I WOULD HAVE BEEN MARRIED TEN TIMES OVER IF... – LIZ BENSON
Beautiful actress, Liz Benson, was seen reading between a movie script and a religious book, The Art of Prayer by Kenneth Hagin, confirming the news making the rounds that she is now a preacher. In between every question bordering on her personal life, movie career, family and evangelism, the ever radiant and young looking actress, widow and mother of three in this interview with Victor Akande makes for a charming evangelist and veteran actress to listen to. Excerpts:
It's been a long while. What has been happening to Liz Benson in recent times?
Nothing much, we all have our lives to live and because you are not in the spotlight doesn't mean nothing is happening in your life. I am alive and kicking and I owe all to the glory of God.
Your fans don't get to see you in the movies as much as they used to. They care to know what you are doing at the moment; they want to know how you are fairing
I've been doing very well, I care about them as well but I believe that what I'm doing at the moment is also of good to them and also more to the glory of God. I'm into evangelism, which is what I think is the most important thing in life because it deals with your eternity and God wants us to have life even after this time with him. Right now, I am trying to reach as many people as possible. If they don't see me they should bear with me but I tell you a lot of people are seeing me now and its even better now because it's more like a one-on-one thing. I've been trying quite a lot: Kano, Jos, Owerri.. just name it. I think greater things are yet to come but the most important thing for now is that I am giving them some things which are going to affect their lives even after now.
Under what church denomination are you evangelising?
(Laughs) It's not a matter of denomination. Christ came for the world, not for a particular church. However, I fellowship with the Central Christian Chapel which is in Calabar, being overseered by Evangelist Dr. Emma Isong. But like I tell people, I had started evangelism before I was ordained.
How and when did you receive the call into the ministry of the gospel?
It was as a result of what the holy spirit did during a meeting we had in Calabar where the spirit ministered to the man of God to ordain me but before then, all I did was that anywhere I was, I would just share my testimonies and give words of encouragement. I was doing this at the motor parks, on the streets, anywhere and I was really quite pleased with it. It wasn't planned at all, because I was planning for a quiet retirement.
But some people thought that your reason for turning evangelist was as a result of the ban (blacklisting) of some top actors, of which you are one, some three years ago.
I wasn't affected by the ban in the first instance. I've taken a sort of break in 1998 or there about and for a year or so and it was even at that period that God was beginning to deal with me by way of the incidences that were happening in my life and bringing me out of it all. For me, I have always known that there is going to be that time when I'll take a break, restore, recoup, rejuvenate and come back afresh because when you are working so much, even though the fans love to see you, you've got to spice it up with a little of variety such that when you take a break, by the time you come back its all refreshing and they are all ready and excited to see you again
Was that what happened?
What happened most recently is something I would call the hand of God because some people felt threatened by me and I said if you cannot pay me, I am not ready to work. I've had people who come up to me and say I don't have this much to pay, can we work? And I work. I don't want to start mentioning names, I have done that before but when you throw a blanket thing and say oh, every body is going to be paid 'xyz' and I said, for me nobody is going to tell me it's a blanket fee. Because I am part of those that actually have done so much to bring dignity to this industry and just as the Bible says, no labour, no profit.
I still remember those days when you had to work at the theatre, when you were not paid anything, and all you were given was something just to get for your self some refreshments. You were not looking for fees but a medium where you can express that acting that is inside of you. So, how do you now come and you say you are going to put a price tag on this? And I said no. I've been that kind of a fighter, so if some people feel bad or threatened about it and say oh, 'we are not going to work with her again,' I say to God be the glory because you know what? I can do almost every thing because God has really blessed me.
They have said to me several times, come let us have a meeting and I said I am not going to have a meeting with anybody. The Bible teaches me to be wise. If people like us didn't sacrifice to bring the industry to where it is then you would not see a place where you will come in and want to harness and want to put in your money and want to make turn over. And when those kinds of people think they are going to ride on your back to the bank, knocking your head to stardom or fame and all of that, I am one person that would say no!
What people don't understand is that the movie industry is just one aspect of the entertainment industry. You have the stage which is where I started from. You have television, you have other areas. You can write, you can produce; you can do all sorts of things. So, when people say I am going to put a price tag on this, I laughed. I am not a hungry person. I'm not poor. When I say I am not poor, I am not poor in the physical, I'm not poor spiritually. So, I wasn't affected by the ban. Now, my new status came as a surprise to people who see us in the movies because even though they think they know us, they don't.
But to my very close friends they know that if there is anything that I have so much desired in life, it is to be closer to God. And I tell you this: You cannot say because of a ban you now want to face the things of God. No, if it is not there, if you don't have the right foundation, if the desire is not there, you cannot get anywhere because you need the Holy Spirit to guide you every step of the way and you know I can make money doing many other things; but it gives me a pleasure to be a vessel to be used by God.
Should the industry be better, should all this problems be gone is there the possibility of you featuring at least more than you are doing at the moment?
The actor is like every other person. There comes a time in a man's life when he may not be able to do as much. There are other aspects where one can be relevant without necessarily being in front of the camera. It's just a normal thing for a normal human being that change has to come.
Talking about your close pals and colleagues like Regina Askia and Dolly
Onachukwu who have also left the industry, so to say, to face other things in life, do you still get to see each other?
This brings us to the point I made earlier. The viewing audience think they know us, the actors. These are acquaintances, people you meet in the course of the job, we are not friends. I was really close to Regina but not to Dolly Onachukwu. We used to meet may be outside but not close. With Regina, I was close, apart from the fact that she came from the same place with me, there are just a few people really that I can count on my fingers and say these are my friends in the industry. But I still get to see my colleagues and it's always a pleasure to be on set with them any where and any time.
