Ngozi Nwosu is one of Nollywood’s finest actresses. She began her acting career by starring in Yoruba movies before making her home-video debut in ‘Living in Bondage’ in 1992.
Back in the day, intimate or scenes involving kissing in Nollywood productions were a definite no-no. But Nwosu kissed her colleague, Kenneth Okonkwo, in one of the scenes in ‘Living in Bondage and it got many people talking.
About 28 years after, Nwosu is still being attributed as the first Nollywood actress to kiss in a Nigerian film.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the actress speaks about ‘Living in Bondage’ and lessons from her failed marriage, among other issues.
PT: You’ve not been so active in movies. You’ve been doing more of series. What is going on?
NGOZI: That’s not true. That’s not true at all because I am so active in both. ‘Skinny girl in transit’ has been on for like three years or so and I have been shooting movies apart from “Skinny girl in transit”. The last movie I did was “Little drops of water”.
PT: You have been in the industry for almost 30 years now, can you remember how many movies you have featured in?
NGOZI: Almost? I’ve been acting for over 30 years. I have been in the industry before “Living in Bondage”. I am sorry, I cannot really remember the number of movies I’ve featured in. I have done a lot.
PT: Which one was your favourite?
NGOZI: I don’t have a favourite because acting is make-belief. It is you bringing out the best of which character you are asked to play. But all in all, I think I would say the one that got me one time was when I played the role of a mad woman, in “Battled heart”.
That one really got me when playing the role of a mad woman and I was pregnant so it was really tough for me then. Another one that I will say got me again was a movie where I played the role of a peaceful, kind woman and very calm woman who loved the husband from beginning to the end until the man died. It was a very unusual character for me so I found it interesting.
PT: How can you compare your early days in the industry to what is obtainable now in Nollywood?
NGOZI: Well, there is no comparison in the sense that it was the humble beginning, when everything we do was like, “this is my brother, this is my sister”, but nowadays, it is business as usual. The only thing I would say is in terms of motion pictures, we have really improved but the storyline, no. Only very few people have good content.
PT: History has it that you were the first actress to act a kissing scene in Nollywood. These days, kissing, touching and explicit sex scenes have become normal. At that time, did you think it will get to this point that it has become nothing?
NGOZI: I don’t know. For me, I was only doing what I was asked to do. I never had anything at the back of my mind. I don’t know whether there was kissing or no kissing and all I knew was that I had a script and this is what was required of me then, and I did.
Like I told you, we have improved tremendously. The way we were those days is no longer the way we are now. In those days, it was VHS we were shooting with but now, look at where we are. So, we can’t remain the same, now we have a lot of development and we have to live with the trend.
PT: Personally, do you see anything wrong with the trend?
NGOZI: For me, acting depends on the scene you are given. When you are given a script that has to do with kissing, or lovemaking or whatever, it’s what you are asked to do, then it’s left for you as an actor to say no, I don’t want to do this or okay, yes, I will do it. So it’s a choice that you have to make.
PT: Where would you advise actors to draw the line on these scenes, especially married women?
NGOZI: The fact that you are married or not, is not the industry’s problem because as a married woman, you were not blindfolded to do this thing and everything is a choice. Even as a single girl, you can decide not to do it. It’s not a matter of being married or not, it’s a role you are being given to play and you have every right to say, my producer, I don’t want to play this role.
After all, there are people who feel that it is the only religious role they want to play and any other thing that is not religious, they will gladly tell you no. So, it’s a choice one makes. It is not forced on someone that you must do this role. When you are given a script, you have gone through it and you have read it and you know what it entails, so it is for you to say yes, I want to do it or no, I don’t want to. So it has nothing to do with your status whether single or married.
PT: Talking about your career, were your parent supportive?
NGOZI: They were not, but as time goes on they realised this is the path I have chosen and that’s it.
PT: So, what were the challenges you faced apart from your parents trying to discourage you?
NGOZI: Well, it’s the normal challenges. Getting there, meeting your peers, and seeing that you are new, some people have gone far ahead of you. Trying to get yourself together, trying to make yourself known, telling them you are capable of being a good actor. There is nothing one does in life that doesn’t come with its own challenge, that’s typically the thing.
Going for auditions from morning till night and nothing happens, it’s a challenge. Going from one audition to the other and you are not picked, it’s a challenge and then one day fortune smiles on you, and you are picked, all those are challenges.
PT: Can you remember how much you were paid?
NGOZI: I really cannot remember because the first movie I did was in cinema, then we were hardly paid. The first movie I did then that I can remember being paid was ‘Living in Bondage’ which was with VHS and others, I have been shooting 35MM movies and all that.
PT: You are one of the most successful mothers in the industry, how will you advice younger women to hold on to their careers and still be available to be good mums to their children at home?
NGOZI: For me, I think everything has to do with planning. You have to plan yourself. Because you are an actor does not make you not to put your home in order. As an actor, you know and have your programme, so you plan yourself accordingly. It’s just like every other work plan. If you are a doctor, you know your roster, you know your duty and you know how to plan your home because if you don’t plan, you will fail.
As an actor, you know what you are doing at a particular point in time, so you are able to plan your home. Even the doctors in an emergency, you might have emergency cases but you put one or two things in order before you rush off. So, basically everything is on planning.
For the young ones coming up, I think whatever you want to do, do with perseverance. Just know what you want to do, don’t be here or there. You want to be an actor and you think sleeping your way up will take you there, when you sleep your way up, that is how you will come down, because at the end of the day, by the time they pass you around, those people are tired of you. Just make sure this is what you want and go for your dream though it might take time, don’t give up. Once you know that this is what you want out of life, go for it.
