. I had done a small video with Segun Arinze and a few others for Tom Freckles.

In that environment you get to meet a lot of people and that was great excitement for me.

You started at a time when many didn’t have faith in the industry and actresses in particular were perceived in negative light. Did you face any objections from your family?

When I was still in my final year I was a bit lackadaisical with my studies. Not that I failed or any such thing, I actually did very well. But I didn’t give it the one hundred per cent attention I needed to give it. I was always doing something outside school work; like being an usher at some show or the next, or at the Lagos motor show and similar things like that.

Then, one day, I said to my father that I did not want to be a medical doctor. I wanted to become a musician. He tried very hard to discourage me, saying musicians do not make money and went ahead to threaten that he would not pay my fees any more. It didn’t bother me because I had enough money to take care of myself. For my mum, she kept saying to me, ‘be careful just; be careful.’

I really didn’t give too many thoughts to how actresses were perceived. I was just excited about it and curious. But, it was quite intimidating for me, but for people like Bob-Manuel who helped me feel comfortable. That was how Sandra and I became very close friends. There was Kanayo O. Kanayo, the late Funmi Martins, Franca Brown, uncle Emma Edokpaye and so many people who were willing to help you grow. Then, we worked together like a family unlike today where people do not even greet or want to relate with you. Most of the scenes were shot on location at the executive producer’s house, Dr. Kachukwu, where we slept on the floor or anywhere one could find space to lay his head. There were no airs or grievances. Today, everyone is feeling hype and on top of the world.

Would you say your decision to stay on has paid off?

Yes, it has. I have no regrets at all and I believe this is really what I was destined to do. Medical will help because there are scenes in the movies where they need specialist advice and I come in. I believe no knowledge is lost.

Having been in Nollywood all these years, what can you say is the problem with the industry?

The industry started running on its own without any standards being set. There was no structure or guidance. If years ago we had set down rules and guidelines to be followed and maintained, it would not be like this. People’s refusal to change and upgrade to make things better in Nollywood is our bane. People are not ready to spend money to do the right thing. They always want to cut corners – I think that is the Nigerian way- they want the fastest and easiest route without thinking about the bigger picture.

What have you contributed towards correcting that?

I can only correct and improve on a project that I am personally involved in. Mine is to insist on things being done the right way. The script has to be good with the right costumes, make-up and accessories that go with the production. Tenses and grammar are also very important for me. I can only do the little I can in my own small space.

When you have a standard and people want to involve you they know they have to operate at your level.

Which movie has been your most challenging?

It was the one that won me my award of Best Actress at the African Movie Academy Award, Stronger than pain. I had never done that kind of movie before and this time I had to dig deep to bring out that character. I was not the crying girl but the strong and imposing character.

For my worst, I deliberately cannot remember what it was. If I could go into the market and get hold of all the copies available, I would burn them off.

You have never talked about the reports on Sammie Okposo, Stella Damasus and you.

(Hearty laughter) … and I still won’t talk about it.

How did making Sleeping with the enemy impact on you?

Women will go to the moon and do anything to make their man happy. We will undermine ourselves and lose our individuality in the name of love. But is love worth all of these?

Do women have a choice on what roles they play?

No, not as an upcoming actor. If you want to get your face out there you have no choice. By this I do not mean you should play roles where you have to do strip tease or anything insane. It is your personal choice to want to do something that will portray you in the way that you want to be seen. It all depends on your views and standpoint.

Some people do not mind being nude on screen. But if you know that is not what you want, then, keep looking for that satisfaction until you get it.

Women are always portrayed as the prostitutes, husband snatchers and other downside characters. But a recent symposium organised by Mrs. Joke Silva Jacobs, dwelt on the role of women in films and how we are being portrayed. There are many strong women in our society and the world over. We should be portrayed in these characters.

Costume and make-up in Nollywood movies seem to be in disagreement with the rest of the movie a lot of times…

These are two areas I am always being attacked on. People walk up to me saying ‘that hair is horrible. That make-up is terrible.’ We don’t want to spend money to pay professionals to work in those areas.

What appears on screen is what the people in charge budgeted for. For them, make-up and costume are not that important. Just act and go is what they say.

I usually bring my costumes and accessories on set because I know how I want to look rather than leave myself in the hands of the mediocre who handles those things.

It will cost them money to bring someone like ‘Bobby’s’ to be on set with actors to give them the look they need to have and they are not willing to spend it. They say ‘find them one, one wig and give them one, one thousand, let them wear and go. They can go to Yaba and buy costume.’

Some movies depicting Ibo or other ethnic groups and characters appear in Egyptian-styled clothing or some bizarre costumes which do not reflect the reality of those cultures. It seems like a misrepresentation.

I even question if that was the dress mode in those days or presently. That is as a result of the director or producer giving the costumier leeway to do what he wants. To him it is an epic film and they are supposed to dress ‘epic’ even if it is with a ball on your head, as long as you are not in the city.

I think it is because they have not researched on the people they are trying to portray.

Also, film titles are copied verbatim from Hollywood, like the one with you and Saint Obi, Sleeping with the enemy.

It is just laziness as well as the fact that the person whose money is being invested picked the title. The director has no choice on titles. It is between the script writer and the executive producer.

They pick titles which they believe will grab people’s attention even if it is repetitive. Like Girls’ Cult, Women’s Cot, Boys’ Cot. I am waiting for Children and Babies’ Cot.

It is a bandwagon effect. You have one film that sells and everybody starts using the title hoping it will be as successful as the root film from viewers’ judgement.

There’s also the issue of background music.

My dear, I am speechless. I have no idea. That is left to the editor, director and producer to make sure the finished product is clean. I believe that music should be underneath the dialogue, not overshadowing it.

They won’t pay for a specialist to filter sounds nor work with the right equipment. They use a boom and the boom picks anything.

How do you juggle your career and the home front?

My husband has been very, very supportive. If he hadn’t been I would have left by now. My work time and area are work time and area. I don’t bring my family there; and when it is family time, I have a great quiet time with him and our daughter.

He used to complain at the initial stage of our eleven years of marriage but he is used to it now.

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