Once beaten, twice shy, so goes a popular saying and this is the exact case with popular star actress, Barbara Soky. In this very emotional and heart touching interview with FUNMI SALOME JOHNSON, this al- luring Rivers State-born actress tells her story of deception, betrayal and blackmail and the reason she had to go on a long career break.
Is your featuring in ‘Mission to nowhere’ a come back stage to the movie industry?
Mission to Nowhere is just one of the many movies that I have done after my come back to the movie industry. Come back actually started with W a 1 e Adenuga with ‘Super story’, ‘This Life’ and ‘Odd world’, these are all preparation for coming back. I have also done ‘My desire’ where I played mother to Kenneth Okonkwo, wife to Pete Edochie. I have also done Saviour which I did with some younger people like Rita Dominic, Chioma Chukwuka, Chidi Mokeme and Blackie and then Mission to nowhere. I particularly liked the Mission to nowhere because if you see the movie, you will just fall in love with it because it is a good one. It is a story about Naomi which I played, although my appearance in the movie was brief but it is a very good story and Teco of course is a wonderful director.
I respect him very much because he is good at his job. So I enjoyed it so much. In fact when I watched the movie myself, I said this is very fantastic because I did not even know who killed the woman until the very end when I discovered that it was the house help that killed the woman. So that is the kind of thing that we are talking about, suspense that will hold you from the beginning of a movie to the very end of the movie. I think that was a great one, I am lucky I was a part of it. I also have been in soaps like Tempest by Amaka Igwe who is also a very good director. There is a current one that is running now, Secret and scandals’ basically I started with the soaps.
Taking you down memory lane, was Mirror in the sun your first?
Before mirror in the sun, I had done Inside Out which was back home in my state, Rivers State then which was quite a hit in that zone. It was an exchange program from Port Harcourt Television to other states, I did that before I went to do Mirror in the Sun. Mirror in the sun of course was the explosion; it was the dawn because it was national.
What actually happened, why the long break?
(Laughs), well, it was necessary for me to go on that break because I had gotten to a stage that I felt that I needed a break, it was purely personal. At that point in time, I knew that I had to take that break because so many things were happening at the same time, and it was beginning to affect me as a person. The sacrifices were becoming too much for me, I was young and the fame that came up on me was too large for me, just too large. Things were not as this time where everything goes, people don’t care about anything. The question then was who is this girl? Where does she come from? I mean… what’s this? Some people just couldn’t deal with it, so I had a lot of battles to fight, forces were against me here and there and I just felt I was doing my job and if I was good at my job, I did not see any reason why anyone would want to feel bad about it; that became so hard for me, I was trying to grasp what was going on but still I was doing my job. Then it occurred to me that I had a life to live, my life was in jeopardy, I was in pain and because of stardom; that is what stardom does to you.
Could it be because you were young and unprepared for the stardom that came on you back then?
It was not even that, it is a society thing; it is the way the country is. In America, young people become stars and they remain stars because everything is taken care of. The system is such that you can be what you want to be and be it where. There is a manager, there is a psychologist.. .everything is laid out; in other words, a twenty year old girl can become a star, except in a few cases where there is a stray and the straying most times comes down to wrong association. But in this part of the world, I am sure you know what I am talking about, in every area of endeavour, when one starts to grow, people can’t deal with it. So if you are not careful you will begin to wonder what is going on, and we are talking about entertainment industry here, where you are known. There is fame involved; there is stardom, so the issue of not being prepared enough; I’m not too sure, its just that I was lucky that I started out well and I became famous for it and I had all sorts of things to deal with.
May be back then, the society was not enabling enough?
Is it enabling now?
I think it is better than it used to be or don’t you think?
Well probably, but then it depends on what you mean by being enabling.
Back then, what was your parents reaction when you started out in your acting career, were they supportive?
I lost my father when I was very young and I am from a large family and within the family, they had their different reactions but you see, I just felt that was my calling, like everybody has their own calling. I knew that I wanted to be an artiste, I knew that I wanted to be an actress, so I was dogged about it even though my mom didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it; she has her reservations about arts. But the important thing is that I was able to sail through that. I went on with it and I paid dearly for it.
You did? How?
