I have interviewed many people in my time. I have had extensive conversations with the likes of Hayford Alile, Sunny Kuku, Raymond Dokpesi, Chinweizu…But I have never had the pleasure of interviewing someone as obviously unpretentious as Stella Damasus-Aboderin. The star of movies like DANGEROUS DESIRE and NEVER SAY GOODBYE, Stella has a passionate following among the lovers of Nigerian movies scattered around Africa and the African Diaspora.
That is all the introduction you're going to get. Read the rest. It is a joy...
- Sola Osofisan
Sola Osofisan: Stella, you are called Damasus by some, Damascus by others. For the record, tell us the correct name please.
Stella Damasus-Aboderin: It's Damasus. D-A-M-A-S-U-S. There's no “c”.
S.O.: I'm sure you must have grown tired of correcting people by now.
S.D.A.: Oh, I just let them call me whatever. I've heard worse. I've heard “Damastockings”. I just let them call me whatever, but everybody knows they're talking about me.
S.O.: Damasus is an unusual name. What part of the country are you from?
S.D.A.: I'm from Asaba, Delta State. Damasus was actually my grandfather's first name. It's a Greek name. The family name was actually Ojukwu, but when the war broke out, the Nigerian Civil War, a lot of Nigerian soldiers mistook my family for the real Ojukwu himself, so a lot of things happened to my family members until my grandfather came and said look, instead of them killing our people thinking we're Biafrans, let's just change our name, so we're safe. That's how the name became Damasus.
S.O.: And it has remained the same ever since?
S.O.: Interesting. You grew up in Asaba or in Lagos?
S.D.A.: I grew up in Benin City actually. I only lived in Asaba for about three years when my father was transferred from former ACB Bank in Benin to Asaba Branch.
S.O.: So you did all of your schooling in Benin City?
S.D.A.: Yes. But my JSS 3 to my final year in secondary school I did in Ibusa, in a private school in Ibusa about 15mins away from Asaba. But from the time I was born to that time, I did most of all my education in Benin.
S.O.: In what way did your childhood prepare you for a career in the entertainment industry?
S.D.A.: I think it was basically my mom. My mom used to be an opera singer. She used to be a stage actress. When we went to church together, she used to make me sing with the junior choir and all that. And then whenever we were in school and they wanted to do a school drama, she would tell me to go for it. Since I was in primary school, she was always there making sure that I did one drama piece or one song or something.
And when I was growing up, they bought tapes of Boney M, Abba and she made me sing along and things like that. I would actually hold the electric kettle cord as my microphone and all that in front of a mirror. Ever since then, she just basically knew that I was going to do something in the entertainment world and she just kept encouraging me to do that.
S.O.: That is also unusual. The typical parent in Nigeria would never encourage you to go into the entertainment business.
Stella: (pix: Olaolu Afolabi)
S.D.A.: Yeah. My mom's case was different because she was in it. I had a problem actually (with my father) when I started acting because of the impression a lot of people had about actors. My mother was always supporting me and she was there telling him its not like this, have you forgotten how we met, though I was a banker but then I was doing my singing and acting on the side so let her do what she wants…
And my parents are very liberal people, you know, so they let their children be who they want to be. It was easier for me because my mother was already an entertainer before I joined them.
S.O.: Wow, you're one of the lucky few.
S.O.: It appears you did a lot more acting work in 2003 than any other year… What happened?
S.D.A.: I honestly don't know. I can't say for sure. I just know that each one I did, people just kept calling me. I won't lie to you, the money got better and bigger, so it was difficult for me to say no. As a fact, I used to say let me take time off for my kids or let me take time off for… Last year, it was just like a blow out. Everybody remembered that I was around. I also realized that the scripts that came my way were very good and they were characters that would project me more. So, I guess that's why. But I can't tell you why they wanted me all the time. I don't know.
S.O.: What kind of roles do you accept?
