By Ayo Onikoyi
If the name Lillian Esoro doesn’t ring bell the soap character “Nurse Abigail” in the family comedy soap series “Clinic Matters” is sure to have found her way into your household through her mischiefs and daring exploits in the programme.
But unlike “Nurse Abigail” beautiful, Imo State-born Lillian Esoro is no mischief maker even though she is a pragmatic and down-to-earth person with the look of a ‘damsel in distress’. In this interview with Showtime, she talks about her career, relationships and her nomination as Best Actress, Comedy Category, in the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards, AMVCA, holding today in South Africa. Enjoy:
How did you get into acting?
I never wanted to be an actress. It never occurred to me but let me say I was forced into it. My friend, Bovi, the comedian, persuaded me into it way back in 2005 when he wanted to do his television sitcom titled “Extended Family”. He invited me to be part of it but I told him acting was not my thing but he insisted that I should give it a shot, that he knows I have it in me. With much persuasion, I decided to give it a shot and I realised I wasn’t bad at it.
How did you actually blend in when you realised you have a thing of acting in you?
It wasn’t easy. It’s one thing to get the lines, get them in and cast them out right and another thing to connect with the viewers at home at the same time.
When I first got my lines I said to myself this isn’t so hard all I need is just to cram the lines and get them out right but immediately I got on set, with the lights and when it was time for action I completely forgot my lines. I mean everything just went blank. I said OK, so, it wasn’t so easy after all . After some time I just picked myself up and everything began to fall into place.
So what was your dream before you found yourself in acting?
I have always wanted to be a fashion designer before acting came calling. When I was small, at a point my mum stopped buying me clothes because I always cut them up and try to make them the way I thought they should be and she would be like ‘what was wrong with this girl?
At what point did you actually realise you have arrived as an actress?
Ugh, at what point? (laughing) when I started walking down the street and people recognise who I am, sometimes, even stopping me and wanting to take pictures with me and asking for autographs. That was like from two years ago.
Why is it that it is only soap operas you have ever done?
I really don’t have a particular reason for sticking strictly to soaps. Like I said earlier, acting wasn’t really something I wanted to do, so I just want to take one step at a time. When I really have my breakthrough doing soaps, with my feet firmly on the ground then I can start thinking of getting into movies. Trust me, there’s really a tough competition out there. You really want to get your game going on before you take the big steps. It’s gradually. But I shot some films last year. They will hit the market soon. Just keep your fingers crossed.
Can you share some of them with us?
I did “Strive”, in which I played along Bimbo Manuel, Godwin Opara, Yemi Blaq and others. It’s a very nice movie to look out for. Then there is “The Potter” and “The Next Door Neighbour”. One of them “Strive” should be premiered on the 7th of March. Most of them should be out this year
I can say last year was the year my career really kicked off. I had to travel back to back. Most times I was shuttling from Lagos to Abuja and Warri. (laughing) gradually, we are getting there.
Being a soap person, what would you say are the day to day challenges of acting in a soap opera?
Soap opera is about you trying to merge with the character you are taking one, day to day. You know it’s quite different from movies. It is a continuous character you have to build, maintain and nurture since you are not the writer you don’t know where the story is heading to. You have to watch the character carefully because you don’t want to suddenly outgrow the character. You have to watch what you eat so you don’t lose shape compared to the character. This gets tougher when you have other jobs you are doing because it’s like merging two different characters into your own personality.
Now, since you have had a taste of how it works in movies. Which would you say is more challenging: movie or soap?
Wow, that’s a tricky one. None of them is easy, trust me. But I will say maybe doing movies is more challenging because you have to go from one location to another. You are always on the move. It is different in a soap opera because it usually involves one family in a particular set. You are not moving around. Everything just revolves around the same people, the same location and maybe the same costume but in a movie you move around and you do different costumes.
On financial reward, which one is more rewarding?
I will say soap operas because it is a continuous thing. In a movie it’s just a one-off thing. You are paid just once. In soap operas, you are paid per episode, so, when you consider how many episodes in a year to about 3 to 4 movies you are likely to do in a year, soap operas tend to be more rewarding.
On “Clinic Matters”, you, Ejiro Okuramen and Naomi Ihemelu seem to have a good connection, which of the cast members would you say you have a unique relationship with?
