My husband is a homeboy---Joke Silva

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Joke Silva

For 24 years, renowned actress, Joke Silva has been married to seasoned thespian, Olu Jacobs. Being both in a profession where marriages seem to be permanently on banana peels, the timeless duo have sustained a near effortless romance that has seen them handle their marriage and turn it into a model for other Nollywood personalities and pretenders alike.

The mother of two, and elegant actress, is not only adept in acting movies, she is also an accomplished entertainer who would easily win African Oscars, year in, year out.

In this interview, she reveals the secrets of the staying power and success of her marriage. Excerpts…

What are your success tips for people who want to succeed in life like you?
The most important one is to make Christ the bedrock of what you do. That way, you'll have a permanent guide in your choice of profession. Secondly, you'll get the values that are important to succeed so that you can achieve all the things that have been laid down in your heart to achieve with as little stress as possible because you are working with the Lord.

What is your definition of success and failure?
Success is doing the things that make you happy without losing the people that matter to you while failure is working at a job that is not so fulfilling and losing all the important people that matter to you.

Have you experienced failure?
I think I have experienced setbacks.

Can you give an instance?
Oh! Several; I can't even begin to think about them; wanting to expand my business, going into a merger that never came through was a huge set back but the Lord has taken one beyond that now and people are wanting to merge with me.

What are the things that motivate you?
A lot of the time I find out that my motivation is always wanting to create avenues for young people to succeed and that is a real driving passion for me. I know that when I started out, there were so many avenues of work and towards the 90's, it all started drying up and then it was a struggle for me to work. But now there is load of opportunities like there are hundreds of television stations, all screaming for content, so there are avenues of work but how do these young people break in; that is an important factor. So, one is trying to create those avenues, how to make it possible and then the training for them to have the skills and values to be able to break into the industry and abide in the industry.

Can you tell a short story of how you started in the industry?
I started out at the Lagos University performing center and from there I went on to television, from television to the national theatre. It was after my experience that I felt I needed to get some proper training, so I went to a drama school in England. When I came back home, I got involved in the mirror in the sun, second chance, king must dance naked and my career just took on wings of its own.
The trend for star actresses is divorce, how have you been able to keep your home? Do we have more divorce in Nollywood than in the other industry? I think the amount in the entertainment is not more than you find in any other industry.

So, how have you been able to keep your home? It's God's grace; I remember when we were getting married that my husband said that 'he prays that God will always continue keep us as friends' and I have seen that friendship indeed has helped us by God's wonderful grace to be together as one. We've been through some awful challenges, some real terrible times that could have led many other marriages crash and that's why I said the grace of God has come in because usually whenever we face a tremendous challenge, what happens is that the Lord then makes new wine skin for us individually and he pours new wine into the marriage.

Give us a defined step you took to protect your marriage during this tremendous time?
I really can't, I don't think it is my place. I believe that because individuals are different, you will need to find how to maneuver yourself in your relationship but I also believe that if you get into the habit of asking the Lord to be involved in every aspect of your marriage then whatever challenge that comes you will be able to handle it, because challenges must come otherwise we don't grow as individuals. If you don't have challenges then you don't grow. We don't build on our strength so I believe the Lord has to be the centre of every marriage and no matter what it is we call on him, no matter how we deviated from his principles when he pulls us back and we listen to his guiding hand then our home will work.

As a known and renowned actress, how do you see the image of Nollywood falling from hero to zero in this season of global meltdown?
No! It hasn't. What is happening to Nollywood is that it is going through a metamorphosis; there is always a growth. I think Nollywood believes that it sprang from nothing, which is always a very dangerous position to be in, to think that you are the creator, the beginning and forgetting all the works that have gone on before. If you think of the works that all the Ogunde's, Adelove's and Eddie Ugboma; all these people are the building blocks. If you think of what they have put in place for us to even realize that there is something like acting as a profession, you will appreciate where we are today. I mean they used to ride on bicycles to go from one performance to the other, sometimes they get to a performance place and it will be the light from their bicycles that will be shinning on the stage so that people could see what they were performing.