S.D.A.: It has to be something that is based around me, something that makes me important, something that challenges me, something that will make me really work. I cannot just take a script, look at it and just go and talk. Something that will make me rehearse in my house, look at my mirror, have someone to read with me at home, something that will make people to be blessed, so every day and say please can we break down these scenes and let's do a character analysis, something that moves me that I don't really need to do anything artificial, something that will make me bring out the best from the bottom of my belly, you know… Something that will make me work like the one I'm doing right now… Its really making me sweat. Scripts that make sense. Scripts that will talk to you - as you're reading it, you're imagining it and you're going through the motions with it, not just any story, you know? Stories that you can relate to, that you know that whenever people see it, they will remember you for doing one thing or the other… That's it.
S.O.: Which is the one you're doing right now?
S.D.A.: Dangerous Twins, the one with Tade Ogidan.
S.O.: I know they shot a series of scenes in England. You're not in the England sequences?
S.D.A.: No no, I'm the wife of the other twin in Nigeria.
S.O.: Dangerous Twins id promising to be an explosive thing.
S.D.A.: Oh yes, oh yes it is. And then with the cast as well, it's going to be fantastic. We have Sola Sobowale and Bimbo Akintola also in the movie. It's going to be very nice.
S.O.: And Ramsey Nouah?
S.D.A.: Ramsey Nouah is a fantastic actor. He's doing so well. In fact, I'm really really complimenting him. I do that every day because it's not easy playing a twin. You wear one costume, play all the lines of one person, wear another costume of the other twin and start doing all the lines and remember what the other person said and how he dressed, and you know things like that. And he's been doing it so well. I'm really really impressed with what I'm seeing.
S.O.: What is it like, Stella, to have two talents? I'm talking about the singing and acting now. Do you get pulled to explore one more than the other?
S.D.A.: Em… Maybe. I've been doing both together at the same time. I think I prefer it like that because I don't want a situation where I would have to choose between the two. I manage my time very well. My husband and I, we have a band called Synergy, and we have a lot of shows. Private shows for weddings, launching and things like that. And then I do my movies as well, but if you ask me to choose between (two) of them, I will tell you I probably can't because I love both of them and they complement each other. You know, now I'm being offered scripts to play as singer in a movie and I'm telling them the highest bidder will take it. If people are planning to use me as a professional singer… I have something that I perceive as being an edge over a lot of other because I can do – and I'm a dancer as well. So I combine all of these things to try and make me a perfect actress, you know… At least the best I can be.
S.O.: You sing, you dance and you act?
S.O.: Interesting. So how did you sharpen all these skills Stella? At the professional level, did you have any special training or did you just start doing it? How did you get into it formally?
S.D.A.: I'm a theatre arts graduate. I've been doing theatre arts for (long distance gabble). I'm doing a part-time course. And in these five years, I think I know a lot. As a theatre student, you must have (more long distance gabble). The acting, to be a theatre arts student, you have to go through different acting techniques, acting styles and people that have propounded a lot of theories about expression, movement, bodywork and things like that. So I guess I try to put a lot of that into practice whenever I do a movie or anything else because I try to translate what I have read into practicals – into motion. I read a lot of books. I love to read, so I try to educate myself… Each character I play, I try to talk slightly different from what I have done. I try to change my style of acting, my style of walking, things like that… I think its basically my education that really helped me. And then my husband used to do movies as well. He used to be an actor as well, and since he is more experienced than I am, he helped me out a lot when I was starting. I guess I do try to improve in everything that I do by reading more. I'm studying other foreign actors as well cos I have this artist that I like a lot – Cicely Tyson. I think she's fantastic so I learn a lot from her.
S.O.: Aside of Cicely, is there any other person you would call a role model?
S.D.A.: Jack Nicholson. I love him as well. And I think they're fantastic because I've seen them do these same roles and they're so convincing. I mean Cicely Tyson played a role…She played the role when she was a very young girl and she grew up into a great grandmother and she was so fantastic because her voice changed, her style of acting changed, everything changed, so for someone to do that, it takes a lot of work and I respect it…
S.O.: Are there roles for instance that you would not play?
