By LAJU ARENYEKA
Like every other Nollywood actress, Shan George has had her fair share of scandals. She has been accused of going into marriage and coming out of it over three times, dating younger men and decorating her body with countless tattoos. What’s true and what’ s not? In this interview, the half caste actress shares her painful story with Showtime Celebrity. This is Shan George beyond the scandals.
You have some reservations about the kind of questions journalists ask you during interviews?
Well, people always want to know more about my personal life, my relationships and all those stuff that the soft-sell magazines like to exaggerate. I just think that serious publications should be interested in asking relevant questions.
So, if you were the one interviewing yourself, what would be your first question?
I would ask myself how long it actually took me to get to where I am today; the challenges along the way and how I’ve been able to overcome them. It took me about 15 years to get to this point. However, one major challenge I have always faced as an actress has to do with not being at home all the time and playing roles in movies that are opposed to my character.
Let’s assume you were born in a Christian home and you imbibe what you were taught from when you were a kid. All of a sudden, because of your profession, you are called to be a Buddhist or a mermaid. You are talking about being something you have never experienced. I have never seen a mermaid or transformed into a mermaid before, but I’ve acted as one. You have to try and figure out how they talk, walk, smile and so on.
Another challenge is when you go to the extent of interpreting whatever role you’re given to play in movies. People who watch the movie tend to associate you with that character. I’ll never forget an experience I had at Alade market, in Lagos, a few years ago. I went there to buy some things like every other person, but suddenly, some people started throwing rotten tomatoes at me.
Many others were calling me unprintable names; a loose woman, husband snatcher. All because I played such roles in movies. I’m not like that in real life. I remember I acted a prostitute in the movie, Outcast. After the film was released into the market, I got a call from a guy based in Italy who told me that he just watched the movie, and he thought I was really hot. He said he would want to enjoy such a gesture like the guys in the movies any time he storms Nigeria.
There are so many other challenges. You are seen playing roles where you are really rich with several big cars and houses at your disposal. People assume you’re like that in real life, but it’s not always true. Everywhere you go, people expect you to settle ‘agberos’ and drop something, but it doesn’t work like that. That is the reason some practitioners tend to spend money they don’t have just to meet the expectations of their fans.
Have you ever lost a sense of identity because of the different roles you play in movies?
Acting is a job. As soon as I’m done with interpreting my role, I become myself again. I have never had the experience of being confused about my own identity. I know that many of my colleagues actually get cut off from reality; they want to be like what people expect them to be or spend the kind of money people expect them to spend. And so, they have to do one or two things that they ordinarily wouldn’t have done.But you can’t really get to know someone by watching that person on the screen.
So, what’s the real Shan George like?
I think everyone should know that Shan George is an ordinary person who was born and brought up in the village, grew up like every other village girl and I was privileged to be part of the movie industry at a time I found myself in it. I have been favoured by God in the industry. When you talk about a typical village life, I have experienced it and when you talk about living in a castle, I have also enjoyed the privilege.
To be candid, the most interesting life is the village life. In the village, there are no fences, no gates, and no walls in between houses. We collectively go to the same farm, and fetch water from the same stream. It was a communal existence. I still travel home once in a while to identify with my roots. I am from Ediba in Abi Local Government Area of Cross River State.
What was growing up like?
It was quite enjoyable. It’s just that I wish I knew my father. I’m the only child of my mother, and my father was a whiteman. My mum is a very wonderful person, but I guess there is always going to be that part of me that keeps wondering who my father is. I tried several years to trace his whereabouts to no avail. While in search of him, I once travelled to where he used to work then, Turner’s Asbestos in Enugu.
The company consulted their files and brought out his old address in Manchester. Consequently, I travelled to Manchester in search of the man that fathered me. But my mission was not accomplished. I even had to cross-check phone books and called about 100 phone numbers, all in the bid to trace his whereabouts. One question I asked each time I called any of the numbers was whether any member of his family ever visited Africa or Nigeria in particular. I gave up hope of meeting my father at the age of 35.
What is your take on Nollywood today?
I always tell people not to try to compare Hollywood toNollywood. It is like comparing an old man to a baby. Nigeria itself is a young country and Nollywood is much younger, and so the extent at which we have grown is quite far. Right now, we are growing rapidly and producing movies that are shown abroad. We are doing advanced movies but the only place we are lacking today is in the area of distribution. We have very good movies but we don’t have people to distribute them. I know a lot of people who went to school to study Marketing and they are not practising their profession. The industry has grown rapidly but the marketing aspect of the business still needs a boost.
