February 03, (THEWILL) – Nollywood actress and movie producer, Chinyere Nwabueze, speaks with Ivory Ukonu about her career and the gains of being an active operator in the make-belief world. Excerpts:
Is acting a means to an end or a dream come true for you?
Acting is not a means to an end. It is a passion for me. That is why I put my soul into the craft. I did not stumble into it accidentally; I studied Theatre Arts in school. Even before the advent of Nollywood, I worked in the banking industry before I ventured fully into acting. So, it is not a means to an end because I don’t actually see myself doing any other thing other than film making. Although I have other side hustles, my main job is with the film industry.
How did your journey to the acting world begin?
My journey into the acting world started as a passion in secondary school. I attended Owerri Girls Secondary School, Imo State. I was quite prolific in literature studies and the English language. I belonged to the dramatic club and participated in stage plays. So it was only natural that I chose to study Theatre Arts for my higher education and that was even before the advent of Nollywood as an industry began like I mentioned earlier.
How easy or difficult was your acceptance in the industry?
It was quite easy for me to adapt in the industry because it was passion driven and I wasn’t in any way discouraged or frustrated because I was working towards a goal which I knew was bound to come with challenges. As for acceptance, because I had something to offer to the industry it was natural for me to be accepted.
Which movie gave you your big break?
I did lots of jobs that gave me a break in different ways. Notably was ‘Stolen Bible’ where I played Mother Superior. That movie got me noticed. Then ‘Wise inlaws/Best Honeymoon’ got me a nomination at the Zulu African Film Academy Awards, also known as ZAFAA Global Awards, an annual ceremony that rewards African films in the Diaspora. I was nominated in the Best Actress in a Comedy category. There is also the series, ‘SPIDER,’ which ran for like five years and I played the very hilarious and cantankerous Amaka Okorocha. It was quite a popular series back in the day and it gave me national recognition because it was on television all over Nigeria and beyond. Then the movie that gave me my brand name, ‘Madam Tinted’ was the ‘Palace Crisis/Palace on Fire’ that I did with Mercy Johnson.
What determines the kind of roles you take on in movies?
An artist’s ability to play any role given to him or her makes the artist good. Versatility is it for any actor who knows his onion in the game. I love challenging roles that, of course, bring out the best in me as an actor.
Do you sometimes have an input in the kind of roles you play?
I can play any role as long as I am not required to strip naked completely in the film. Also professionally I can make inputs and suggestions for the character that I am given to play, for better interpretations. Movie making is a teamwork. No director knows it all. Also, my long years and experience in the industry qualifies me to make inputs where necessary.
What determines the kind of movies you choose to appear in?
The story has to be good and the script tight, although most times, the script is just a guideline for the actor. A good actor is expected to bring out the best interpretations from a script, however badly scripted. Also I am quite particular with the calibre of director I work with. I don’t expect to turn into a director on a set where the director is mediocre because I am paid to act, not to be a director. I have had situations where I faced such challenges. What I did was to take up such responsibilities so as to save my face in the film. But these days, I won’t do such a thing again. And that is why I have to know the capacity of a director before I take up a job.
Which role and what movie would you say challenged your craft as an actor?
I have had many challenging roles, but the movie or series that was quite challenging was my role as Amaka Okorocha in the television series, ‘Spider.’ I played an illiterate cantankerous local market woman. There is also this other one where I played a crime fighting policewoman who was always chasing after criminals. I had to physically fight the bad boys. It was quite tough and challenging for me, but I did it so well that I still get positive reviews from people about my role any time they watch it.
Did you ever think in your wildest imagination that you would become as big and recognised as you are today?
Oh yes. I knew that I was going to be recognised and even bigger than this because I was quite prepared for it. There is a saying that when preparation comes in contact with opportunity it becomes luck. All my life I had wanted to either be a broadcaster, an actor or a teacher. See where we are today.
Do you have a dream role in your bucket list and what is it?
Well, I have played almost every available role that any woman in my age bracket could play but I will still love to be stretched within my limit. I would like a role like that of Sola Sobowale in ‘King of the Boys.’ I think I have such strength and energy.
Like most of your colleagues who have dabbled into movie production as well?
Yes. I have been producing movies in between my acting career. The last one that I did was ‘BIG MAMA’S HOUSE.’ It is a 13-episode series where I got to work with kids. It was quite challenging shooting with about 15 kids between the ages of 3 to 14 years. But we were able to pull through the project. It came out beautifully well and it is going on air soon.
What is the lure for actors to become movie producers?
Most of us actors are turning into movie producers and content creators because of the boom in internet monetisation of Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. I am not going to let such opportunities slip by. So I am also taking full advantage of it. I am working towards getting my Facebook pages and my YouTube monetised so that I can fully get down to the business of creating contents for my channels.