In Obaseki (Pix: Sola Osofisan)
S.D.A.: I don't think so. I think I can play every role because it's my profession and if I play a very bad role or a loud role, it means I am doing it to correct something. The script has to be right. If I'm just going to play (for instance) a prostitute just for the sake of being a prostitute and it doesn't make sense and the story is not centered around that particular person so she's able to change at the end of the day and make people realize how bad it is, then I don't think there's any point in doing it. But if I'm playing roles like that where I have to really loud but at the end of the day there's a message, a positive message, that's going to be passed across, that people need for the ills of the society. Then I probably would do it. You have to learn different acting styles and techniques to be able to play things and make them convincing without being extremely vulgar or do things that are very extreme that people will frown at. There are ways of doing different things that I try to learn every day, so I don't think I will shy away from any role. It just depends on the director I'm working with and how we can work together to bring it out without having to irritate people or be vulgar about it.
S.O.: Let me ask you a vague question. What's the most challenging thing that has ever happened to you?
S.D.A.: Oh my God, what do I say? I think that it's being a young wife. Because of who I am and what I do, its not easy, because in this part of the world, its not easy to keep your home intact because when you in-laws, you have families and then there are some things that you would probably not accept or take and because of the negative publicity we get and things like that… I think that's my greatest challenge because sometimes they hit on us the females who are married and it takes a lot of work to try and repair the damage and also a lot of work to try and make sure that your spouse trusts you enough to stand by you and believe you… And also to be that wife that your in-laws expect you to be, no matter what, even if it breaking your back or killing yourself. I think its more challenging than any job or anything I have to do outside because if you regard something as the most important thing in your life, I think that is the think you fight hardest to keep intact. Its more difficult for an entertainer – an actress - to keep her home, especially when herself and her husband are very young and are going through a lot of things and trying to be adults and trying to be mature and trying to be role models and parents and all that. I think that's basically my greatest challenge in life and I am determined to succeed. Really really determined.
S.O.: You briefly addressed my next question in your last response. I was going to ask you what it is like to have the husband and wife in the entertainment industry? How does it impact on the home, the children and everything?
S.D.A.: We have a way of doing it. We always make time out for the kids. We never abandon them. And we found out recently that whenever we have shows outside Lagos or outside the country, I find that I stay back so that he goes and I stay with the kids – or sometimes, if I have to travel on location or something, he stays in town. But if both of us have to go, then there must be a family member who will stay with them. And its not easy, you know. It's not easy… That is where we fight the most… Because we work together, we don't always agree on things. Of course we're two different people. He's a human being; he has different views and things like that. I'm a human being; I have my own set rules and principles, even though I try to do what the Bible says… You must submit to your husband. Of course I try to that, but at the same time, there are some things that I will need to stand on or grab on to and say no, this is how I want it and he may not like it and we fight a lot. But being in the entertainment world together is one of the most – in fact, I'm very lucky because even though we have our problems when we fight, we find that we always have something to talk about, something to bring us back together, you know… If there's a problem in your house, and we have a show tomorrow, what are we wearing? Okay let's do this and before you know it, we're already talking. I have a movie… Okay, let's read it together.
And again, it's easier for me to go, shoot, stay out late, come back and he understands because he's into it as well. We basically try to help each other out and do our work, but he's still the same person that says if you have to do this job, do it well. Don't say because of me you will not do it to the best of your ability.
S.O.: Do you see your kids going into the entertainment business?
S.D.A.: My first child, no. My second child, probably. I think she's getting because she cannot stay in one place if she hears the slightest sound. She would stand up and dance or do something. My first child is more subdued. She's more of a technical person. She like remote control, she likes cable, she likes phones… She doesn't like toys actually. She doesn't like things that are entertaining. She likes things that are very technical like the computer; she likes working with her father, things like that… So, I'm still watching them to see what will happen.
S.O.: Synergy… You guys only perform in exclusive circles?
S.O.: Is there any special reason behind that? Or is it the kind of music you play?
