Ucheobi Nnenne Jessica Jombo is one of the hottest actresses in Nollywood, with hundreds of appearances in home videos. In this interview with ADUNOLA FASUYI, she opens up on so many issues. Excerpts:
CAN you tell us a little about your background?
I attended Aba-Owerri Road Primary School, Aba; Abayi Girls, Aba and Queens College, Enugu, for my primary and secondary school education respectively.
I am an actress, a writer, an executive producer. I am from Abriba in Abia State. I have four brothers and four sisters. I have B.Sc. in Mathematics and Statistics as well as a PGD in Computer programming from the University of Calabar and Federal University of Technology, Minna, respectively.
So, what happened to Mathematics and Computer Programming? Did you ever work with the certificates?
Trust me, I still use the certificates, though, privately, because I don’t think there is anything I do that has not been carefully calculated. So, I use it in my daily activities and acting career. I have never worked with my degrees, I have acted all my life.
Did you start acting after you graduated or was it while you were still in school?
No, no, no. It was after I graduated.
How did it all start and what was the edge you possesed that made you rise so fast?
I broke into the movie industry in 1998 when Fidelis Duker challenged me to pick up a role in his movie (Visa to Hell), where I performed very well to his astonishment and it was my debut movie.
Later, movies like Adaure and Ibinabo announced my presence in the industry. Since then, I made it a principle to build and improve on every performance and every movie I featured in and with this, I have since gained prominence.
Tell us about your journey into acting, when did you start noticing the talent in you, how exactly did it happen?
Actually, I was not an easy child growing up. As a child, you will not see me doing girl’s stuff or playing with fellow small girls, rather, I preferred playing football, climbing trees, sliding on the stair railings and stuffs like that.
I was restless and very playful, you could never place me then. So, in order to keep me focused and serious, my mother had to enrol me in the church drama group. It was boring at first because I would rather play ball but with time, I started liking it and kept looking forward to rehearsals and facing the audience.
Thank God for the initiative by my mum then, honestly, I owe to God and my mum because that has brought me stardom today. Then, the church gives scholarship quarterly to winners in the drama group, so at a time, it was no longer about the scholarship or acting but about winning the acting tournament. So, I started taking it serious and I won three times in a row, I virtually played every virtuous woman in the bible.
Did you have any formal training in acting before you became a professional actress?
Not at all. It was just the acting in the church, that was the only training I had about acting before the challenge was thrown at me by Fidelis Duker to act professionally.
So, how was it like acting your first professional role, facing the camera for the first time?
Oh, I was nervous. My heart almost cut. In the church, it was just drama and nobody will scold you for any error, so that one was just acting for fun and basically, Bible quotations, it was not real script.
But of course, when I had to act a real script, at first I was nervous, but that was just for the first four days after which I overcame the nervousness.
One funny thing about acting is that you keep learning till you die and you can never get to a point you say you know it all. When you start thinking like that, then you are on your way out.
For me, it’s difficult to say this is my best film because I can only know that when I retire from this job. I made it a point to improve on every next movie I do, it is imperative to me. It is a learning process, so I am still learning.
You are from a large family and you said your mum gave you a lot of attention. Were you the baby of the family or was there a strange character you exhibited that informed the special attention?
Oh yes, she gave me a lot of attention not because I was the baby. In fact, I am in between, with four before me and four after me. I think the reason is that I was not just an easy child. Not that I was stubborn, but you never can place me.
In my neighbourhood, people didn’t know my siblings’ names, they simply referred to them as Uche’s sisters or Uche’s brothers, but everybody knew my name because it was my name my mum was always calling and shouting. I think I gave her a little headache which prompted her to put me in the drama group.
When you decided to take up acting as a career, what was your parent’s reaction? Did they embrace it?
Oh, at first, it wasn’t easy, they didn’t like it. To start with, they didn’t even know I was acting until I was on my fifth movie. I mean, I had shot like six films before they knew, you know it is not immediately after shooting a film that it comes out or gets to the market, so they didn’t know on time.
Their reaction of course was not nice in the beginning. My dad spelt NO! But my mum was the flexible one in reasoning, but not in terms of discipline, because she is a great disciplinarian.
My dad was not a disciplinarian at all. So, in reasoning, she is soft and so she was able to talk to my dad after she spoke with me and was convinced that I was focused and serious with the career I have chosen. So, they both gave me their blessings. My mum would have agreed for me to do anything as long as I am focused and serious.
Today, how do they feel about you, are they proud of you now?
Oh sure. They are very proud of me now.
You said you are a producer too. How many works have you produced so far?
My first work as an executive producer was Nollywood Hustlers, which was a comic overview of the industry. I have done about five works, I started with comedy but gradually, my works moved to serious and intense storyline. My newest works are Bursting Out and Holding Hold, done together with Emem Isong and Desmond Elliot. They are true life stories, yet fictional because we stole from life.
As a producer, what are the major challenges you face, particularly as a woman in a male dominated profession?
I have not faced any major challenge especially when you are working with the hands that are good and committed. I have good coordinators and I do the financing as the producer. By and large, it has been okay.
Any financial challenges, did you have to take a loan or something?
