By Benjamin NJOKU
Sheâ€™s one of the top rated YorubaÂ actresses, yet sheâ€™s the worse hit in terms of bad publicity. One time, sheâ€™sÂ accused of snatching another womanâ€™s husband, and at the other time, sheâ€™s rumoured toÂ have snatched a colleagueâ€™s boyfriend and accused ofÂ high-handedness by the upcoming Yoruba actresses.
To ascertain the authenticity ofÂ these allegationsÂ prompted ShowtimeÂ Â Celebrity to go after the quintessential Ikorodu, Lagos State-born actress, Funke Akindele to hear her own side of the story. And you will not be disappointed as she speaks the way she has never done before.Â We bring to you the true story ofÂ Funke Akindele.Â Enjoy it.
Funke Akindele has become a brand to reckon with, whatâ€™s the mystery behind that name?
Thereâ€™s no mystery behind my name. Itâ€™s only God thatâ€™s the secret behind that name, Funke Akindele. By His grace, Funke has been able to make a statement so far. And Iâ€™m going to achieve more with time. Iâ€™m not yetÂ there. This is just a starting point for me.
Is Funke the only name your parents gave to you?
I have two names; Olufunke Ayotunde. Olufunke means: â€œGod has given this child to me to care forâ€, while Ayotunde means, â€œmy joy has come.â€™â€™
Was there any special event during your birth that prepared you for what you are doing today?
I have asked my mum that, and the only thing she told me was that when she was carrying my pregnancy, I gave her a tough time; that she was going in, and out of the hospital. But the only thing I would remember is that when I was young, I was involved in acting, singing and dancing especially during my secondary school days.
As an award winning actress, you name rings bell everywhere you go; does that put pressure on your personal life?
Well, the only pressure it has put on me is to work harder to make better movies; something that will impact positively on the people and my fans .Â It hasnâ€™t gotten into my head. Iâ€™m still myself and itâ€™s by the grace of God that Iâ€™m celebrated today.
I pray, I will be there evergreen like the likes of Joke Silva. Sometimes, IÂ Â mayÂ want to be alone, but you find out that there are some fans that would insist onÂ talking with me.Â I would have no option than to be friendly andÂ grant them audience. Thatâ€™s some of the pressures I think fame has placed on me.
One of the prices of stardom is undue invasion of oneâ€™s privacy andÂ scandals, how much ofÂ these prices have you paid so far?
A lot… and Iâ€™m still paying. At least, I didnâ€™t understand it initially. When journalists call meÂ on phone at different times to make inquiries orÂ to confirm a particular information, I would quickly get pissed off andÂ angry; â€œwhy do you like to dwell on negative stories about me, instead of celebrating me positively.â€
My mum whoâ€™s always there for me, would advise me to learn to absorb whatever scandals that come my way as aÂ star; adding that some people would want to cook up negative stories just to pull me down and that I should remain focused and prayerful.
Itâ€™s normal, and Iâ€™m beginning to live with it. But my prayer is that they donâ€™t tarnish my hard earned name in the bid to get at me. Sometimes , itâ€™s painful .
Which of the scandals hit you most?
A lot of them. I donâ€™t want to talk about the scandals now. But the one that really hit me most was when they rumoured that I was arrested at Hauteur for a drug-related offence. I was shocked! At the time, the story made the news in Nigeria, I was never in Hauteur. I used to pass through Hauteur to London, but that week the story made the headlines, I didnâ€™t pass through Hauteur.
So, when I read the story in the newspapers, I was shocked and disappointed. I couldnâ€™t have been arrested for drug-related offence in London while I was back to Nigeria. Itâ€™s not possible. I cried when I read the story. Why is it that people are always writing negative stories about me? At that point, I resorted to calling on all my friends in the media to clear the air. I didnâ€™t travel out of Nigeria at the time the story made the news.
And you think mischief makers were not at work then?
I donâ€™t want to believe so; neither do I want to think about it anymore.Â I want to remain focused and never to allow anything to bother me, because the more I think about the scandals the more I am disturbed. I donâ€™t want anything that would draw me backwards. I want to face what Iâ€™m doing and achieve more for myself .
