Apart from being a model and compere, Ufuoma Ejenobor has acted in many Nollywood films. Married to a Briton, Ejenobor discusses her career and marriage with Ada Onyema.
What has been the biggest role you played as an actress?
I rather say that the challenging role is not really the biggest because I think every lead role is a big role and I have acted many lead roles. When I played Sarah in Single Sarah, the role of my character was three in one and I was able to transcend character to another in the same movie. I was surrounded by people who could help me with that. I was directed by Lancelot Imasuen in that movie; he was a big help for me in acting those three roles. But of late, in Okoro the Prince, I played Queen Idia of Obini Kingdom. I found it quite challenging because it was the first epic movie that I have done and second, it was a legendary role.
Why are you multi-dimensional? Is it a deliberate choice?
Well, I don’t sing professionally, I only act, model and compere. Basically, every entertainer knows that your versatility will take you to places. No matter what you do, you have to harness other potential in you. I started with modelling, acting but I’m able to tie all into one; so it doesn’t make me feel like I’m doing too many things.
You have been able to play different roles; how do you achieve that?
We do a lot of researches. You need to sit with a writer and understand what he is thinking about that character while he was writing. When you get the writer’s mind concerning a character, then you will be able to put flesh on it. Also, as much as possible, I try to make sure that my jobs never clash. I don’t want to ever jump from one job to another job so I can digest the character first. Sometimes, we can’t help it and that is where spontaneity as Nigerians come in. I dare say that it is one strong point we have as Nigerians. People say Nollywood is fading, that there is nothing new and that is why practitioners go into music and other areas.
Do you share this view?
No, because if you monitor the industry, you will notice that a lot of good movies are being produced now. Every actor is looking for that challenging script that will re-enhance their career. Everybody in the industry knows that Nollywood is not going to disappear. In my opinion, it is getting better. We are changing our ideology and what our scripting has to be. Generally, if you see our movies in the cinemas, we are doing a lot better than before and I think we are progressing.
You started your career as a model. If paid $1m, would you model -u-e?
A lot of people want to associate n-d-t- with morality, s–0al0ty or even monetary values. People’s values will differ over different things and we have no right to judge anyone. As long as you are over 18, you do certain things, you are okay with; It is just that for everything you do, you have to live with the consequences. It is not in any way associated with how much you are being paid. There are people who will do it for nothing and some will do it for N1m, it is a matter of choice, values and where you stand. I don’t think I will do it but then it doesn’t make me a judge or better than the people who will do it.
What is your take on the Nigerian modelling industry?
It makes me sad. A lot of our models have left the country to model abroad and it breaks my heart because I actually started with modelling. I know that there are a few agencies which have upped the game, but it hasn’t really taken modelling to where it ought to be in Nigeria and that is sad. I was chatting with some models when I heard how much they were being paid and I screamed. Everything put together – the models, agencies and clients – we really need to put things in place before we can say modelling in Nigeria has really picked up. It is sad; I can’t give advice about what should be done, but I just feel sad that everyday, models are relocating to other countries. It is really sad.
What is Nollywood not doing right?
I think we need to pay attention to pace. Our movies are still dragging. We also should pay attention to scripting. If we are able to get our scripts right, we have done about 70 per cent of the job. We have to pay our script writers better and give them more time and hopefully, that will improve the outcome of our movies.
How far with your plans to do a Hollywood production?
Well, we work towards it, try to get better in our act, up your game so that people can trust you with any role. I don’t have the final say but I hope to get there someday.
You recently started a cancer? project; what inspired it?
I lost two friends to cancer and I have a friend who had a cancer scare. She thought she had a lump in her breast and while trying to know whether she had a lump or not, I saw her dying everyday for the fear of the unknown. Eventually, she had to go for chemotherapy and one of the things I found out was that we don’t have chemotherapy centres in so many places. She had to call someone here and there and at the end of the day, she found out it wasn’t cancer, but imagine the fear she had to go through. She must have done a lot of things wrongly, done things without thinking straight. It just made me think of the kind of information that is available to us. Cancer is a killer disease. There is cancer for almost every organ. What information is readily available to us, what are the changes, signs we need to see before we realise something is wrong and inform our doctors? When we did our research, the truth is that the majority of people do not have such regular checkups and the prevailing reason, I realised when I spoke to people, was that they tend to consider the cost of such medical checkups.
What is it all about?
Basically Why Fight Cancer? is all about why wage a war you can’t win when you can prevent it. It is something we put together to give people information on cancer. When I lost two people, one to lung cancer the other to breast cancer, I felt real bad and one of them was in the medical line and I was like if a medical person could die like that, then who is safe?
We are not God but we have to play our own part and if it goes beyond us, so be it, but you must have played your part. We try to tell people to live healthy if you are overweight, you have to watch it. What we do is, as much as we can, give information and try to make people be more conscious.
After providing information, what next?
We do not offer medical advice; all we do is to awaken people’s consciousness to the fact that cancer exists. At the same time, it is not just listening to what we are saying, but advise that you be your doctor’s friend.
As an actress, what has stardom robbed you of?
Eh… I would say it has paid me. There are lot of gracious things that come your way just because people do recognise you. There are things you would normally stress yourself to get or places you would have stressed yourself to be at but because you are known, they accord you that respect. So honestly, it has its own gains and I will be a liar to say I haven’t gained more from it.
How has married life been, especially being married to a Briton?
It is like any other person’s marriage. It is fine. The difference is that I’m married now. You are not thinking about yourself only again; there is another person in the picture. You are thinking in twos. Normally, it has been ‘me’ but now you need to get that selfish thing out of your mind because there is someone else in the picture.
Was it that you didn’t get proposals from Nigeria bachelors?
I don’t know. Life takes its shape. We are not God.
Why do you still bear your maiden name, Ejenobor, when you are legally married to Steve McDermott?
So that there is no confusion as to who Iam. I have done so much with Ejenobor and we just feel I should keep it. Also, I would have added his name, but Ufuoma Ejenobor is already a mouthful and it is too long, so my official documents have my maiden name. It is easier to identify that Ufuoma is still that same person than changing it to any other name. We just agreed that it was best to bear my maiden name
Taking a peep into your background, do you think you have accomplished your childhood dreams?
If you know what I wanted to be when I was little (my mum still laughs at me today). I wanted to be a detective. My parents asked, ‘Are you alright, you want to be in the police? I said no, ‘I don’t want to be in the police but a detective’ and I grew up with that mentality. We plan things but there is a supreme being who has figured out what your life would become, depending on what you add and what you subtract from it. So, I can relate where I am now to my childhood. I can’t say I’m one of those people who have been acting from my mother’s womb or that I wanted to be an actress. It just happened to me.
How far with your case with the Lagos Speaker’s aides?
I’m not allowed to make a statement on the progression of where we are. At the point we are, I’m not allowed to say anything about the case
How did you feel about not winning the Monte Carlo Golden Nymph Award, which you were nominated for?
To be honest with you, I felt very honoured. When I saw the category of those in Hollywood I was nominated along with, I couldn’t believe it. In my category, there was January Jones, Pina Face, Jane Kakoski. When I went on the red carpet and was surrounded by Hollywood royalty, that was when it dawned on me that the award was for real. It was awesome. I felt honoured.