She needs no introduction. Her name can open doors and she belongs to the A list of actresses in Nigeria. Having successfully made a name both on the screen and on stage, not only has her name become a household name, she has successfully built a brand of it.
That is Joke Jacobs. Born in 1961 in Lagos, into a family of five to Chief Emmanuel Afolabi Silva and Dr. [Mrs.]. Marianne Abimbola Silva, she attended Holy Child College, Lagos from where she got a strong foundation that made her what she is today
Playing host to us recently, the seasoned actress went down memory lane, recalling her very first time on stage.
The quintessential actress gave an insight into the journey, so far, for Nollywood actors, the challenges of marrying a fellow actor, Olu Jacobs, the most traumatic time of her life recalling her daughter's death and why she became a grief counsellor.
She also touched other issues.
In some areas, Nollywood has moved on but in others it is below standard. In the area of finance, artiste's fees are better now. Actors can now live on their earnings. When I started out, most Nigerian actors had other jobs. They just couldn't live on acting alone. They really could not afford to be full time performers. They had to have other jobs. You had some of them that were bankers and the rest, acting was just their passion but I was very lucky that when I came in, though, it was though but not as though as in those days and the people who have come after me are finding it much easier. And because there is this huge market for the brand, Nollywood, you know, there are so many structures that are being put in place to make sure that Nollywood survives and move beyond where it is today.
That said, let me add that when I started, I started with extreme professionals; they were total professionals in every sense. They had studied it and they had trained for it. They knew their onions. But these present sets of practitioners are learning on the job from people who are learning on the job. And that is why you see so many things that are not quite right in the industry. It isn't that they are paying the price of success but the industry moved a bit too fast. It expanded quicker than the skill that that were available. But that is being taken care of. People are starting training schools all over the place just to see that the skills can be acquired as quickly as possible.
On Marketers stranglehold on the industry
I think marketers do have a stranglehold on the industry. Now there is this saying that money talks, bullshit walks. In that respect, yes it's their money so they can say what they want to but does it pay them at the end of the day, which is the question. If you do not have enough knowledge about an industry, simply because you have the money to back it doesn't necessarily mean they have run it? For example, I may have the money to invest in an oilrig but does that mean I should go to an oil rig business when I don't even know jack about the oil rig?
And if I do attempt to run an oilrig I would probably be causing chaos in the oil industry like what is happening in the movie industry. Just to see a director or a camera operator hold a camera and you see a director that says action and at the end of the day, he says cut, doesn't mean that there are no skills involved in being able to call those two commands.
In calling those two commands, there are even skills required to call the commands. No. Lighting is beyond that. Lighting is supposed to be an assistance to story telling. Sometimes, I don't even need to see the face clearly if that would help to tell the story better. Maybe, what I need is a bit of shadow on that face because that would give us a better idea of the mood at that moment. Maybe I want a particular shadow on the wall because it would give a better emotional quality to that film. Now those are things that unless you train and have experience, you just don't do them because you have the money.
The challenges of the camera and the challenges of the stage are different but they are both as difficult. When you are working in the camera, you don't get as much rehearsal time as you do for stage. Secondly you don't do things for camera in chronological order because that tends to depend on location. So that is a challenge in itself. Another thing is that the camera can be very cold; you don't get any feed back.
Yes, of course you may be working with another actor, but you may be working with an actor who is not feeding you jack because he is not on camera or she is not on camera, you are the one on camera so you better do your job.
Now with stage, the challenges of stage are of course in front of a live audience so you cannot keep repeating but the good thing about it is that you should have a minimum of four weeks rehearsals sometimes there are some plays that are really difficult and you would need about six weeks of rehearsals just so that you can get to know the character totally. However, for stage, no matter how well you have rehearsed, the fourth dynamic for a stage production is the audience. They bring a totally different dynamic to the play.
