MARRIAGE IS NOT MY PRIORITY - DOLLY UNACHUKWU
She was one of the most sought after at the advent of the home movie in Nigeria. Suddenly, she dumped the industry that gave her so much fame and relocated to England. She is now back to the country and Correspondent, Temitope Ojo, was guest at her Ajao Estate residence recently. In this encounter, Dolly opened up on why she abandoned acting, her sojourn in England and, of course, her failed marriage.
Why did you leave Nigeria for England in the first place?
I had a fiancÈ who was living in England. At first, I thought, because of my career, he could be living there, and I live here. I thought at intervals, we would be paying each other visits. But at a time, I was robbed. In fact, the main reason I left Nigeria was because I was robbed. The armed robbers recognised me, so they showed me some respect. But the trauma was too much. The feeling was as if your life depends on these guys who are armed and they could shoot and you are gone. I said to myself it was time to get away from Nigeria. That was the reason I left.
Is it not ironic that you are back in the country at a time when the spate of robbery is high, especially in Lagos?
You know the thing is that you cannot run away forever. I did not come to Nigeria for five years after I left. I remember there was a year that my mum, son and sisters came to Nigeria and I was the only one left there in England because I still had that fear in me. And you know, when you are abroad, the kind of stories you hear is like as soon as you disembark from the plane, somebody will shoot you. That Nigeria is getting worse and that people are being killed in the streets indiscriminately. So, the more you stay away, the more you make up your mind not to come back.
But at a time, I talked to myself. I said to myself, 'I still have brothers in this same country and they have not been killed since I left the country.' I said to myself these things happen everywhere. What if everybody runs away from Nigeria, who will remain'? I was born and bred here. So after five years I had to come back. That was when I came back in 2005. And I know I still hear those stories but, my dear, they are not my portion again. I think I have paid my dues. I have been robbed three times when I was living here. I believe that Nigeria will get better. I believe so much in the present day government.
You were away for almost seven years, what did you do over there?
I tried a lot to educate myself because I am someone that loves education a lot. I cherish knowledge a lot. What I did was that I first enrolled for a certificate in computing and got a European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). I did that for a year and half. After that I enrolled in the university and got a degree in film and video. I majored in directing. I just finished last semester.
How much of home did you miss while there?
So much. I was dreaming home. I was away but each time I closed my eyes, I saw myself at home. You know I had lived all my life in Nigeria so it will not be easy to just leave the people you know - friends, brothers, sisters and colleagues - and just forget them like that. It was a bit easy for me though because I had my family over there. At the same time, I still missed home, my career mostly. I was almost getting sick of not working, of not being in front of the camera. You know it was something I have been doing since I was 16. It was difficult for me to cope but I managed. I missed home tremendously.
Did you maintain contacts with Nollywood and your colleagues while you were away?
I did maintain a lot of contact and links. I was always at all the awards they organised in England. I mean the Afro-Hollywood Awards. I always made sure that I visited them in the hotels even before the events proper. I socialised with them and I asked questions to know what was going on back home. I also visited the Nigeria High Commission with them. All these were just to maintain contact and get to know what was happening back home. I usually would call and ask. Through them, I got to know those that were hot in the industry.
Various actresses came up in your absence and people have come to accept them so well. Are these actresses any form of threat to you and do you think you can displace them?
First of all, I am very proud of the achievements of Nollywood today. I am so proud of their achievements. But I want to say that everybody has a place I guess. The industry is big enough to accommodate everybody so there will be no need displacing anybody. People are producing films everyday. These people that we are even talking about are not even in my category to begin with. Most of them are younger. I don't intend to fight for roles with anyone. I believe that if I do my films today, people will still buy. It is natural that people have their own crowd but the industry is big enough I must emphasise.
I don't think we had that name(N0llywood) before you left?
No, there was no name. Honestly, in my film analysis class in the UK, we were talking about Nollywood. I was just sitting there, smiling to myself. We were told that Nollywood was the second in film production in the world. So I was proud. I thought to myself, these people are talking about my industry.
You must have seen a few of these films produced while you were away, how do you find them?
I have seen a few good and a few bad ones as well. I have seen films that were well produced with good investments and acting too. I have seen some very bad ones too but I think we have improved tremendously. The kind of money that is being invested in these films now is good compared with what obtained in those days. There is a great improvement.