S.D.A.: No, it's not just the kind of music. We started out playing regular shows in places like Jazzville, Eko Hotel and places like that. But as you grow older and you expand your band, you find that you need to grow more because you find that in Lagos it is when you play private gigs that you're respected more and you're paid more. When you do regular shows at the Jazzvilles and Eko Hotels, they pay you just a little bit of money to get by. In everything you do, you try to expand and move up and earn more and gain more and be more recognized. I guess we moved up and people started accepting the fact you cannot just come and see us every week. We are only at exclusive places where you must have really paid well for and things like that. Its not just the kind of music, cos my band, we do copyright songs most of the time, apart from our own songs. We play highlife, we play funk, we play disco, we play oldies, we play all sorts of music. We even play at traditional weddings. We've played at a Nikkai before. We've played at even Owambe. We have different people in the band that specialize in different types of music, different genres of music.
S.O.: Sounds like you guys are having a lot of fun.
S.D.A.: Well, we're trying. It's been a lot of years of hard work, but we're getting there.
S.O.: Did you know your husband before you started acting?
S.D.A.: No. I started acting… I'd done two movies before I met my husband. I'd done… My first major movie was really my breakthrough. The name of the movie was actually Breaking Point and that's how he recognized me the first time he saw me. So I was already in the movie industry before we started dating.
S.O.: And he did not know you could sing when you met?
S.D.A.: The first day we met, I actually grabbed his microphone. I went to Jazzville (with) one of my friends. And he was on stage with his sister and his sister's husband. I got on stage, I was carried away… I loved the song they were doing. I got on stage, grabbed his microphone and started singing with them. And at the end of the night he came to me and said look, I like your voice. I hope to set up my own band. Are you interested? And I said why not? So, we started working together. The first time he saw me, he knew who I was. That's how come he let me take his microphone like that on stage. By the time he heard me sing, he saw another side of me and he liked it. That is the side he prefers. He prefers me as a singer because he says I'm a better singer than I'm an actress. He loves my acting but he believes that I'm a better singer than an actress.
S.O.: So the poor guy saw you on stage and fell head over heels in love.
S.D.A.: Well, I always tell him that, but he still tells me that I was the one that fell in love first. I'm not gonna argue because I actually tripped when I saw him.
S.O.: How sweet. Jaiye (that's your husband's name, right?), I read somewhere that he composes in French, Spannish and in Yoruba and English. Where did the French and Spanish come from?
S.D.A.: He studied languages. He's French graduate and he lived in London for a long time so he did Spannish in London. He studied that and a little Italian as well. Then he came down to Nigeria and got into Unilag and he studied French, so he's actually a French translator as well.
S.O.: So are you picking up any of these languages?
S.D.A.: Well, sometimes, when we're in a place and he doesn't want people to know what we're talking about, there are some words in French that he has taught me, so when he says any words like that, I know what he's talking about. I'm not very good with languages, but sometimes when he says things, he says something in it that makes it easier for me to understand what he's saying. I didn't pique interest early enough, so I guess that's where my problem is. I can read French, but I might not understand what I'm saying. And then I can understand a little Spannish, but I don't speak very well.
S.O.: Your husband is obviously comfortable with you acting because he's also in the entertainment business, so this rumor on the Internet that he wants you to quit acting is just a rumor?
S.D.A.: I don't know what they're talking about. I have a husband who always tells me that he loves women that are hardworking and have a drive. He tells me if this is what you're meant for, if you're very popular because you're an actress, (then) make the best of it while you're young. He doesn't stop me from doing what I like to do. Judging by the kind of negative publicity that I've got, the things that some people have written about me, if he wanted me to stop acting I would have stopped a long time ago, a long time ago… He believes in me. He has faith in me and he knows that I will go places if I work hard at what I'm doing. And he's not one to stop your dreams or put a stop to your career because he feels or she's my wife, she can't be seen doing things like that. He wants me to really really be big and he encourages me, he helps me. So he has never told me to quit acting.
S.O.: How does the acting part of you facilitate the musical part of you?
S.D.A.: When it comes to music, my husband is more popular than I am. He's the one that people know as a musician. He's the one that they know as a family of music people because of his sister and the others. So his fame gets more job for us when it comes to the music aspect than my fame, because – don't forget a lot of people still don't know that I am a singer. It's just recently that we released one of our videos that people got to know. So they know him as the musician. But when they see me performing with him, they say aha, that actress o, she sings.
