Uche Jombo, a hugely talented actress, script writer and producer, has done the movie industry, otherwise known as Nollywood, proud in the past years. This beautiful and vivacious actress shares her staying power in the volatile industry and many more in this interesting interview with CHIBUEZE OKEREKE
Have you ever had a situation when you felt like calling it quits with acting?
The truth of the matter is that it won’t be nice for me to say I have ever sat down and thought of that. I have never done so. Just like any other decision, I just like to revolve as a person. As you are aware, in life, the only thing that is constant is change. So, the only thing that is constant in my life is the friends that I have had from the beginning. Every other thing, including my career, changes with time. At a point, something happened in my life: I think it was when my car was stolen. I remember when the gun was pointed at my head and I was asked to give them the security of my car, I was like, ‘Oh! My God, I need to take a pee.’ I thought I was going to die; my thought was actually in pidgin. In other word, I was like, ‘Na so I go die I no go piss.’
Ironically, it was not a laughing matter to me. After that ordeal about five years ago, it was in my head, subconsciously, to contribute my own quota. But I didn’t have the opportunity to do that immediately. I remember the last script I sold to a marketer was the one titled Celebrity… I am very passionate as a writer and I know that I don’t have the monopoly of knowledge. So, when I write, I give it to some people that I respect as scriptwriters to go through it. Even when I’m plotting, I still give it out for corrections; and at the end of the day, you will be surprised at people’s input.
Truly, there is no work of creativity that is totally original. You and I can be thinking of the same thing. But it is the way we let it out that makes the difference; the finished product is always what makes it different. So, when an opportunity came to finance my project, I was glad. I am a movie person, so I think it is imperative for me to watch movies to broaden my horizon, not just as an actor in Nollywood, but as a total film-maker.
Between script writing and acting, which was your first love?
Script writing is not my primary job, although I take my time to write scripts. In 10 years, I’ve written about 15 scripts because I am not in a hurry. One thing I enjoy doing is reading books and it is always a sin to put one against the other.
So, is script-writing not tedious?
It is, but at the end of the day, you will appreciate it when you see the characters come to life. Nevertheless, acting pleases me better.
That means you sometimes write scripts for commercial purposes?
I used to, but I don’t do it anymore.
What do you now do with it?
I do the executive producing while someone else will produce because I don’t have time dealing with people like me (actors).
So, which is more stressful between acting and executive producing, as you said?
Anybody can be an executive producer once there is money. The real work is running a production. Because I am gradually becoming a total filmmaker, if something needs to be done, I am there. You see, even as an executive producer, I would still help to have it done because it is still going to fall back on me. I have the best team when it comes to this kind of thing, but there are still some things which you have to do. For instance, if there is a personal favour you have to call in, I will still be there to call it in.
Aside from being an entertainer, you seem to understand the business aspect of it. What made you, apart from friendship, go into partnershipwith your friends to set up Royal Art Academy?
I saw a future in it and I also saw someone who is a team person. I saw someone (Emem Isong) who has been part of the success of my career in the industry. I mean it is a lot of things, but trust me sentiment was not part of it. I am a business person and friendship or not, I will still like to go into business with her. The truth of the matter is that if at all anybody is going to produce any of my films, it’s certainly going to be her. This is someone who gave me my first job. I am basically a loyal person. So, if you are not loyal to me (taps her fingers), na so I go remove you. I am not one of those people that forget where they are coming from or where they are going to. I believe that if you forget where you are and where you are coming from, you will forget where you are going to.
What will make you reject a particular script, even though you can take up any character and still deliver your line very well?
Why I would reject a script right now is probably (pauses)… there is no small role; rather, what we have is small actor. It is not about playing the lead; rather, it’s about being relevant to your character. So, I would only reject a role which, without my character, will still be standing. I mean the kind of script that your fans will call you and start asking if you took the role because you were broke. If it is relevant and strong, then, I will go for the script. There are some scripts that touch on so many strong issues and you wouldn’t mind playing a role for no pay because of the messages in them.
You are vocal and straight forward. But have you ever had any encounter whereby your personality contradicted the philosophy of your friends and how were you able to resolve it?
The same venom with which I love people is about the same that I dislike them, if I am offended. I am an extremist; I have my own drama, just like any other person. You said earlier that I am a politician; yes, I am when it comes to this kind of issues because I believe friendship is not a do-or die affair. If friendship did not work out between a person and me, it does not mean that if I employ my own personality, I cannot find my way. I am not the kind of person you can advise on friendship and everybody around me knows that. If you are in my heart, you are my friend. I believe we are given many choices in this life and friendship is part of them. Friendship requires that you protect each other’s interest, even if you don’t have a common goal. I am not one of those people that have so many issues with their friend. If you hang around me long enough, you would know what turns me off easily.
But do you get angry easily?
I might stay five years without getting angry only but once. And it is never nice. People say I smile a lot. I was the popular one in the house.
What was growing up like?
My siblings were more popular because of me. I, more or less, grew up like every other teenager in Nigeria, trying to have fun. Of course, I made my mistakes along the way, which I cannot regret; they are all part of growing up and I am grateful that I have met some nice persons along the way, most of who are still in my life. My growing up was cute because someone asked me recently how I could identify a bad person and I said I couldn’t. He said bad people don’t have friends.
According to him, you know a good person if you can identify his old friends. So, my growing up was good because basically every one that was part of my life while growing up is still there today.
