Growing Up Was Rough; My Father Never Cared For His Children — Joan Agbor
She is a Cameroonian by birth but acknowledges herself as a born-Nigerian. A single mother of a very beautiful daughter, Joan Agbor, is one talented actress in the Nigerian movie industry, a renowned voice-over artiste and surprisingly a grade II nurse. In this interview with Sandra-Izuu Okafor she speaks about her pains and gains of being in the entertainment industry.
Can we have an insight into your family background?
My family is from Cameroon; I'm a born Nigerian but my parents are Cameroonians. I'm the fourth of six children, the rest are overseas and I'm the only one here in Africa. I'm a graduate of English Language from Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University). I also did some other courses before the degree, I studied Computer Science at the Federal Polytechnic, Offa (FEDPOFA), then I studied Nursing after the degree in Cameroon and that is the only educational background I had in Cameroon which also makes me a Grade II nurse.
What do you mean by being a born Nigerian since your parents are full-blooded Cameroonians?
I will say I'm a born Nigerian because I was born and bred here. I grew up here –my primary, university education were all done here in Nigeria, so I don't think I have any affiliation with Cameroon aside my parents being Cameroonians.
What led you into acting?
I always had love for acting. I have always been an artiste through and through because I still remember when I was in primary school, without me nobody would sing and there wouldn't have been a theatre group; we used to call it the acting or drama group. Then in the secondary school, I remember I was in J.S. III, about to enter S. S. I when we had to split into Science, Arts or Commercial classes; I had to go to the science class and my teacher had to ask why I wanted to do sciences and said that I was an artiste and didn't believe that I should offer science subjects. I refused and told her I preferred science subjects though we were very few then and I knew I could cope but it later dawned on me that if someone else could see that I'm a born artiste, why contesting it. So, after my secondary school education, I had to join the industry and that was in 1995.
What was your growing up like?
Growing up was a bit rough but I'd rather say it was good because I had a very good mother. I would say that I'm not like other children who had the kind of father that I had –who never cared. I know what they used to go through but I never had that because I had this mother who really, really had the strength to be both mother and father to us.
She had to go through everything just to see that we got something in life; she never toyed with our education and I think that's why majority of us are overseas today and that has shown that a woman can do something great even without an education, though I wouldn't say my mother is an illiterate because she has a Standard Six level of education which was something then.
What do you mean by 'you had a father who never cared?'
My father was one of those African fathers who even with his education never really cared for his children. I remember we were still kids when he had to leave us to get married to another woman, so he was never there for us. He's still alive but the father-to-children bond is not there; he was never there in the first place but we just know that he's our father.
You have been in the industry for sometime now, what has been your experience?
I will not say I had found it easy but because I love what I'm doing I have never experienced stress. I know that whatever you have to go through or whatever you want to get, you have to make an amount of sacrifice. A lot of things will go on which will become history at one point or the other. I remember in my early days as an upcoming artiste when we used to struggle, sometimes we would go to Ajegunle looking for producers who would do one film and in the end they would not pay. But after some years it changed for the better and I started getting into modelling and other things that actually fetched some money. Right then and there I knew we had a lot to do, we have a long way to go but we can still make it. I will not say it's been easy, there have been ups and downs, but somehow we'll pull through.
Has being an actress affected your private life?
A bit –because if I say it hasn't, then I'll be joking. I'm a single mother of one and I remember my partner had a problem with the kind of job I do because he felt it was a kind of job that will expose me to other men but I don't think that way. In any job you find yourself in, you will definitely come across the opposite sex but it all depends on who you are and what you want. I think he never had the strength or loved me enough to love me for who I am or who I was then and that was when we realised that we had to part ways because I had to come to terms with the truth that I would not be going after what my heart desires and if I had to do what he wanted –it just would not work; so at a point in time we had to compromise. We have a very beautiful daughter, but we just had to part ways to find our various partners where we can find our happiness.
You said being an actress has affected your private life, how do you cope?
You see, right now I don't see my profession affecting my private life anymore since the person who never loves it is not around me anymore, so I don't have problems with anybody. My mother has always supported me in whatever I do and she's this type of woman I would say, though with her Standard Six, she's like a woman who has a Ph.D because her reasoning is broad –very broad. She just has this attitude of 'whatever you want to do as long as it makes you comfortable, I think you should do it –try it, it would work.' Hers is 'I don't want you dead, I don't want you to do things that in the end you will come back running to me and we will have to stress and stress and stress. 'But if you know that this would work for you and it is good, why not give it a trial.' So she has never had any problem with my job, she has always been very supportive even I was not getting any money from it.
Tell us briefly about your daughter and how do you feel being a single mother?
My daughter is a very beautiful girl, she's a replica of me; she is just 8 years; if you see me, you've seen my daughter, her name is Sonia Ashu. Being a single mother is good and I love it because I love being called mummy and it has been made lighter for me by my mother. Since I don't have a home of my own yet –I mean a husband, she has been making it easier for me by keeping my child and really taking good care of her.
Which of the jobs have you done that you are not likely to forget in a hurry?
There's been a whole lot of work experience that I won't forget easily but the ones I would say I enjoyed most right now are the TV commercials where sometimes you work and the way you are being taken, the way you are handled, you will feel the joy of what you are doing. I had this particular job which is not yet on air but it's called Bonux Plus for Procter and Gamble and considering the level at which I am now I feel 'wow! –is this really how stardom is?'
Were there roles in the past that you will not delve into now?
No. I don't think so; the only role one would want to shy away from would be the nude roles that would involve nudity, though I have never done that but I've done some challenging roles that I did not need to be nude but I needed to look sweet and what that meant was I was half nude. I will not mind doing the half nude part again; I'm an actress for God's sake, but the only thing is: I don't have to shock people but at least to give an idea of how a certain character should be portrayed.
Are you saying that with the right amount of money, you will act nude?
Oh boy, nude? No –not nude!! But what I'm saying here is: you would want to create the idea of probably a crazy type of person who is walking around half nude, but not nude. I'm not doing a porno and I can't do a porno anyway.
What is your assessment of the Nigerian entertainment industry and where do you see it going in the next few years?
Judging from what I experienced in the past about 10 years ago, it has really grown faster than I thought. As I told you, we were doing the job before and not being paid then; suddenly we were being paid and we can demand what we want as in pricing; so it shows that we are really growing. With the way I'm looking at the industry, I think in the next five years we shall be competing and rubbing shoulders with Bollywood.
Who are your role models in the industry?
I have people like Joke Silva, Stella Damasus Aboderin. They are good actresses because you can just stand and things flow to you. Then I also like myself, I love my style.
How do you relax?
We do a lot of relaxation on the job and as you know, I'm also a voice-over artiste. In our 'gazebo' as we call it at the Association of Voice Over Artistes office in Surulere, we are always around with friends, we take one or two bottles of drinks and feel free. I think that's enough relaxation because when we get home the very next thing we think of is how to create a story or a certain concept.
What is the greatest rumour you have heard about yourself that shocked you to your bones?
I won't say there has been a particular rumour that has shocked me because the usual rumour in the industry is 'that person is dating this person' which is very normal. Usually you have people who just sit and formulate stories because they have seen you talking to a guy or even if it's a woman; haven't you heard of ladies being accused of lesbianism when they aren't. It so happens that negative talks, rumours and gossips must go on.
Are you in a serious relationship right now?
Will you like to tell us about this lucky man?
It's a secret for now but you will get to know him soon.