I DON'T WANT HOLLYWOOD.....KATE HENSHAW NUTTAL
Since she starred as Omono in the Nollywood movie, When the Sun Sets, she became a household name in the industry and has since brought quality entertainment into the homes of many through her deft acting skills and performances. But despite the usual inclination to Hollywood as a standard for rating Nollywood, Kate Henshaw Nuttal, in this chat with AHAOMA KANU, says that she does not follow that school of thought but instead believes in the potentials of Nollywood.
IT seems you are leaving Nollywood for the corporate sector?
No, I am not leaving Nollywood; I am an actor. I am versatile; I do singing, I can be an MC, dance and act. They are all in the same category.
Are you working towards an album like some of your colleagues did?
No! I am not doing any such thing and I am not thinking towards that direction. Don't expect that from me though I can do collaborations.
You have also been involved in charity; which charity or NGO are you working with?
Well, there is none for none in particular; I just get invitations to come to orphanages or visit homeless children. I will consolidate on my charity works very soon.
Kate Henshaw has become a brand of sort; are you thinking about exploiting or consolidating that as well?
I am working on something; I am going to launch a product hopefully next year.
Have you thought about hosting your own talk show since you have the flare for it?
I know. People have been telling me to do talk shows; someone even told me that I could become the next Oprah but I don't want to become the next anybody. I want to be the next Kate; the only Kate. I don't know; there are so many opportunities out there but I would need time and wisdom to harness everything. You know, I am a perfectionist and it's either you do something well or you don't at all.
You have been asked this question over again but it keeps coming up; how and when did you come into Nollywood?
The late J.T West of blessed memory took me to my first audition; it was like an accident that was how it started.
Did you ever practise Medical Lab. Sciences you studied at the university?
Not at all, not even for one single day. Before I graduated, I had shot my first film. So when I graduated, I started filming.
Do you have any regrets leaving the medical profession?
Not really because I use it in my films; if I need to play the role of a Lab Scientist or something, I can always give them information on the subject.
At what point in life did you discover your passion for the arts?
From a young age; I have a very photographic memory and I watch a lot of TV. I remember a lot of jingles and was always glued to the television.
When did you start acting professionally?
In 1993 but before then I had been modeling and shot my first T.V commercial in 1990. I also had done calendar jobs as well as ushering.
So what made you go for a science related course at the university?
I wanted to be a doctor; my parents wanted me to be on but when the matriculation exam didn't work, I had to go for a related discipline is that was how I landed at Medical Laboratory Sciences.
How did your parents feel that their daughter was deviating from the plans they had for her?
My Mum was very supportive but my Dad was very angry initially but when a lot of people kept enquiring if that was his daughter, he relaxed and replied proudly, “That's a Henshaw for you, my daughter.”
Your big break came in When the Sun Sets were you played a lead role; what transformation(s) did you pass through after that movie since you were no longer the ordinary Kate Henshaw?
It took a while for me to get used to being called Omono which was the name of the character I acted, instead of Kate I was called Omono. At first I kept trying to introduce myself as Kate. I didn't know anything about handling that aspect of acting; I was just too happy to be part of the production.
Following you progresses since then, you have been handling the fame all right, with the exception of the incident in Doctors' Quarters, you have had a much disciplined record; how do you manage the fame?
When I first started, I wasn't sure of the kind of person I was getting to be personally and publicly. I didn't know how to manage the fame then but after years of experience and after having things written about me by the press both good and bad, I now know what to do at the right time. I don't lose myself to please them anyway; I try to be myself.
You were watching the soaps Checkmates some years before your first role in a movie and you had to star along Bob Manuel Udokwu. Was working with somebody you had been watching scary for you at that initial point?
It was not scary; I was only praying that I would feel free and not let them down. They were all very helpful to me though and very nice. Kanayo O Kanayo, Late Martins who played my father, Sandra Achums, Bob and JT also.
Here you were doing your first movie and you had a lead role which involved a love scene; how did you cope?
It was a struggle anyway; the role did not come to me easily. The director insisted that I should be given the lead role. Ifeanyi Anyakora, he was very helpful to me and whenever we wanted to do the love role, he would chase everybody away. Bob and I were quiet close so I felt comfortable doing that with him; he made me feel very at ease.
Among all the movies you have starred in, which is your favourite and why?
I don't have any favourite. I like When The Sun Sets which was my first; I love Cries Of Womanhood and Stronger Than Pain which is the latest release with Nkem Owoh.
Now looking at when Nollywood started and now, do you think it has gotten to the standards it ought to have reached?
Hollywood is over a hundred years and we are just over a decade old; we are still babies in this thing. I went to the cinema with Stella Damascus to see a movie and we were looking at the technology, the lightning, the scenes, effects and all that, we just told ourselves that we are way way back in this game. I don't want us to meet up with Hollywood, I want us to consolidate on what we have; let us treat our African stories. Let us leave the love stories and do something about Queen Amina, Moremi and movies that has to do with Africa.