How would you describe yourself?
I was never a party-going girl, but I was a stubborn girl. I wanted to do my thing my own way. I won’t have anyone dictate to me who to play with or not to play with. I had my mum warning me of several things years before I even thought about such things. But I believe that that was what parenting was about. In their own days, there was no outright way of talking about sex, unlike these days when you have to warn your child from age of 10 about such a thing.
What was the feeling like when you fell in love?
I believe love happens to everybody. Sometimes, you tell yourself that this must be love or I am stupid. I guess because there are so many words around it and when such words are confirmed, you tend to believe that you are experiencing the same thing. At some times, you encounter some challenges and tell yourself that you are done; and at the end of the day, you discover that the relationship was not really about love, but the person was just a friend, someone you could talk to about anything. It’s not even about sex or any other feeling. I think when people are able to separate that, then, that is the ultimate love story. Your love is also your friend and it is very rare for people to get that because they becloud everything as sex.
Out of the blues, you started going on low cut, what prompted that?
It was because of the character I had to play in Holding Hope. I was playing a cancer patient and the best way to depict the character’s plight was to let my hair go. Even while we were shooting the movie, I was constantly being reminded by Emem that I should remember that I would have to shave my hair and I told her that I had no problem with that. If I have a character that I have to put on weight to play, I will definitely do so. To me, I have got to that level in my career where I don’t leave anything out.
What decides what you wear?
My dressing is often determined by my mood. For instance, I am feeling pretty casual today. Again, because of my hair style, when I am not busy, I don’t like to be too Afrocentric. Basically, my mood decides what I wear.
Are you one of such persons that go shopping excessively?
No! It only happens if it is shoes. I have a weakness for shoes. I think everybody has a weakness for something; everyone has his or her pleasures and mine is shoes. I can never have enough shoes.
So, how many do you have now?
Let’s not go there, but I can never go shopping and buy more than I bargained for, except it is shoes. At some point, I saw myself as a collector of shoes. If it’s heely and brilliant, I have to have it. I am not particular about colours or dresses. I believe fashion is a reflection of who you are. Trust me, whatever you wear, if you lack confidence, you cannot carry it well.
Why did you decide to do away with the old chubby Uche we know?
Well, I had to because of the movie, Holding Hope. So, now I am trying to balance between what I was before the movie and during the movie, basically because there was so much scrutiny. It wasn’t really about anything, but about me and what I felt comfortable in. Though initially, it was first about the movie role, but later, I liked it.
Did the change in weight change your wardrobe?
Well, going by the celebrity status, you really don’t have the luxury of repeating clothes as often as you would have loved. So, naturally, the wardrobe changes often because if you wear one cloth more than once, they say it is re-rocking. So, I have gone through my re-rock days and also having people re-rock it in my films.
So, how do you manage the weight?
For those who know me, they will tell you that I am not a food person. I guess this is so because I am naturally a happy person. What I do is I work out more. I live a healthier life. The problem with most Nigerians is that they want to drive everywhere. Once in a while, you need to take a walk to some places. Recently, while in the U.S with some of my colleagues, I asked them that we take a walk somewhere or take the stairs rather than the car or elevator and they wondered why I like to go through some pains. But I took my walk because at the end of the day you have to ask yourself how many times you really do that. It’s not about weight; rather, it’s about you. You can bring a size four person here and you ask us to sprint, I bet you the person won’t see me. I like to be physically able. It’s imperative and nice, especially if you are an artiste like me. I remember when we were shooting the movie, Between Two Worlds, I was to run from two rapists in a particular scene, but because they were guys, they gave me some space, so it would look as if they couldn’t catch up with me. But before they knew it, I was off. At some point, I noticed that there was no one behind me and when I asked the director, they were wondering what just happened. As a young girl, I was an athlete, a gymnast and a footballer.
After the movie, did it ever occur to you to raise awareness for people suffering from the disease?
There are just so many things that I don’t like to talk about. Sometimes, I feel celebrities just use charity things to draw attention to themselves. I tell my friends and colleagues not to use this charity thing to draw attention to themselves. When you go for a charity project and take the press with you to pose for pictures, to me, it is no more charity. Let the place talk about it, not you. Apparently, three years ago, I took a friend of mine to a place where I often celebrate my birthday. I took her there because I thought she was interested in a charity project, but she later turned it into a press fiesta; I found it very upsetting. I found it upsetting because you cannot use people. If you want to give them something, you do so and bounce. The day we went, I remember I told her I didn’t want pictures. She asked me why and I asked her if she knew how many years I had been going to that place and no one knew about it. When I do it, I do it because I believe it is one of the reasons I have been so blessed. Because of that singular act, I did not go there last year. To me, it was no longer sacred. I have had people asking me to do this and that and I tell them to give me the contact and I will do it myself.
So, how do you do it?
I have a foundation called UJ and U, Uche Jombo and you, which is basically for youths. I had to set that up because I have so many people calling me that they wanted to act, write scripts and do so many other things. That is actually what I am going to be working in partnership with Royal Arts Academy to really tackle most of these problems. We get you to come on board and see what you have. Sometimes, you get scripts from people, telling you that it’s going to revolutionize Nollywood, but when you read it to a particular level, you wonder how you got there. But that is not to say that you do not have good script- writers out there, but do they get access to the right people like some fake people do? No. So, let’s give them the opportunity. If not for the kidnapping happening in my state, I wanted to start from my state because charity begins at home.