Having worked as a nurse, I realised my calling was elsewhere-----Joan Agbor
Camerounian naturalised in Nigeria by birth, Joan Agbor can be said to be a class act. She's an actress, a model and a voice over artiste. In this interview with Mercy Michael, she spoke about rising career, her life as a single mother, among other issues. Excepts
You studied Nursing. How did you find yourself in acting?
I always loved to share in the pains of others and that's why I went to do Nursing. I'm a professional grade 2 nurse, not auxiliary. I worked for a year as a nurse but right now, I'm into what I regard as my calling. I realised I'm an artiste through and through and so I just had to put aside the nursing certificate and come back to what I've always wanted to do. I know that in time to come, I might still use it but right now, I'm just an artiste.
I'm the type of person that loves acquiring knowledge, any knowledge at all. Initially, I went to Federal Polytechnic, Offa, to study Computer Science. So I just love doing something out of the norm. Don't be surprised if you see me doing Medicine or Law. It's just me; I just love studying.
When did you come into the movie industry?
I actually started acting in 1996 after I left secondary school in 1995. But the ups and downs of acting made me take a break from Nollywood. Then it wasn't as it is now; one has to struggle twice more to make an impact. Now, with a little talent, if you have it, you can do a lot of things. I left in 1999 when I got pregnant . I had my daughter in 2000. So I had to go on a little recess. I came back just when my baby was about three months old. But this time, not in the home videos. I went on to doing soap operas. Then I got into school, Ogun State University (OSU), where I read English. I was more often on stage performing. I did stage performances. After my education, I went to Cameroun in 2004/ 2005, where I did Nursing and came back 2006.
You studied Nursing after reading English only to end up as an actress? Why is that?
Actually, I can't talk about that now because it's a bit personal. My family wanted me to come overseas but I said I would stay back. So studying Nursing was more a part of the plans for me to come over. But after studying Nursing, I realised I couldn't do any other thing and I told them. So, I just had to come back to my first love, which is acting.
How challenging was it to come back to a profession you'd left for sometime?
It was really challenging but there were two things I had. One was God. I believe anything you are supposed to be, once you have Him, He'll always be there to support you along the way. It might look difficult but there is nothing you can't conquer with Him. Then, there is the other one, conviction. I've always known I'll be an artiste, because even in secondary school, my teachers usually asked me what I was doing in Science class. Anything that had to do with singing, I was always in the forefront, including acting and so on. So I knew I had flair for the arts and that I would become an artiste later in life.
Along the line, I realised I could model; so, rather than go back to home video, I started modelling full time. It's what I call commercial modelling - calendars, billboards, fliers and so on. At a point, I went into voice over. I decided to join the group, Association of Voice Over Artistes (AVOA). I did a little audition there and whatever was necessary. Now, I'm a bonafide member of the association. The soaps were also coming at this time. Later, I went back to home videos again.
What are you doing right now?
I'm doing a soap opera called The Patriot. It has something to do with National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). It's already running on some TV stations across the nation. I'm about to be part of the second phase; and I'm very honoured to have acted alongside Joke Silva. It was really nice being on set with her. The experience was wholesome. There is something about working with a professional - you flow. You are just that character you are meant to be. It was as if I was floating on air. That was the way I felt. Instantly, I knew I have a lot of things to do and places to go. And I will get there by God's grace.
Who are your role models in the industry?
I can't say anybody is my role model. I'm a person that has her own style. There is something about me. I've always wanted to be identified as Joan, not somebody that looks like somebody else. That has always been me. Right from the very beginning, I've been an artiste. And I think my daughter, too, will pick that part of me. I'm already seeing that in her. She loves dancing, and very soon, I will enrol her in a dancing school. In Nollywood, there are just a few people that I admire so much. Joke Silva is one of them; Eucharia Anunobi is another.
Can you list a few of the movies you've done?