I did because you see; you have different obstacles to deal with. First of all, there is the issue of association, company, there is the issue of friendship and relationships and at that level when you have become too exposed; there is the tendency for a lot of things to come around you, to happen around you but I thank God for his mercies because you suddenly realise that you don’t have true friends; that is the very truth. It is like finding yourself in the middle of the sea and not being able to drink water, so I likened it to people, yes people but no one in particular; that is how bad it can be. Realisation dawned on me at that point that I cried on to the lord that I needed a break because you are just in the midst of so many things. There is the issue of deception, deceit, slandering, blackmail, envy, jealousy; all of these reared their heads, so you don’t know who is coming around.
A lot of people carry their wicked spirits, evil spirits. They come to you like sheep but it is only the lord that reveals them as wolves that they are; but you see discoveries like these come with time and experience because there is an adage in Yoruba that says ‘eni a fe lamo, ao meni to feni’ Deception is a terrible thing and people handle it differently but for me I am a very deep person. Everybody is like hey, hey, hey, jumping around you, going around you but at the end of the day, you arejust on your own; you can’t find anyone to tell you the truth. The true people don’t have a way of coming around you, it is the fake people that will choke you up. Wrong association is the worst thing that can happen to anyone not to talk of someone in entertainment that becomes a star. There are stars and famous people in every profession; in law, you have famous lawyers, in politics, you have famous politicians, so it is just that in my profession you see me because if I was a successful trader, you probably will not see me on Television. What I am saying is that it is so difficult, because people carry motives with them, in them; that is why company is very important.
What will you consider your greatest mistake in life?
My greatest mistake is wrong association. I am saying this now because I don’t wish it for anyone; I don’t even wish it for my worst enemy but the lord came to my aid because all along, he was there for me, I just did not listen to his voice because there was too much noise around me. So I had to retrace my step, I had to go back to my source and that is to my creator and it really didn’t matter how long it was going to take because I needed sanity, I needed peace, I needed realness; there was nothing real around me except home where my mother is; where the family is. The pain had become unbearable and fair enough, the lord has a way ofreviving and welcoming after you would have been dealt with in the wilderness. So it is only in the wilderness that you can hear clearly, you can see clearly; so I began to hear his voice clearly.
How will you compare the entertainment industry then to what is obtainable now?
Of course the difference is clear; you don’t need a sooth sayer to tell you that. In terms of quality of production and of acting and all that, I may be old fashioned on this because I am old school really, but I know that back then, we have more work to do and you have to work. There is no easy way out as it were because people watched and if you were not good, you will just kick out like a cell phone and there was no question of sex for roles. Back then, I cannot remember if there was because we were few and Mirror in the sun, I can recall that all we did was just work. And we have a director / producer that was a no nonsense person, even though she was a woman, Lola Fani -Kayode was quite a strict person and you just have to be good for you to be on her set. If I have made it in two years of Mirror in the sun and then I went on to do other soaps; Ripples I did for five years I am definitely passionate about the job because it was not for money, it was just for love of the job. The world has gone nuclear, the world have gone computerised, then it was more of a manual thing, so there was more work to do but today it is just snap of the finger and things are done. The actors back then have something deep, there was depth in acting, not just for the money but today, although I must say; I always give room for change because the only permanent thing in life is change, so we have to move with the times, so I guess we are moving with the time. But it is just that today, somebody just walk in, pack the heap of money, then walk out.
So what do you feel about the quality of movies being churned out today?
Today I hear that in a week, two, three movies are done and so if people are doing like ten, twenty movies in a month, you can imagine! So it is just like easy come, easy go. For instance, there was this day, I watched a movie, the same girl, where there is supposed to be continuity, I tell you that when I have time to watch, it goes beyond the flash, for me it is a soul thing. The story has to make sense, it has to have meaning and then the acting, how you deliver … why would you want to make cry? I have to feel it before I can cry. If you deliver it and you do it so well, then I will cry and on the other hand, why do I have to laugh? Same thing. About the movie, I noticed that the colour of the nail has changed in the same scene! How? I don’t know. Was there no director, was there no continuity person? Was there nobody on that set? So obviously it didn’t matter to them, they will just say okay go ahead, it doesn’t matter. People are not thinking about details, they are talking about the money, it is purely commercial; nobody cares whether you enjoy the movie or not. In our time, you will have the viewers in mind first because you are working so that the viewers will enjoy it, so, it is more dynamic now.
