I did odd jobs to make ends meet-----Star actress, Mama G
Popular actress, Patience Ozokwor, the one many of her fans called Mama G did not become a star by sudden flight. She reveals the ordeal of her journey to stardom in this interview with SAMUEL OLATUNJI.
What has made you relevant over the years?
I give God every encomium I receive in the industry. I believe it has been God at work.
What makes you such a good actress?
I still give it back to God because without God, I am nothing. I believe God has endowed everybody with diverse talents. It took so long for me to discover what God has put in me, this is because of certain things around me -my religion and my kind of upbringing. I thought I was going to get too exposed if I joined the industry, so, I just concentrated more on my radio job and people were appreciating me. When I was in Radio Nigeria; I was appreciated.
Tell me about your experience at Radio Nigeria
I was a continuity announcer before I was made a producer. Later on, I was retrenched. I tried my best to get back, but they didn't take me for reasons I do not know. I even went for a fresh employment exercise there, but they did not take me. But God later brought me into the film industry. Now, if anybody asks me to come back to Radio Nigeria as an announcer, I won't do it. God has deposited something into everybody. I believe those who are suffering today have not discovered their talents.
When did you start acting as a professional?
I will say it goes way back because acting on radio and stage is also acting. When I was in secondary school, I was always associating myself with the drama group. I used to represent my school in festivals of art and culture, which no longer hold now. The festivals helped develop talents in children. If a child can interpret a poem, he can interpret a script. These things no longer hold; that is why our children are roaming about the streets. I later went to a teacher training college, where we did a stage play titled Hamlet, which was an adaptation from Shakespeare's book. I was chosen to play the role of Hamlet, which was the lead role.
We did the play half way because it was a long novel. But all the invited schools were screaming that they wanted us to finish the play. We had to promise to stage another performance and during the rehearsals, the literature teacher said I should play the role half way and another lady should play the other half because the lines were many. We later invited other students from neighbouring schools to come and watch with a token gate fee. After I played my own role of first Hamlet and the other girl came up when it was time for Hamlet to come up, everybody started shouting, saying they wanted me to continue the role. Our literature teacher told them that it was because the book is voluminous that we had to share it, but the audience said we should take our time, that they would be back. That was how we had to do it for the third time and I found myself cramming the whole book easily.
The audience was times two of the previous outing because the news of the whole thing had spread. And from there, people started calling me Hamlet even as far as Enugu. I later became an announcer with Radio Nigeria, which also gave me fame in the East. I also joined the radio drama group and I was being paid in the drama group as well. My take home from the drama group was almost double my salary, so I was so engrossed that when the retrenchment came, it was a bang. But thank God for where he has placed me now.
How did you now get into the movie industry?
Actually, things became very hard at a stage. I got married and my husband got sick and it was very serious. He had diabetes, hypertension and he was always having crisis. My in-laws were not friendly at all. Since I'd lost my job, I was into everything; it was just too much struggle for me. I did birthday cakes and so many things to make money. I even joined those decorating houses for burial because I was the bread winner of the family then.
Though I had the mind of studying Theater Arts at IMT, but the year I was admitted, the school was disqualified from running the programme on the basis that their stage wasn't good enough. So, I was given Fine and Applied Arts in lieu of Theater Arts and I majored in graphic art. It was from there that Radio Nigeria employed me when they came for a programme in the school. I later went to Enugu State University to study Mass Communication but I could not finish because I was so financially down. I stopped in 1998. Then, I found it difficult to pay my school fees and that of my children. The stress was all over me and one of my cousins advised me to stop and I stopped. But next year, I will be going back to school to study Theater Arts or Mass Communication.
Tell me more about the struggle
There was a Christmas I did not have anything, there were days we had nothing at home. We were always struggling with what my husband would eat and his drugs, my children went for days without food. I really love those children because they really stood by me.
You have not said how you got into movie industry.
That same cousin of mine introduced me to one Frank who worked with Chika Okpala (Chief Zebrudaya). He introduced me to him and they gave me one jingle to do and paid me N5000; that was the reason we celebrated Christmas that year. Before that, I had gone to a very secluded village to fast and pray on my situation and after that prayer, God was just opening doors for me. The jingle was like a windfall. And from there, the present chairman of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) in Enugu State discovered me because I played the role of his wife in that jingle. Later, when he got a contract with the Women Commission in Abuja to run a series on NTA Network for women, he gave the lead role to me.
So when we were on location, the cast and crew were asking how come I wasn't in the movie industry since I was so good on set. They invited me to auditions and I was afraid of my association then, which is the Scripture Union. But the cast said since it was God that deposited the talents in me, it couldn't be sinful. And true to my fear, the SU disowned me when I started acting. But from then on, people started casting me for roles.
When did you do your first home video?
That was in 1998. I did Out of Cage. There was also Amina part one and two. My roles in the past movies now encouraged the producers of Authority to give me a lead role, and that was the movie that gave me the much-needed publicity. Afterward, everybody wanted me to play lead for them and I've not rested till today. That is the reason I can never stop giving God praises. Let me tell you, my matter got so bad that my second son said during a discussion that I should stop trying because I could never make it again. He said all that was left for me was to raise them to the level where they could cater for me. I told him to keep quiet because once there was life there was hope. Now, if I remind him, he will say he said it as a child. I am happy, not because I am making money, but the fame that is making me happy. There are people who expect me to be on screen most time. That is why if I have fever or malaria, I still want to go on set. Let me use this medium to appreciate my fans, they are the reason why I'm still acting.
With all of this, what did you learn from life?
I have learnt that God will never abandon anybody. He has a plan for every individual. Once there is life, there is hope. Don't lose hope there is more to life.
I learnt you later lost your husband
Is that the reason you put so much of yourself into movies when you play widow?
Well, they say experience is the best teacher. He was sick for quite a long time. I thank God for his life. He eventually died on January 27, 2002.
How has life been without him?
His vacuum is there, but we have to forge ahead.
How many children do you have?
I have four biologically and some other dependants.
Why do you want to go back to school?
I like education and I don't think age is a barrier. I want to make a statement that what I could not get in education then I can get now. Anything could happen in the future and I don't want anything to be a barrier. I believe the higher I go, the more impact I make in the movie industry.
Are you planning to remarry?
Never. I'm married to my first son.
What is your greatest fear in life?
Dying without Christ. I wouldn't want to die without God.