TELL us about your passion for acting. How did it begin?
I had always been artistically inclined. I was in Igbo Cultural Troupe in primary school, Yoruba Cultural Troupe in secondary school. Then, I went ahead to study Creative Arts at the University of Lagos. So, being an actor is very intentional for me. I had been doing professional stage plays from school, even certain roles in soap operas, while I was in school. In fact, I was in my final year, when I was in Tinsel. After school, I worked with a media company for about a year, but I was so unfulfilled. One day, I said no more. I’d go back to my first love and there has been no looking back since then.
You’re in the news for your big role as Linda in Oloture; what does playing that role mean to you?
Linda represents the strength of every woman. Linda represents every first born girl. Linda represents that woman that is ever willing to do anything to support her family and to make sure that her family gets the best in life or the better life than they have right now. Linda represents that woman that is very determined, dogged, very hard working, very resilient and goal oriented. In the true sense of it, Linda represents that girl looking for greener pastures and has just seen how crucial and how difficult the society is. She gives up on herself, seeking greener pastures in Europe. Unfortunately, she is going there for the wrong reasons. She knows what she is going to do, but because of the love for her family, her younger ones, she wants the best for her family and she has taken it upon herself to be responsible for them and so she makes the wrong decision. Like every girl, she makes sure everyone around her is happy at the expense of themselves.
How challenging was your process of getting into the character? Did it exert you?
I will say that the character is one of the most challenging that I have had to play. When I read the script, I burst into tears. I realised that this was the reality for a lot of people who had made this wrong decision or who will make this decision. It was so emotional for me and it was very challenging. The first thing I did in the quest for looking for Linda was to go to a number of brothels, related with some prostitutes because Linda is a queen of the streets. I knew I couldn’t give a half-baked Linda. I had to deliver a Linda that was very deliverable. I met with a number of prostitutes and gisted with him. Then, I realised that they are nice people, people like you and I. Life has just been pretty unfair to them and at some points, they made decisions that were bad. I had to relate with them to understand their mentality, their motivation and the why they did the things they did. Also, I had to smoke a lot. I don’t smoke in real life, but I had to learn how to smoke. It didn’t go well with my system. There were times I was sick for smoking on set, but considering the fact that I had to keep at it, I just had to give my best to the character. Also, I had to learn the Benin language. It was difficult to learn, knowing the right intonations and pronunciations. I would say a big thank you to Aunty Mo Abudu who insisted that I did it well. I must say a big thank you to Adesuwa Oransaye who also helped me with translation, voice notes and more. It was very challenging, but I loved it and it was worth it. Sometimes, we shot late into the night. We were scantily dressed, got cold, but I just had to be strong. I wanted to be raw and as true to the character as possible.
What has the feedback been like? What’s the best honest review you’ve got so far?
Each time Linda went through the transition, I had to go through it with her. I would just be on set, unhappy because for a long time, I was detached and I chose not to draw a line. I chose to be who Linda was. There were times when I would be sad, cry or be angry, depending on what Linda was like at that. Emotionally, it was very draining considering the fact that it was somebody’s reality out there. But I loved it. The reviews have been fantastic; they have been mind-blowing. I have never had such reviews before, not just from people in Nigeria, but people outside the shores of Nigeria, people in the international space and filmmakers, talking about the beauty of the story. I know a number of people have said you deserve an Oscar for your performance and I am super humble. Some reviews actually make me cry, especially when they talk about how much the movie has touched them. Many talked about aunties, uncles who died on their way to Europe. So, it’s been such an emotional roller-coaster for me. I have got more followers that appreciate my craft all over the world, trending as top ten in over 30 countries. I am so excited.
What are your top memorable moments in your career?
That was when I won my very first award in 2015. I won the best supporting actor for the movie, Ojuju. It was humbling because of the fact that I won in a category where people I literarily grew up watching were also nominated. People, like Liz Benson, who I had always adored as a child. Funke Akindele and Uche Jombo were also nominated in that category, and I didn’t think that I was going to win, but I won. It was so humbling, and I cried on stage. Another was when I went for the Film Festival in Tunisia and the private screening for Oloture with Mo Abudu, Omoni Oboli and our director, Kenneth Gyang. It was such a beautiful moment and every other time that I had won awards.
