'I HAVE LESBIANS AS FRIENDS'
Passion and determination are the ingredients. Once one has these, one can achieve anything. And that is how Uche Benjamin's story tells. With only her dream with her, one day she bolted from Port Harcourt where she lived with her family and landed in Lagos. She came, looking for acting career. Today, Uche Benjamin is no longer another name on the list; she is now a poster girl in the entertainment industry.
In this interview with Saturday Sun, she tells her story - her journey into the industry, her future plans and every other thing in-between.
Could you give us a little insight into your family background?
I am from an Anglican home. I am the first out of five siblings. I hail from Owerri in Imo State. I come from a family that when I look back, it humbles me. When I was a child, my father used to be very strict and it helped me to carry on with life.
What was your parents' reaction when you started acting?
Initially, my father didn't take it but my mum was comfortable with it because, when I was in primary school, I used to act. Although not for TV, I could cram novels that when I interpret them, my teachers would be very happy. My mum saw that in me, so she just told me that since I have passion for it, I could go for it. But it was not so with my dad who saw acting as a profession for wayward and irresponsible people. That was the impression he had about actresses. It was when he saw that I was not crossing my boundaries that he gave his consent.
Does beauty give you advantage in the industry when it comes to roles?
I have had some situations where some producers would say that they need a fair girl for a particular role. They have also told me either that I have the face or fits into a particular character. I think it helps.
Who is your role model?
My international role model is Angelina Jolie. I also have Liz Benson, Uche Jumbo and I also like Ini Edo. I just don't have one in the industry but these are the people that I look up to most times.
Have you ever acted a role and people used it to abuse you?
Yes. I was in a bank one day and a lady saw me and asked why I was sleeping with my sister's husband. She was even advising me that such things are not good. You know that people some times feel that those roles we play are real. They don't believe that you are only trying to make it look real. I was really embarrassed that day because people were so many in the bank and they thought that she meant what she was saying. It was later they realized she was talking about a movie.
What was your growing up like?
I didn't grow up in the city. My dad was a civil servant. So, we were just going round the country. We stayed in the North, where I learnt to speak Hausa very well. I also schooled in Port Harcourt and Owerri. We were just comfortable. My mum was a teacher while my dad worked in the aviation industry. I didn't lack anything as a child, but we weren't very rich either.
What are the things you have done in the movie that ordinarily you would not have done?
I think it's fighting. You can't catch me fighting but I have fought in a movie and I have also been a snitch. These are the things I don't do.
A lot of actresses are not in talking terms with one another. Who are you not in talking terms with?
One thing with me is that, if I find out that you are very envious and a backbiter, I keep away from you. If you tell me about people, I feel that that is the way you will also tell people about me. I avoid people who talk a lot. There are upcomers like me who go about talking a lot so, I keep them at a distance. I like talking with people who say positive things. I can talk to you but may not be very close to you. I can't remember not being in talking terms with anybody.
What are the things you were doing that you have stopped doing now?
I have stopped climbing bikes (okada). The last time I climbed a bike, I was rushing to the airport and I almost missed my flight. People were looking at me, and halfway, I became ashamed and got down. Nigerians believe that once you are appearing on screen, you should not climb bikes. That is the only thing I would say that I have stopped.
What are the pains and gains associated with you as an actress?
Sometimes when they write certain things you didn't do, it pains so much. There are times you grant interviews and they go and write things you did not say. That I will say is the only pain I have as an actress. You no longer have privacy. People read meaning to whatever you do. The gain is that I go to some places and I am given attention. It is no longer difficult for me to get things. I get what I want easily without going through stress. Most importantly, people respect me more.
How was your journey into Nollywood?
It was just like a joke. It was after I graduated from University of Port Harcourt that I decided to go to one acting school. I did that for two weeks just to know what it was like. I remember also telling a friend of mine about the school and she asked me if I wanted to act and I said yes. She called Segun Arinze who asked me where I stayed and I told him it was Port Harcourt. He told me that I could not act from there. So, I packed my things to Lagos. My parents were surprised when I told them I was going to Lagos. I came and the first role I played was given to me by Grand Touch Pictures owned by Chico Ejiro. I was shaking because I did not know what to do with it. I did not have confidence in myself that I could do it. But with time, I mastered it.
When you came to Lagos, who did you put up with?
My coming to Lagos was a funny thing. This is one story I have never given. Some people you really think could be of help to you, because they feel you are just coming up, would not help you. I went through some things but when I entered into acting, got my balance and became comfortable, they wanted to associate with me. I had friends that could accommodate me but they found it very difficult. Some times, I woke up at night and cried, asking myself why they were treating me the way they did, but could not get any answer. They felt I was a nobody, but right now, they all want to associate with me. I always tell people to assist others in any way they could because it is a small world we are in.
What are your challenges in the industry?
My greatest challenge is doing things you wouldn't want to do. Sometimes, people think you have to leak their ass to get what you want. I am one person who is not desperate. If I am good, I am good and will get what I want. But at the same time, I try as much as possible to be humble. This is what I have come to see and have accepted.
Have you ever been asked to come to a hotel to pick a script?
Let me be honest with you, it doesn't happen only in the entertainment industry. It is everywhere. At the same time, I am one person who never shows that I am desperate. If you tell me to come and pick a script at the wrong place, I will tell you no and demand that you do it officially. If you don't want, you go but if you are smart, you will know that I know what I want. Sexual harassment, as far as know, is everywhere.
What are the things you would change in the industry if you had the opportunity?
I will change stereotyping. I don't know why producers prefer to use the same faces always. People should be given opportunities to showcase their talents.
When you go to church, how do people react when they see you?
Nigerians usually associate people with the kind of roles they play. Nevertheless, some feel happy while others see me as one of the bad girls in the industry. It is my heart that matters.
Lesbianism is a practice in the industry. Have you ever been wooed by a fellow actress?
No! I have not, but I have them as friends. Sometimes, people draw my attention to that and I just laugh over it. It is what you want that you engage yourself with. That I have them as friends does not mean that I must do it. I know the qualities I want in a friend. So, if I find it in them, I make friends with them.
What could make you quit the industry?
Maybe when I start having kids; I will concentrate on my marriage and children. It is not easy to be in marriage and be famous. There are lots of temptations, but I think there are certain roles I will stop taking. I will also uphold my family in prayer and in addition, respect and honour my family in order to sustain and maintain my marriage. I will have my limits as a married actress. I pray my husband does not ask me to quit the industry because it is something I have passion for and that is why I will not marry someone who does not like my career.
Some women say they won't breastfeed so that their breasts will not fall. Would you breastfeed your baby?
Yes, I will do the normal breastfeeding for six months.
What is your selling point in the industry?
I think it is the way I interpret my roles. There could be other things but my diction and ability to interpret roles are my weapons.
What turns you off and on?
I don't like people who are not straightforward. I like people who keep to their words.
Who are the actresses you like working with?
I like working with Uche Jumbo. She is a very easy-going person. Then, Ebube Nwagbo and Ini Edo are good. There are quite a number of them that I like.
What is your most embarrassing moment?
There was a day I went to buy something. I was in front of the shop and one mad woman came and was shouting at me. She was asking me why I went to report her to Jonathan. People there felt I knew her but when they heard what she was saying, they knew she was mad. I felt for her and she was wearing a police uniform. She almost created a scene but I was lucky and left the crowd.
What is your most memorable day?
It was the first day I was given a script.
How does he feel seeing men around you?
He knows me very well. I don't give in to people that way. I also have my limits.