You have talked so much about your mother. Is she really your mentor?
Yes, she is my mentor. Sheâ€™s a wonderful woman. After God is my mother. Sheâ€™s supporting me because not all mother would want to support their children to pursue their dreams. For instance, I studied law, but Iâ€™m not practising the profession today. Ordinarily, my parents would have insisted on seeing that I practise my profession. But now, Iâ€™m not legal practise; acting is my first love.
I love acting, writing scripts and producing movies. Financially, my mum have been supportive to me. I remember when I produced my first movie, my mum supported me financially. She believes so much in me. During my secondary school days before I would go on stage to dance, my mum would assemble all the required costumesÂ for me. Sheâ€™s really a wonderful woman, and my mentor.
How would you describe your relationship with the up-and-coming Yoruba actresses?
It has been wonderful. If you have been opportuned to watch my movies, you would notice that I regularlyÂ introduce new faces. I believe I have a duty to help the up-and-coming actresses because itâ€™s not easy getting to the top. People talk about sexual harassment in the motion picture industry. I have never been harassed sexually.
If truly, it exists, I would want to discourage the ugly practice. I want the up-and-coming actresses to believe so much in their talents and learn to shun the attitude of looking sideways. Itâ€™s God that gives talents and therefore, I see no reason any actress would want to sleep her way to the top. If itâ€™s the will of God for you, you will surely make it. So, I am all out to support the young actresses to prosper.
I donâ€™t want them to pass through what I experienced when I was starting . The stress of walking around town, going from audition to another. I want to give them a true sense of belonging.
Why then, are they castigating you and accusing you of high-handedness and possessing an attitude?
Itâ€™s bound to happen. People would talk rubbish when you are doing well. They would want to bring you down; say negative things about you ; some would criticise you excessively. I read in a soft-sell magazine recently concerning one, Toriola Olawunmi who alleged that I was nasty to her because she joined another group called â€œOduofaâ€ after she had deserted the â€œConcuss groupâ€™.
I was shocked at this story because I have never had any such encounter with an up-andcoming actress. But certainly,Â one problemÂ I think I have with them is the fact that they see me as a strict person . I believe when you are here to work with me, you should do your workÂ and go back to your home. I donâ€™t believe in lazing about, or turning into a chatterbox when you are supposed to be working. Those of them who understand me are okay working with me .
When you started in that televison series, â€œI need to Knowâ€ sponsored by Unicef during your undergraduate days, did you envisage the height you have attained today in the industry?
My brother, I didnâ€™t. The only thing I knewÂ then, was that I love acting. Acting is my first love and I think, I â€˜ve got the talent. Thereâ€™s this urge in me to go out there, and showcase what stuffÂ Iâ€™m made of. The Bible warned us against burying our talents because God would certainly ask us of it.
How were you selected to be part of the cast of that TV series?
Back then, I was an intern with the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria(APCON). After closing from work, I would go for auditions. One day, I heard about an audition taking place at the former Charly Boyâ€™s residence in Gbagada and I went for the audition. At the end of the audition, I was selected for the pilot and thatâ€™s how I got the role. Unfortunately, after featuring in that series, I thought the roles would start coming in droves, but it never did.Â I had to go back to the auditioning arena again.
How much were you paid for the first time?
We were paid handsomely. It was a United Nations project, so we were paid very well. Once I got my pay, I quickly rush home to give my mum the money for safe keeping.
Letâ€™s talk about your monster hit, â€˜Jenifaâ€™ which broke all barriers and fetched you so many mega deals and opened doors for you, was Jenifa part of your life story?
No. Firstly, Iâ€™m not from Ahitoro, Iâ€™m from Ikorodu area of Lagos State. Iâ€™m not a wanna-be like Jenifa. Iâ€™m not AIDS/HIV positive like â€œJenifaâ€™ Thereâ€™s nothing that has to do with Funke Akindele in Jenifa. It was just a role I played in the movie.
