I felt like giving up several times–Michelle Ikegulu, Nollywood actress
She may not be your regular face in movies, but Michelle Ikegulu introduces a spicy element to Nollywood movies. Her British accent has generated a lot of controversy. Many feel she is just faking the accent, but Michelle refutes this.
Michelle who has lived in London all her life talks about her career as an actress, her new soap opera and why she is not willing to pay any price to get to the peak of her career in Nollywood. Excerpts:
How would you say your journey into Nollywood started?
My journey in Nollywood started in 2006. I was in Nigeria for my older sister's wedding and accompanied my cousin for an audition. I was really keen to give it a try and so I asked the producer if I could also audition for a particular role. I didn't get the role I initially auditioned for, but was given the role of a secretary. The movie was titled My everlasting Love and that's how it all started.
You have been on and off, what would you say is responsible for this?
I have been on and off due to the fact that as you know I am not based in Nigeria, therefore I tend to come down to Nigeria only when I have a job to shoot. It is mostly my fault as you put in what you get out. If I put in more time, then of course, I will be frequent on the screens. That is something I really need to work on.
People say you are not a fantastic actress, what would you say about this?
I welcome criticism because that is the only way I can improve and give to the viewers what they want to see. Unfortunately, the acting I was taught is quite different to the one here in Nollywood. For example, acting here involves a lot of body language while acting I learnt comes with a lot of inner expressions. It is something I took time away to learn in order to give my best in upcoming projects. So, by all means, please criticize me because that is the only way I can acknowledge my faults and improve to get to where I want to go.
You have featured in a couple of movies, what has the experience been like?
You basically have to remember you are there to work and you strive to scale through. It can be quite stressful at times but it's my profession which I chose, therefore, can't complain.
What lessons has being an actress taught you?
Being an actress has taught me to be happy with myself and content with my growth and surrounding. That gives me inner peace. It has made me stronger. Because I am an actress, I am basically on the world's stage and not everyone is bound to like me. So, all I can do is focus, do my job and be the best that I can be.
Who do you look up to in Nollywood?
I look up to Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde based on the fact that she is married with four kids and still doing well in the industry. She is still looking great. That takes a lot of hard work, but she does it well. I also look up to Eucharia Anunobi too; she must have been in the industry since like forever. In fact, they are all great. They all shine in their different ways and they all have different attributes.
What is happening in the life and career of Michelle Ikegulu at the moment?
Oh goodness, how do I answer this? Well currently, I am back in London having spent most of last year in Nigeria and Ghana.
What plans do you have for 2011?
2011 is definately a great year. At the moment, I am finalizing the final editing details of Hidden Destiny. It is a soap I wrote and produced. It was shot in London/Ghana late last year. That needs to come on screen before I start writing season 2 of the series. I am also organising an international event here in London, which you will know about at the right time. I also have a soap to shoot here in London that I am hoping will start mid April as I am keen to get back to location in Nigeria. So yes, definitely, I have wonderful plans for 2011. Hidden Destiny should be hitting your screens in April and it is something not to be missed.
What else are you into aside acting?
I am a qualified nurse. I have a BSc. Honours in Nursing and a MSc. in Medical Law. I have been practising that for years. I just completed my studies in a drama school in London last September.
You are currently abroad, is it that you don't want to return to Nigeria?
My whole family resides here, so I am with family and friends going about my day- to- day endeavours.
When are you coming back for good in Nigeria?
When the time is right. I would like to move permanently back to Nigeria but that I will do it pretty soon hopefully.
Compare life over there and here, what has been your experience over there?
Life in England is obviously very different. Things are a lot calmer and organised here. There is more of a structure. People respect each other. You don't just go out of your way to do anything you like because you feel like doing it. There are strict penalties for every offense and it doesn't matter who you are, if you break the law, you will be punished.
Have you suffered any form of racial discrimination?
Racial discrimination is not expressed in words, but it very much exists here. In the movie and soap industry, there are very limited roles for a Black or Asian face as majority of the cast needed are Caucasians. You basically have to fit in to a certain environment or group of people to progress and get to the stage you want to be. It is either that or you have to work extra hard than your peers to be recognized. It is something that exists but under cover as there are lots of laws about racial discrimination. Yet, when did laws ever stop anything?
Do you think youths in Nigeria stand a chance on the international scene given the level of social amenities over there?
Yes, without a doubt. Nigerian youths have talents and gifts that are untapped. If the social amenities available in developed countries are in Nigeria, we will even do better. There is something about a Nigerian youth, the drive to excel no matter what. Nigerian youths are resilient, strong and determined to make it even in the face of intense challenges. Even with the little we have in Nigeria, our youths are doing Nigeria proud.
How do you think our youths can be empowered to succeed in Nigeria?