So you don't think we have gotten there yet?
We are trying but we still need to do a lot. The stories are being reversed; it might be another title but still the same content; girl loves boy, parents don't like him and one way the manage to run away or things turn out right you know. It's like there are no imaginative minds anymore; creativity is lacking in Nollywood. We have barely scratched the surface.
As it were, Nollywood movies have not been able to leave the sitting rooms and bedrooms to large screen cinemas…
They have, Teco Benson's film is being shown at Nu Metro; he has one or two films there.
But Nollywood have not been able to show on large screens in many parts of the country, other African countries, Europe and the rest of the world unlike Hollywood and Bollywood movies. What do you think is the problem?
That is the selling point; that you can afford to buy and watch Nollywood movies in the comfort of your own home makes us unique. People are still not comfortable with this cinema culture here in Nigeria; how many of them can afford to come to these cinemas on the island where these cinemas are and go back home at night when there are robbers everywhere. We used to have cinemas at Apapa, Ogba, Ikeja and Agege but many of them are no longer functioning.
People pay to watch some African films in Europe and the US; can't our films be given that preference?
You can't compare that to watching home videos in homes; people would not leave their homes, carry their children or family to go watch an African movie in Europe. It is just a few people that have interest in the film and just wants to see what it is all about that can do that. They may have some kind of interest either professional or personal.
But can having our movies hit the big screen internationally achievable?
Yes of course and we can do it.
How can we make that happen?
We need the government assistance; there are a whole lot of things involved and a whole lot of things are not being favourable to the marketers and producers. The conditions under which equipments are brought are too stiff; there are a lot of red tapes and also, the conditions under which you even shoot are not conducive. They are facing a whole lot of obstacles before they can even bring out the film. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this. There is no steady electricity so you need to run your generator the whole day and night as the case may be and that leads to a lot of production cost.
Like you said earlier, most of Nollywood storylines are based on love, rituals, corruption and so on, there seems to be a recycling going on. Don't you actors have an issue with this trend?
Foe me, It was a conscious effort I chose to do a certain number of movies over the years; I have done seven or maybe ten at most. As for me, each story has to have a different meaning that will not make me keep feeling that I have done something along that line before. If there is a similarity, there has to be a twist somehow. It's the same old thing, once they see that you can cry in a film then you will end up doing all the crying of your life in subsequent movies. I love Stronger then Pain very much; it's a movie I starred in. I had never played that kind of character before and it was very challenging; I found it very hard to get into the character because it wasn't the kind of life I was used to and that is the kind of challenge I welcome.
Looking at Nigeria's historical background, we have a lot of stories to tell and Nollywood is a very nice medium to be telling these stories; are we telling them enough?
No we are not. I am looking forward to the film shot by Uche; it's an adaptation of Elechi Amadi's novel The Concubine. That's a book we all read in school like Eze Goes to School, Chike and the River and all these sort of books. You know all these kinds of African stories that people can identify and not all these modernized western thing we struggle to do. I am looking forward to The Concubine so much and I hope to see more of films that will explore our traditions and African heritage that is what we need to put into films.
Another missing aspect in Nollywood is the absence of personality movies about great individuals; we have seen movies like Ray, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Idi Amin and so on; why is it that nothing has been done by Nollywood about Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Bishop Ajayi Crowther, Dele Giwa, MKO Abiola etc?
I don't know why they are not thinking in that direction but when you are shooting a film in Nigeria, they are not going to give you time to get old or loose weight or get fat; when Wills Smith did Ali, he put on so much weight. He trained for maybe a year or so and had to get into the right size. It is not so in Nigeria, nobody will give you that time. It is either they get someone to do one scene and another person to take over when maybe the character is older or so due to the fact that there is no money for such expenses. We have not finished doing our African stories not to talk about personality stories.
There are also no children movies done by Nollywood knowing that majority of TV addicts are children?
Yes there are no children friendly movies and I don't know why. There was a film or short story on children but we don't have any child friendly category films in Nollywood.
The issue of shooting on celluloid keeps coming up when it comes to Nollywood and standards; is this really the reason we have not yet gotten there?
Well, I am of the opinion that shooting on celluloid is not the issue though I am not really versed in the technicalities; I just believe it is this western mentality. I have heard that HD is very good and fantastic. The guy who shot Star Wars did it on HD and the film sold out many copies and nobody complained about the quality. So celluloid maybe good yes but it is quite expensive. It all goes down to having the funds.
Many stakeholders in the industry are worried with the trend in Nollywood where a movie is shot within a few days brings about conflict between arts and commerce. Don't you think this is also among the factors undermining our movies?