I have done a couple of movies. But sometimes the problem I have with most of these producers is that when you are working, they use a certain title, but by the time the film comes out, they use another title. So I can't really tell you so much about the ones I've done. The few I can remember are Blood Money part 2, Moving Light and so on. I've done quite a lot but I don't even know their names. So don't let me even go there.
Among these movies, which one will you say gave you some recognition?
Well, I won't say films particularly gave me recognition. In films, if people didn't get to buy and watch them, nobody will reckon with your face. The one that gave me a little push was Wale Adenuga's production. I think I've had about four or five times working with him. There's Papa Ajasco, Super Story, and This Life. With those productions, people get to know that I act because they are being shown regularly on TV unlike the movies. Then, there're a couple of other soaps like the one I did for Galaxy TV called Roses and Thorns. I played a major role there.
Now that you're back, what do you think you have that'll get you to that position of stardom?
(Laughs!) I know I have something within me and I've been trying to communicate it. I can't really say I've brought back something but I've brought back what is modified. I've never stopped practising what I believe in. Now I'm a little more mature with my style of doing things. So what people see now is a mature talent, and what I can give.
Nollywood is exploding with talents. Do you think you have what it takes to compete favourably and to also be in demand?
One thing is certain. I'm not you and you cannot be me. Everyone is talented in their own way. We all are unique in our different ways. What I will be is not in anybody's pocket. They can only say somebody looks like me. Two, in terms of character, we cannot be same. I can't play nine or 14-year old because I've done that in the past. The role I will play, a younger talent will not have that opportunity. It's like a step thing. The person on step one cannot claim to be on step three. It's natural; you just have to keep going like that. If you decide to stay back, that is when the problem comes in. The moment you are on a certain step and you keep going, I don't think it will be easy for anyone to stop you because you are steady. Even with the explosion we have now, we still need more talent.
Bandwagon syndrome in Nollywood. What do you think of it?
I do commercials here and there and the rate at which people recognise me even for a 60-second advert is amazing. So what I've come to realise is that if you are the type that draws audience, producers will rather settle for you than with someone who will not sell their movies.
But don't you think that is a problem?
When it comes to this area, producers really have a lot of work to do. There is something called division of labour. A regular Nollywood producer believes I'm in charge of casting, production, and the only thing remaining is for him to be behind the camera. But when there are people doing specific things, you realise that with new faces or new talents you can make your work a little brighter. When one face keeps appearing steadily, the impression you give is that the stories are the same. It now looks as if we don't have stories anymore but there are one million and one stories yet to be told. When we concentrate on a certain character, we give a different, wrong impression. Take for instance, if I were married to, let's say Desmond Elliot in a film, and in another film, I'm still married to him, what makes it different? The person who does not have the time to analyse the story will not want to see the difference because they look the same, and therefore, monotonous. They don't really see the concept. If this can be avoided, there will be room for other stars to emerge.
What is your perception of the industry?
We are doing better than the 90's, and I think with that kind of progress, though slow. I do believe we are moving forward. Watch the quality of films these days; they are far better than what we had in those days. What we really need are creative directors who can see through any script and be able to interpret them well. We have talented people as artistes who are ready to give you whatever you want. The technical aspect has improved. In 10 years from now, it will be better than what we have now.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Joan in another five years will turn to the moon, if possible. I think I will be shinning brightly. Not just as an artiste but also as a mother. I think I will be doing very well. I have a couple of things coming up. I'm not the type of person that waits for others to do things for me only for me to come and reap. With the rate I'm going in my creative endeavours, very soon, my success bells will be ringing loudly. I can call myself a total artiste with the exception of dance art. I act, model and present, too. I'm a voice over artiste. I'm coming up with something for the radio; it's still brewing. By the grace of God, and before the year runs out, I should have something on three different radio stations at least.
What experience do you have as a presenter?
