By JULIET EBIRIM
Ella Mensah isn’t exactly a household name in Nigeria, but one to reckon with in Ghana, where she plies her trade. She was recently in Nigeria to shoot a film where she met our reporter.
Her journey into the make-believe world started in 2008 and in a space of five years the sexy Thespian has had more than 30 movies in her kitty. In this chat with WG, she talks about herself and what makes her tick. Excerpts:
Tell us about yourself?
I’m Ella Mensah, a Ghanaian actress based in South Africa and Ghana. I’m doing some movie shooting right now in Nigeria. I came here for the first time on October 1st last year, and since then, I have about 30 movies. I’ve been here for a year, but I come and go. So far, I’m loving it.
How did you start acting?
I started acting in a very funny way. I was doing my media attachment in a TV station in Ghana called Metro TV and a colleague of mine told me she was going for a movie audition, so I went with her. One of the producers asked me to join in the auditioning. I just tried it and I was given one scene, my first movie ever ‘ Crime to Fight’ featuring Majid Michel and Nadia Buhari.
I acted the role of a prostitute. I was in the industry for six months while doing my attachment, then I left Ghana for South Africa. When I came back to Ghana, I shot a movie with a Nigerian director featuring me and Van Vicker. Afterwards, the director called me and told me, “I have a job for you In Nigeria”, That was how I came here and the rest is history.
What has the experience been like?
So far, so good. A lot of challenges here and there. When I came back , I had a baby. As a mum, I was a bit fat and it was difficult to get some roles. I had to work on myself, I stopped breastfeeding and all those motherhood things. It took me a year to come back after that three-year break. Now I love every minute of it. It’s like I’m living my dream. This is all I wanted and it’s perfect for me.
Can you name some of the movies you’ve featured in?
Being here in Nigeria for a year, I have about 30 movies. So far, 14 of them are out. Some of them are: Dirty Marriage, Treated like a Lady, Alingo Babes, Kukere Babes, My Private Part, Witches in Okoko, Blood and Tears and so on.
Are your parents supportive?
My mum has been there for me. She loves what I do and she’s so proud of me. My dad wanted me to still be a journalist. It was his idea from the beginning. He wasn’t initially in support of my acting career, but he’s coming around now.
You actually studied journalism?
I started as a broadcast journalist. I studied Mass Communication and Media Science at the University of Ghana, Accra.
What was growing up like?
I grew up in an average family. We didn’t have too much, but we were content with what we had. I grew up with my mum and three brothers. Although, I had step-brothers and sisters from my dad’s side. It was okay, we loved each other and shared everything among ourselves.
You know, while in Ghana all these years, there were these particular actor and actress that I really wanted to see – Mike Ezuruonye and Genevieve Nnaji. I finally met Mike and shot a movie with him. Right now, he’s my best friend, in fact he even knows I’m here. So when I finally met him and we clicked, I was like “ Omg! I’m really living my dreams”. These are the kinds of people, way back, I used to admire, I wanted to see their faces, now they are my friends and colleagues. They even call me and we hang out together and all that. When I met Genevieve and Mama Gee (Patience Ozokwor) for the first time, it was so nice.
Do you have regrets?
I don’t regret anything in life, whether good or bad. Everything that happens to me, happens for a reason.
Would you have been a journalist if you weren’t acting?
Journalism was my dad’s dream that I was living for him. But for now, if I wasn’t acting, I think I would be a banker, be a reserved person. You know acting exposes you and you don’t keep anything to yourself. It is today this, tomorrow that. You google your name and you see so many stories about you, that it baffles you and you wonder “Did I really do that”. If I wasn’t acting, I think I would live a more reserved life. But I love what I do and everything comes with the good, the bad and the ugly.
Besides acting, what else do you do?
Besides acting, I’m not doing anything. Though I’m now about to open an NGO in Ghana for single mothers. I grew up with a single mother, I saw the challenges she went through. I want to start an NGO where every month, I can donate food and things to them, because I know what single mothers go through.
Was your mum a single mother?
Yes, I met my dad for the first time when I was nineteen years old. That’s why we don’t have that kind of very close relationship. It was also why I tried to live his dream, be a journalist for him because I wanted him to love me. But I realised that it wasn’t worth it, my mum’s love was okay for me. So what I really plan to do with my team is to open an NGO for single mothers.
What has fame robbed you of?
