I dated Kalu Ikeagwu, not Olu Maintain –Alex Okoroji
Alex Okoroji, daughter of Chief Tony Okoroji, musician and former president of Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria, is an actress. Okoroji, whose career has been dogged by a few scandals, shares her experiences in the industry with 'NONYE IWUAGWU.
When did you develop a love for acting?
Because of my family background, I have always wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I have always wanted to be an actress, but I only decided to build a career in it in 2005.
Your father was a well known musician, why not a career in music instead?
Naturally, people expected that. Sometimes, I can be a rebel. I wanted to do the opposite. But then, I also do 'bathroom' singing. Maybe before I die, I will release an album. For now, I am sticking to acting.
So, how did you get into acting?
My first experience started with the first edition of Amstel Malta Box Office. I was in the house. Really, I wasn't going to enter a reality show then. It was supposed to be my younger sister who had been playing around with the forms. It was a point in my life when we experienced a bit of misfortune.
What kind of misfortune?
Our house got burnt and I was looking for something to do that would take my mind away from that incident. I just wanted to do something for fun, so I entered for AMBO. I was auditioned and, finally, they called us into the house. It was at that point that I actually realised that I could do this for a living.
But you didn't come out tops?
No. Our own was different from what they have now. I was the last girl to leave the house. There were three people remaining after I left. I guess we could say I took the fourth position.
So because of AMBO you decided to become an actress?
Yes. I realised that it is one thing to feel that you want to do something and another thing to see that you can actually do that thing. We had performance classes in the house. We also had presentation classes, voice training and all of that.
The first time I was in front of the camera, I was really scared. We had to do a monologue. I was just wondering how I would just be talking to myself. But I later found that I enjoyed it. I found that I could even do it better than some other people.
And then you decided to go professional.
Yes. The first movie I did after AMBO is Calabar Girl. So far, I have not done many movies. I am so careful not to saturate the TV screens. If I will be honest, more than 70 per cent of the jobs I have done are very good jobs. They aren't ordinary Nollywood movies. The movies were done by independent producers; people who are actually art practitioners and who give attention to details.
But you have been getting many lead roles?
Yes. I just did a movie, Hero's Bride, not too long ago. It is not out yet. I think they want to premiere it first. I worked with some of the best actors and actresses, people like Femi Brainard, Yemi Black, Tina Mba and others. The more jobs I do, the better I get. I did a job that John Njamah directed;it was awesome. You would discover that this director has direction. He had to challenge me as an actor. I had to do things that people normally don't do on screens.
So you have finally made acting a career?
Oh yes. It took me a while to decide what I was going to do with my life. Sometimes, when you are multi-talented, you can get confused. Everybody wants to see you sing, dance, act or write. I am in the entertainment industry anyway. That is my main focus.
We hear you wrote a movie that was nominated for AMAA.
I have been writing for sometime now. I wrote a movie for RMD and Stella Damasus. It is called State of the Heart. They produced the movie. That was the movie that was nominated for AMAA 2009. I wrote another movie for Kingsley Ogoro. I think they are getting ready to shoot the movie.
Sometimes, it is hard to do all this, because the expectations people have are very high. They expect me to be like my father. I cannot deny the fact that I took some of his genes. I am like a smaller, younger, female version of Tony Okoroji. I think like him and I have ideas running constantly in my mind.
You have only been around for a while, yet you are dogged by scandals...
The fact that they are writing stuffs about me tells me that I am good at what I am doing. That means I am becoming very important. The truth is that, sometimes, I don't even know where the stories come from. I guess it is the fact that I am making an impact. Nobody will talk about you if you are not making an impact. But this is not an excuse.
I don't think I go out of my way to be in the spotlight. Truly, I grew up being in the spotlight. It wasn't as if people knew me, but if I mentioned my name, they would know who I am. Like I always tell people, I am not here because I want to be famous. I can be famous by just being Tony Okoroji's child. I am here for the love of my job. I am only interested in fulfilling my heart desires. I can't explain the scandals.
