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Poor Sales Good For Nollywood---Omoni-Oboli

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Omoni Oboli, award-winning actress, opens up to FUNSHO AROGUNDADE on her role in Anchor Baby and the shrink in movie sales

Not many people remember that you have been in the industry for over 14 years. You came and left, disappeared again to return three or four years ago. Why this on-off attitude?

What happened that time was that I was in school and the clash between my studies and movies was just too much for me. Then, I was always on location shooting, while my studies suffered. So, I decided to complete my education as the first priority. But after my university education, I got married and couldn't come back to the industry immediately. Now that I'm back, I'm back for good and everybody knows that I'm back for real.

How would you describe the experience since you debuted in 1996?

It is a fact that right from my first role in Bitter Encounter, as a secretary, when I was still trying to break into the industry and now, so much has happened. Though I left the industry at a point in time, now, I'm a leading lady. Now, I can't play minor roles any more. As you can see from my recent roles like The Figurine and the Anchor Baby, I'm the lead character. Everything has totally changed now.

How do you feel starring in some of these big budget movies at a period that the industry seems to be experiencing a lull?

I feel happy. It's true the industry is not doing well because people are sick and tired of watching bad movies. People are not really buying movies the way they used to. Of course, if they are not buying that much, it means producers wouldn't be producing that much. But the truth is there are independent producers, who are producing real good movies fit for cinemas and that have in fact, turned box office hits. I can tell you that I'm so happy being a part of that new revolution in Nollywood right now. At least, I've been in two or three major movies that have become box office hits.

Is your decision to limit yourself to big budget movies a deliberate one?

I would say yes. I made up my mind that I wasn't going to be jumping from one set to the other. I promised myself that I would not be doing any and every movie that comes my way. I wanted to be known and identified with good quality movies.

How challenging really was your role as Joyce in Anchor Baby?

It was a very challenging role because my character in the movie was supposed to exude a lot of emotion. As a pregnant illegal immigrant, my character and her husband were thinking of a better life for themselves and their unborn baby. At the same time, a message came from the United States immigration that they should leave the country. While trying to dodge the authorities, her husband was caught and deported. So, she was left alone to achieve their dream, which means Joyce had to stay and squat with a friend as she waited to have the child in the US, so that the baby can be used as an anchor to have a better life as a US citizen. So, she had a total range of emotions and I had to bring out those emotions. Indeed, it was a very challenging one.

And at the end, the role brought you international honour…

Yeah! I thank God for this. In September, I was adjudged the Best Actress at the prestigious Harlem International Film Festival in New York. I really appreciate God for this honour. It means I didn't have to be in a hundred movies to get that honour. In my entire career, I've been in less than 20 movies and I can raise my head high after winning what can be described as the biggest prize won by any actress in the country so far. The award is not one that was organised by Africans or Nigerians. In fact, there were other movies produced by big time Hollywood producers, yet, I was adjudged the best actress and Anchor Baby won in the Best Film category.

How did you get the lead role in a film that has a cast of Caucasians, Hispanics, Arabs, other Asians and Africans?

Actually, it was by the grace of God. When the producer, Lonzo Nzekwe, was about to start the production of Anchor Baby, he was looking for a Nigerian actress that could fit into the kind of character he had in mind. He then contacted a guy, Chima Okerie, who is also a Nollywood person. This guy then recommended me to Lonzo. But Lonzo had never met nor heard about me. He called for some of my movies and was impressed. He then contacted me. Initially, when he called and was telling me about his plans to shoot a movie in Canada, I was like 'what kind of thing is this, hope this not a scam?' But the more I spoke with him, the more I realised that he was serious and really in for a great project. He then got me a visa to Canada where we shot the movie.

So, how rewarding is this project financially?

I can only tell you that I was heavily rewarded and I'm still reaping the dividend. I won't tell you the actually figure so that I don't scare away others who may want to use Omoni for their productions. But to be honest with you, it was worth every hassle.

Last year, a report said you rejected an offer of $500,000 made by a Hollywood producer. How true is this?

It is absolutely true. The thing I can say about that deal is that I'm a woman and not just a woman, I'm an African woman. I have a family. My kids and husband are there. So, apart from that, to me, money is not really an issue. I believe one has to think first. I had to think that my parents, my kids and husband would watch this. So, it's not about the money at all because I don't think there should be any amount of money that can make you bare your assets in the public. It's just the same thing as going out there in this mall (The Palms) naked. In fact, it's even worse behind camera because if you go out there at this mall naked, maybe maximum of 500 people would see you. Even, if they are able to gather more people maybe about a million people that have the opportunity to see me. It's still better than when you expose your body in a movie. You should know that millions of people around the world would feast on your assets. Let us even say only 500,000 copies of the movie will be sold in Nigeria alone, you can be rest assured that millions of viewers who will see those copies all over the world will multiply.

To what will you attribute the frequent marital failures among people in the entertainment industry, especially the actresses?

The truth is that it's not easy at all. We should realise that a lot of these people are in the limelight and they kind of enjoy some form of adulation by people out there. That puts them on a higher pedestal. In most cases, a man could be looking at the actress from afar and he will believe she's an angel who can't do any wrong. He actually goes all out to get her, only to discover that she's as normal as every other girl. But he would become sad because that was not what he expected. I can only advise that whoever wants to marry an actress must first and foremost be confident. He must be someone that would not be moved by what people say about his partner and things around her. If you are not confident, definitely the relationship won't work. We should realise that actresses are like every other human being.

Having worked abroad, what would you say they do over there that practitioners in Nollywood don't do?

I think those people pay more attention to details. That's one of the problems we have in Nollywood. We don't pay attention to details. A couple of people do, but majority do not. You know this Nigerian mentality 'leave am like that, make we just manage am'. When a movie comes out, you are embarrassed because you've forgotten that when we were shooting, you said 'leave am make we manage am' and when you get to the studio for editing, the flaw is visible and there's nothing you can do to remove and amend because the production is over. The industry lacks trained hands. People actually need to go to school to learn the rudiments of this job. There are different disciplines in the industry and practitioners require thorough training. It's not enough to learn on the job because if you are learning on the job through bad productions, you are not really leaning. You need to go to school and study. So, that's the difference between Nollywood guys and their counterparts abroad. In terms of equipment, we now have some of the latest equipment like the new RED camera that they are using in Hollywood. We have a couple of them right here now, but we need people to learn the rudiments. We can use the same RED camera for production, but when the job comes out, theirs is better than ours. Why? It's because we actually don't have the right hands.

What do you see as the problem with the Nigeria movie industry?

It is actually good and bad that the Nigerian movie industry is receding. The bad side is that people will not be getting jobs like before. But it a good thing in the sense that we don't have too many bad movies coming out like before. Now, producers are saying instead of shooting 10 movies in a year, why can't I make a good movie in a year, take it to the cinemas where I can recoup my investment before its release on DVD, which pirates would feast on. A lot of guys have started going to film schools. I went to a film school in New York because I want to direct my movies and I need to know what to do and what not to do. People have started going to film schools to learn how they do it over there and bring the experience to bear on our industry. It's a good thing. You know that any time there's about to be a change, things go awry. That's what we are experiencing in Nollywood right now.