These are people that have struggled; they have dug the foundation for the industry. Nollywood comes in and Nollywood now fills the foundation Now the next thing is to start building, let's start putting blocks in place for the edifice we want to create and that is the metamorphosis that is happening now. There is no way we could continue the way we were going, where only few people have a strong hold on the industry and these people are not people who really know the industry. It was a matter and a commodity for them, which is not bad because what they did was to make people aware of the incredible market that Nollywood has and they opened it for the whole world to see what the entertainment industry is capable of doing. I think that is so fantastic but now we have come to the point where we need to start doing the kind of project that will make the rest of the world take Nollywood seriously as an industry that has come to stay.

How can Nollywood achieve this? We need to tighten up, improve and get our skills into the twenty-second century. Like we have our academy, there are other people who have set up academy of performing art, where we train people in all the skills that are necessary for good radio, camera and theatre production. We also have techniques of writing for the camera, which is different from writing for the theatre; a lot of what we do at the moment is theatrical work for television. We need to learn how to write specifically for this medium of the camera. Just like the technique of performing on stage is different from acting in front of a camera, so it is with writing. The guild has got to get a stronger sense of responsibility to their members. They also need a more devised set of distributors and distribution network; that is actually the key to the survival of the industry.

Aside sex for roles, does tribalism or ethnicity play any role in choice of giving out roles?
Well, I really would not say because I believe that one of the most detribalized industries is the entertainment industry. It's your talent that is the key. When you start insisting on using people from the same tribe who do not have the skills that you need then whatsoever it is that you are doing will not be of the right quality.

What mistake would you like to correct in your life if you have the opportunity to rewind the hand of time?
Getting my daughter to have the elective surgery that she had and that she died from, that is one that if I had the opportunity definitely I would do.

How do you combine acting with the home front as a good and caring mother?
Well, from having some of the most wonderful teachers on earth to learn from, supermodels, my mother Dr Mrs M A Silva, my aunty Chief Mrs Kofo Olawoye, Princess Eniola Laoye, Late Chief Mrs Oladapo and my mother's sister Mrs Busola Olumide. These women were my role models, they were all women who had their own families, ran large families and were all workers. I had to learn from them how to put family first; they were always at work in the hours of work and got home after work. They were there for their children. Often in the morning you are going to the toilet and you see them at their desks studying or working, those are the people I learnt from because from them I knew it is a possibility to be a working wife.

I have got a fantastic back up, my house help has been with me for the past eight years, she is like a house keep. And also my mother super grand as we call her though she is much older now but my friends still call her professional mama, she is 83 and things are not that easy for her now. I have got drivers, I mean everything to make my life easy, moreover I have a husband who is not forceful, he is also a home boy who likes to potter around the house, he likes to be given the opportunity to get into the kitchen. At the moment, he does a lot of work in Asaba as Igwe of Nollywood as he is known, but once at home, he gets our last child ready for school, it is his forte, nobody is allowed to rob him of that opportunity because he loves it. When I say getting the child ready, I mean seeing to how he dresses right unto the lunch he's taking to school even helping select books that will be used in school for that day, he organizes everything and he doesn't want to be robbed of that. So, I have been really blessed.

How do you unwind and do you party?
I read a lot and I read anything. Right now, I'm reading books on the history of Africa, just to know how we got to where we are; I want to understand how one of the wealthiest continents on earth is so subjugated and I'm getting answers. I also love watching television and I also like going out to lunch with friends.

So after reading these books, what do you do with the answers?
Sometimes I put them in plays like our film that we did which was called the kingmaker, it was actually stressing the importance of servant hood of the ruling class. If you need to have a godfather to get you into office, once in power of incumbency, you can use it to cut the apron-strings then serve the people and cut off all these owing of allegiance to a godfather that is milking the nation dry. That basically is what the kingmaker was all about.

Unfortunately, we have not done any other one since then because we said to ourselves that until there is a proper distribution system in place, we are not going to do any more films because the amount of money needed to do films properly is too much. It is capital intensive and we cannot afford to be losing people's money. But now we have got a good film distribution in place, we are going to start again. We have got this monologue in five places that some of my students are doing; it is called 'what maketh a northerner', it was a piece that I saw in the Nation's newspaper while in Abuja. It's a northern newspaper but if you hear what this northern reporter is saying, it immediately gives you a paradigm shift; there is nobody who has heard it who said, God! I have never thought of that. It is so well written and he placed the Nigerian question as part of the black question, giving his arguments and his resolution.

