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I want to act as an African princess with superpowers – Japari

Ijapari Ben-Hirki is a Nollywood actress who recently featured in Prime Video’s ‘Beyond the Veil’. In this interview with Weekend Magazine, Japari as she is…

Ijapari Ben-Hirki is a Nollywood actress who recently featured in Prime Video’s ‘Beyond the Veil’. In this interview with Weekend Magazine, Japari as she is fondly called speaks on her journey so far and future plans as an actress.

 

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in acting, and how did you get your start in Nollywood?

I always knew I wanted to be on TV, but not as an actor; more of a TV host. I had always admired Oprah Winfrey as a child and subsequently, I loved Mo Abudu who had started Moments with Mo on our local TV stations, so it gave me hope that I was going to be on TV someday. But then somehow, I found myself at an audition about 11 years ago and I thought to myself… you can actually do this and be on TV. And that was how I got inspired to start acting. Of course, I had participated in a lot of plays in church as a child and a teenager; I was always excited to be a part of them. As for who inspired me to pursue acting further; my love for Genevieve Nnaji did, I fell in love with her when I was 9.

Can you tell us about your first acting role? What were some challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

My first acting role was in 2019, it was a supporting role. I wouldn’t say it was my first time in front of a camera, but it was the first time acting in front of a camera. I was nervous and anxious at the same time, scared. I was going to forget my lines. But I had a great director and an amazing cast mate that made it easy for me. After my second day on set, I got a hang of things and I believe that was how I was able to overcome all of those feelings

How do you prepare for a new role? Can you walk us through your process of getting into character?

First of all, I read the script at least three times and then go ahead to concentrate on my own scenes, this is after I’m sure it’s a project I want to be a part of and is something I’d enjoy working on. After that I make sure I understand what the character is about and then put myself in the characters shoes. I also try to become the character before going on set and then fully become that character once I’m on set. I also try to create a different personality for these characters; it’s most times all in my head and I just do my thing once I hear action.

Are there any actresses, either in Nollywood or internationally, that you look up to or have influenced your acting style?

Definitely Genevieve Nnaji, I’ve looked up to her for the longest time and I think she’s inspired my acting style too. Met her last year while premiering a movie she executively produced and I still can’t believe I didn’t shed tears when I hugged her.  Internationally, I’d say Cate Blanchett; very deep and subtle way of acting.

What roles are you looking forward to exploring in your career?

I totally want to play a serial killer or a psycho, one that’s totally unpredictable. Actually, looking forward to that. I also want to play an African princess role with super powers, you know like the Disney princesses? Something like that.

How do you handle the pressure and public scrutiny that come with being a public figure in the entertainment industry?

Well, I feel like I’m only just starting off, so I haven’t exactly started to experience that, but hopefully when the time for that comes; I’m able to handle it well. I know it can be a lot for people who don’t really know you to feel like they can say whatever they feel about you because you’re a public figure. But I believe it comes with the territory and God willing I’d handle it with grace.

Nollywood films often reflect Nigerian culture. How important is cultural representation to you in the roles you choose?

Cultural representation is definitely important to me when it comes to the roles I play because, people get to watch our movies both locally and internationally. So, it’s important that we’re intentional about what’s being told about us as a people. Movies are a great platform and medium to educate people about who we are; especially on the norms and mind-sets they have about our cultures and traditions. It’s a way to either further buttress on these things or correct the negative notions they have about us thereby helping them to learn and unlearn certain things. I come from a relatively minority tribe in the north and I look forward to our stories being told. I definitely see myself being a part of this someday. I’m also glad that people are telling more northern stories now and we have the portrayal of the north in a more positive light. So yes, whatever role I’m given, from whatever tribe or culture, it’s my responsibility to do justice to it because more than ever, the world is watching and it’s our duty to make sure they see the beauty of who we truly are.

Can you share a memorable experience or challenging moment from your time on set?

Hmmmm, I think every moment for me on set is memorable. I’m the happiest when I’m on set, whenever I haven’t filmed in a while I literally feel like I’d fall sick, so just being around my fellow cast, crew, cameras and all, it’s always so memorable. As for the challenging moments, I get really cranky when food isn’t served on time; I’m such a foodie so when I don’t eat when I’m supposed to… it really does mess with my flow while on set.

What advice would you give to young women who aspire to become actresses in Nollywood?

I don’t like to give people advice, because what works for me may not work for you. So what I’d say is, keep doing your thing and stay hopeful that one day you get the opportunity to do what you love. It’s not always going to be easy, it’s the love for what you do that’d keep you going. Go for auditions, put yourself out there no matter how cringe you think it is. My first audition was in 2014 and I didn’t get an opportunity till 2019. As long as you’re sure it’s what you want to do; just keep at it and one day, the stars will align.

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