The actress, Mercy Johnson, means so many things to her teeming fans. To those whose heart is made of glass, Mercy is a merciless heart breaker. Her liquiscent eyes and luscious lips light up a raging fire in the deep part of her numerous male admirers.

It is unbelievable to think that the same Mercy sitting across us would have been dead just last year. Instead of this lengthy interview, what we would have been marking would have been the first anniversary of her death. But a kiss saved her life. Really, some stars do have them. The unpretentious superstar was at the corporate headquarters of and shared with us the story of her life.

Are you a mummy or daddy’s girl?
I am daddy’s girl.

I left my mother when I was two to live with my father because my father was a military officer and he was constantly being transferred from one place to another. I stayed with him until I was about 16 or18. So, he knows more of my childhood story than my mother. Because she was in Lagos and he couldn’t keep the seven of us with her. He was in Calabar at that time and we were all with mother. When I first saw my monthly period he was the one I went to.

How did you tell him?
I just said ‘there is blood in my pant’. I can’t really remember how everything happened but I just told him. And I remember him teaching me how to place the sanitary pad in my pants. I remember him standing behind me and telling me how to place the sanitary pad. He was the one who taught me virtually everything I know about being a lady because I used to be a tomboy, climbing trees with my brothers. I was in JSS 2 or 3 then. I was about 12 or 14.

We bet you have been comparing the men you’ve met with daddy.
I used to say if I could clone my father I would love to. I would love to marry somebody like my father. I’m sure he has his own shortcoming, which my mother knows, but I really admire him. He inspires me.

Did that feeling stopped you from playing tricks on your dad.
Oh, I played so many. But we are so close that I could confide in him. One thing he couldn’t agree with was guys coming home. He would say you are allowed to act but you can’t bring guys home. So I would just tell him that daddy meet my boss (laughter).

Does he still enforce bedtime then?
He doesn’t. I’m the star (general laughter) but he has his rules. He would say you can’t bring guys home and you can’t kiss in your movies because it’s embarrassing and he preaches in his church, Deeper Life. But I always flaunt the rules.

What were the pranks you played as a child?
My mother was making my hair sometime ago, and remembered how she would make my hair and I would pour sand on I, I would go on to turn on the tap on it saying I was baptizing myself. My father complained that I would come home with 22nd position and used blade to scrape the first 2 to make it look like 2nd position. Then, I would get a coke for coming 2nd.

What was the memorable spanking you had?
My mother was a disciplinarian. She would flog you if you wake up late or didn’t do your housework. My mother drove me out to go to church one Sunday with two different pairs of left-leg shoes. I went to hide in an uncompleted building and when they closed from the church, I just joined them. My father caught me and I was flogged.

How do you reconcile your Deeper Life background with the showbiz world?
Religion is communication with God. It doesn’t affect my work. I don’t go to Deeper Life now, my father goes there, I don’t get in his way and he doesn’t get in mine.

Which church do you attend?
The Redeem Christian Church of God.
When you hear about religious riot and people killing themselves. We had one recently in Bauchi?
It is terrible. My father was in Jos when the last massacre happened and he was crying. Religion is not an excuse for us to kill one another. Religion should be about love. Any religion that supports violence is not it.

Can you marry a muslim?
Yes, if I fall in love with him.

Is God a man or woman?
I think God is a man (laughter).

If you meet God, what will you tell him?
Put a ring on my finger and let’s get married. People say I’m married to Jesus (laughter). I wouldn’t mind being the one-millionth wife.

You always describe yourself as a humble Igbira girl; tell us about the humble beginning?
Humble is an understatement for my childhood experience. I grew up not having everything I wanted. My father would say everything you want is not what you need. Even what I needed I couldn’t get. Humble background means it was hard. If I can make it this far and get my family off the hook, anybody can make it too.

What were those things you went through?
Sometimes, when I cry in movies, it wasn’t the script that made me cry. I look back at the kind of life I’ve lived and where I am now and cried. Whenever I drive into my house and they open the gate I look up and say thank you to God. Because when we first moved into the house, it was an uncompleted building. Whenever it rained, we all had to take position to bail out water and that included my father. There was no roof, rain would beat all the properties and we would have to dry it. The process continued until my brother went to do labourer’s work with a bricklayer to make some small money. We then had to roll nylon on a stick and put it on the windows. Then, I started acting and we saved money to cover the roof. We were living with lizards and the floor was not plastered. If you look at my legs, I have lots of scars because I fell down a lot. If I had N200, I would give them to cook while I would go to visit somebody expecting they would offer me food or I just didn’t eat at all. When you get to the level where people now come to you to eat, I cry. I feel God is awesome.

Do you go to your village?
I do. The last time was two years ago.

Do you speak the language?
Very well.

What is your native name?
Ojeoma. It means child with a destiny.

Do your family members see you as a star?
No, my brothers ‘don’t send me’. My father calls me mummy. He’s never called me my name since I was born. When I was in secondary school I would wash my mates’ clothes to pay my brother’s school fees. I would save all the money they gave to me and pay my brother’s school fees. Whenever they are calling names of those that have not paid their school fees, mine was always number one on the list. I would go up the podium and they embarrassed you, they would flog me and so on. I was the girl with the torn uniform and when someone farted everybody would point at me while it wasn’t me. It was a miserable life. My secondary school mates are shocked at what is happening to me now.

How much were you paid to wash uniforms?
We had lots of rich kids in my school Nigerian Navy School who couldn’t wash. I would wash their uniform and polish their shoes.

