By Yemisi Suleiman
When did you discover you had a flair for acting?
It was when I finally decided that I was going to do this; that was after “Reloaded”. But I always had a thing for Sophie Lauren and then I saw Lil Sid. I knew I wanted to be a woman like that but I wasn’t sure how it will work here. It really wasn’t a dream per se and I got into acting earlier; after I graduated from the university, just to prove a point to my mother that I could do what I wanted to do.
I was happy at first but I wasn’t satisfied. I guess because I was still in search of myself, I rushed out, got into banking and into other industries. I did radio a bit, did a bit of compere on stage. Then, I went into banking again. I also did a bit of fashion. But after Emen Isong fought with me in my kitchen; I still remember that because it was what propelled me – that and the script of “Reloaded”.
How do you mean she fought with you in your kitchen? It was not a physical fight but she kept saying: “It is because you are not confident enough to go into acting, that is why you keep running out.” And, I thought to myself that how can anyone say that about me. That sort of propelled me and I took up the challenge with the script of “Reloaded” and I made it. This is where it has brought me thus far.
How did you get into “Reloaded” and what was it like being on the set for the first time?
Emem just said to me that she has a script that she was working on and she wanted me to take a look at it. When she showed it to me, it was basically to have an input because normally, as a writer and a story teller, you basically have to get fillers about what people think of your story – just to know how it will do in the market.
I told her: “I like the story. Let’s see what we can do.” And, I had a bit of input in “Reloaded”. Then she said to me: “Listen, I would like you to take this character.” And, I said no way. I am not an actor.
So, we argued about it in the kitchen; which was why she said to me that I am not confident. I am not this, I am not that. Then I said: “Okay, let’s give it a shot.” And yes, I was afraid. I still get scared before I go on set because I am my own competition. Nothing for me to compete with; there was nothing. It was a case of just-fresh, nothing really was there for me to compare myself to. It was scary.
And then, there was Lancelot Imasuen. There was Rita on set; though Rita has been my friend from way back. There was also Stephanie; there was Uche Jombo; there was Ini (Edo); there was Ramsey (Nouah). I have been on set with Ramsey before but it was like a whole new Nollywood. I mean, I was like fish out of water but they made me very comfortable, which I think was what helped me.
As an actor, you have experienced both worlds – on stage and on set. If you have to choose, which would you rather do?
It can’t be compared. Stage and screen are two different worlds entirely. For stage, you feel like a demi-god. You are in control of your audience. You don’t see anybody, nobody sees you. For you, it is like this is my space; you are the lord and master of the space: “Now, take me as I am!” That is stage for you.
With screen, if I dry up (drying up is like forgetting your lines), what happens is that I get corrected. On stage, there is no such thing so, if you make a mistake, you have got to blend it and it’s got to look like it is okay. So, stage needs a lot of practice and I give kudos to stage actors. I know that I will still do stage because, it is one of the things that I really love and being in control is a good thing.
Being your first after a long while on set, how did you feel being nominated for the AMAA Awards and later winning the award for Best Leading Actress at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards for your role in “Reloaded”?
For me, a nomination for the ‘African Oscars’, as I call it, is as good as a win. That recognition is second to none. What else would I be asking for? It was a first time and it was amazing. Did you see the names that were on set? I would have said: “Take the awards back, please, to the rightful owner.” Do you understand that that is how I felt? I think no better honour could have been bestowed on me than that. It was so amazing; I was totally speechless!
Growing up, what influenced you as a person? What motivated you to make a success of yourself and career? I come from a close-knit family; from a family that was relatively large. Because, for me, six kids is large. We were like a family and then, losing my dad at a tender age and watching my mother being a woman that I will always love to be.
she was able to keep us together. We still go to the same church. That is rare these days. We go to the same church. We have the same beliefs. We are still in the same line; that is really hard to do. So, it is not the case of: “Oh, I am here and there, it is still like that.” Things like that have helped mould me; so when I do things, it is always about what would Martha think (that is my mother’s name).