It is all about working within your cost; if you have money you stay longer on set but if you don't have money then you work within 5-6 days where everybody shoots and goes. Another thing that pains me is that we don't have a library history; where can you get all these old films like Living In Bondage, Nneka The Pretty Serpent and all those good old movies, no where. But I can go on the internet and get where I can find Sounds of Music, The King and I and others. Even right now, I don't know where I can locate my films. It is very disturbing. There is nothing in the area of merchandizing; you see some of Hollywood films like Shrek promoting their films on little items like handkerchiefs, wrist watches, t-shirts and what have you but we don't have that strategy here. Why can't someone like Andy Best package his first three movies and package it. People want to remember the good old days.
Despite the volume of works churned out by Nollywood, it still does not make many international film festivals. Why?
It is either the people are afraid to put their films in or they do not know about the film festivals or that it simply doesn't meet the standards. There are standards you have to meet; your audio output has to be clear; your storyline has to be clear and the film has to be in one part, not part one, two, and three and so on. It is just greed on the side of some people to divide one film into many parts. No panel will have the patience to sit down and start watching one film run for such long hours.
Hollywood has come to Africa in movies done recently like Blood Diamonds, Last King of Scotland, Bamako and so on and these films were actually shot on African soil. Despite the position Nollywood occupies in the continent, Nigeria has not be chosen for a location shoot. What is the problem with our locations?
It is our atmosphere; it is not conducive and the government is not making it easier. The people that are coming to shoot their films need round the clock security and they may need to pay for that security. I remember when we did Game of Life with Nick Moran; we went to either Ajegunle or Ebutte Metta to shoot and Area Boys gathered them and almost seized their cameras. It happens all the time in the East, Lagos and elsewhere. So if you had that kind of experience, will you want to come back and shoot again? Should we need police protection to come and shoot a film that will bring up the image of your country? When you watch American films, you see their flag flying from the opening of the curtain to the closing; they are very proud of their country and what they have. We have to make the place movie friendly; for now it is only Abuja and Asaba that you can go and shoot without harassment.
Then what is the partnership between Nollywood and Hollywood right now?
I don't know if there is any partnership maybe there is in a minor way because there was a film shot last year that had a few Hollywood actors who had done some supportive roles with big Hollywood A-list actors and they are Nigerians. I am looking forward to that film coming out.
With the exception of Olu Jacobs, Richard Mofe Damijo, Chiwetel Ejiofor and most recently Ene Oloja, Nollywood actors don't get supportive roles or other wise in any category of Hollywood films; is it that we are not good enough or there a conspiracy out there?
We don't have to go to Hollywood to make a statement; we are popular here. If we need to do anything in Hollywood then we have to queue in line. We are big here and they are big there. If they come here, people here will recognize Nigerian actors more than they will do them. Yes they are the standards but c'mon, we cannot be looking up to them' we have to create our own. That is why I support AMAA wholly because it is our own; I don't care if there are hitches here or there but for the fact that it is ours. And people come out in droves and it is carried along well. That is our own and that is what we should be doing so that those in Hollywood will get interested and ask what is really happening there?
The Nigerian image has been badly dented by the militancy in the Niger Delta region that many see as a trouble spot, can't Nollywood tell these stories better and or is there a conspiracy of silence on that very delicate issue?
I have no idea. Even people in the Niger Delta are not working towards that direction or maybe someone is not working or something, You never can tell what is been done as we speak. I empathise with them and support the way they are going about the struggle because I believe everybody has the right to fight for what they believe in.
In your opinion, do you think that the government partnership with Nollywood is adequate?
I don't think so. I don't agree with the fact that you have to carry people abroad to go and do a premiere when we have not yet sorted ourselves out here. The government should make funds available; make things amenable to the people so that they can have access to it then we can start talking. Taking them to London is not what is needed; the Londoners just want to see the stars and that's it; what really comes out of it. Nothing.
How will you rate the participation of the corporate sector in the uplifting of Nollywood?
It is coming in trickles and we are happy because we were not even thinking about that 10 years ago; nobody would have believed in your potential to generate funds. Now banks like Zenith Bank sponsoring films; we have Eco Bank who has sponsored four Nollywood films and so forth. It is coming gradually and when they see that we have something that will be beneficial to them, more we come in.
There is this trend of too many unskilled hands in the industry with regards to production who contribute to a great extent to the low quality in Nollywood movies. Does this not worry you?
Of course! There are two things involved; it is either you have it or you don't. If you don't have it, you go and learn and if you have it, it may be natural. You have to go and learn and make yourself better. The good thing about this is that these people learn on the job so their first and second work might not be that fantastic so by the time they collaborate and work under one or two people that have done all that theories practicalize with them, join hands with them it gets better.
Are the actors and actresses being paid enough?
You call me and say you want to pay me 1 million for a film you now cut it to part 1,2,3,4 that means you are paying me N250 thousand per film. When you finish you now give it to African Magic to show as many times as they like, its not enough instead let them be paying us 10/20 million anything you want to do with the film you do it. We are not getting royalties this is the kind of fling that should be coming to it.