Don’t forget I am a Glo Ambassador. To say I can’t produce a movie now would be an insult to Chief Adenuga and Globacom. So, I have the financial capabilities. The one that was too heavy for me alone to carry the finance, Emem and Desmond got involved. I feel there is need to always improve on projects, the overall cost of producing a movie is not so important as the quality and concept.
I mean the cost of shooting a movie is only worth it if you are sending the right message, meaningful and touches on life, then it’s evergreen.
It will be there for life, you may not make your profit immediately, it is a gradual thing, so it is not advisable to take a loan from the bank to shoot a movie. Movie business is risky.
How would you describe your experience so far in getting to this height in Nollywood? Did you have to face the challenge of sexual harassment from producers to get a lead role?
Unfortunately, by the time all those kind of rubbish (that I hear of) started, I had already become a household name in the industry, so I didn’t experience anything of such.
But having said that, you have no idea the kind of harassment some of these producers are faced with too from the up and coming actresses. Seriously, sexual harassment is two ways in the industry, allegedly from the producers and the actresses too. However, it is not limited to Nollywood alone, it exists in every place of work, even in developed world too.
I think it is about how you carry yourself, what is it you want and whether you have confidence in yourself. If an actress is good and her worth is obvious, no producer will want to mess around with her, rather, they will rush for her to be on their movie, so it’s about what you have to offer.
If you are good, you don’t have to sleep around to get there, it might only take you longer to make it to the top, but you’d surely get there. So, I didn’t experience any sexual harassment on my way to stardom.
The Glo Ambassador thing, how has it affected your lifestyle? Has it changed you in any way?
Well, with it, I am financing the kind of movies I like to watch and that would make a difference. Basically, it’s been a blessing. I mean, if we can have like two of Chief Mike Adenuga in Nigeria, I think the country would be a better place and Nollywood would have improved better than it is now.
Im not joking and I’m not kidding, I think for someone to empower so many youths, not just actors, there are musicians, comedians, he touched the mainstream entertainment in Nigeria.
If we have like his two, this country will be a better place because all those people he has empowered have also affected and impacted on people around them, they have employed people. Adenuga is indeed a blessing to Nigerian youths and Nollywood.
Basically, it has made me more independent and confident to pursue the kind of projects I wish to do. Besides, I recognise that I am a brand and I have an image to protect and sell, so it has made me more responsible and cautious. So, to me, it is a welcome blessing, being a Glo Ambassador.
Do you think Nollywood can ever get to the stage where Hollywood is now in terms of contents, effects, practitioners, technology and production?
I think it is not even right to start judging, there are no basis for comparison. Nollywood is a child of circumstance, it just happened to us; it is safe to say the right structures were not properly put in place because we didn’t know it was going to blow like this.
Having said that also, there is hope, don’t forget we are rated third worldwide, it is a blessing and it is also something to be worried about because to whom much is given, much is expected.
We are turning out more films than it used to be before, but it’s still the same small market, so that is why some of us are looking for alternative markets.
Theatre is another alternative, but you must be sure it is a good work of art but its two ways, it can kill it and it can make it. When you challenge yourself to do a movie you want to put in the theatre, mentally and intellectually, you are working more and putting your best.
So, this also can improve the industry. However, we need to encourage people to invest in Nollywood because to me, it’s still a child and needs to grow fast, but it is the most positive thing Nigeria is selling abroad as we speak. And when it does, it is sure a goldmine for the practitioners and government in general.
Are you married or engaged?
I am not married and not engaged, but am in a sweet relationship. Don’t even bother to ask me further questions because I am not talking about it or the guy!
How would you describe your fashion and style?
Fashion to me is actually understanding your body and yourself and being able to tell who you are by the way you look and dress. I don’t want to follow trend, I wear things to suit my frame and not necessarily going with the vogue. I understand my body and my personality.
Colours can also speak about one’s personality. What colours do you wear?
Well, these are plenty, but it depends on what the occasion demands, but I play with colours a lot, though not shouting colours. Nobody is born with style, you gradually walk into your own style. I choose colours I feel good in, but when its too bright I do less of accessories.
What is your most cherished beauty or fashion item?
My beauty pleasure is shoes and everybody knows that and the heels are killing.
Like how many do you have?
I have over 200 pair of shoes.
Are you serious? So, how often do you shop for shoes in a year?
I buy shoes all the time, year round. I buy shoes more than I buy clothes, that’s true. I don’t really do brands or going crazy for a particular designer, I just go for what fits and I am modest. Its not really about the make but about the fits.
Are you a car freak?
Not really, I am not too much into cars.
Your make up, any particular designer?
Oh, I love Mark and I do Bobby Brown too because, it’s more of a natural look.
Do you repeat clothes because most stars would say they can never repeat clothes?
Yeah, really you can’t repeat red carpet clothes, but for casuals why not?
Browsing through all the roles available in a script, is there any role you can never go for no matter the money?
None, except if it’s a role that does not fit my body frame but if it’s about acting it, no qualms. I think I like to challenge myself these days, a role that speaks something new to me.
What about love making?
Oh, come off it! We can’t even have that here, we are Africans mind you.
What about smushing and having a real French kiss?
I have done real smoking in a film before but real romance and French kiss, hmmmm you are not serious. Come off that.
What are your hobbies?
Writing, Dancing, Listening to Music and Watching Football.