I call her Martha when I want to piss her off and then she will laugh. I always wonder what she will think. Sometimes, I think – let my father not go and rumble in the grave and things like that. It hurts but I think it has helped me. I think that much as we say we do not want our loved ones to go, it is a formidable one that has really helped (to build) whom I have become today.
Do you think you are living your dream? Are you doing what you have always wanted to do? If I say no now, it is because I have not yet reached the moon, literally. I will say yes, I am living my dream because I am an actor and I am doing everything I am passionate about – acting, writing, cooking. Those are the things I love (doing), so it is not a case of me doing anything because I am going to make money out of it. I am doing them because I love them and when you love them, all other things will be added unto them.
When it comes to style what influences the look you put together every time you step out of your home?
I am more bohemian in my dressing. But at the same time, because, sometimes, I can be like an ardent, I like to wear my jeans and tank top. Then, I have my designer who is constantly trying to make me a lady. When I am going out in public, Wange does a lot for me, especially if I am going out. She would say: “You have to wear this.” She sinks it with my personality and it works. I think my style is not fashion-based because I feel that style transcends fashion.
Women are generally into shoes, bags, jewelleries… What are you into?
I am into food!
You said you love to cook. Where did you get that from? Why cooking?
I will tell you a story that I don’t think I have told before; except to my close friends. At thirteen, my father made me pound yam and cook egusi soup. I made the soup. There was egusi on one side, water on one side and oil on another side. Then, the pounded yam had ‘co-co’ in it. My father ate the food and I saw the pain in his eyes. I said to myself I wish I could wipe that off his face.
Since then, it was a case of me trying always to impress with my food; trying to cook but I don’t eat egusi soup till tomorrow. I don’t like it.
When I left my first banking job, what I did was sit at home for a year cooking. I bought all the cookery books I could get. I was just trying to look for something in me. I went to Jo’burg for a few months as well. For about five, six months, it was all about food. And, I came back broke and looked for another bank job. By that time, it was a case of me and food. That is it.
What is your favourite?
Because I cook, I don’t have a favourite. I like everything as long as it is healthy.
How do you relax when you are not working? My couch should best explain that; my couch potato. I love to lay on the couch a lot. I read a lot. It is as bad as reading three books at the same time, depending on my mood. Then, I play a lot of Scrabble as well. I watch soccer, I love soccer. Sometimes, I go out with friends. It is always nice to hang out with friends.
What would you love to be remembered for?
I will love to be remembered for the lives I have touched, either by making them laugh or by lending a helping hand or by just being there. Sometimes, a word of encouragement is a lot more than money and there is a lot of pain right now. I am on the board of this charity programme. It is called ‘The Empowerment Programme’. It is for young girls really.
Here, you know we don’t talk about a lot of things that have happened to us. We love to bottle them up and this informs you; this makes you who you are in future. But when we learn to speak out, when we talk about our problems – people don’t talk about rape, people don’t talk about sexual harassment, people don’t talk about even death. They bottle them up but when a woman can talk about these things, it makes her a better woman. She is a better woman in her relationship and as a mother. For instance, sex education is not taught to a lot of kids or maybe they are beginning to talk about it now.
Talk about sexual harassment in Nollywood. What is it like? Have you ever been harassed? I will answer you the way I answered them at Harvard. The same views I have of sexual harassment in banks, schools, hospitals, everywhere. Because we are in the limelight, everyone seems to think that it is more in our industry. It has never happened to me but I can’t say it does not happen. It is bound to happen when you have men and women together.
It can happen either way; women can harass a man, men can harass a woman. It all depends and it happens in all industries. We are not the only ones.
Do you have a role model?
My mentors are my mother, if I can be like her, I think I will be completely fulfilled. My other mentor is a neuro-surgeon, Ben Cason. He was able to become the best in his line despite his shortcomings; he was disadvantaged and he fought through it all and he is the best in his line.