Things are moving which is good but dedication to work is my bone of contention. So you find that even for people like us, there are some sets I go to and I am so pieced because who you are is who you are; I started with very, very strict people, I have gone through the rudiments, I have paid my dues hundred times over, so the discipline in me as a faithful artist, you can’t take it away. So when I go on set and meet with people that are so indiscipline and theyjust take it so lightly because for them, it is the money, I get flabbergasted, I get overwhelmed; I don’t know where that is coming from and then I realise that this is a different generation. So it is the attitude that I find funny, you say good morning to somebody, they are asking you ‘how much are you giving me?’ you know it is money, money, money every where, nobody wants to work but they just want to take the money. I remember that at that time, when you give me a call time, if you say call time is ten o’clock, I will be there by nine because I always feel that it is better to be early than to be late and I still carry that attitude to work; dedication, faithfulness, seriousness, I still carry it but I know that one’s time is going past, things are just not the same and fortunately for them, they come at a time where there is so much money to take home. If I tell you what we were earning in those days you will be shocked.
How much were you paid for your first professional job?
(Laughs) I remember it Inside out in Port Harcourt and I was the highest paid, I was earning two hundred naira (laughs). That was then, but then again, the money had value. I am saying this so that you would know, even as little as it was; we received it with joy because it was for the love of the job. My brothers will scream at me ‘what kind of job are you doing’ because they knew how serious I was with what I was doing and the money was not even coming constantly; they keep saying it will come, the sponsors have not paid, two, three and some times six months, the sponsors have not paid? And we were still working but today people are saying pay ten million naira into my account before I go on your set, I feel bad and even when they come on set, two, three hours, they are walking awayl it is stardom, that is part of it.
Do you have any memorable experience?
That will be the issues of my life, it started even before I was born. Between my mum and my dad, I am an only child and then I lost my father and my journey started at that tender age, heart broken because I remember as a very loving, peaceful, handsome man; that pain has been with me up till date even as I speak, no one has been able to fill the vacuum. My mum has a very big heart, she has been with me and she is about the only friend I have and now there is an addition to my list of friends, which is my daughter. So many things happened and I just say it is okay. You know the devil knows God’s plan for you and so whatever God is doing, he is also there to frustrate the works of God concerning you, so then I am going through it, the storm, the water, the fire; deep in my heart I know and I believe that the mercies and the goodness of God abounds to me. I have told you about friends, about betrayals, I have told you about situations that are sometimes unpleasant.
I can also tell you that I find love inside of me. Usually, the young are always restless and foolish and I have been there but as you begin to grow up, you then realise that at times, what you seek for outside of you is actually inside of you so I stopped looking outside, I started looking inwards and then I just found that the word of God can take you miles and keep you. I discovered to my utmost shock that no one really wants you to be happy; it is shocking but it true. You will be amazed to know that people really don’t want you to be happy; a thing of joy for you just might be a thing of pain to someone else, so they just want to spoil it for you especially if you are a news person, that makes it the more easy to slander you and spoil that joy for you. I have always been an introvert and then I find myself in this profession, a noise making profession; noise, noise, noise, lies, lies, lies, tabloids, magazines, noise, and noise! So I find myself at a cross road. other sides.
On a more personal note, how is your daughter?
She is very well thank you.
Are you married now?
I don’t want to talk about it, I want to keep that to myself. I told you this initially I can only talk about career, nothing personal. Besides, my bible tells me that when God gives you something, he wants you to protect them. In those foolish days because I refer to my past as foolishness, when I was foolish, gullible, vain and stupid, when you are in a relationship, and then tomorrow, it is all over the place and when you say Jack, they have destroyed it..In other words you’ve learnt your lessons I have, many times over; if I did not, will I be a fool forever? After all God created us to make mistakes and learn from the mistakes. Mistakes are not exclusive to me alone and I am lucky because I learnt. So whatever God has given me, I want to keep it inside of me because that is the only way I can protect them. The slanderers and blackmailers are roaming the streets like a yoruba adage will say, ‘Esu o nile, on rinkirini’ .