By Prisca Sam-Duru
Ebbe Bassey is a Nigerian Hollywood superstar who has made great impact in the industry through sheer hard work and determination. Born in Bronx New York and raised in Calabar, the charming writer and producer speaks on her career in Hollywood as well as issues relating to Nollywood. Excerpts.
You were born in Bronx, have you ever spent time in Nigeria?
Yes, I did spend time in Nigeria. I lived there from the age of two through sixteen, my most formative years.
I went to kindergarten (nursery) school through high (secondary) school in Nigeria and then, I came to New York to continue on to undergraduate and graduate studies.
Is Ebbe married or single?
I am very much married to my love, Mark Manczuk. He is a beautiful, amazing, loving, thoughtful, gentle, sweet, kind and gentle person. I am quite blessed to have him in my life as a partner and I think after all I have been through in relationships, God wanted to make it up to me LOL.
How did you find your way into Hollywood?
I don’t even know how to explain it except to say by sheer faith and will power. I had always been into acting, singing, art, creativity and entertainment. I used to buy an actor’s magazine called BackStage Magazine, flip the pages and throw it away without going to audition for any of the roles because I thought my accent would be an issue. I still can’t say how I even found out about the magazine. Finally, one day I saw an audition for a Nigerian play and I thought to myself “now this is it, I can do this!” So, I showed up there with a colour 8×10 glamour shot picture (only black & white pictures were used at the time especially for theater auditions), and on the back was my made up credits and a copy of Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” I proceeded to read my monologue from the book as opposed to performing it off hand as is the norm. I tell you, that was some nerve on my part. I did end up with a role in the play and I made great friends from it as well. I had a friend who encouraged me to go to acting school which I did and ever since then, I have just been blessed to have been presented with one opportunity after another.
Any difficulty getting roles in Hollywood Films?
It is difficult in this business even for those who are already established , let alone a new comer such as myself who is still trying to make my way in the industry! Besides, how many meaty, decent roles are there for black women, especially black women of a certain age, size or looks? It is not easy! If you are not a genius, you had better be undeniably talented. It is a rough business on all levels: emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. The constant rejection can take a toll if one does not have God closer than one’s skin! My faith is placed in God and not man. Only God holds my career in His hands and if it pleases Him, then I shall continue forward, moving from one success to another. It may be a tough business but I believe in telling the mountain in my path about my God and His leveling power. At this point, I would venture to say that women should value themselves because once you know yourself worth, no one can mistreat or use you. If you know you are good at something, then put all your time and effort into improving yourself at that thing because no one ever knows it all. Find a person who is great at the same thing and ask him to mentor you and to be empowered, you need to have a spiritual core. Find God and you will find your power and strength.
Well, I would say a woman or any person interested in this business should have some level of talent but we all know that looks trumps talent these days in Hollywood or Nollywood or Bollywood….whichever wood it is. But it would be nice if they had talent. I would add training, determination, drive, confidence which is not to be confused with arrogance, humility, faith and strength of character because the compromise one has to make sometimes can either build or break your spirit!
Before you commenced acting in Hollywood, were you into any other career or profession?
Yes, and I am still doing it. I believe in always having a steady paycheck.
You starred in NYPD Blue and in Law & Order; before these, which other films have you starred in and which would you say made you a star?
I would not describe myself as a star because I am not one and I didn’t get into the business to be one. I just want to do great work and live my dream instead of chasing after it. Fame is very fleeting but great work defies time. NYPD Blue gave me my very first opportunity to be on television. I have since gone on to work on several short films that have appeared on the cable networks HBO and Showtime – A Spoonful of Sugar (Showtime), African Booty Scratcher (HBO), Say Grace before Drowning (Showtime), Brooklyn Shakara (Vox TV) and Siri Oko Fo which I wrote, executive produced and served as lead actress .The movie has debuted at the very prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Last year, I completed two feature films – Ties that Bind featuring Kimberly Elise, Omotola Ekeinde Jalade, Ama K. Abebrese for which I was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 2012 AMAA awards and Ma’George featuring Isaach de Bankelo, Angelique Kidjo and the iconic Nigerian actress Madam Bukky Wright. As of May 14, 2012, I just completed the Tony Abulu project Doctor Bello featuring Isaiah Washington, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Vivica Fox, Genevieve Nnaji, Zack Orji, Stephanie Okereke and Desmond Eliot.
What are your challenges as a resident actress in the USA?
I would say mostly, not often getting an opportunity to go out for roles that I know I could do in my sleep. It is very much a business of who you know and who knows you!
Which area do you think Nollywood is not getting it right?
This is probably a dead horse at this point but technical quality/production quality has to improve. I think that is usually what audience members complain about the most – sound, lighting and picture quality. I have heard complaints about story/plot lines that are not thoroughly thought out. And I have heard complaints about there not being enough talented new faces. All of these issues are not impossible to fix if there is a desire to do so.
Do you have plans to partner with producers or produce films in Nigeria?
At this moment, no ma’am. I never say never but at this moment, I don’t have any interest in producing films in Nigeria. My predominant love is acting. I have produced in the States out of necessity but that is not my passion. If an opportunity to act comes up in Nollywood and everything aligns well, I wouldn’t mind doing it but to produce…not right now.
There’s been much talk about Nollywood playing a vital role in salvaging Nigeria’s battered image?
I think Nollywood has done a great job of being a great PR tool for Nigeria. We can’t hang all our hopes of “rebranding” or rehabbing Nigeria’s battered image on Nollywood! Nigerians should hang their hopes on the leaders they have voted into office. Actors are actors, entertainers and NOT politicians. It has been great to have so many people love, appreciate and support the industry but please, let’s hold our political leaders accountable for what they are voted to do which is their job without the stealing, lying, corruption and bribery. It is what they are doing that is causing all the issues we have. They are the ones ruining our image in the world. Hold Nigerian leaders accountable, develop some checks and balances in government…I mean, why are Nigerian leaders getting paid in dollars like they are expatriates? A senator in Nigeria makes more than the President of United States of America and when you see where his constituents live, it is a damn shame…Please, don’t get me started!
And the 200million dollars fund?
Abeg, I’ve said enough about the government! All I can say is that they should give out the funds based on merit and not cronyism and tribal issues. I would hope that they would do it fairly but I am not holding my breath, K-leg dey always enter our matta…and there I go again LOL LOL LOL!