Can you compare the fees that are being paid now with what existed back in your days?
We can't compare it o! I hear they get as much as N1 million per artiste these days, but it wasn't so before I left.
So what kept you going?
You know since I came back, I found out that the smallest Agege bread is now N40. In those days, it was N5. The money we got back then was a lot to us. When I left in 2000, the highest paid was probably N500, 000 or N600, 000. Some people got N200, 000 to N300, 000 but it was big money then. It bought for you a lot of things then. But what it bought for you then, it won't now.
So, things are changing and also getting more difficult. They are paying so much now because filmmaking is making a headway. Those days the marketers were not exploring all avenues to make money.
Now that you are back, armed with a degree in filmmaking with a bias in directing, what are your plans?
I intend to do what I know how to do best, which is acting and directing. I have just done a small piece for Elonel in one of his films. So, it is still back to my industry, I don't know how to do any other thing. So, it is still my industry that I have come back to – to act, to direct and produce.
You said you've seen some films on your return, what is your impression of some of the scripts and story lines?
You see, these story lines all look the same. They are stealing from each other; they don't have unique ideas anymore these days. But in the midst of all those stories, you still pick some that are good. Some people still take time to do their homework and come out with good scripts. Some people steal from others. When you watch a film, it is like you've seen it before.
For most of them, you easily know the end because you've seen it before in another film, say like two years ago. Originality is what we are lacking in the industry. And I think it is because we don't have a lot of good scriptwriters to bring out good ideas. At the same time, I still respect some of them especially the TV soaps that I have seen. I was watching one recently, Tempest, A Tale of Two Women by Amaka Igwe and I must say it is a very good story. She is a genius.
I am proud of her to have sustained the pace and quality of her job over the years. There are still some good ones; it is just for the up and coming ones to learn to be patient to develop themselves. You know, ideas come but you need to develop them well.
For someone who has been away for a while and is planning a return into an improved industry with many new faces, will it not just be a case of accepting just any script just to re-launch yourself?
I have never done that before so I would not start now at old age, to accept just any script in order because I want a re-launch. Instead of accepting bad or just any script, I will write my own scripts. I do have some of my own things that I am trying to put together. But I know the bad and good scripts will come. It is just for me to identify them and know what to do.
Have you been approached by any marketer, director for a role?
I just mentioned that I have done one already. Though it is a small role, but it is something. I did a cameo appearance. And the script was interesting, so when they approached me, I thought it would be a good one to launch me back into the industry.
You had children while you were away…
I had a child.
Can you describe what motherhood is to you?
I have always been a mother all my life. I have siblings who look up to me. So I have always been like a mother looking after them. So, motherhood is natural to me. It is not just starting. I believe every woman is a potential mother and it is just for you to have the opportunity to express it.
We understand you lost the father of your child
No, I didn't. It was the guy that I married that died, not the father of my children. The one that I left Nigeria with is the one that died not the father of my children. The father of my children is very much alive.
What is this talk about you saying you are not a widow? Didn't you marry the guy?
I married him but we separated before he died.
Some are of the opinion that actresses do not last in marriage…
Just like they will tell you that bankers' marriages don't last too. My dear, it is everywhere. This thing about divorce, broken marriages and stuff happens. If you are lucky you could find a soulmate and stay there all your life. On the other hand, you may not be that lucky.
You see someone and you think you should be able to work things out and live together for the rest of your life. By the time you get in, you see the person is not the same. It is just unfortunate that culture dictates that marriage is forever. They expect that if you go into a marriage and it is not working, you should stay in there and die there, especially if there are children involved. They don't care whether you are being de-humanised and the man is battering you. It doesn't work for me like that. I don't believe in that. I believe that if it is not working, then it is not. So, it is not only in the entertainment industry that these things happen.
It is everywhere. I know so many women out there who are divorced but are not artistes while there are so many others in marriages not working and they don't want to come out of it. It is their choice. It is up to you.
So, are you thinking of going into another marriage?
No, it is out of my dictionary now. I have being married twice, you know. Mind you, some people at my age have never married. That is the truth. I have friends, my age, some older that have not married. I have tried. What I am thinking of now is how to bring up my kids, not marriage. It is out of my priorities now.
What do your long-standing fans expect from you – talking about your plans for the movie industry?
I intend to go more into film production. Do more films and practise a bit of what I learnt in the university and come out with good movies.