Popular actress and filmmaker, Omoni Oboli, speaks with Tofarati Ige of the Punch on her career, family and other issues
How would you describe your childhood?
It was simple and also full of fun. I wasn’t raised by rich parents. I lived with my mum and sister in the Delta Steel Company complex, Aladja. It was a great place with all the modern amenities accessible to all who lived there, so I enjoyed it all without being rich enough to afford them. It was simply because my mum worked there as a teacher. The memories I have of my childhood are mostly pleasant ones.
How did the love for acting come about?
I’ve always loved it. I don’t know when exactly, except that the earliest I can recall of me acting was in a church play at the age of three. I played one of those going to the temple through the Beautiful gate when Peter and John healed the paralytic man. My lines were “the bible says, he who does not work should not eat.” I’ve always known I could act and loved it too.
There was some copyright infringement controversy over your movie, Okafor’s Law, how have you been able to resolve it?
We’re still in court. So we’ll leave that for now.
Did Jude Idada actually contribute to the movie in any way?
The case is in court at the moment. One day, I will tell my story.
You once had an online altercation with Chude Jideonwo over his analysis of your movie. Is it that you don’t take kindly to criticism, or what actually happened?
Criticism is always good and necessary. No one is perfect, so I don’t expect my movies to be without imperfections. Nollywood is a growing industry. We have come a long way, and I’m so thankful to be a part of this homegrown sector which richly blesses our nation with another stream of income. When we criticise, it must be communicated with a clear view of where we’re coming from, where we are and where we’re going. Any critic should have the clear understanding that we are limited in budget and logistics to achieve the seemingly impossible task of competing with Hollywood movies at the cinemas. So, I don’t shy away from criticisms like, “the storyline is not well put together,” “the sound was not clear in certain areas,” “the acting by so and so was not up to par,” “the directing lacked such and such.” What I don’t like is when a blanket statement is made like, “the movie was bad,” without any follow up on how and in what way it is considered bad so I can learn from it. Can I stop such criticisms from ever occurring? Apparently not. But I would like to see more people begin to go beyond any personal views, to see that the big picture is the projection of Nigeria to the world in such great light that other nations will want to know what we are doing. It would increase our ability to export our movies to a more global audience that’s looking for something new outside of the Hollywood defined view of what makes for good entertainment. Saying a movie is just plain bad without any follow-up as to how and why, would mean that the person has the monopoly on what constitutes good entertainment above all other Nigerians who are paying good money and enjoying that same product over and over again.
So, no, I don’t hate criticism, because I’ve seen a few of them for and against my work, and the good criticisms show us how to grow to be even better. If I said to my child, “you’re bad!” And then not tell him how and why, I shouldn’t be surprised if he becomes ill trained because he wouldn’t know which direction to go, towards the good or towards the bad. That’s why I welcome criticism, but only the constructive ones. Even some criticisms like, “so and so part of the movie was funny,” when I intended it to be serious can make me rethink how to write and direct a particular part next time to achieve my intentions. I’m well aware that our taste in movies has been sharpened by the Hollywood standard, and it’s hard for some of us to “lower” that standard just to help grow our industry, but we have to learn to appreciate the giant efforts and leaps that we’ve been able to accomplish despite our obvious constraints that the world seems to admire us for.
Can you recall who gave you your first opportunity in the movie industry?
A lot of people helped me when I first stepped into the scene as a young actor. There was Obi Osotule, Keppy Ekpenyong, Opa Williams, and Fred Amata who helped me get into the industry. Fidelis Duker and Lancelot Imasuen were the first to give me the lead role in a movie, Not my Will, and then later, Destined to Die, in the same year. Hilda Dokubo gave me a role in her movie, Another Campus Tale, as the lead female. After my long break from the industry, Emem Isong-Misodi was the one who gave me the opportunity for a come-back, even though it didn’t feel like a come-back. It felt more like starting from the beginning.
What are some of the earliest challenges you faced in your career?
Getting the lead role was one of them. When I got back after my long break, I was the ‘new girl’ in town and I just didn’t know anyone in the industry who knew me. It was a real challenge to break into the industry again. I finally wrote a script, Fatal Imagination, hoping to play the lead role in it, but I was only given a small supporting role in the movie by the marketer. It was tough, but I persisted.
Which movie gave you your breakthrough after your second coming?
I believe The Figurine was the breakthrough movie. It was the movie that helped the new cinema culture that we’re all enjoying today. Anchor Baby was the icing on the cake.
Have you ever undergone any sort of training as an actress?
Not formally, but I’ve had years of informal training as an actress. I was president of my secondary school’s literary and debating society and also the French Club. I organised school plays; I wrote, produced, directed and acted. I was also acting in church dramas as well, so I’ve had many years of acting experience before I finally went professional.
If you were to start your career over again, what things would you do differently?
I don’t know if I’d do anything differently. I stopped acting for 10 years to complete my university studies, and I’m glad I have a university degree. I also got married during that long break and had children, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the accolades I may have missed in that period. Each opportunity I lost seems to have opened other doors for me, so I’m glad for all the experiences that I’ve gone through, because they have defined who I am today. I thank God for all the joys as well as the scars because they show me what God has pulled me through. I wouldn’t do anything differently.
Many believe that your relationship with former president, Goodluck Jonathan, was a boost for you; in what ways did he contribute to your career?
Being Mrs. Elliott was my directorial debut, and I had applied to show the movie to the president and he obliged. Anything that gives you publicity for your movies prior to the cinema release is definitely always welcome by any serious filmmaker. It was a great honour and a beautiful boost to my career as a filmmaker. To launch out that way was definitely the very thing I needed then and I’m thankful for it.
How would you describe your marital experience?
It has been great and I cannot complain. God has been good to me by giving me a husband that is supportive and who loves me dearly. Our marriage will be 17 years in October.
How have you been able to keep your home intact despite the many failed marriages in Nollywood?
I don’t know if I keep my home intact; I believe God does that for me. There are many women who do the right things and show up at every time for their husbands and still get the short end of the stick. So I don’t take credit for it. I have my moments and he does too, but somehow it has never tipped the scale and that’s because God made it possible. Nevertheless, I believe that when you understand that you’re both different individuals who have become one, then you can try to weather any storm, knowing that if you don’t, both of you will have a dreadful life in that marriage. Enjoy it and seek for the things that make for peace because life is too short to waste it fighting.
How are you able to find balance between your family and your career?
I have an understanding husband who knows what my job entails and I don’t disrespect him, so we assume responsibilities to fill up the gaps that the other is lacking. My career keeps me away from my family often, but with love and understanding, family and career have never been at war in my home.
How did you receive the news of your father’s death?
Very badly! I got a call that he had been in an accident. I then spoke to him when he became conscious. He assured me that he was okay, but I got another call a few hours later that he had passed on. It’s definitely one of the worst experiences of my life. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.
Do you consider yourself a stylish person?
Yes, I would say so. I have my own style and I love fashion. That’s why I now have my own fashion line that shows my style, and people love it.
How do you unwind?
I love spending time with my family, watching movies, playing games or just hanging out. I love reading books as well.