When it comes to a programme of that nature, whether you like it or not, you have to maintain a good working relations with everyone on set, so, it doesn’t affect the job. I’m very comfortable working with Ejiro, Naomi and others as colleagues. They are wonderful people. I won’t say I’m choosing one over the other. Everybody is a family including “Biliki”, we are good off and on the set.
What’s the relationship between you and AY, the comedian?
AY is a very good friend of mine. We came from way back. He was the one who introduced me to Bovi, we have been friends like for ages. He started his show thing back in Abraka University and when he moved to Lagos he invited me over to be his presenter. I accepted even though I never presented before but it turned out right and since then we have been together.
But there’s a report that you two have parted ways, that you left him?
I didn’t leave him and we didn’t leave each other either, we are still there for each other. We understand each other that Lillian is an extremely busy person now, she’s not always available like she used to be and she’s there to help whenever she’s available. Come March of this year if am in the country I will be there for him.
But you have your own outfit now?
Yeah, but it’s different from what AY does. Mine is an event management company, his, is a show organising company. I package weddings and parties while AY does strictly shows.
How did you feel when you learned you are one of the nominees for the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA)?
It still amazes me, trust me. When I first saw the advert of the award I said to myself this is a good award, that, whoever wins must truly deserve it. I never knew God had another plan for me. I never knew my name was ever going to come up in any of the categories because, hey, I just started, so many people have been there before me.
Along the line, my best friend, AY, kept telling me, that it does not matter how long, it is how well. But it still amazes me; look at my contenders (laughing), when I look at them I feel I must be doing well. I am humbled.
Sincerely, do you think you deserve it?
Oh yeah, I think I deserve it. Trust me, it is not easy playing that particular role of “Nurse Abigail”. I remember what the producer of the soap told me when I wanted to take up that role. He said:’ Lillian, are you sure you can take this role? Since I have known you I have never seen you upset or angry and talk like a fast talker as “Nurse Abigail”’. I told him it’s an act I have to put up and I gave it a shot. “Nurse Abigail” is not a character anyone can just do, so, I really give myself kudos for pulling it through and being recognise for it? I think I deserve it.
Doesn’t it scare you a little bit, considering the caliber of the contenders ( Funke Akindele, Mercy Johnson etc) you have to slug it out with for the award?
Of course, they are big names and they are good at what they do. But the fact that I am there means I deserve it. It doesn’t matter who eventually wins the award, that I got a nomination is good enough for me.
What has been the biggest regret of your career as an actress?
I can’t say I have any regret so far but sometimes I wished I had started acting earlier than now. But really, I can’t take it as a regret because what will be yours will be yours. They say better late than never. I have enjoyed every moment of my career.
And your biggest triumph?
I think seeing my name on the list of nominees for the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award has been the biggest triumph of my career so far.
Which role would you say has been the most challenging role of your career so far?
It is still “Clinic Matters”, taking on the character of “Nurse Abigail” because I am totally the opposite of that.
Have you ever fallen in love before?
Yes I have.
And still in love?
(laughing) let’s just say I have fallen in love before. Eh, everyone has fallen in love before. Love is a beautiful thing. When I was in love it was like Heaven and I wished the feeling never went away. It was good while it lasted. It’s an experience everyone should have.
So, your heart was broken?
Oh, broken, scattered, shattered, ironed and everything. It was actually my broken heart that led me to success. After I fell out of love I was so heartbroken that I could not get my mind off it. So, to get my mind off it, I decided to do something else and that led me into forming my own company to start event management business but I don’t want to talk about it.
What’s your idea of sex generally and of premarital sex?
Well, it doesn’t matter what my views are on the subject, those who want to do it would still do it. As for me, if you feel it is the right time to do it go ahead. It’s a free world. You don’t want to live your life thinking of what the next person thinks of you.
Sex is very good. It calms your nerves. If you feel the time is right for you, go ahead, just make sure it is with the right person.
Would you marry a married man like some of your colleagues are doing right now?
Like I said, love is a beautiful thing. It leads you into unexpected places so I am not going to judge people on their choices. Who knows, I might end up falling in love with a married man tomorrow, so, I don’t want to judge anybody.
So, would you do a sex scene in a movie?
See, maybe this is one of the reason I love soap operas because this will hardly arise but then, you can’t dictate to the producer. But personally I don’t think I would want to do a sex scene. Why? Because my parents watch my movies.
Have you dated within the industry before?
Why not, there are so many good looking guys there?
No. I just wouldn’t date any of my colleagues. I hate mixing business with pleasure. It’s just me , I am a very principled person.