Don’t you think piracy is the reason for this shortcoming?
Let us be realistic, there are even American movies that are being pirated. Piracy is something I believe cannot function where you have a big community in dire need of it. It’s just like when you want to release a movie for over 150 million people and you only printed about 20, 000 copies. Don’t you think that people living in remote areas would want to watch the same movie?
It is natural that pirates will help them get as many copies of the film as they require by any means. For example, I once travelled to Kano and saw a movie that was just released into the market, I was tempted to buy it. The funny thing was that the movie was recorded in a plain CD and they used a marker to write the name of the movie. I concluded that these sellers didn’t see the original CD for people to buy. I believe if the original products are readily available, the menace of piracy will reduce drastically.
I produced my first movie in 1998 while I was in my final year in the University of Lagos. I studied Mass Communication and I have been writing and producing since then till now. There are different feelings actually. Standing in front of the camera, you are something else; while working behind the camera, you are being yourself. And aside being yourself, working behind the camera involves a lot of work because you have to organise everybody, everything and you are like the head of the family. I love producing more than acting because producing gives me the opportunity to have a platform for new actors. It also gives me the opportunity to write my own story and get it across to the audience.
What’s your advice for those who want to get into the movie industry?
The first advice I will give you is to acquire good education. Education is the foundation upon which you are going to build your future. Secondly, be committed; work hard and be ready to give it your best shot. You never can tell, one thing can just take you to the top. And as a person, you have to agree that you want to do this job and also agree to grow gradually so that you will not get frustrated along the line.
Would you like to address some of the scandals that have trailed your acting career over the years?
It is really crazy. A lot of these things are not true. For example, I have two grown up sons. Anytime people see me pose for shots with younger men, they conclude that as old as I am, I like young boys and that’s not true at all. It is very depressing sometimes. You need the grace of God to hear things about yourself that are not true and still be strong and get going.
Have there been times when you nearly broke down because of what people were saying about you?
It happened many years ago when I was still a toddler in the industry. I remember driving some years back and I saw vendors selling a particular magazine with my photograph and a caption that read: “Even Pastors love my boobs.” That day was so sad for me. I couldn’t even believe that I was the one they were writing about.
What about the multiple marriage scandals; is there any truth to them?
There was a time someone called to congratulate me on my new marriage. I was shocked. My first marriage was when I was 16, and I don’t count that because I was a child and I had no say in the matter. The ideal thing is that as an adult, you meet someone you like and you get married to him. What happens most times is that I act a movie where I get married, the pictures go viral online and everyone says I am married again.
And I am amazed because I wonder, people who read this, don’t they calculate the years? I married once and my two kids are for my first husband. I read on some blogs that I had a child out of wedlock and I have been hiding it. But I wonder if I got married at the age of 16, at what age did I have that child? I was so young when I walked out of my first marriage to pursue my education. Later on, as an adult, I got married again, but we aren’t really together anymore. Marriage can be complicated.
What was it like being married at such a young age?
Being married at the age of 16 was just like a child still living with her parents. It was more like an obligation. I don’t really want to talk about it because of my children.
What is your relationship status now?
I have someone who is very nice and important to me. So, I guess you can call that a romantic relationship. I have always known this guy and he has been there for me.
Would you like to get married again?
Of course, I would.
How do you manage to look so good at 43?
Because the job is very stressful, I don’t really add much weight. But because I’m slim doesn’t mean that I’m fit. I can be very lazy about exercise. However, I am very careful about what I eat; that’s why am not very fat.
What are your sons like?
My first son is an Economist; he is still in the UK and has refused to come back home. My second son actually is into music. He read Music Engineering and Production in London and now, he is in Nigeria trying to pursue a career in music.
What is it with you and tattoos?
Tattoos are a way for me to express myself. People wear clothes, fix their hair or nails; but for me, I love tattoos, that’s who I am. I have just two permanent tattoos, but sometimes I wear artificial tattoos depending on my mood.
Apart from movies what else are you interested in?
I used to own a boutique but am not fashionable. I don’t know how to sew, but I can draw and create designs. I have passion for putting smiles on the faces of people around me. I would love to be in a place where everybody is cared for. Not one person having all that others will worship. I am working on the release of my new movie, “Finding Good luck.” I am hoping to release it on DVD. It is in the cinemas already and this is a movie that has got to do with the image of the Nigeria Police and how people generally relate with the average policeman and how it should be at the end of the day. I hope the movie will better the lives of some people.