S.O.: A couple of questions from the members of my website, Naijarules.com: you're a mother and working lady. How do you manage to remain so good looking?
S.D.A.: I don't know, really. It's God. I don't have any special routine and I'm not a designer freak. I probably don't know the names of these facial or body things… I think I stay trim because I work round the clock. If I'm not shooting a movie, I'm going to school or I'm running Synergy or I'm running my African shop. I sell African things. I'm doing one thing or the other every given time. Whatever comes with it, I believe its God because I know I have good skin and I don't do anything special to maintain anything. I just try to be very clean. I try to wash my face all the time. The products that I use are basically the Ginseng products and Vaseline. I don't have any funny thing that I do in the morning. I'm sorry, I might not be of help on that because I think its all God.
S.O.: Another question from the website: Rattlesnake 4, is it going to be released anytime soon? And are you still in it?
S.D.A.: I'm still in the part 4, yes. But I don't know when they're going to release it. I have no idea. Amaka Igwe will be able to answer that question. I shot a lot of things and it is not all of them that came out in the part 3, so I'm thinking that they're going to put all that in a part 4.
S.O.: Okay. Can you tell us about your African shop?
S.D.A.: Yes, Monafrique. I like to make things. I like to create things and design things. And I'm also someone that I don't know how to buy gold or silver or diamond or things like that, but I like a lot of beads and I like African fabrics, so I just started traveling to Cotonou, Ghana, Lome, and I just buy fabrics from all these African countries, come back and design things – bags, table clothes, earrings, moccasins – you know things like that. But I found out that when I started wearing them, a lot of people liked them and they would come to me: How did you get this? And I'm like I made it. And they say instead of buying all these boutique clothes that they tell you buy one for 15 – 20,000 Naira, why don't you make something simple for me, something nice, and make an African handbag that will go with the fabric. And I started making it for some of my friends. Before I knew it, a lot of orders started coming in and things like that. As I am now, I don't even know how to satisfy all my customers because so many people have been calling me and I don't know how many I can make at a time.
S.O.: You're having a very busy life. What's a typical day like?
S.D.A.: Frankly speaking, I don't have a typical day. I know that from the time I wake up in the morning till about 10-11, I must make sure that in that space of time, I try to see my kids for at least one hour. The rest of the time, I'm either shooting a movie, I'm at the office working for Synergy or I'm designing one thing or the other for clients of Monafrique or I'm doing a write up for something I want to send on the 'Net, because there are some people that sent me mail from London and tell me I want you to write this for this magazine or things like that… I work on my computer. I'm always busy. I always have one thing to do. And it's not just about the money. I think I'm a very restless person. I can't stay in one place a long time and I always want to do something to keep my mind working and keep busy. I buy a lot of books… I don't have a routine life. I'm a very spontaneous person. I can wake up and say okay, I'm going to Ghana to buy fabrics.
S.O.: The movie industry in Nigeria is growing and that is a good thing. But from all you have said so far, one can tell that if anything happens to the movie industry, you have so many other options, so many things you can do…
S.D.A.: You can say that because I have a thousand and one other things that I do on the side, but believe me, if you asked me, deep down inside, I would tell you that the one that I really really really think I love most is the acting and that's the movie industry. I really wouldn't want anything to happen to it and I doubt if anything is going to happen to it cos I want to be part of it. Really really grow big and go international, you know… If you asked me to choose between acting and everything that I do, I probably will choose acting, although acting is the one that doesn't guarantee a steady income per se. But it's the one that I love most. At the same time, I get regular income from the other things that I do, more than the acting thing. The movie industry is very peculiar and I don't like to slot myself in every movie, so I try to do one in like two months so people don't get tired of seeing my face on every poster. So when I do that, you know the income is not going to be as regular as the next person who does movie after movie after movie.
S.O.: What does the future hold for Stella the actress and Stella the singer?