The best decision any actor will make in his or her career is to also become a stakeholder in the business. By doing so, the person will also become a contributor professionally. Maybe over the years, such an actor would have felt that things were supposed to be done in a certain way but weren’t. And so, dabbling into movie production enables the actor to do what he feels best doing. With the advent of the Internet, it is a platform to showcase and market your films or contents, unlike back in the days where movie marketers were the ones calling the shots. There is so much money to be made online and most actors that have turned into movie producers and content creators are cashing out big time. Most of us are not just relying on the artiste fees being paid to us to act, we have become investors too in the business and doing quite well at it. Artistes are now buying houses left right and centre from the proceeds of their productions.
You said earlier that you have other side hustles. What else do you do besides acting?
All other businesses of mine still revolve around the movie industry. I also own production equipment, like cameras, lights and I just recently acquired a very sophisticated drone for rental. In a nutshell, film making is the only business that I am involved in at present. Maybe I might continue to do other things in the future, but for now this is only what I do. So far, so good it’s paying my bills.
If you were given an opportunity to change one thing about your industry to take it to the next level, what would that be and how would you go about it?
Well, the change that we movie practitioners agitated for in the past is here. Marketing and distribution were the major challenges in the past. Now we have the distribution companies with us; Netflix, Amazon, Primeworld and, of course, the Internet.
What would you consider to be your greatest achievement as an actor and in life generally?
Becoming an investor and a financial stakeholder in the industry has given me the opportunity to produce good stories and also to churn out good quality films shot with better equipment. I now have a say unlike back in the day where an artist didn’t have much input in the films that were produced. My greatest achievement is the ability to stay on top of my game. The financial gains, the recognition locally and internationally and of course, the job satisfaction and the fulfillment that I am earning a living from my passion.
What are some of the challenges you encountered on the job?
I remember back in the early 2000 when I came down to Lagos in pursuit of my acting career, when there were no mobile phones, we would trek from one place to another within Surulere and even up to the National Theatre Orile Iganmu to scout for acting jobs. We would attend auditions after auditions. Most times I would pass the auditions and will have my name penciled down for casting but when I won’t be informed when the movie will be shot.
You mean you won’t know when the movie would be shot?
Yes, because most times messages wouldn’t come to you on time that you are needed or one might be unreachable or competitors for the same role who might be around when they are looking for you, might mischievously lie to the production manager that you are out of town and then lobby for the role. So when mobile phones came, it became a lot easier to keep contacts or be contacted. Also they were fewer productions back in the day and so securing movie roles was a herculean task. Actors these days are having it much much easier because there are now movie productions everywhere and it’s spread out both in Lagos, Asaba, Enugu and other major towns and villages. Back then, movie productions only happened in Lagos and Enugu States.
What was growing up like for you? Did it in any way influence your choice of career?
Growing up was quite fun because I got exposed to different people from different tribes. My father was a federal civil servant and so the family followed him to different states that he was transferred to in the course of his career. We lived in the North and in the Middle-Belt. I speak Hausa almost fluently and a some Tiv. Coming down to the east, I speak the Owerri dialect fluently too. I did an Igbo movie where I chose to speak the Owerri dialect so convincingly that most people who watched the movie thought I was from Owerri, Imo State and not Ohafia, Abia State. People argued about it. So, the exposures that I had in my formative years made a big impact in my acting career. I also think that my mother is quite dramatic, and I must have picked the traits from her.
Who are some of the people you look up to in the game and why?
I think I am my own competitor. I believe that every actor is unique in his or her own ways of interpreting a role. However, I try to improve and get better in my acting skill as the days go by.
Has there ever been a time you thought of quitting as an actor?
Never ever! Despite the challenges that I had in my earliest days in the industry, there hasn’t been a time that I ever thought of quitting because I have always believed that nothing good comes easy. All my years of toil in the industry is actually paying off. And to God be the glory, I have managed to remain relevant and consistent these past 23 years that I have been in Nollywood. It will interest you to know that I got an award for the Most Consistent Actress in Nollywood last year.
And your greatest challenge in life?
My greatest challenge in life is my body size and my conscious efforts to try to be smart and fit for my job.
How do you unwind?
I unwind by working out. Film making is quite strenuous work and the best way to manage stress is through exercises. Recently I have incorporated exercises into my lifestyle. Any period that I am not on a film set, you will see me at the stadium or at the gym house sweating it out. I also love to travel and I have travelled a lot in the course of my job. I love dancing and I also love to cook. A plan is on the way for a cooking programme which I am working on, ‘The Lady Tinted Kitchen Show.’