Did you expect those scandals?
Because I am exposed and because I am in the public eye, naturally, I expected that people would talk about me. But do I like it? No. I expected the scandals. When I was growing up, I can't count all the stuff I read about my father. Sometimes, I would ask myself if the person they wrote about and my father were one and the same. They kept writing and saying all sorts of stuff. But the bottom line was that we knew who our father was.
So you didn't allow what they wrote about your father to get to you?
No. Like I said, we knew who he was. We knew he was a fighter. He would work at anything to redeem his image. I wasn't bothered. But I will not tell you that I wasn't concerned at times, in the sense that something that would naturally affect some other person, my father constantly dealt with such things. At times I would wish they would just leave him alone. My father is one of the most disciplined people I know.
Were there times you wished he was not in the limelight?
So many times, in fact. I am not saying this because he is my father, but sometimes I wonder why good people have to go through the stuff they go through. If he was 'eating' money or chasing women, I would understand. I am not saying he is perfect, but if he was the kind of person that didn't have values, I wouldn't have been bothered. As such, so many times, I felt he should leave this industry and retire somewhere in the village or even travel abroad.
How was it like growing up with a father who was in the limelight. Was he there for you and your siblings?
He was always away. It was a mixture of fun and frustration. It was a mixture of different emotions. But then, he was and is still a very good father. When I was younger, he used to give me a bath. My dad would support my fashion sense more than my mother. Whenever he was around, he was a fantastic person to be with, because he would play with you and help you with your hoe work. More often than not, he was away. For weeks, he would be away trying to settle one PMAN issue or the other.
You dated Kalu Ikeagwu, the actor.
Naturally, people would expect me to say 'no comment', but I will do the reverse since I am a rebel. I dated him.
So what happened?
Nothing. We just broke up.
Who called it quits?
We both decided we wanted to do different things. But we are still very good friends.
But Kalu is very handsome. Some ladies would have been envious of you.
Am I not a fine girl? Ha! Please, I am very pretty.
And from Kalu, you reportedly switched to Olu Maintain...
I don't know where that came from. I don't have any business with Olu Maintain. It came as a shock when I heard it. These are people in the same industry with me, so I am bound to bump into them at one event or the other. I am a very friendly person and you know we do events or rather, my father does many events. These are the people that I invite to the events. I know practically everybody in the industry. I don't know why they should single out Olu Maintain. I don't have anything to do with him.
Who are you dating now?
Nobody. I am serious. If you want to find a boyfriend for me, I don't mind.
Is it by choice or by design that you don't have a boyfriend?
It can't be because nobody has asked me out. People ask me out all the time. They will always ask a babe out whether they care about her or not. At times, you may not even understand why somebody claims to like you. But as for me, I am just being careful. I want to find someone that I would have a bond with. I want to find somebody that understands me. In trying to do this, I am also being careful.
Does your father not mind the stuff being written about you?
Naturally, he does not like the scandals because he is a very disciplined person. But he has no choice but to support my career. He had the chance to go about his. Initially, he asked me if this is what I really wanted to do, since he knew all the stuffs that go on in the industry. But I think I am beginning to earn respect as an arts practitioner. I am beginning to earn respect from him too. We can sit down together and share ideas. I even know some people now who he does not know.
Do you think you would have made any impact without your father's influence?
I don't think I am making impact because of my father. That is the truth. I am making friends because of him. People want to listen to me because of my last name. But my father has never called anybody to give me a job. I think it is my hard work that has brought me this far in the industry.
Many people have this perception that people in your industry don't always settle down in marriage...
I will settle down and I will have kids. It is just that people have high expectations from people in this industry. There are a lot of people whose marriages are not working, but they are not in the entertainment industry. It is just that at times, we pressurise ourselves into making mistakes in the partners we pick. I have come to realise that it is not every man that is meant for every woman. It is not every union that has God's blessings. You need to be very careful. Sometimes, love just not enough. There are other things you need to consider.