PT: You speak fluent Yoruba and we understand that it’s because you grew up in Lagos. How were you able to pull up the Yoruba mum role in ‘Skinny Girl in Transit’?
NGOZI: You said I am not Yoruba but I speak Yoruba fluently, that’s it. Before ‘skinny girl’, I did Yoruba movies. I have done a lot, I have done Yoruba films, I have won awards in the Yoruba language. As you said, I was brought up in Lagos here and I grew up in Lagos, so I understand the language very well. Like I told you, before ‘Skinny Girl’, I have had awards in Yoruba, I have up to four or five. So it’s not easy.
Whichever role we are given, we have to make the best use of it and try to make it real that’s just it. The role came to me like Ngozi, you are on a Yoruba set. For me, it’s like when I am on a Yoruba set doing a Yoruba production, but those ones are English and I just have to put one or two Yoruba swags and a few Yoruba lines to spice it up, to show that I’m really the Yoruba woman.
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Before this time, when people see me in Yoruba movies, a lot of people never believed I am an Igbo lady. Because of the way I speak the language, nobody believed. They think probably either my mum or dad is a Yoruba person until when I granted some interviews and I had to tell them I am Igbo completely, but I grew up here. It is just like when you come to the Yoruba settings, Regina Chukwu is an Igbo girl, but she is doing Yoruba productions.
PT: Speaking about your former marriage, what are the lessons you pick from there?
NGOZI: For me, marriage is sweet and it’s a nice union. But I believe marriage is something you go to the market to buy and it’s when you go home that you see what is inside. If you meet the lovely, all good, and if you meet the one that isn’t lovely, all well and good, manage it if you can and if you cannot manage it, let it go. I don’t believe that it’s a do or die affair. Marriage is supposed to be sweet, but when it is sour, it is better you both call it quit.
PT: At what point do you think a woman should walk out of a marriage? Some people say until it involves violence, and you can still endure what you have like our mothers in those days.
NGOZI: Our mothers endured those days and I am sure the kind of endurance our mothers had those days were not the type of endurance we have now. Now, the lives our mothers lived in those days is not the kind of life we live now. In those days, our mothers go to the farm, they have the stamina and they can weather any storm. Even if the man is misbehaving, they can’t be bothered because of the farm they and their children have to go, and everybody is tired.
But now our lifespan is not like our mothers in those days. These days, even the way people raise kids now, we can even shout at a kid and he tells you, you have made him deaf, not to talk of when you start pummeling that person. For your information, when you start pummeling a woman, that person might not feel it that time but might feel it when she comes of age, that is when the problem comes out. Our mothers in those days were able to take it probably because of the food they ate, the medicine they take and all that, they could take it. Now we are people of panadol and phensic, as we are going, the life is shutting down.
PT: Looking back at those years, what do you think you could have done differently if you had the chance to go back to your marriage?
NGOZI: Honestly, in my marriage, the only thing I would do if I have a chance to change will be not to be trusting. Because too much trust is part of what broke my marriage.
PT: You once said you are looking to marry again if you found love, how is that coming along?
NGOZI: How is it coming along? Is it an exam? I am single and I am not searching. If I see someone and decide that this is who I want to spend my old age with, fine. And if I decide that my old age, I want to spend it alone, fine.
PT: Did you learn any life lessons when you fell ill in 2011?
NGOZI: My sickness, I just feel it’s a lesson. It’s something that God used to tell me that there is life after death and all that glitters are not gold.
It does teach one that in life, as one climbs the ladder, you are bound to meet obstacles left, right, and centre. But just be focused, put your faith to God because he is the author and finisher of our life. So, with him, everything is possible.
PT: This issue of veteran actors falling ill and having to crowdfund to pay their bills is quite worrisome. What is your take?
NGOZI: I would say the guild has failed us and the government has failed too. Because truth be told, we have gotten to a stage whereby, if you are an actor from a particular year, you are entitled to what is called “royalties” from the production that has been done. But as the case may be, it’s not like that. They just want to use you and dump you. The government cannot tell us they are not making money from us. What are the things they have laid down that this actor, from this age to this age, this is what you are entitled to?
PT: Your Airtel deal must be your biggest endorsement so far
NGOZI: No, it is not. I have gotten some endorsement that was even more than Airtel, before Airtel. When I did “Face of Nigerian centenary” it was more than Airtel, OMO door to door campaign; that was a big project as well. It’s just that Airtel has been the one running for years, not one-off like the other ones. Airtel has been consistent but I have done bigger jobs apart from Airtel.
PT: Are there any similarities between Ngozi Nwosu, Mama Tiwa in ‘Skinny Girl in Transit’ and Mama Amaka in the Airtel Advert?
NGOZI: There isn’t any basis for comparison because Ngozi Nwosu is a different character entirely. What you see of me is definitely different from the characters I play, because Ngozi Nwosu is me.
I will say in Mama Tiwalade, yes there is a comparison, just a bit. You know that woman, Mama Tiwa is just a woman who goes after what she wants and would not stop until she gets it and she is someone who believes that she is happy with other people and when her own comes too, people should be happy for her. She tries to understand the children in every step of their way. With Ngozi Nwosu, sometimes I am like that. I weigh situations, I consider things, I am very emotional, that is one part of me nobody knows.
PT: You must pray a lot also? Do you call Woli (prophet) for everything like Mama Tiwalade?
NGOZI: I don’t have to do that, but as Ngozi Nwosu, I do pray. When I want to talk to my God, I talk to Him, no need to call Woli. I sit in my house, do my prayer, talk to my God. I go to church and that’s it.
When you believe in Woli, that means you don’t even have a life of your own. And it means when anything happens in life, you have to call Woli.