They should be given equal opportunities. There are lots of talented youths in Nigeria with a lot of passion and are trying to succeed. However, they haven't really got anything to put such energy into which is quite sad really. So, many have ambitions and educations but there are no jobs or resources to exploit those talents.
As an actress, how do you cope with the stress involved?
I cope by praying and meditating. There is nothing more peaceful than that. Giving all to God, and inviting Him into my life to take control of all I do, helps me go through life peacefully.
What actually gives you joy?
A lot gives me joy. God is top on my list. Spending time with family and friends, especially my nieces and nephews is a happy time. My sister also says I am happy when am eating, she reckons food gives me joy too. I also enjoy being on set.
Were there times in your life you felt like giving up?
Yes, several times. Sometimes I read something's awful written about me or am deceived by people whom I call friends. It hurts a lot more when am in a place not surrounded by my family as they are a major part of my life. I think to myself if all this stress and pain is actually worth it but then those thoughts leave my mind as quickly as they come.
Are you willing to pay any price to get to the top of your career?
I never put a price on anything apart from the things I buy from the shops or market stalls. So, no. I am not willing to pay any price to get to the top of my careers. When I do, it will be by God's divine grace and favour in my life.
Are you planning on making your own movie?
Not at the moment as I have only just competed the first series of Hidden Destiny which is soap set in London and Accra. It is about the life of Thelma Lawson, who is a London top girl. She narrates the story of how her life went from glamour and riches to rags. It is not about her alone but also of the other three girls she met when she arrived Ghana. It covers her experiences in Africa and how they differed to her life abroad. However, she also points out that while she was having such a terrible life, others were worst and that's how the other girls were introduced into the soap. It has a fantastic storyline, with a lot of comedy. At the same time, it will also move you to tears.
How long have you been acting and what do you wish you would have attained now which you have not experienced?
I have been acting in Nollywood since 2006. I would like to by now have featured in a lot more movies and have a couple of awards to my name. But all the same, I am grateful to God for where I am presently. I believe everything happens for a reason, God doesn't make mistakes with our lives.
What qualities do you feel is missing in today's actresses?
Every individual is different. I can tell you what I feel is missing in myself but I can't tell you what is missing in others.
There is the issue of story line repetition in Nollywood, do you think it is healthy for the industry?
When did repetition become healthy in anything? No, I don't think it's healthy in Nollywood. It makes viewers lose interest in watch they are watching as we keep seeing the same thing over and over again. Too much of anything makes you sick, doesn't it? New storyline and plots definitely will keep more viewers glued to their TV sets.
If you were to change anything about yourself and your career, what would that be?
If I could change anything about myself, I like to be a lot thinner.
You speak with an accent, is it natural or you are just forming like some people insinuate?
No, I am not forming. It would be nice if I was, because over the years, I have tried hard to lose the accent. Unfortunately, it's also a hindrance to my progression in Nollywood. I have lived in London all my life and the accent has become a part of me.
Is it true that actresses engage in runs (sleep around with men), just to outdo each other?
That I can't answer as whatever I say would be a lie. I have no idea whether it's true or not. I am an actress, yet, I don't sleep around with men in order to outdo my colleagues. Wouldn't that be the silliest thing I could ever do?
Are you a fashion freak?
Which lady isn't? I love dresses. I am definitely a girly girl. I love everything fashionable. It brings out my feminity.
What would you say about increasing cold wars among actresses and why some actresses whom seem like best friends suddenly become sworn enemies?
I really don't know why. Life comes in phases. I don't think I am in the best position to talk about other people's lives and relationships. People will always disagree on certain issues, but their ability to handle those issues are left to them alone.
What was the most annoying thing you heard about yourself in the industry?
I once read some reviews about a movie I featured in a couple of years ago. There was a long debate or argument about whether my accent was real or not. Some kept saying it was, while others were sure it was not as they knew me from Surulere, Lagos years ago when I probably wasn't even born. I could not believe what my eyes where reading. I think only one of the people commented on my performance. That is really is very annoying. Nigerians should try to talk about salient issues and not petty issues such as accents.
Are you in any relationship now?
No, I am not in a relationship at the moment.
Why? Is it that you are not attractive enough or you have not found the right person?
Well, it is my personal life and I do not think it is best to discuss it in public. I may be in the limelight, but some aspects of my life are better kept secret. Relationships are not discussed openly.
What kind of man is likely to make you his wife?
An honest, kind, compassionate and a God fearing man.
Personally, what is your definition of love?
Having someone or something I hold very close or deep in my heart.
Do you believe in love?
Yes I do.
Tell us about yourself.
My full name is Onyinyechukwu Michelle Ikegulu. Born in Clapham Common, South West London. I was raised in a traditional and religious Nigeria way. I am what I am, so basically what you see is what you get.