SCANDAL IS FREE PUBLICITY FOR ME
Why did you decide to become an actress?
We all can't be doctors or teacher, some people have to be something else. As for acting, it was just destined for me. I didn't go out of my way to become an actress. I set out to become a lawyer. In fact, my parents wanted me to become a lawyer. I did my (Higher School Certificate) with the intention of getting enough points to do Law. I couldn't. I evetually got admission into Benue State Polytechnic where I did a diploma in Law.
But you see, while I was trying to tilt myself towards becoming a lawyer, a force stronger than me was tilting me to become an actress.
In my secondary school days, I had always belonged to one drama group or another. I had always loved the make-believe world.
But my parents wanted me to be a lawyer. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. I needed to please them. They were the ones paying the school fees so I had to do what they wanted.
Eventually when I got to the University of Jos to continue my degree programme, they came out with this quota system. My friends from the North were admitted into the school to read Law, but those of us from the East were not admitted.
At that time, I became very frustrated. I told myelf: What is all these about being a lawyer anyway? To hell with it. I had to go to Theatre Arts department. I was admitted instantly because I had an excellent result. That was how I got into the Theatre professionally. I abandoned Law and ever since then, it has been, forward ever, backward never.
Your parents continued paying the school fees, even when you were reading what they didn't want you to?
They saw that I tried to do their bidding. I wanted to satisfy them, but it couldn't continue like that.
I finished secondary school in 1983. I kept taking JAMB exams and I wasn't meeting the cut off points for Law. I went to do HSC, they said I didn't make enough points to get into Law, I decided to do diploma in Law to get a direct entry into the university, that one didn't work out again after two years. From 1983 to 1988, I was still hanging. I would have graduated from any other department.
So my parents saw that I was tired. It was either they allowed me to do what I wanted or it was goodbye to education. I was ready to become a fashion designer or a hairdresser.
They didn't want to hear of it. When it got to that point, they had to allow me.
Were you aspiring to become a professional when you got into the Theatre Arts Department?
In those days, Nollywood had had not come into existence like we have it today. But then, we had television programme/ soaps. It was actually my dream to be on TV.
We didn't envisage Nollywood coming out to be as big as it is now.
When did you finally turn pro?
It was in 1994. I came out from the university in '91, got married early '92 and I had a set of twins, so I had to spend two years of my life taking care of the twins. A single baby is a handful, not to talk of a set of twins. You need to be there as the mother and not leave them to a nanny, Twins are usually very difficult to deal with. So I had to be around them for two years before I joined Nollywood.
You don't intend to quit despite the stress that comes with it?
When you do what you enjoy, you convert all the stress in that thing you are doing into pleasure. In fact, that is what makes the job interesting.
Yes, I intend to do some other things along the line, but I will not quit acting. I have a passion for it.
Which is the most challenging movie you have done so far?
Every role is a challenge. Every character that you are given to play is challenging. As long as you are not being yourself, you ought to be challenged. It is just that some are more difficult because it is a shift from your normal self, you will now try to put yourself to become what you are not. You are tasked psychologically, emotionally and physically. Some roles did that to me as in Polygamy, The Curse and Heavy Thunder. Every movie has its own challenge.
Since you have been in Nollywood for long, you must have done a thousand and one movies…
I have not done a thousand and one movies, but I have done so many. I cannot count them.
With what we hear they pay you guys, obviously you need a bullion van to carry your cash…
In this industry, what is keeping us going is not the money. It is the passion because the money is not coming as one would expect. I have not seen the money. I am here for the love I have for acting. Nothing can make me as happy as acting.
I believe it will get to a time when actors are paid for what they are worth and not what anybody sits down to decide should be given to them.
A lot of us have been saying no to that. It is not as if the movies are not coming, but the money is simply not worth it.
Yes, we are not doing it because of money, but we still have to put food on our tables.
Some people are trying to take us for granted. Somebody is given a lot of money to produce and he believes he can bring out a few kobo to do the movie, and gives the artistes anything he likes. We say no. A labourer is worth his wages.
We also hear that there are caucuses in your industry; do you belong to any one?
There are cliques in the industry. I have never allowed it to bother me. I don't belong to any one. If you belong to a clique, you have people that put in words for you; they lobby for you and all that. But I don't belong to any clique. God is my source. If you want to produce a movie and you don't give me a role because I am not in your clique, that is your business. But there will be a day when you will not find somebody in your clique to play the role as I would, then you will come to me. That is the way I look at it.
The clique thing is reported to be so bad that roles are no longer given on merit, roles are given based on who belongs to what clique.
I look at it as desperation. You need my service. You need me as much as I need you. Why would you think you are doing me a favour? I do a movie for you, you go to the market and make so much money while you give me peanuts, yet you want me to run around and chase you about. I find it very strange; I don't know how to do it.
I don't know how to lobby. May be that is another problem that I have. I don't know how to bootlick, I wish I knew. This is the order of the day in the industry. People do all sorts of things because they want to get jobs.