Do you keep pets and which is your favourite?
No, I'm allergic to pets.

What are the challenges in the professions?
A lot of them have got to do with funding, getting the proper funding to do the work the way it should be done. Like our academy for example, it has come in place because it's been partnership with people. We are working with Lareta learning centre that is where Lufodo Academy of Performing Arts is housed in Kofo Abayomi Victoria Island. The kind of funding that is needed, somehow a lot of our bankers and financial houses don't get it, we cannot work with short term funds, funding for film making or theatre has to be long term. I find it very frustrating that in Nigeria the only theatre space that we have was renovated by Dr Amadi Arama.

Now he has to leave the national theatre, it is as if our government don't get the importance of this industry to growth of the nation and the national theatre is about the only theatre that is charging the kind of fees that makes is possible for you to have plays that run for a long time but it needs to be renovated and that's what Dr Arama was doing but now he has left. All the other places that are available for theatre are stupendously expensive, I was privileged to work in several theatres in Canada two years ago, I was playing one of the lead character in a play called 'have you seen zendele' by a theatre based in New York University and I discovered that what we pay for the cheapest theatre space in Nigeria per day is what our counterparts pay for per week. So, you see why our industry is struggling and this payment our counterparts make includes dressing room, light but in all of the spaces in Lagos you will have to rate light, there are next to no dressing room whatsoever. But these ones come with light, technicians, with set, set-builders you just tell them the set you want and they build it for you at the cost of what we pay a day with a space bigger than ours.

How can the industry be positioned to attract foreign investment?
It is a dangerous thing to do. Nigeria is the only country in the world that brings foreign people into its media, nobody does that, and it is too dangerous. Your media is where the mind of your people is accessed; no country anywhere in the world does it, check that. Even when you are talking of theatre schools, you will find that what they do is to give you space to carry out auditions but won't permit any kind of investment even South Africa doesn't.

Can there be any re-branding without the entertainment sector?
No, I think the onus is on Nigerians in their own little spare of inference to do what they believe is right for their country because I have moved away from where I blame the leadership for everything. African on the whole and Nigeria in particular, we have been very unlucky with our leaders especially these present crop of leaders who don't realize that they are there to serve but just think that they are there to share the national cake and loot as much money as possible.

However we allow it so we are just as guilty because if I know you've killed somebody and I still parley with you, I go out with you and people see us together, am I not guilty? yeah! That is what we do. Alamieseigha comes back from stealing so much money from Bayelsa people, making it impossible for children to go to secondary school and we have a party for him, Bode George has stolen N85b we go to the court with gele and asoebi. Excuse me; we are just as guilty; we are not as powerless people, are we? It is just for us to say in my area of influence this is what I can do and do it. It is like throwing a pebble into a lake, you see the rings as it keeps growing and they grow and grow, which means throw your pebble you will find like minds that will join you.

Were your parents in support when you went into acting?
They were in support but they felt that for my survival I should go into acting as a hobby, my parents even chose schools that had history of theatre arts like Holy-child for example after I finished my primary school. So, my secondary school was specifically chosen because they knew I had a tradition for drama, the A-level school I went in England was also chosen due to its effect for drama.

Would you want any of your children to succeed you?
They tend to. The babe of the family at the moment definitely wants to be an actor while my older one wants to go into film and directing.

How did you meet your husband?
I met him at the national theatre in 1981 at a meeting. I was acting and I came to call the artistic director of the national theatre to come and watch our rehearsals and he was in a meeting with the artistic director. I walked in and he said this is the lady I'm going to marry and I looked at him and thought what a stupid common line, I hate him and five years later I was married to him.

When you see your husband act those sexual roles in movies, how do you feel?
I don't get jealous because I do the same and to make it feel real I immerse myself in the role but once they say cut, I move on with my life. The danger of the profession is to believe what you are acting, if you are a follower of the history of the industry you will know that those kinds of relationships don't last, it is the energy of the movie that is carrying it.

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