Didn’t you feel inferior and embarrassed?
I lived inferior all through my secondary school life. When a child lives with so much humiliation the child gets to be shy. When you make a child feel like nothing, that child sees himself as nothing. When you train a child with so much violence, that child learns to fight. But when everybody pitied me I felt I was making a living. My principal used to call me tiger because I was intelligent and I couldn’t let anyone bring me down. But at a point they succeeded in bringing me down. It was later I told myself that because I didn’t have does not mean I was down there. At a point in my secondary school I admitted to myself that poverty was a curse.

What kept you going then?
My greatest inspiration then was my dad. I saw too many unhappy moments in his eyes and I kept telling myself that they had to go away. He has to smile. The biggest push I had was my dad. Even at a point where he said I had to go to school I said no because if I went and my younger ones go we would all rot in school. I failed my JAMB the first time but passed the second time yet I couldn’t go to school.

What did you want to study?
My father wanted me to be a medical doctor. He used to say I have a strong heart. But I later settle for English. People always complement me because of the way I speak. I decided to improve on that.

What did you do those times you stopped going to school?
I used to sell pure water, plantain and I used to hawk sometimes.

How did you get enough money to pay for your brothers’ school fees then?
At that time I had started coming to the theatre. Even, after I did The Maid, I didn’t get any movie job for like two years. I had to make ends meet by doing one thing or the other. I know a particular artiste that I used to go to her house to wash cloth just to make ends meet.

Did you have boyfriend while you were in secondary school?

Why, they wouldn’t toast you or what?
Yes, they wouldn’t toast me because I was the girl with the torn dresses, bad stocking with nothing to offer.

It is unbelieveable that men wouldn’t want to toast you then but now…
(cut in) They are falling on the ground (general laughter). I didn’t say that (another round of laughter).

How do you feel now that men flock around you?
It makes me feel okay. It’s nice to taste what you couldn’t taste while you were young. I told my brother who flew down to UNIJOS recently that he was not flying because his sister was a mega millionaire. He flew because I did not want him to go through what I went through. I remember how many times I had to go into my locker and cry.

Did the life in barrack toughen you?
Yes. I always say that I’m a fighter. It is an environment that made me want to go further than the life my mother lived. My mother would say where she didn’t get to we will. I also saw that for myself. Barrack made me tougher.

The fighter in you actually came out when a publication went to town that you stole some money.
Yes. You see, when I look at that write up now, I smile. I think the aim of that write-up had been achieved. Whoever brought that up did that so I could lose the deal and I have. They won, but I’m not down. I think it’s not fair when you believe everything you read about people. I think the media should also know that everything they hear about celebrities is not true. We have top Nigerians that have been falsely accused. The media are doing great jobs but not the soft-sell. I tried my best to make everybody believe that is not me.

What brought you to the theater?
My elder sister, the second born was a very good friend of a particular scriptwriter. I used to say I wanted to act and she introduced me to the person. When he saw me, the first place his eyes went to was my ass, and while looking at my ass, he said you’re going to make it. He did not even look at my face. He writes very wonderful script. I kept going to the theatre and didn’t get a role for a while.

How did you get your role in The Maid?
It was God. There were more than 800 people when I got there. It was Kenneth Nnebue that was handling the audition. I had to come for like four days before I could get to read my line. Funny enough, when God wants to do something, he would do it in such a way that would make you wonder. I guess I was the worst dressed girl. I used to wear lace. When I saw other faces I used to see on TV, I felt there was no chance for me. But when the man was doing the final casting he kept asking of me saying, ‘where is that girl that used to wear lace?’

How much were you paid?
He actually called me to give me money but I said, no, I should pay you for this favour. He said I should shut-up and gave me N50 000. We celebrated in my house. It was a good start.

How do you cope with envy in Nollywood?
I try not to get into anybody’s way. When my theft scandal came out, I was later told it was an actress that text them. But I try to live within my limit. I don’t want to know how much you have or what you are worth, so it doesn’t bother me. It is when I start comparing myself or trying to meet up with you that envy sets in. Since I don’t know what you have or do, there would be no basis to try to meet up with you. It is only those you can’t meet up with that you envy.

You don’t do what other actresses do. Why are you like the black sheep, I know you don’t have a friend in the acting world?
Nobody, not even one person except for Tricia of Bold Faces. Over the years I’ve come to realize that you can’t rely on anybody in the acting world. When you rely on people you don’t move beyond them. I am comfortable with where I am, so there is nothing I can do.

How do you maintain your shape?
It’s just there. I don’t do anything. I think what helps the shape is that I do a whole lot of exercise. I have this track I bought when I traveled to Germany, it covers my head and I jog with my brothers, you won’t even know it was me on the street.

What’s your favourite food?
Rice, but I eat eba too. I actually lost interest in eba when I was young. It happened because sometimes when the soup was bad, my mother would put maggi and redo it. She would share the eba and put it in our hands and force us to eat it with the soup because there was nothing else for us to eat. So, when I grew up I said I’d had enough of eba. I now stick with rice. I eat rice like an Indian.

Which local dish can you cook?
I’m a good cook. I cook edikaikong and other local soups.

How many Nigeria languages can you speak?
I speak six. I speak Yoruba, Efik, my language, Igala, Hausa and English.

Where did you learn all of these?
I just learn. It was miraculous how I learnt it. I interact with Ibos a lot.