I have always trusted God. I have been there over the years because God has been there.
Time will come when jobs will be given on how much you can deliver and not how much you can sing peoples' praise or warm their beds. There is what is called humiliated consensus. That is what is happening now. People have been humiliated to a point where they don't have integrity any more.
They want to push you to do things you are not supposed to. They know you are the one in the forefront. If an actor does anything wrong, all the papers will splash it. But they are pushed to do it. When you are so popular yet you have nothing to show for it, you are under pressure to do anything to meet up with the way the society sees you.
But nobody will push me. I am a Christian to the core and I believe in God. Whatever will be will be. Nobody will determine anybody's future. The industry will get better when people are valued for what they are.
You feel so much pained…
No, I am not feeling bad about it, but they are killing the industry, they are celebrating mediocrity. Let them make this industry interesting.
For some of us that are trained, I am so sad because I am not even challenged. You call me on the phone and tell me you have a role for me, I come and I feel like a super star when I know that there are many people who can do it better than I.
If we compete with one another, we can face our foreign counterparts. Many of your super stars cannot stand auditions. They can't when the chips are down. They just can't because the profession has turned to trading, buying and selling; and it goes to the highest bidder, whoever will give the highest praise gets the job. It is really annoying, but it will get better.
You wear cropped hair and dreadlock now, is it part of the showbiz thing?
I am very adventurous when it comes to my hair. I like to try out things, not because of showbiz; I am an unstable person when it comes to hairstyle, I get tired easily, and I want to do styles that will make me not to visit the salon often.
I have been on low cut for sometime; after a while, I tinted it to gold and then I mused what was left. I got tired of normal low cut; so I decided to go on dreadlocks. I am even tired.
How do you combine your profession and the home front?
It is easy. If you know what you are supposed to do, you do it. You plan your day. I really thank my husband. He understands the kind of job I do; he does not bother me. But I don't take that as an opportunity to neglect my home. I make sure I cook and take care of the house. It takes me working late into the night. If I have a production, I always make sure there is food in the house. I have an understanding family and it makes it easier for me.
What if your husband had asked you to quit?
He knew I was into theatre and he had always wanted me to excel. When I got into theatre professionally, he was right there. He has never thought of telling me to quit. He has always been supportive. If it comes to prayer, he will pray with me. He knows I love what I am doing.
Do you think artistes are promiscuous?
I don't think so. It cuts across every profession. The only thing is that when it comes to the showbiz industry, it is more pronounced because we are in the limelight, whatever we do make headlines. There are nurses who go for night duty and all they do is to sleep with the doctors.
There was a time there was this scandal about you…
There is hardly anything that I do that my husband is not aware. Thank God for that. When you are open, you get less attack from the home front.
In 2003, I faced the most horrible scandal in my life. Somebody woke up one morning and started spreading stories that I took a photograph of somebody and I was blackmailing the person.
I searched in and out, it was not true. The person in question knew what actually happened. The person was spreading the story to cover up some things. She felt she would use me to cover up her escapades.
Many people who know me knew it wasn't true. That was the biggest scandal I ever faced. It got to the court, AGN was involved and at the end of the day, I came out of it. It did not affect my home or my career. It didn't even affect my person. I took it to God and He handled the matter.
Before then, I was just an ordinary actress doing my thing. All of a sudden, I was on the front page of every newspaper.
It was just Florence Onumah everywhere. I wondered if this was the name that took me so many years to build.
Some of them didn't bother asking me what happened; they kept writing and writing to sell their papers. God built a wall around me. At the end of the day, I came out of it.
We are targets for scandals. Somebody can just go and say something about you and it is published.
Even when there is a retraction, the damage has been done.
My attitude towards it is that I cannot be harassed. I make sure I don't get into dirty deals so when they search deep down, they would find out that I am innocent.
I made my husband know that he is married to an actress, not just an ordinary actress but a well-known actress. I have fans and I have adversaries. I have people who don't like my face. I begged him to learn to live with it, but I promised him I would never let him down.
I am no longer afraid of scandals. To me, it is even free publicity for me. It makes me to be more celebrated.
How do you cope with male admirers?
I try to draw a line between my fans and people that are out for another mission. When they take a step further than necessary, I stop them. If they insist, I know they want to be insulted and then I get angry.
So, you get 'toasters'?
Oh, yes. Even when you tell them you are married, they tell you it doesn't matter. That means the person is just out to insult me. Then you will see a different Florence. I take it very insulting when I tell you I am married and you say it doesn't matter.
There are people who don't care that they are married, but I do care.
So, nothing will make you sleep with another man…
What for? God forbid it! I am not saying this because this is an interview. I tell you, the day I find it interesting to sleep with another man, that is the day I quit my marriage.
I cannot be under a man, yet sleep with another man. The day I don't find my husband interesting any more and then I find another man interesting, that will be the day I quit my marriage.
Is it likely to happen?
No way! It will never happen.