You were seen in a Yoruba language movie, Toko Taya, recently. What was your experience like delivering your lines in that language?
It was nice and amazing that I could also act in Yoruba and I thank the line director, I can't remember his name now, who was very helpful because you may think you speak the language so well but when it comes to acting a lot of people are going to be listening (laughs), so, you need a lot of help and I got that from even the other actors on set as well. It was really nice
Bridge Stone is another movie which brings out the Liz Benson and RMD in what one could call a natural state, don't you think…?
Ooh, the one done by my friend Rosemary Ngbi. It was nice, it was natural, it was different, which is one of the things that is hardly got here. Once you did one thing, every body wants you to keep doing the same thing. Of course when that came, they say variety is the spice of life. When I find myself reading that script and being offered that role, I just couldn't help it. I just needed to be a part of it. I think same was for Richard because it afforded him the opportunity to do what a lot of people don't think he can do. People have seen him act such roles as a successful business man, upper class person and probably mafia and all that, but this time around he was a shoe maker (cobbler) there and I was a seamstress and Richard was so wonderful. He actually stunned me as well. I know his capabilities in acting, I've seen him on stage a few times and I know he's got serious depth, but this time around with his Warri slang and all that, he was a handful of fun. It was nice and that was one production that I also I enjoyed.
One would have expected that in spite your decision, you would join hands with other professionals in the industry to address salient issues. The last time I saw you at any such fora was at the BOB TV, Abuja in 2005. Didn't you find that interesting?
Yes, BOB TV. Amaka Igwe is one person I respect so well, and she called me up for the BOB TV in Abuja and said they were going to give me and Andy Amenechi awards and NTA was also going to give a long standing award to those who contributed to the entertainment industry, and they had the likes of Samanja, Zeburudaya and some older people there. I was there and there was a session of BOBTV that was interactive. Questions were asked and we tried to deal with some of these issues as much as possible. Like I said about the ban, it's just a psychological thing; people not really accepting the fact that things have just got to be done the normal way and not just the Nigerian thing of business as usual. There are people who have the passion for this industry; it is the passion that has kept us.
How really bad was it in those days?
You and I know what it was like to be called an actor in this country and I see myself as one of the lucky ones because as at the time I came in, I would say it was getting better then. But I know that even as at that time, when you talk about take home pay, it was nothing to write home about. However, now we are having opportunities opening up, people cannot just appreciate it and accept certain people for who they are and what they stand for and help to build the industry rather than tearing it down. First thing is the fact that we need to sanitise and not drag each other down; then we would be able to put up a common front and fight whatever problems. But the wrangling is very minimal now and I think we are recognising the fact that we need to hold on to ourselves. We also thank God that we are beginning to pose as an industry that can stand on its own. People are beginning to appreciate that fact and there are doors opening up for investors. Some of us may not be seen as very active for now but we are dealing with issues in our own little ways.
On a lighter mood, you still look as beautiful, radiant and young as ever, such that one may not believe you have grown up children. Now tell us, how old are the kids and how are they doing?
They are doing fine; they are in their early twenties. I have two girls and a boy like you know. They are doing well and I give God the glory. And every thing you see about me is the hand work of God and contentment. When you are contented, you have inner peace and nothing startles you.
Some widows have very terrible stories to tell, how lucky are you?
I am very lucky because I've always known that God is always there for me. I don't even count myself a widow because God said He is my husband and says put not your trust in man or in princes and I have held on to him like Psalm 27 says: "He's my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear…" even Psalm 91 says: "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty and I would say to him, He's my rock, He's my refuge and my fortress. So in him would I trust." So I have always known this from time. If I would have done any better with my husband around, I wouldn't know but I just know that God is always there for me. I give him praise, I've gone through lots of ups and downs but that is just a general thing for every body. Even if you have a husband that has so much money and is around you 24/7, there would always be problems; but it is the ability to pick up yourself and get going anytime you fall that really matters, because you are not going to sit down and sulk forever over the fact that you don't have a husband. What even if the husbands were there? There are people who are married, yet they find it difficult to raise children, even one child. So, for every thing just give God the glory and try your best to carry on.
One last shot. Any plans to remarry?
(Takes a long breathe).The best time to serve God is when you are single. And it bothers me so much now and I say God, I know the flesh part of me is taken care of and I know that he would take care of it till the end so, I have submitted all to God. But if it's his His will that I get married again, so be it. I like to talk to God in a very funny way, even today, I still said to Him: How would you feel if I get married? And I can't even begin to think about it. I have come to know that marriage is not a thing you just wake up and walk into because God created marriage to be some thing that is very sweet, something very fruitful, but the way we see marriage now is not the way God wanted it to be. May be that's one of the reasons I'm not thinking about it. I joked with my elder sister a couple of days ago and I said, you know what? If probably I have been jumping into marriage just the way the proposals have come, I probably would have been married like ten times over now but God forbid because it wouldn't have been nice for me. I think about it, may be because of ministry, people have been asking: 'don't you think you should settle down?'
I have some men of God, Bishops etc that I look up to, they say to me: "We're going to get a husband for you." I just laugh because you know what? I know how my God does his things. When it is time, when He has grown that person well for me, He will just position me just like He has always positioned me, for things to come. But I am not thinking about it because this is the best of times that I am having and there is the joy of intimacy with the Holy Spirit.