You must be one of Nigeria’s top actresses. How does it feel to be so appreciated?
I am so happy and I feel so honoured. It is not easy to be among the top actresses. It makes me so happy. Then again, it means I should keep working harder. I want to continue to make good statements with my movies.
You started with ‘I need to Know’…
No. That series started in 1998. I started acting in 1997 in Opa Williams’ Naked Wire. I did one or two other movies but played minor roles before I had the lead role in I Need to Know. Since then, I have been acting.
You must have been a secondary school student when you featured in ‘I Need to Know’.
No! I was in my first year in UNILAG. I was not a teenager, but I had to play the role of a teenager. When I started, I had a problem with the role. My director was always telling me that I wasn’t getting it. I had to sit my younger sister down and listen to her talk.
When did you get into movies properly?
I would say in 2004 when I produced my first movie. Then I continued. I produced Itanu, Taiwo Taiwo and some others. But I think the major one that made a statement was Jenifa. Everybody, not only the Yoruba, are watching the movie. They appreciate it.
I have been having several breaks since I started doing movies, but Jenifa was the biggest break ever. I wrote and produced it.
How did you get the inspiration to write such a movie?
The inspiration came from a story that my sister told me. She told me about some girls going for a party in Abuja from school. Fortunately for them, the girl sent a text to the person she was sending the girls to, telling him to “settle” her and that the girls were on their way. She mistakenly sent the text to one of the girls and that was how they knew that something funny was happening.
This ‘Aristo’ thing is really gaining ground in our institutions. Yes, many know that AIDS is real and all that, but they are yet to change their lifestyle. So, I asked myself how I could pass the message to the youth. What else could I do to make these girls understand without repeating what the others have done? I needed to bring in a new dimension. That was why I brought in the comedy aspect. I brought in the village girl character who wanted to ‘belong’. We have so many people like that on our campuses.
When you were writing the script, did you imagine the movie would be a hit?
I knew it would make an impact, but I didn’t know it would be this big. I wrote it several times. I tore the script and wrote it over and over again. I wanted something that would touch lives. My aim was for it to touch people and for them to learn a lesson from the movie. In all, I thank God.
Some people say a part of you was in that movie. Were you wayward in school?
No. Way back in school, I never attended such parties. I never did ‘Aristo’ because I have a mom who is very strict. She was always watching my back. She was always coming to my school unannounced. She would drive down late to the school to find out if I was in school or not.
Even till date, she still keeps tabs on me. If I stay out late, she would call me and ask me to come home.
You are still living with your mom?
Yes. In Yorubaland, it is not really good for a lady to live on her own until a man comes to take her. It is better you stay with your parents. It gives you more dignity. The man would respect you. He will come and ask them for your hand in marriage and then he would take you to his house.
We learnt ‘Jenifa’ has really swelled your pocket.
I am okay. I thank God. I am not a flamboyant person. I am comfortable, and I thank God.
But you got yourself an SUV with the larges.
No, I had my SUV before I released Jenifa.
Was it the one they said a man bought for you?
It is a big lie.
Okay, but the marketer bought a big car for your mother.
I was shocked when I heard that story. It is so unbelievable. I bought a car for my mom. I work hard. You have seen Jenifa. How would I not be able to afford to buy my mother a car? Why would it be a marketer that would buy a car for my mother? My mother has always been there for me. She highly deserves that gift and more.
Going back to what you said earlier, when is a man coming to take you away from your parents?
We pray to God that it happens in 2009. We pray. One needs to be very careful, especially when one is in the limelight. You have to be focused because many suitors would come. I don’t want a situation where I would get married and they would celebrate the marriage and later our messy stories would be written in all newspapers. I want to be careful and prayerful to get the best husband.
But you are dating somebody now…
Yes I am.
Who is the guy?
I will not mention his name. I have done that before and people now want to get to know him more and come in between us. I am keeping this under wraps. If you keep something under wraps, people would appreciate it when you unwrap it.
There was a time you were dating Femi Adebayo?
I am tired of talking about that issue. The problem I think is that when people see two people working together and they ‘gel’, they tend to assume the worse. I am not dating Femi Adebayo. He is married. I don’t want to get married to a married man. I am going to get married to my own man.
But you can go out with a married man.
Why would I do that? At this age? That means I don’t know what I want for myself.
You read Law in school…
Yes. I have not thrown away the wig; I only kept it aside. Acting is my first love. This is what I know how to do best and I have been doing it right from when I was a kid.
Then why did you read Law?
I read Law because that was what my father wanted. If you watch my movies, you would always see a bit of law in them. I love criminal law so much.
Law is still there. If at the end of the day I want to practise, I could always do that. But for now, I love movies.
There was a time we heard you were arrested in London.
They said I was arrested in London over a drug related offence. At first, I broke down. I kept on calling friends and journalists, telling them I was alive and that I didn’t carry any cocaine.