Yeah! I was a presenter on TV on what is called Trash it out. That was a debate programme for secondary school students on MITV in 2001/2002. But ever since then, I've not really done any other serious presentation except what I'm about to create now for radio.
How have you been coping with your responsibility as a mother and an artiste?
Right now, my mum takes care of my baby. My daughter will be eight next month. But ever since she was a child, my mother has been very supportive because the child has always been with her. I don't feel as if I have a daughter except once in a while when she calls me mummy to say she wants this or that. And that's why I'm working. So I don't really feel pressured.
It's not easy being a woman, especially when one has a kid. Sometimes, it can be very difficult; you see yourself growing fat or slim, depending on how you handle it. I've learnt to do some indoor exercises and then watch what I eat. I'm lucky. God has been very good to me. I try to be happy everyday by always smiling. No matter what happens to me, I see it as a challenge and something to overcome.
As a single mother, do you look forward to settling down anytime soon?
Well! When I get Mr Right, I will. (Laughs). I'm available, single and still searching. I believe in marriage and in family life. I don't joke with my family. I love children too. When I had my daughter, things didn't work out between me and her father. I don't want to talk about the experience. I've moved on and I'm looking forward to having my own family.
What are the challenges of being a single mother?
Africans will always be Africans but I think we are far more exposed now than before. These days, guys find it preferable to run after 'after one' as people call them. The way they look at it is different; they assume single mothers are more experienced. So, it is an advantage for me. But my priority is to raise my child rather than worrying about settling down.
Do you have any regrets as a single mother?
I've never ever regretted having my child. I didn't regret the relationship either. Whatever has happened is destined to be so. As long as it didn't make me drop dead like others do or run mad, it's just fine by me. I don't regret having my child. I'm proud to be a mother because she's my exact replica. Children are a gift from God and He gave me on a platter of gold. I'm grateful to Him.
Has there ever been a time you felt like quitting acting?
Well, I don't want to call a particular name. I didn't feel like quitting actually but I felt more resolved to be somebody. For someone to say I had to sleep with him to make it to the top was totally unacceptable to me. I just told him that if I don't get there through him, I would get there through someone else and that ended the whole story. So rather than quit, I was resolved to make it to the top. And I will definitely get there sometime soon. Yes! I'm a beautiful woman and everybody wants to get a piece of the cake but I can't give in to cheap threats.
What's your principle about life?
Joan is a very happy person. I love being happy. I love smiling a lot. I don't think because I smile a lot, I'm a push over. No! I'm not. But most of all, I'm a goal getter. Though I might be slow at getting it but I definitely get it. You know what they say, slow and steady does it well. That is my principle about life.
What beauty routine do you indulge in?
I love to look good, but I don't believe in spending too much to look good. I'm lucky God has given me the most important things and I don't have to spend so much to look attractive as a woman. I don't cultivate the habit of cleansing. I just have my bath; I even wash my face with sponge and that's something a lot of ladies don't do. For me, if I don't wash my face with sponge, pimples will begin to appear on my face and rashes, too. But once I do, I feel very clean. That's just me and I'm not into creams. I just use my normal lotion and I'm good to go. Then at night, I just get into my nightgown and sleep. I'm vulnerable to cold, so except it's really hot, I don't take my bath at night.
What's your fashion statement?
Trendy but not too expensive. I can be very prudent.
How was growing up like for you?
Actually my parents are from Cameroun but I was born and bred here. So Joan Agbor is a Nigerian by birth. (Laughs) I grew up mostly in Lagos. For some reason I lived outside of Lagos for a while. I lived in Kwara State, Ogun, and in Cameroun. I studied Nursing there. We have some relations in Cross River State; so sometimes I go there to see them.
My growing up days weren't hard because we had a supportive mother. I wouldn't say my dad was really there but somehow my mother was strong enough to really hold six children together. Oh my God! She must be a strong woman. Yes! She's very strong. That woman! I owe her everything. I'm the fourth among six children. The rest are overseas. I'm the only one here