I also think that some people are lazy in their relationships. We always think that falling in love is the end point. But you also need to work at not letting the love die. You just don't have to be lazy to let it go if you think it is important. You have to fight for it.
Who was the 'lazy' partner between you and Kalu?
We should get to the point where you know that this is where it ends or this is where it should be. I don't want to say anything about Kalu, because I don't know what God's plans are. I can marry anybody, but I don't know who he is (dating) because I am not dating anybody now. People were saying Kalu and I wanted to get married. But the relationship is over. We are friends. We talk. You can disagree and make your points while being civil. We are civil. I think everybody is just being careful.
Where are you taking your career? What are your future plans?
I have plans of going to a film school. I hope to produce and direct. But I also hope to be appreciated. I wouldn't mind a couple of awards. I am hoping I would do more challenging jobs. I am hoping that I can contribute to the industry in my own little way. My dad has contributed a lot but I know that one day, he will be gone. I hope to continue the legacy.
Don't you think that his shoes are too big for you?
Yes, his shoes are very big. I think he wears big size. But it is all good. The bigger it is, the more you know you have more work to do. I am not trying to replace him. But they say you father's end point is you beginning. I want to begin from where he stops.
How far did you go in school?
I have a diploma in Business Administration. I studied Biochemistry. But I told you, I want to go to a film school. My father has many degrees. He says knowledge is from birth to death, and I agree with him.
What if you marry somebody who wants you to quit acting?
I think that is the other way round. The man I will marry will have to deal with the job. Even if I don't remain an actress, I can't run away from this industry. In fact, I could do a lot of things. I still have time.
Somebody told us that you danced sultrily at the AMAA awards in Bayelsa recently.
Those people want to spoil my political career. If I had known that there were some people taking pictures that night, I wouldn't have gone to the club. But the truth is that when I hear music, I am just another thing entirely. I was having fun; that was just it.
Who do you like working with?
In my little stay in the industry, I think I have worked with virtually all the best names. But I think it would mean more to me if I work with them in a very challenging job. I like Femi Brainard. I get along easily with him and he is a very good actor. Bimbo Akintola is awesome. Desmond Elliot is good as well. John Njamah is a great actor and director. Empress Njamah is such a wonderful actress. I have not worked with Ramsey Noah and I would like to work with him. I may not be a great fan of his, but I learnt he is a very good actor.
Did you ever work with Kalu?
Yes. I have done two jobs with him.
After you broke up?
I have just done one with him. We are actors and we are professional. Everybody on set was looking to see what would happen. We even played a love scene. After the shooting, It was even rumoured that we had come back together again. But it was good working with him. We even kissed in the movie. I don't se any reason we can't work together.
With all the stuff they say about you, don't you wish you are in another profession?
I am trying to imagine another life I could have traded with what I do now. I am a liberal person; I don't hold grudges. I just wish people will cut me some slack with all they say about me.
We also heard that you dumped Obiwon for Ruggedman
When I was growing up and I read people debunking allegations, I used to think they were just trying to cover up. But I must tell you, I don't know where this story came from. There is no iota of truth in that story. I don't even know Obiwon. I know him as an artiste, but I never had his number. People were saying we were going to get married, and I broke his heart when I moved to Ruggedman. That hurt me badly, because it was not the truth. I felt very bad.
Do you have any regrets?
No. I still have time to make amends. I wish that the hard work you do reflects your reward. If it were so, my father should have been rewarded a whole lot more.
How did you take it when your house got burnt?
I cried for three days. When I saw the house burning, it didn't dawn on me. The only that was going on in my mind was my clothes and shoes. I didn't even think of passport, birth certificate and those important documents. I was just thinking of the material things.
It was when I turned and saw that my father had broken into tears that it hit me. I realised that years of hard work were lost just like that.
We didn't have a roof over our heads. It was so sad. But Nigerians are awesome people. It is because of them that we are alive today. People brought many things for us, even clothes, used and unused. Even the Mallam on the street was helpful; you would go to his kiosk to buy something and he would not take money. Our values changed and I realised that life is vanity.