S.D.A.: Stella the actress and Stella the singer is really going to be big by the grace of God. I want to be a source of inspiration to everybody. I want to come to London and say I want to do a show and people will say Oh God, Stella is having a show, I must see the show. It's not just about popularity. I want to be able to affect the life of people positively. I want to be able to affect the life of the youth. I still see me being someone who is looked up to, someone who does things just to better the community, the society and things like that. Of course I want to be rich. Believe me, I want to be rich. If not for my sake, at least for my children. I just want to go all over the world. I want to be remembered as that person who was really really really good. I just want to be a good person.
S.O.: When you say you want to be rich, what is your definition of wealth? How much is rich?
S.D.A.: I can't tell you in numbers, but I know that wealth to me is being able to afford anything that I want. I'm not naturally a materialistic person. I'm not flashy, I'm not extravagant or anything. I'm very simple. Rich to me means I can sit down and a thousand and one people can come to me and say we need to pay school fees, I need this, I need that… I want to be able to say oh, take money. Do whatever you want with it as long as it makes you happy. I want to be able to take care of my parents. I want to be able to take care of my cousins. I want to be able to spoil my kids. I want to be able to tell my husband happy birthday and give him the key to a car that he has been dreaming about or talking about, you know? Things like that. I want to be able to surprise my sister and tell them I'm giving you – your husband and your children – an all expense paid trip to Hollywood or Disneyland or something. I just really want to make people happy. I like to be happy and I like people around me to be happy, that's it.
S.O.: Stella, I try to give every star I interview a chance to react to stories in the media or anything that's been written or said about them that they feel is untrue and they want to give their own side of the story. Is there anything that has been written about you that you would like to react to?
S.D.A.: I don't really like to respond to such things because my life will definitely go on. People won't think about me every day. I got tired or trying to defend myself. Like a few weeks ago, there was (a publication) that came out that said that on the 11th of December (2003), I was at the Bar Beach and I was making out with Richard Mofe-Danijo. And I thought that was so crazy because it was on the front page and they gave date and time. That date that they gave, my husband was with me at the beach. He was there with the driver and (lost in phone static). They needed to fly to Abuja and he called me and asked me where are you? And I'm like, I'm shooting at the beach o. Will you come? And he said no problem. And he came there. On that particular day, I was there with all our friends and I didn't enter this particular car that they were talking about and you know there were a lot of people on set. You had the director, you had the cameraman, you had the technical crew, you had the other artistes on set. …Where was the town that we did whatever they said we did? My lawyer wrote them a letter demanding a retraction or we would take them to court and I just turned to the lawyer and said how many do you want to fight? After that one, other magazines picked up on it and started writing rubbish. And people just expected me to break down or cry or things like that. Eventually we got home and laughed over it because it was so crazy that the day they decided to pick was the same day that my husband was with me all through. People will always talk about. Be good. Be bad. They will still talk about you. And it looks like they need me to sell their magazine, well fine, if they think that I'm that important. All I just say is that I'm glad that the people that matter most to me know who I am and they're always supportive, they're always behind me. Things will come, temptation will come, the devil will try to use people to bring you down and destroy you. If you're a child of God, as long as your conscience is clear and you know that God sees all, just put everything in the hands of God. As long as your husband needs you and knows that whatever it is, you're in it together, and he supports you, I don't need any other person to vouch for me or anything. Because it will continue, not matter what I do or what I say or how many court sessions I go for. They will still write whatever they want to write. You can't kill them and you can't stop them. I think it will be easier moving on.
And believe me, since that publication came out, I've been twice a popular as I ever was. Nowadays, people are coming to me wit scripts, with jobs… I've had people from London telling me they want me to be their representative, they want me to provide local programs for them. I've had people telling me I want you to be my editor in chief, I want to start an entertainment magazine. You know people said they read about this thing and everybody wanted to know who Stella was. And when they met me, its like ok I want to do something with you actively. So it actually opened doors for me that I didn't expect. So I'm like okay God, if this is the way this has turned out, I'm grateful.
Sola Osofisan: Thank you very much Stella.