Dolly Unachukwu and daughter, Nneoma
In another world, and under different circumstances, Dolly Unachukwu may well rank as a superstar, with millions of dollars in her bank account in addition to a life of thrills and frills, but in the African world and circumstances, she can at best be described as another popular Nigerian actress, who has seen it all, been there and done that.
Her pioneering role in the Nigerian movie industry (Nollywood) is legendary, having appeared in dozens of movies ranging from the highly controversial Glamour Girls, to Full Moon, Final Decision and Deadly Affair. Dolly suddenly disappeared from the Nollywood scene to the surprise of her many fans; I caught up with her recently in London for a chat on her life, future plans and her views on the Nigerian movie industry
Uche Nworah: Good to see you Dolly, How have you been?
Dolly Unachukwu: Very well (laughter)
Uche Nworah: Your fans would like to know where you have been 'hiding', all these while.
Dolly Unachukwu: (Laughter) Hiding? I have not been hiding O! well, let's say that for the past 5 years I have been living in London, I can't believe its 5 years now, time flies.
Uche Nworah: As an A List actress with high society profile, Nigerians were surprised that you suddenly disappeared from the public eye, what really caused you to leave?
Dolly Unachukwu: I wouldn't say that I suddenly disappeared, I got married and I had to join my husband in the UK, my fans knew I was living, I am sure they all wish me well.
Uche Nworah: We all know how different London is, in terms of the social and family life compared to what its like back in Nigeria, do you miss Nigeria?
Dolly Unachukwu: You can say that again, I miss Nigeria a lot, remember that I grew up in Nigeria, all my friends and some of my family are in Nigeria and I miss them all.
Uche Nworah: So, do you have any immediate plans of relocating back to Nigeria?
Dolly Unachukwu: I am not sure about relocating, but I am sure that I will be shuttling, I am quite settled here now with my family so such decisions are a bit difficult to make
Uche Nworah: So what's been keeping you busy in London?
Dolly Unachukwu: Well, a lot really. Outside looking after my family, I am what you will call a career student (laughter), I am always studying one thing or the other, at the moment I am at UEL (The University of East London) studying films and directing. This is going quite okay.
Uche Nworah: So in that sense, you are hoping to come back to the profession that gave you fame and 'fortune'
Dolly Unachukwu: (laughter), fortune ke? I don't know of any Nigerian actress or actor that has made a fortune from acting, very sad indeed compared to our peers in Europe and America. Definitely my heart is still in the Nigerian movie industry, I believe that I still have a lot to offer.
Uche Nworah: So how would you assess the Nigerian movie industry today?
Dolly Unachukwu: I am quite impressed with the developments so far, it's good to see that they are moving forward and unfortunately backwards sometimes, I am happy to see all the young actors and actresses coming through. I am really proud of them. I must also commend the Nigerian society who are now able to separate the characters portrayed in the movies from the real personalities portraying the characters, it wasn't like that in the beginning, as the stigma of a villain played in a movie did get transported into the real life of the actor or actress.
Uche Nworah: So do you still keep in touch with Nollywood actors and actresses as well as the other players in the industry?
Dolly Unachukwu: Yes, but only with a few of them, whenever they come into town (London), we catch up on the phone or we meet depending on our schedules.
Uche Nworah: From the lot, Which Nollywood actor or actress has particularly impressed you by the quality of the acting they bring across to the fans?
Dolly Unachukwu: No one actor or actress in particular as they have all been doing both good and bad work, any good actor should be selective in the work he or she does, it shouldn't just be for the money, as low quality movies can bring your image down, there is a danger for the fans to eventually get bored, fans are tired of seeing the same faces always, playing either a nun, doctor, businessman etc. This over exposure is not good for them, also this practice of shooting many movies using one set, and the same set of actors is abominable, the fans deserve better for the money they spend buying the films, this 'recycling' won't work in the developed countries.
Uche Nworah: From your experience, is it possible for actors and actresses to survive solely on acting in Nigeria?
Dolly Unachukwu: In our days, it was possible to survive on our professional fees, appearing in 1 movie in 2 or 3 months was quite the norm then, and one could fairly survive on that, I remember that as far back as 1986, our fees was 150 Naira and we still survived on that, it is quite a shame that Nigerian actors and actresses command hire fees today, but still they 'prostitute' in several movies, as a result the shelf life of their movies has greatly reduced, and also their marketability, some of them now though popular are no longer bankable.
Uche Nworah: What should Nigerians expect from you in the near future?
Dolly Unachukwu: By the grace of God, I have plans of coming to Nigeria this year, I am currently shooting a project (a film), and this is actually my first movie directing effort. I am really excited about the whole experience, it is a romantic movie full of betrayals, you can bet it has nothing to do with juju, this is pure drama, and I am depending on the actors and actresses to deliver the message. Saint Obi is also in the movie alongside other London based actors and actresses.
Uche Nworah: As a pioneer and veteran of the Nigerian movie industry, what advice do you have for the up and coming actors?
Dolly Unachukwu: They should work on their God given talent first and then try and train to understand the business, they should also remain focused. It is much easier to make it in Nigeria as an actor or actress; of course they should go to the right places and hang out with the right crowd. Hard work is also part of the game, they shouldn't get tired of auditions even if they are not landing the parts, they should try harder, and eventually the producers and financiers will take notice.
Uche Nworah: I am sure you must have been expecting this question, what exactly happened between you and Regina Askia, what was the 'beef' about?
Dolly Unachukwu: I think whatever may have happened is all in the past now, both of us have since moved on, at the end of the day we are friends, we talk on the phone every now and then and I wish her well.
Uche Nworah: Your fans will like to know a little about the 'mystery' man that took you out of Nigeria
Dolly Unachukwu: (laughter) please lets leave my husband out of this, he is a very quite person, and moreover I wouldn't want to start calling names before I turn to Jennifer Lopez (laughter)
Uche Nworah: So what about the other special man in your life?
Dolly Unachukwu: The other special man in my life is Odera, my 12 year old son; he is an angel, a miracle. He loves football so hopefully he will grow up to play for Arsenal and buy us a bigger house (laughter).
Uche Nworah: So what is motherhood like?
Dolly Unachukwu: Brilliant, I must say though that I have always been a mother, I took care of all my sisters and brothers, including the ones that you see here today (Suzy and Lucky). I guess motherhood is something that comes to me naturally.
Uche Nworah: The growing trend of Nigerian producers coming over to London to shoot movies may give the impression that there is a thriving Nigerian movie industry in the UK, how true is this assumption?
Dolly Unachukwu: Well, contrary to assumptions, there is a Nigerian movie market and rental industry in the UK, but not a movie industry, they have tried to do it in the past, to create a Nigerian movie industry here in the UK but there is no known or bankable faces to work with, the costs as well are way too much to be recouped from film sales alone.
There is a big market in the UK though, I guess it is a process that will wear on and grow gradually.
Uche Nworah: Is it easy to get funding for movies here in the UK?
Dolly Unachukwu: That is another ball game, and for this I praise the Idumota people for their long years of partnership with the Nigerian movie industry, Funding in the UK is a bit difficult, I am funding my project myself, it is a family thing. There are people though that may be willing to sponsor projects in London, so Nigerians should reach out to them.
Uche Nworah: Thanks so much for your time Dolly, any last words to your fans in Nigeria?
Dolly Unachukwu: well, just to thank them for all the support, I have been working very hard at my current project, so hopefully they would get to see a beautiful movie when it is released