People write and say different things about me. I am not perfect but I try my best to comport myself and live a good life. I see myself as a role model to a lot of young girls. I want to live a life that people would want to emulate, so I try to stay off scandals.
But what made people think that you were or are dating your marketer?
When two people are doing things together, people would always talk. In Nigeria, they believe that good things don’t come easily. They believe that ladies must use their bodies to get what they want. But I tell you, if I don’t shoot good movies, Olasco (my marketer) will not drop money even if he is dating me. He would just keep me by the side and give me small money to buy things.
I say it again, I am not dating my marketer. I produced my first movie. He was not the one that sold it. He saw my first movie, we didn’t agree on the price so I had to sell it to another marketer. He called me and said I should do something like my first movie. That was how I produced Etanu and the movie sold very well. He saw it in me that I have good talents when it comes to movies. He knows I can give him what he wants, and he will make his money and I would make mine, and both of us would be happy at the end of the day. That is why we are working together. People would say that we are sleeping together, but sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never break my bones. I have developed a very thick skin to all the rubbish they are saying about me. I am focused. If I listen to what people say, I will derail. I am not dating my marketer, I am shooting good movies for him.
Do these scandals affect your relationship?
At first, they wanted to. The person I am dating has a problem with my job. It is not as if he does not like what I am doing. But he can’t really stand the idea that I am off one minute and back the next. But I love my job. After my family, my job comes next.
What if he tells you to quit after getting married to him?
He cannot. Then he would divorce me immediately. This job got me to where I am today and I am not ready to leave it. I must not bury it. I have been doing this right from when I was a kid. I will not like it if somebody tries to take away this thing that gives me so much joy. God has given it to me.
Would you go as far as making him sign an undertaken that he would not ask you to quit your job after marriage?
I don’t need to go that far. He would read this and I am sure he would know that I am not ready to leave my job.
But in the course of getting to where you are, did anybody ask you to compromise your principles before granting you a favour?
No. I face what I want to do. When I attend auditions, if they call my name, good; If they don’t, I go home. I don’t waste time even on set. After shooting, I go home. I don’t care what others do. I am very focused. I want to act. It is in me. Some people say they are harassed sexually. I want to advise young people that there is nothing like that. You have to be focused and prayerful. Even if such harassment comes, stand firm. If God says you will make it and you have it in you to make it, then nothing can stop you.
How do you cope with male admirers?
I change my numbers a lot. I am a very private person. But I am still polite to them. Without God and my fans, I don’t think I would be here.
How was growing up?
It was fun. I was a rascal. I was a tomboy. I jumped fences. I have three siblings. We were and are still very close.
You also attended a polythecnic.
Yes. I read Mass Communication at Ogun State Polythecnic and I finished in 1997 before going to UNILAG.
How was life on campus?
It was fun. I kept to myself but I was also involved in virtually all social activities in school. But when they started watching me in I Need to Know, I became a big girl and I was keeping to myself.
Do you smoke?
No, I don’t. I don’t even drink. I am hyperactive. If I smoke and drink, you can then imagine how I would be.
Does the heavy rivalry among the Yoruba actresses affect you?
It doesn’t. I have a very cordial relationship with everybody. I greet everybody. We just work together and we play a lot when we are on set. But after the job, I go back to my house. I don’t listen to the gossips.
Do actors and actress lobby to be in your movies?
No. I use those I have good working relationship with, and some other times, I go for new faces. But the bottom line is that you have to be good. I don’t choose my caste on the basis of sentiment.
What else do you hope to achieve?
I want to shoot a movie that would be celebrated world wide. I want to shoot on a 35mm. I want to work with people in Hollywood. I am praying that God should do so for me in 2009.
Do you have any regret?
I wouldn’t call it a regret. It is something I would have loved. I wish I had got married earlier. I look at my friends with their kids and I wish I had got married earlier.
How come you didn’t get married earlier? No suitors?
I have been focused on my career. Men have been coming. But I am focused and I am being careful. If I don’t get married to the guy I am dating, I would want to get married to somebody who will love me for who I am not for what I am.
How come you do mostly Yoruba movies?
I don’t understand the English movies market. I don’t know the marketer to go to and I don’t want to be duped. But I will soon shoot one English movie to test the market. It is going to be a tight movie with a very high standard.
The ‘Jenifa’ sound track is on air now, do you know anything about that?
No. ID Cabassa called me and said some guys wanted to do something. But I told him that I wouldn’t want to throw his idea away. They didn’t consult me before they produced the song. It is not funny. I wanted us to sit down and discuss it. But it is so unfair that they had to go ahead without telling me.
What has changed about you since you became a star?
My lifestyle has not really changed, except that I don’t have my privacy any longer. I still do all the stuff I used to do before. I still cook at home.
By ‘NONYE IWUAGWU and ADEOLA BALOGUN