Stephanie Okereke is a household name, having starred in nearly a hundred Nollywood video films. But her latest effort might just put her firmly on the map of filmmaking.
As her new film, Through the Glass, premiered with Hollywood pizzazz in Lagos, Okereke sat down with NEXT to talk about the new dimensions to her career.
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Why is the film called Through the Glass?
I actually have no clue. Maybe it’s because I was going through the glass at the time I wrote it? You’re going through something; you are trying to discover yourself. You’re confused at some point. Just like growing up… who do I become; what do I do?
And that’s what you see in the guy (lead role played by Garret McKechnie), because he’s suffering from some sort of psychological thing that happened in his childhood. Perhaps the only way he feels like a man is when he sleeps with a bunch of women.
And that actually happens to a lot of guys… they don’t know why they do the things they do.
What was the casting process like?
Christy Williams - we had done a movie with her before and she was awesome so we had her in mind. When Brion Rose walked in, he was so sweet… I was getting frustrated… Two days to my shoot and we hadn’t found the guy! And Garret just walked in and flipped his hair, saying, “I had to walk my dog. Sorry I’m late!” And I said, “That’s him!”
I thought about using the dog, but in your first movie you don’t want to deal with a dog and a baby at the same time.
How do you think the Nigerian audience will receive this film?
They’ve already received it! The thing that gave us confidence was that we screened it in LA (Los Angeles). When you’re writing a movie, you imagine, ‘at this point they will laugh. At this point they will keep quiet. At this point they will reflect.’
I had all these reactions in LA and so I was hoping in Nigeria, we would get it. They also reacted that way at exactly the same points I wanted. I was even shocked that people loved it.
I was careful in the script with the way I presented Nigeria. Many of the films I’ve seen in the Diaspora, it’s either they are Nigerians struggling for visa, or doing something illegal.
But this is just a girl just chilling, like I was just chilling in the US, going to school and stuff. There are normal people who are like that. I had to put that natural setting so that everybody will be able to [recognise] themselves. The American, the Nigerian will be able to find him/her self.
Your character, Ada, was the perfect girl, almost; while the African American women were not of the best moral character. How do you think African Americans will react to that portrayal?
We’re trying to be realistic. These are some of the things that go on. And at the end of the day the [African American character] came to her senses and realised she had to get her life sorted. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s a pretty balanced portrayal.
How will Through the Glass be marketed?
We’re doing the theatre release, then DVDs. I have American distribution and we’re also working on distribution in Europe and other African countries.
Are you worried about piracy?
Yes. I spent my money on it, I should worry. But it’s not just about making money, although I want people to buy the movie. It’s about setting a pace. Nigerians have been craving, saying “Give us something of good quality. We’ll buy.”
The government should sit up and help us fight these pirates. Or at least push them into the black market, instead of pirating my movies in my face. I think this movie will stir up all these issues.
How would you compare the experience of making Through the Glass to a typical Nollywood movie?
I combined my Nollywood ‘kpa kpa kpa o’ with the American refined way. We shot the movie in two weeks. See, Nollywood, we’re fab! It’s just like going to university here in Nigeria – the amount of work you do under very constrained circumstances.
The circumstances in which we grow up in Nigeria are so hardcore, you can survive anywhere else. When I said we were going to shoot the movie in two weeks, it was like I was crazy - but pre-production is key. If you plan, it’s not how long you shoot the movie.
Plan, have a good story and good actors. At first when I told them I was going to direct the film, they didn’t know who I was. I think Garret went to Google me and then humbled himself.
But they still didn’t get it until the LA premiere. The experience was fun. But it was difficult because it was a different setting; somewhere I’ve never worked before. Working in Nigeria is also a lot of fun. I love it.
Nigeria made me who I am today. The two experiences are totally different, but you can achieve whatever you want – whether you’re in Nigeria or in America. Even in America they produce useless, horrible movies.
You see some people who call themselves directors and they know absolutely nothing. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, do what you want.
What challenges did you face during the making of this film?
I wrote, produced and directed it; Working round the clock – on and off location. I had an amazing co-producer. I think it’s a good thing when you have good people who believe in you.
I was grateful for the cast. Everyone was hands-on. And now we’re friends, hoping to do a lot of work together. I’m happy. The joy is that at the end of the day everything turned out okay. All efforts paid off – that’s where satisfaction comes from.
What’s next for Stephanie Okereke?
Ah, nfc! People in my industry are asking, “Who’s going to beat that?” The stakes are higher for me too. There’s a lot more work to be done. Right now, I’m part of a company called Del York, and I work with the managing director, Linus Idahosa, to bring the New York Film Academy to Nigeria.
I feel that capacity building is key and is lacking here. I also benefited from the school – that’s where I studied directing.
This is the greatest tool we have to rebrand Nigeria. America has been able to colonise the whole world through entertainment. That’s why when you go somewhere, you feel like you really know that place because you’ve seen in movies. How people perceive you is a great rebranding tool.