You don’t have a private live any more. Your private life becomes a public thing. People always speculate, insinuate, think you should do this or that. But they are not in your shoes, so they don’t really know how you feel. Sometimes, people judge you based on the decisions you make, but they don’t know the options you had that made you take that particular decision. Anyway, we still work things out.
What makes you happy?
A lot of things make me happy. I love singing though I have a bad voice (laughs). I also love dancing. Seeing my son’s face also makes me happy.
Are you married?
I’m not married and I’m not single. I’m in a relationship. Though I’m no longer with my son’s dad. My son and his dad are in South Africa now.
What physical attribute would you say is your selling point?
(Laughs) I heard that word “selling point” for the first time in Nigeria. Most of my friends say it’s my lips and I think it’s true. Then my height, my face and my ass. People are attracted to different things. Personally, I think it’s my face, height and lips.
What’s your opinion on the break-up of celebrity marriages?
Some of these marriages weren’t based on love in the first place. It’s good you get married to someone who knows you so well as to overlook some of those things you do on screen. Someone who knows that no matter how much another man kisses and touches you, you’ll still come back to him. It’s good you marry someone who loves you for who you are, not because you’re famous. I don’t want to get married and divorce. I grew up with a single mum, it wasn’t fun. I was happy, but I think I would have been much happier if my dad was there.
In marriage, communication and understanding is very important. Let me take myself for example, I’m dating a businessman, he’s not a celebrity. When I’m with him, I’m Ella – his woman. I don’t behave like Ella – the actress who has a manager, a personal assistant, a costumier, a make-up artist and all the pampering. We tend to be overspoilt sometimes with people at our beck and call doing things for us. When I’m with him, I’m with him as Ella. If he wants me to cook for him, I cook for him; If he wants me to sweep the room, I will. We sometimes forget that when it comes to a man and woman relationship, a woman still has to be submissive. My mum always chips this in my head, because sometimes I forget.
What’s your take on actresses sleeping their way through for roles?
This thing is almost everywhere. When you love and work towards something, you don’t have to give your body to get it. True, there are some lousy producers and directors out there who would want to sleep with you, but if you know your worth and what you want, you won’t do it. He might sleep with you and give you a role but that will not bring you out. And if he gives you the role and you don’t interpret it well, he won’t call you again. He has already slept with you for free. Of course, men will always come, but you let them know your stand. I’ve never slept with anybody to get a role, I always go for auditions. Sometimes, I’ll just be at home sleeping and someone will call me to say, “ I have a job for you”.
Do you intend going into movie production?
Once you’re in front of the camera, you don’t want to leave. But a time will come when you have to make way for the upcoming ones. You can’t remain a superstar forever. Most of the superstars are relaxing, that’s why most of us are coming up. A time will come when producers will not demand for you much and that’s why we end up producing ourselves so that our faces will still be there. So I may or may not go into production. I’m not certain for now.
No, I don’t see why I should. Fine, I don’t mind showing certain parts of my body, especially when playing a seductive role. I can wear a bum short or maybe a net top. But I’ll never go nude, not even for ten million dollars! What’s the essence?
What’s your relationship with your colleagues like?
I’m cool with them, though not everybody will like you. Some will smile at you and when you turn, they just hiss. But I respect them, especially the senior ones. We’re okay.
Who are those you look up to in the industry?
In Nigeria specifically, I’ll like to be in the shoes of Genevieve. She’s so endowed, I like her brand. After so many years, she still remains a household name. Though I can’t be her, I’m a different person, I’m Ella. I just hope to become something similar or even better.
Define your style?
Freestyle. I’m funky, sometimes tomboyish. I also do vintage. My image as Ella – the actress is different from my image as Ella – the girl next door. When you google my name, you see so many crazy, wild pictures of me. But you could meet the other side of me on the road trying to pick up a taxi with my car packed somewhere. So I try to balance it though I make mistakes, I’m not perfect. I’m also a go- getter, if I love and want something, I’ll push till I get it.
What’s your advice to aspiring actresses?
If acting is what you want to do, go to an acting school and improve yourself. You have to love acting. Some people just come in because they want to be on TV. Sometimes you might be crying in your personal life and you’re required to laugh on set. Acting is not as easy as people think it is. Learn a little about acting and always be ready. When opportunity meets preparation, success is sure. Go for auditions. Don’t go and see any man in a hotel room, because that will not make you a star. One day, your time will come and you’ll be picked from the crowd.