She had me pinned to my seat with that penetrating stare of hers and patiently listened to my rant about not getting enough work, and having doubts as to whether I had made the right career choice considering how slow things were going and Nollywood’s total apathy towards me at the time.
She let me finish, her head cocked to one side as she contemplated me, chewing her favourite brand of gum at the time (Wrigley’s white Pk) and you kind of got the impression that she was taking your full measure, not just the words that I was speaking, but more importantly the passion and sincerity behind the words. At the end of my tirade, there was beat of silence as she studied me, drumming a beat on the hand rest of her chair and then declared abruptly …”nne…rest your legs o; music never start.”
And boy was she right! That was her way of telling me to be patient, and a subtle way pointing out to me what I hadn’t, couldn’t realize at that time — I was an actor cut from a different cloth. Here we are today, 14 years later; and her prophecy turned out to be true…the music indeed is just beginning.
Another incident that stands out in my mind is the day I learnt that the father of my first child had passed on. I rushed to her office that morning, sobbing my eyes out not understanding why I wasn’t told he had been ill, why had I not been formally informed of his death? Was I not the mother of his first child? Were there not things we should have discussed?
Did he not feel the need to say goodbye? After all he did not die suddenly?!” again she contemplated me with her head cocked to one side in that peculiar way of hers and after a beat said…. “so o, he hurt you in life and he will also hurt you in death…?” Selah. What a profound statement. It was a light bulb moment for me. This was a man with who I had no contact with five years prior; the last time we did see, wasn’t particularly pleasant either… so why was I romanticising what did not exist?!
And that was Amaka Igwe; “Mrs. I” to me. She had this uncanny ability to slice through the bullshit and get to the heart of the matter with a few succinct words be it in a personal situation or at one of the stakeholder’s meetings in the industry in which she strode like a colossus. Such a cliché; she’s probably rolling her eyes wherever she is and muttering …”Mrs Doyle! Is that the best you can do?!”
An audition and casting in SOLITAIRE and later joining the cast of Fuji House marked the beginning of a relationship that would see Amaka Igwe, Mrs I, mentoring me through the early days of not just my career but also the early days of my marriage. She was coach, counsellor, big sister and friend and for many years she was my go to person for insight and answers to life’s many complexities. She did not suffer fools or foolishness gladly and would take it down with a few well-placed words even if the “foolishness” came disguised in a pair of trousers sprouting forth inanities about the movie industry she was so passionate about and spent her life building.
Amaka Igwe didn’t train you; she colonised you. She would demand from you sweat, blood and tears. She stretched you in directions that you may never have contemplated in your life both artistically and mentally. She encouraged—nay, demanded professional and personal growth.
But to be chosen by her, was much more than a seal of approval, or a confirmation that you had potential (if you didn’t you wouldn’t last two seconds in her presence!) it was more than that; it was a confirmation that you were destined for success. You think that’s a stretch? Take a census of all the successful players in the industry today, there won’t be many who could tell their story without giving her a prominent mention.
Rest your feet o Nne! Your dance has come to an end. But boy! Did you dance elegantly and boldly to your particular tune… and that tune plays on in me and the thousands of other people in and out of the industry who’s lives you touched more profoundly than you’ll ever know. It plays on in the amazing body of work that you left behind, in the structures and systems that you helped to put in place, and even more so in the exceptional children that you raised.
Nne o! Mrs I! I find it hard put to say rest in peace! If I know you well, you’re probably prepping for the biggest movie production heaven has ever seen!