Have you ever embarrassed yourself on stage or screen? How did you handle it or turn it around?
I remember an experience. Sometime in 2008, when we were doing seasons of Wole Soyinka at Terra Culture and I played Iya Loja directed by Segun Adefila and the guy who was to play Eleshin Oba forgot his lines and it now looked liked it was me that forgot my lines . So, the onus was on me as Iya Loja to do something and I started thinking. An idea came into my head and I said Eleshin Oba, if you come back to the world, you must never do this (to ba tun aye wa, o o gbodo se ru e mo) and I continued. Somehow, that line just made him remember his own line and brought back. For the audience, it just looked like a dramatic pause and they all started clapping based on my delivery. That is the beautiful thing about stage, all for one, one for all. The audience does not know your lines, and they would only take whatever you give to them. Stage is live, unlike TV. It has to be one take and you have to be super alert.
Tell us about the people you admire in the sector and for what reason?
I admire Tina Mba; she is a very round actor, very versatile. There is no character that you give her that she does not act well. I don’t ever get tired of watching her; she is such a fantastic actor. She has been here on stage, radio, TV and film and has been awesome .Her career has really spanned a long time, and she is still very active till now. She is so super good. I also like how she keeps her private life private. The most you would see of Tina Mba is her work life. I love Genevieve and how she has strategically positioned herself. She also lives a quiet and modest life. I love Mo Abudu, how she comes from the media and has changed the narrative for arts and film. How she is tenacious in pushing the African narrative to the world. She’s a huge inspiration to me and I call her an Amazon.
Aside acting, what are some of the other things that occupy your time?
Aside acting, I do voice-over and modelling. I love agriculture and I invest in agriculture. I also work on my own farm and invest in businesses. Also, I try to find time to rest and spend time with family, listen to good music, and go for karaoke, dance salsa and other Latin dances. I love to read as well. I love to watch movies.
What other ambitions are you nursing as you progress as an actor and what steps are you taking in that direction?
I obviously love to go into film production, possibly someday directing. Funny enough, I was a directing student in school. The way it is structured in theatre arts is that after acting, you major and I was a directing major in school. I plan to take that up sometime soon. As for my production, I ventured into collaboration with Judith Audu. We did a movie called Possession and it will be coming out soon.
I was in primary school then and they trained us in playing professional football. I also used to play tennis. I was pretty much a tomboy. I used to do wrestling with my brothers, but I stopped one day when my immediate brother twisted my ankle. Also I used to play video games with my brothers. I used to catch birds back then when our parents were not back from work, set trap for a bird called odarikoko, roast it and drink garri with it.
I remember travelling to mum’s village at Christmas, New Year and Easter, and we would go to the stream to fetch water for the house, go back to the stream to have our bath. I had always loved water and my bigger cousins would have to force me out of the stream. Sometimes, when we played certain games, we would rustle the water and it got dirty. I remember a few times when we would see snakes and everybody would run away. Then they would say the water goddess was angry and that was why she sent those sea snakes. I had fun-filled childhood and I wish I could relive those moments. My parents were strict disciplinarians. I am the only girl and I was daddy’s girl.
What are the things that keep you going or drive you?
The major things that drive me are passion, love for humanity and wanting to always put smiles on the faces of people. Love for God also keeps me going and the fact that I know that no matter what happens, God got my back. No matter what happens everything would end in joy. Also the big picture keeps me going and the quest to see things around me becoming better.
You are a beautiful lady; are you facing any pressure?
Love is beautiful; love is awesome. There is no pressure whatsoever. I am still very young. There are no late comers to this thing. What is the essence of rushing into something only to rush out of it? Marriage would come at its time. True love, friendship and companionship are very important. Everything would fall in place at the right time.