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In Nollywood, they treat us like trash– Monalisa Chinda Dejo-Richards

Source: Salome Johnson for http://www.nigeriafilms.com
Monalisa Chinda (phoyo)  http://www.nigeriafilms.com
Monalisa Chinda (phoyo) http://www.nigeriafilms.com

Monalisa Chinda needs little or no introduction. She is a household name in the movie industry, having featured in over 30 home videos. Despite her popularity, Monalisa turns out not to be a celebrity like most other actresses, as she prefers to keep a low profile. She had her first child early this year, which explains her absence on the screen. In this interview with Salome Johnson, she let http://www.nollywoodgists.com into her much guarded privacy and reveal her desire for a better Nollywood.

How is life and work treating you?
I am happy and work is alright. The challenges are there but I am more comfortable now. Initially it was a bit of struggle for me.

How do you joggle between motherhood and your acting career?
For now, I take my daughter along with me to locations, until she is probably eight months or one year old.

Do you enjoy acting?
Yes I am enjoying it because it is what I love to do best, I love acting.

For how long have you been acting?
Professionally I have been acting for four straight years. Although I have been acting since 1992 and I have featured in some movies as an amateur. But professionally, I started acting in 2004.

Which was your very first movie?
My first home video was shot in 1996 and the title of the movie is 'Pregnant Virgin'

How did you feel, acting alongside professionals the first time?
Being a graduate of Theatre Arts, I was very comfortable with it because I was already used to facing audience while performing live, so this was even much easier for me because when the camera is running and you make a mistake, there is room to make amends because you will be given the time to do some corrections but this is not the case in live and stage performances. The stage is more difficult because any mistake you make, you can not undo, you will have to stay there or you improvise. It was okay, I enjoyed it.

Can you recollect one good thing that acting career has done for you?
Apart from the fact that acting is my God given talent, it has opened doors for me, although initially, I thought it was not going to be, because I was a little bit skeptical about being in the public but I think being in the public has made things a little easier for me. I don't have to go to the banks and queue, I do not have to go to airport and queue. I am always given a VIP treatment. It is good especially when people walk up to me and pay me compliments. The flattery, the…it is just so exciting.

You said you were skeptical about going public, why?
You know when you are a little shy and not prepared for what is going to come out after being famous but then I have a solid man behind me that has and still grooming me.

Who is that man?
Who else, it is my husband. God has used him immensely in my life.

Was it after you met him that you went into acting?
Yes I have met him before I started acting professionally.

How supportive were your parents?
Naturally back then, parents never liked their children being in anything entertainment. They were usually like, 'ah, you want to go and entertain when there is medicine to read, there is the Lawyer for you to become, there is the corporate world for you, then you want to go and entertain people, hellooo' it was of course frowned at back then. But with time, my parents began to realize that acting is my God given talent. Actually, they are a little bit liberal but sometimes, they give advice. They will say,'why don't you do this or do that, why don't you try and be a business person or try to be a lawyer' but when they saw that I was very passionate about acting, they allowed me be, but at the beginning, they were not too happy but when it started producing result, they are seeing my performance on stage, sometimes I beg them to come and watch me perform on stage, they were very excited about it and they said 'go ahead girl' and that was it.

What was your father's reaction when he watched your first performance?
The truth is that my father is a very liberal person; in fact, do anything that gives you joy. It is just my mother that is a bit strict. When my father saw me on stage the first time, he was telling my mom, 'you see, I told you this girl is very good, just let her be' so he was really excited about me.

How do you align your person to fit into your character?
Well, yes you have to. I watch enough foreign movies and sometimes I assess my own performance, I also do a lot of research. For instance, if I have to play the role of someone who is on drugs, you have to help yourself by watching somebody who is an addict. If you want to play the role of a pediatrician or Anatomist, you have to help yourself by researching to know how these people operate. I go on the internet, I go on television, I watch a lot of television programmes, I am a television eye and I read books as well, that is how I conduct my research.

Have you been able to produce a movie of your own yet?
When I grow up, I will be a producer (Laughs).

Do you think the Nigerian movie industry is up to standard?
I have a lot to say on that. Basically, I will really like us to be more professional in everything. Technically, we are a little backward but now that the corporate world is beginning to take part in what we do, we are improving little by little but we need more improvement. Also in the other areas of entertainment, we have to really improve. We like what we see on television, I mean when we watch actors and the camera movements in foreign movie. We have the resources but we are just a little lazy but I think we are getting there, just give us a little bit of time, we will get there.

