A Premium Times Interview
By Jayne Augoye
Leading actress, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, has returned to Nollywood. After a three-year hiatus, the 39-year-old is lined up to debut "Alter Ego" alongside Wole Ojo and Jide Kosoko.
PREMIUM TIMES had an exclusive interview with the award-winning actress who has appeared in over 300 films. Omotola opens up about her career, marriage and playing a controversial character inAlter Ego.
PT: You went off the scene for three years. Was this deliberate?
Omotola: Yes it was. I knew I was going to embark on a break so I starred in a few movies, which have not been released. I shot Blood on the Lagoon with Teco Benson, and another one in London called Amina, which are yet to be released. I got to that point when I felt like nothing was challenging me anymore and I began to feel like my standard was dropping. I went through that period and I knew I needed to stay away and wait for Nollywood to catch up with some of our ideas.
PT: Do you think starring in Chineze Anyaene's 2010 movie, Ije, in the United States, sort of placed you on a pedestal?
Omotola: Well, I knew cinema movies were the next step for me. After starring in Ije I knew that the industry was not moving fast enough and I knew the only way out for me was to make that sacrifice and just dropout. So I starred in movies that I thought could hold forth for me while I concentrate on other things like building my business. Coming back was hard for me because I was aiming for that movie that would challenge. I was looking for something as strong as or better than Mortal Inheritance. I knew I had to reset my mindset, I was looking for something that would excite me the same way Mortal Inheritance did. I got a lot of scripts and none of them filled that gap. I could have taken up some of them for the sake of money. But I have gone past that point.
Omotola in a scene of Alter Ego
PT: Your fans can't stop talking about your sex scenes in Alter Ego. Was your husband comfortable with you playing the role?
Omotola: Some of the sex scenes in Alter Ego were downplayed because I'm married. But I won't play the sex scenes if it wasn't necessary to be included in the film. I know by starring in this movie that my fans would either hate me or love me forever. While shooting the film, I knew I was doing something quite risky. There are several ways to shoot a sex scene tastefully. I'm all for playing a sex scene convincingly and my husband knows this. I tell my husband, "You know what darling, you married an actor"; and secondly, he is my biggest fan. I tell him, "Do you want me to be great or do you just want me to be good?" He will say, "I want you to be great, sparklingly great". Then I'll say, "Ehen, we go love o" and he's fine with it. He understands but just like every other human being and the professional that he is, he too wants to be convinced that I played a sex scene because it was necessary. I know when he watches movies sometimes he would say, "Did they have to kiss if they were not going to kiss well?"
PT: You got pretty raunchy with your co-stars in your latest movie, Alter Ego. Are you ready for viewer's criticisms?
Omotola: When I wasn't even confident, I starred in a movie called a prostitute, which was released 22 years ago. If I didn't die then, is it now? I'm ready.
PT: Playing a believable sex scene would mean going extra lengths. Do you think Nigerians will embrace such films?
Omotola: You don't even have to "chop" somebody's mouth if you don't want to. If the scene is not about you showing real mad crazy love then you can't now be showing mouth to mouth kissing or removing of clothes. In Nigerian movies, we have downplayed chemistry. I hope we can bring that back. Back in the day when I shot Mortal Inheritance in 1995, I had to spend time with my co-star, Fred Amata. He was already a renowned director and in those days, directors were revered. So imagine, my director who had directed me in a movie prior now acting as my lover. I was really afraid but we broke the ice by spending time with each other. So, he demystified himself and we had chemistry and you could tell. So, I'm hoping all of this returns to Nigerian movies. So, as professionals, we need to ask ourselves if it is necessary for a movie to have a sex scene and when it is, it should be done well.
Omotola acting a sex scene in the movie Alter Ego
PT: With regards to Alter Ego, how were you able to build some on-screen chemistry with your co-star, Wole Ojo?
Omotola: I was working with Wole Ojo for the first time, so we had to spend time together and we played very rough. I understand the power of being friends with your love interest in a movie so we became like a couple. We ate together and basically just broke down the walls to make sure we were both comfortable with each other and have each other's backs and interest at heart. So, it spilled into the movie without you even noticing.
PT: Alter Ego appears to be the first Nollywood movie to truly address Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Do you think it would appeal to the Nigerian Nollywood audience?
Omotola: We don't talk about PTS that much in Nigeria, so, when you see someone that is mentally traumatised, the first thing that comes to your mind is, "this person is crazy!". We don't talk about depression in Nigeria. We don't talk about how it affects children, especially those that have been abused.