Whatâ€™s the story behind Jenifa?
It was a story my young sister told me concerning what happened in their school. I also had similar story during my undergraduate days at the University of Lagos, where female students who lived in hotels would go about sleeping with old men and offering themselves for hire to attend parties. We have a lot of wannabe on campus. They are eager to drive flashy cars and dress expensively just to meet with the standards of some of their girl friends who are living big on campus. They do not know whatÂ those girls did to make their money.
They just want to do anything to be like them. Through â€œJenifaâ€, I passed a message to the campus babes and also, I dwelled on HIV. Here I tried to be different because of the fact that the issue of girls living a wayward life on campus have been over-flogged in our movies. What I did was to do something that would attract audience and not to bore them.
I tried to do something that would make movie bluffs to laugh, and at the same time, learn a lesson from it. That was why I created the Jenifa character to make my audience laugh.
And you are planning to do another movie in that line of Jenifa?
Jenifa is now a brand that we need to celebrate. Sheâ€™s now somebody we have to be introduced in different movies, and in different ways. Sheâ€™s now like the â€œMadiyaâ€™s Reunionâ€, â€œMadiya Goes to Jail.â€Â That character ,â€Madiyaâ€™ is what I want to depict in Jenifa. Right now, Iâ€™m coming out with the â€˜Return of Jenifa.â€
The desire of every Nigerian movie star is to feature either in Hollywood or Bollywood movies, do you ever nurse such ambition?
Why not. I pray I get invited someday to feature in Hollywood movie. I â€˜m currently managed by stramonyia, 36. They have my profile and are working towards getting me an international job. If at the end of the day, they believe Funke Akindele has what it takes to earn a role in Hollywood movie why not. I will gladly accept to star in Hollywood movie.
Your popularityÂ has oftenexposed you to negative publicity whichÂ you also c omplained about,wouldÂ you say the media have been fair to you in recent times?
I wouldnâ€™t answer yes, or no. I donâ€™t want to talk about that now because some journalists write stories without verifying their facts. And itâ€™s very disheartening and unprofessional. Iâ€™m not a snob. I donâ€™t know you (referring to this reporter) fromÂ Adam, you walked up to me at a recent Nollywood functionÂ Â and I talked with you politely. Iâ€™m like that. Except when Iâ€™m working, and I must let you know that Iâ€™m busy and perhaps, would ask you to come back later.
When people walk up to me, Iâ€™m always fair to them.
Are you ever harsh, especially when receiving calls from a stranger?
I answer them politely. I have a private line which I hardlyÂ give out. But most often, I do give themÂ my Personal Assistantâ€™s number, that way I can curtail a lot of calls that would be coming to me. But most often too, I do ask my fans to hook up with me on my site, where I chat with them twice a week.
You sound friendly, and innocent, but your name have been characterised with controversy in recent times; itâ€™sÂ either you are been alleged of snatching somebodyâ€™s husband or that you are locked in a battle over a boyfriend. Whatâ€™s the truth in all these allegations?
I said earlier, I wasnâ€™t going to talk about this matter, but thereâ€™s no way this interview session can be completed without me clearing the air. Let me state categorically here that, I did not snatch anybodyâ€™s boy -friend or husband.
Iâ€™m single but Iâ€™m not searching . By the grace of God, I will get married very,Â very soon. My fans out there, please pray for me that it works out fine. Funke Akindele is a role model to many young people. Many young girls today want to be like Funke Akindele.
So, why should I snatch another womanâ€™s husband or boy- friend? Funke Akindele did not snatch anybodyâ€™s husband period. I rather would stick to my fans out there than to do things that would tarnish my image.
Though painful, how did your mother receive all these allegations?
She was courageous, and the one who was encouraging me to be strong. Initially, I broke down and cried seriously,Â but my mum was there for me, encouraging me to be strong.
Letting me know that my fans out there want to see me produce wonderful works, and that ifÂ I breakdown or allow myself to be distracted with all these stories, I would not be able to achieve more. â€œYou have to be strong and remain focused.â€ That was the voice of my mum.