So if you have the chance to effect a change in the industry, what will be the first thing you will change?
The first thing I will do is set. We get a lot of embarrassments when we have to go and shoot in people's house, that is so absurd when you have to go knocking on people's door, you have to beg and they treat you like trash, I don't like it and I know that a lot of us don't like it but we just have to manage, what do we do, we don't have a choice for now. But I think they are going to get a us a vast land for us to build our sets. That is one of the things I will like to change given the opportunity before other things fall in place.

Have you ever had any embarrassing moment for playing a particular character in a movie?
I have not been faced with such; rather I am being encouraged to continue the good works.

How would you describe yourself?
I am a very simple person, simple things are beautiful, can't you see? hello (laughs). I am a very simple, very emotional and I am a very straight forward person too. I like honest people, honesty is my watch word. Don't cheat people, don't discriminate, that is just me.

What was growing up like for you?
It was really interesting. Being the first child of my parents, I think I was a little bit over pampered. I was given most of the things I needed not wanted. I grew up being very comfortable. I thank God for my parents, it was really exciting and the fact that my mother was a strong woman in church, she sowed the seed in us a lot, so I grew up in a very Christian home.

Where did you grow up?
My early life was in Port Harcourt.Do you have any memorable experience?One was when I have my daughter, baby Tamar - Dejo Richards. That was really memorable.

When did you meet your husband?
I met my husband in 2002 briefly. It was like hello meet my friend Segun and whenever we meet, hello hi and that was about it. I did not even know that the man has already started planning how to 'catch' me. Since then, he has been mapping out strategies to 'catch' me, it took him two years before he succeeded in 2004. He will call me and end the call four hours after.

And you were picking the callWhy shouldn't I?
Everybody loves men that are after them. Then in 2004 we met again and he started again from where he stopped and the hello hi now turned to, you see let's go up for a drink and within that year, we got married.

So how is marriage?
Marriage has been exciting. It is bitter sweet, you know what I mean.

How supportive is he to your career?
He has been very supportive, he is unique, and he is different. Because for somebody to tell me, 'why don't you just go back to do what you like doing best, it was because of him that I got back into acting, that is the truth. People don't like hearing it but that is the truth. I was a little skeptical in the past; I did not know that acting was going to be a career for me. I wanted to be in a corporate world, I wanted to work in a bank, I wanted to just be a consultant to something, somewhere or wherever but I did not know that I was going to be an actress, so when I was planning to go into other things, he just sat me down and say 'my dear, go and act, that is what God called you for' and since he sowed that seed, he has been wonderful.

Is he very romantic?
Romance is far from his dictionary but he is just a realistic person. He won't like that anyway but that is the truth. He is a very, very realistic person.

how does he feel when you play those sexy roles?
No I have never been kissed on set. He knew all these things before he said I should go and do what you are called for. I mean, being a responsible person, you should know what to do. In the early days he used to help with the script and to help build my character and all that. He is indifferent but as a wife, I know my limitations and I don't cross the bounds. My husband knows me; he knows what I can do and what I cannot do.

What if you are under pressure to choose between your home and your career?
I will choose being at home because, for a man to come to telling a wife to choose between staying at home and your career, it means the wife is not doing what she is supposed to do, it means she is not striking a balance between being a career woman and being in the house to take care of the home front, that's what it means. I don't think any man that is sensible will know that everywhere is organised at home, he has his food when he wants to eat and the woman strive to strike a balance with her home and career and then he tells her 'you know what, stop, don't go out there again and come back eleven o'clock' there must be a balance. And if that balance is not there and my husband says 'this is getting too much, you have to sit at home', I will have to sit at home until I convince him that I can actually be a career woman and still take care of the home but it has not come to that yet. I try as much as I can to strike a balance.

What is one good thing that being married has done to you?
It has made more responsible, it has made me wiser, it has made me stronger and it has made me realized that marriage is something everybody will wish to be in. it gives you a sense of security and belonging especially in this fierce society that we live in Africa. It has been great and fantastic.

What is your perception of the reality of sexual harassment in the industry?
There is sexual harassment everywhere.

Have you ever been sexually harassed?No, I have never been sexually harassed, to the glory of God.

Do you have a role model?
Naturally I should have and I do have a role model. I have two people as a role model. One of them is Joke Silva and the second person is Reverend Dele George of the little saints Orphanage home. These are the two women I aspire to be like, not necessarily copying them but if possible, to be better than them. To give back to the society better than what they have been able to give back.

How do you feel when you watch yourself on set?
I feel great, I feel oh God so I did this like this and sometimes, I feel like oh I should have done this better, oh why do I have to. I like seeing myself, so I can upgrade in the next one and can be better off.

Are you a designer freak?
Yes and no. yes I love designer things and I wear them and no because I won't go out of my way to have designer things if I don't have the money.

What about jewelry?
I love jewelry. As an actress, you can not do without that to compliment your looks.