When you ask a lot of adults, you might find out that some people have been abused as children. And if we want to tell ourselves the truth, how many of us were actually able to tell our parents about this?
n Africa, it's always a taboo to say, "uncle, somebody touched me". They will practically ask you one million questions. "What did you say to him? How were you sitting? What were you wearing?" As if it's your fault, you become the victim. Alter Ego sets out to address how sexual abuse affects victims as kids and as adults.
Sometimes, you see people as adults behave in a certain way, but because we have not diagnosed this problem - because in Africa, you are either just crazy and should go to Yaba Left; but we don't think about the fact that people actually have psychological trauma and that PTSD actually affect Africans. We think it's an Oyibo disease.
PT: Why were you drawn to Alter Ego?
Omotola: It's the soul of the movie. It must come quickly in a movie and must also be underlining throughout the film. Some come naturally while some don't. The movie got me on time because I switch very quickly; so if I read through the first 10 pages of a movie script and I don't get the story, I get bored. I loved the film from the beginning but it was a diamond in the rough. I knew what was lacking in it. So, I called the director and told him we will have to tear the script apart and rebuild it and he gave me his nod. It takes a big mind to shoot Alter Ego.
PT: You once hinted of plans to build a film village in Badagry in conjunction with your husband. Will it be ready anytime soon?
Omotola: I hope it will be ready next year hopefully. I also began another project on Mobolaji Bank Anthony,Lagos, which is supposed to be annex of the film village first called, Double Doors. So, these are some of the things I was busy putting together when I went off the scene. I have always said that what we need in Nollywood is infrastructure. So, I needed to start building infrastructure.
PT: Do you think the Buhari administration has done enough for Nollywood?
Omotola: I think this government needs to wake up. The sad part is that they go around the world and they brag about Nollywood. That's why I don't understand how to brag about something you are not helping enough. They need to understand that Nollywood in itself is a force and it should have its own ministry. We have a problem in Nigeria which is that we are afraid to allow ourselves be great. So, instead of allowing someone who knows his or her onions do the job we put stumbling blocks because of "see finish". But if a white person comes along, we will support him or her. We need to start supportting ourselves. You will be amazed to know that Nollywood is the second (highest) employer of labour in Nigeria after agriculture. I think if they want to be sincere they will say Nollywood is number one. Why don't we forget our immediate petty jealousy and begin to invest in this industry?
PT: You have yet to star in a Yoruba film?
Omotola: I starred in one a long time ago titled No Rival and Oyato. I might be shooting one soon. It's not a fully Yoruba film; it's a collaboration. I'm currently reading the script.
Omotola acting in a scene in the movie Alter Ego
PT: How have you managed to reinvent yourself year in year out?
Omotola: I think it's knowing what matters and being authentic and hoping that your authentic self makes sense. I am blessed that from a very tender age I was able to find God and my Christian values have shaped me. The real me is real; "I no dey form, I no dey do pass myself and what you see with me is what you get." Somewhere along the line in my career, I deviated because of the distraction of money. Our brothers that were bringing so much unnecessary money into the industry and they were the ones dictating the pace. Thank God that I was able to find my core self back.
PT: Did marrying early boost your career?
Omotola : Absolutely. It's one of the biggest blessings of my life because I look back now and I am like if I wasn't married then, will I be married now? I can understand that as a celebrity it is hard, really hard, to get people who really love you for who you are and not because of the image of you that they have in mind. So, I can understand what some of my colleagues are going through because it's not easy. Having said that, marrying my friend, a very wonderful, powerful man, who is confident of himself, has helped me. It has allowed me have that stability and be able to go out and fly.
PT: What's happening to your music career?
Omotola: I want to get back to music so bad and I am coming out viciously and it's not like I care about what people were saying when I launched my music career.
I hope we can get to that place where we can find a balance. But, I want to do music in such a way that I can be in concert like Barbra Streisand. I want to fashion my career like hers I won't be a Tiwa Savage because music is her career. So, I can't compete with her because of movies; but I've told people in the past that I almost love music more than movies. That is why I love to express myself a lot in music. I want to build my own place and be in concert and have people come watch me. That's the way I think I'll be able to do music.
PT: On a final note, will your son produce your songs?
Omotola: I would love him to produce me but we fight a lot and I complained a lot about that. But, I now understand that he is very finicky. He knows exactly and I don't know if we can ever work together because we are both very headstrong. I will love to work with him because he is a very fantastic producer. Anyone who has met him says the same thing and he is the future and I'm not saying this because he is my son. Visit his website and check out his music.