I don’t promote anything negative – Lilian Amah-Aluko, actress/writer
Lilian Amah-Aluko is not a run-of-the –mill actress. She has been around for a long time, and has featured in Nollywood blockbusters like Out of Bounds, Hit and Run, Sweet Revenge, Untouchables, She Devil, Forefathers, Inheritance, Siberia and Rough Edges among others. She also took part in the popular Mnet series, Doctors' Quarters.
A former banker and member of Nigerian Institute of Management, Lilian who has Master degree in English from the University of Lagos has just written a book, Echoes of the Heartbeat, which was launched with fanfare recently. She opened up to Every Woman on sundry issues including her beginning, her fears and challenges. Enjoy.
How I got into acting
“We had a very active drama department in my secondary school, Federal Government College, Warri and we always had competition between various houses. We staged so many plays and they were fine. That's how I started to love drama. When I left school, I went to University of Lagos where they had a very active theatre department. I wasn't acting then, what I did was to sit and watch rehearsals. When home video started in Nigeria, I watched Living in Bondage and I loved it. I felt the actors were very good, and I said to myself this is something I would like to do. I kept saying this and one day my sister said: 'why can't you go and do this thing and stop disturbing people in the house'.
After this, I kept thinking about ways to get into acting but because I heard some unpleasant stories about sex for roles, I didn't want to jump in. One day, I heard that Amaka Igwe was doing Violated and I went straight to her office. Unfortunately, when I got there, they had already started shooting. But she gave me a form to fill and said whenever they had another production they would let me know. I went home happy that at least I have taken a first step.
My first role
“I read in the papers that Richard Mofe-Damijo was auditioning for his first film. Since he's one of the biggest personalities in the industry, I made up my mind to give it a shot. I went for the auditioning and was chosen. When I saw my name on the list, I could not believe it. The film was Out of Bounds, and the director was Wale Macauly. After some weeks of rehearsals, we went on break to bury RMD's late wife, May Ellen-Damijo. By the time we came back, the director had changed from Macauly to Tade Ogidan, who said he wanted his own cast. Everything changed. The role I initially played was given to Rachael Oniga.
When it got to my turn, Tade said: 'I am sorry, I don't think you are old enough to play Tutu's mother. I am going to let you read for another role.' He gave me Alero, a female lead role and I thought he was looking for a way to remove me. I started reading and I don't think I have ever worked as hard as I did for that role. Everyday, I stood in front of a mirror and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. I wanted so badly to do that role. I thought I wasn't going to get that role but I got it. I am grateful to RMD and Tade Ogidan for giving me a chance. They did not know me from Adams neither did they make any unnecessary demand on me. They were totally professional in their approach.
“Some cannot differentiate between you and the character you play. Some people have accosted me to say what I did to my husband in a particular movie was not good. They will say 'ah, you are so wicked to your husband' forgetting that it's not me but a character, two different people.
My greatest fan
“My husband is my greatest fan. When any of my works is running on TV, he rushes to watch it. There was a particular scene where I'm married but was dating my boss. My husband asked, 'Lilian, is that what you are up to?' I said that's Yemisi Odumosu and not the Lilian you married so, you can direct you question to Yemisi'. My husband has never criticized the role I play but I am also very conscious and careful about what I do. I know our society demands certain level of decorum.
Life as a banker
“I was working full time in the bank. But since then I have done several other films like Hit and Run, Sweet Revenge, Untouchables, She Devil, Forefathers, Inheritance, Siberia and Rough Edges. I have also acted in some yet to be released films including Jimi Odumosu's Head of State, Tunji Bamishigbin's Valley Between, Husband and Wife and TV series like Mnet's Doctors' Quarters.
“I have never one day regretted quitting the bank. I see my colleagues almost everyday because Fidelity Bank where I worked is not far from my house. Anytime I see them, I admire them for having the stamina to continue in that job because banking is very stressful. Fidelity was good to me. everybody was like a family. My boss knew that I was acting and did not do anything to stop me, a thing that can never happen in other banks. I wished other banks can be like Fidelity which gave people like me the opportunity to realise our dreams. I didn't regret working in Fidelity Bank because I found fulfillment there.
“My greatest challenge came when I did Out of Bounds because I was totally green, and was working with tested hands like Steve Rhodes, RMD, Bimbo Akintola, Rachael Oniga etc. My other challenge was working with Jimi Odumosu in his film, The Head of State, Anybody that has worked with Odumosu knows that you have to be on your toes all the time. But I played the female lead role in the film. It was challenging but very interesting.
“When you are very professional nobody can touch you. I have never been sexually harassed. On my honour, I have not. Nobody has ever harassed me sexually. if anybody tries it I would scream from the root top. Unlike those who have been harassed and don't want to mention names, I would mention names. I have been lucky it has never happened to me. Perhaps its because I started young and started with professionals like Jimi Odumosu, Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, Tunji Bamishingbin etc. All the men and women I have worked with have been men and women of integrity.
Advances from men
“People would stop me everyday demanding for my phone number, saying they'll like to be my friend. I always tell them 'yes, why not, we can be friends'. But when they want to go further, I'll say 'oh, sorry, I'm married, I can't go further than this'. In fact, there was a day I was driving somewhere and a car was driving on the other lane. A man in the car was asking me to stop. I looked out but I couldn't recognise him as someone I knew. He followed me all the way from Maryland to Ikeja. At a point, I got worried because there were two guys in the car. But they were smiling so I believed they were not armed robbers. Eventually, I parked and the guys also parked and came out of the car, walked up to me and said 'oh, sorry, we just had to stop you'. I asked them if there was any problem. And one said there was no problem, he just wanted to know me and that he also wanted to befriend me. I said, 'well, we are friends already'.
After the guy introduced himself, he now asked me for a date but I told him I'm married. He said he did not know but still wouldn't mind to befriend me. I said okay, if it is just friendship. We exchanged cards and I drove off. So that's it. Some people know that you're married and let go of you. But some would know that you're married and still want to date you. It's for you to say, 'oh, I'm married, I can't do that'.
Echoes of the Heartbeat
“I have a very fertile imagination. I always make up story in my heads. I have had that particular story in my head for a long time. So, I just put it down. I really cannot say what inspired it. I just started writing because the story was right there in my head. However, I got the inspiration from happenings in my environment. For instance, people who went to school with me would recognise bits and pieces of their characters in the book.
How I find time to write
“I believe that one always finds time for what one enjoys to do. For me, writing is a career but at the same time, its an hobby, its fun. No matter how challenging the job is, no matter how tasking, I don't get tired. Writing on the other hand is a part of me. I read a lot, that I got from my father. Anybody who knows me knows that you cannot see Lilian without a book or a magazine. I am always reading. I assume writing is an extension of reading. So its easy to combine the two.
Between writing and acting
“Honestly. If I am to choose between writing and acting, I would choose writing. There is something very fulfilling about writing. With writing, you control what you put on. But with acting, you are working with a script prepared by someone else. Each time you write, you are putting down a piece of your soul. Writing is something very personal and fulfilling, so I'll take writing over acting.
On being famous
“I don't really think I'm famous. Yes, people recognise me here and there. The fact that I'm recognised has opened doors for me. Fame hasn't closed any door for me but it has also restricted me.
“I am a very private person. I am not the kind of person who wants to be all dressed up and made up all the time. That's style for me. I can go out with rubber slippers in any dress. But knowing that you are a role model for young people, you tend to be a little conscious of what you do. So, when you are going out, you try to dress properly, conduct yourself well and desist from promoting anything negative.”