unmasking the true face of a transformed screen diva
By BENJAMIN NJOKU
Her story runs like a novel. The more you read it, the more you discover there are many more interesting chapters ahead all woven into a gauzy tissue. But while you are engrossed in her story, you are left with no choice than to love or to hate her.
Mercy Johnson-Okojie is indeed an actress you can’t ignore. Her growth in the nation’s movie industry, as rapid as it was, gave her away like that of a proverbial “Chick whose growth into a cock is spotted on the very day it hatches. The screen diva instantly became a star the very first day she starred in a movie. And since then, the sky has remained her limit.
Although her acting career was trailed in series of controversies and hatred, she was, however, the toast of many lovers of Nigerian movies. In 2004, when she starred in that movie, “The Maid”, playing the lead character of a possessed housemaid, little or nothing was known about this Kogi State-born screen diva. She strayed into the movie industry, conquered it and has remained one of its very best till date. Her excellent performance in that her breakout movie,”The Maid” which the gifted actress said wasn’t her debut movie shot her into the limelight and made her one of the most-sought- actresses in Nollywood at a time.
It’s still fresh in our memories that between 2004, when she debuted in Nollywood and 2009, no movie casting would be complete then without Mercy Johnson’s name topping the list. In fact, producers were running after her just as she became too expensive to hire, having realized her worth in the industry.
Then, movies with Mercy Johnson’s name and face were rated high among pundits and somewhat an indication that the films would turn-out best-sellers. Her acting career continued to blossom until 2013, after film directors’ sledgehammer fell on her, for becoming too pricey.
Reports said her fee then shot up as high up as N2 million per a movie role, while the rest of her peers were paid between N700,000 and N1.2million as the producers could no longer afford her. Even, with the ban which was later lifted in May, the following year, the dark-skinned actress was not disturbed.
MJ as she’s fondly called, advised the producers who couldn’t afford her to go for less actresses. “What’s wrong when you keep quiet till you know what’s up? No petition, no complaint, just fees. Those who can’t afford Heineken should stick with ‘Kai kai,” she stated.
That’s not all. Mercy Johnson was also hot and daring. She was particularly known in movies for her hot and steaming role and also for her beauty that has charmed many and has left many drooling over her. But one thing you cannot take away from Mercy Johnson, and which of course has made her a household name in Nigeria and beyond, is her humility, versatility and excellent role interpretation.
Popular film maker and critic, Charles Novia in 2013, rated her as one of the ‘Best five Nollywood Actresses.” ‘There’s something ultra-natural and organic about Mercy Johnson which confounds even her critics’, Novia said. ‘In four movies I watched in 2013, which she starred in, she was the epitome of delightful characterisation. Watch her in the ‘Dumebi’ spawn of movies and you would appreciate how her talent has evolved since she came back from her maternity break’.
MJ also once became the subject of discussion on Twitter when Rubbin’ Minds host and Ebony Life TV presenter, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu tweeted his admiration for the actress’ work. ‘Mercy Johnson makes a lot of ‘leading ladies’ in Nollywood look like amateurs. Yes, I’m talking about all your favorite divas and A listers’ Uchendu tweeted.
‘I’ve seen her do everything very well. Diva, runs girl, villager, corporate chick, mother, grandmother, villain, heroin. All!’, Uchendu added.
While in the peak of her career, it’s still surprising to many that the beautiful mother of three suddenly went silent after she got married to her heartthrob, Prince Odianosen Okojie in 2011. Call it being humbled by marriage and you may not be wrong. Realizing that things were becoming serious with Prince Odi, the talented actress stopped accepting romantic roles to please him. Her hubby reportedly was uncomfortable with such roles, and being in love with him, she did not hesitate to give them up.
“He wasn’t comfortable with the romantic scenes. I stopped taking up such roles in 2009 .“I realised we were getting serious and headed for marriage. I was so in love with him that I started adjusting my lifestyle and personality to suit him. He is enlightened and well travelled. He understands the demands of my job and has no problems with my career. He simply gives me space to fly. Also, I cut down on my nude dresses. He made me understand that with age, you have to let go of certain things because life is in phases,”she was quoted as saying in an interview.
That’s the extent to which marriage has changed MJ. Also, recall that the actress took a break from acting to build her home and today, we all have seen the transformation that has taken place in her life. The once daring and sexy actress suddenly turned to a more responsible and decent mother of three. Before she got marriage, Mercy Johnson was the talk of the town. She was also a big news maker then. Hardly any week passed by that she did not make headlines in the national dailies or soft-sell magazines. But all that ended after she got married to Prince Ode. And seven years after, MJ has not only proved everyone who predicted the unexpected in her marriage wrong, but also, she has showed how much marriage can tame and reshape an otherwise free woman. Given the circumstances that surrounded their marriage, the actress can only be grateful to God that after seven years, they have been able to weather the storm and still standing as husband and wife, blessed with three kids. It’s not for nothing that the Kogi State Governor appointed her as his Senior special adviser on Entertainment, Arts and Culture. Apparently, everybody loves Mercy Johnson, not because of her acting skills, but because she exudes great confidence both on movie sets and in real life. That distinguishes her from the rest of her contemporaries. Many can describe her today as the Nollywood girl transformed by marriage. They may not be wrong.