First time on Stage
I enjoyed my first time on stage totally. I think I played the narrator. But then, there was stage fright. Till today, I still have stage fright. You are always as good as your last job, and every character you play there is always something different about them.
The strains of marrying an actor
I am married to Olu Jacobs with 2 children, a twenty year old and nine years old. My married life is normal. We are both actors and like any married couples, we have our challenges. It has been this way since the beginning but we were prepared for it because we discussed it before we got married.
You know, I have been out of the country and since I came back January 5th, I haven't seen him. You know, some people would say that absence makes the heart grow stronger. That is why I say, we thank the almighty for the new technology of the GSM so even if we haven't seen each other, we still talk a lot with each other practically on a daily basis. The only day we don't talk is probably when he is on location late and he hasn't woken up in time to catch me at my location.
Obviously you have been acting for quite a while. Has there been any period or time when you just felt you couldn't continue in the profession?
Once in a while you do go through that. There was time when I did get disillusioned with the industry, there were some things I noticed, which we have already spoken about like lack of professionalism, a lot of lack of skill but from the disillusion also came a challenge, I saw t as a challenge that what is happening is not so much as to make one disillusioned but make one say, okay, so what level are we going to, what needs to be done to get this profession to where it should be. But to join hands with likeminded people and bring about the changes we like to see.
I have had my share, like any other human. One of the things I have learnt from my parents is that life will give you knocks whether you like it or not. You go with the blow, which is what my husband says as well. So, get up
My daughter's death
It is a difficult thing to go through. It's tough, on you and on the other members of your family but one of the things you do learn along the way is that you are not the one going through the love, there is your partner, there is the other child who for him, all his whole life he has always had a sister then suddenly this sister is no longer around.
There are also the grand parents who of course never imagined in their life that their grand child was going to go before them. When you realize that there are others that are grieving, it helps you to not get out of it but learn to cope with it and they also help you to learn to cope with it. And what I also found out was because here, the loss of a child is what people try to sweep under the carpet and make as if it didn't happen, they want you to just get on with it. For me, my grieving process did not take place until I got to England, when I went to do a job around that time and that was when I could actually let go of my grief and it helped.
Helping others to cope
And I also found out that it may make me more open to want to help others who are going through something similar because quite frankly until it happens to you, you don't know how it is going to feel. You feared about it happening to other people. You feel for them but it is something you can never understand. So when a friend of mine lost her daughter, she set up a foundation, the art of life and I joined immediately because that is what it was set up for, to help other people cope with their grief especially the loss of a child because the loss of a child is totally against the normal order of things. So that's what the Art of life is about.
There are times we have been called in similar cases. I remember during the Sosoliso plane crash, when all those children died, students of Loyola Jesuit in Abuja, and there was another child from another school who also died in that crash, Art of life was called in to help counsel them. I am a trained grief counsellor. We were called in because we can empathize with those people. That is what we basically do at the art of life. There is something we also get involved in called the 0703 healing, which is a service that we offer in conjunction with MTN where people who have suffered any kind of loss can call us can especially if they suffer the loss of a child. We have several trained grief counselors.
Acting was not my first option
l never wanted to go into acting or rather being an actress, a doctor because my mother was. I also wanted to be a lawyer, because my aunty was a lawyer, l wasn't too sure of what l wanted to do as a young girl but I felt any of these professions would be worth my while.
My sense of fulfilment
When you are at peace with God, you will be fulfilled because no matter the challenges you face in life, one knows that there is someone who' is capable of taking care of your challenges, hence you don't need to have any undue worry. God has promised He will meet my needs and He has always been faithful to His promise. I am what I am today by God's grace. Although there are still mountains to climb, but I know I will surely get there.
As my mum said while I was young, due to the challenges she had, taught us this verse in the scriptures that those who wait upon the Lord, He shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagle, they shall walk and not faint, they shall run and not be weary. Of course, I buy into that, trusting the Lord for any challenge that comes my way.
Happiest time of my life
One of the happiest moments of my life was Yoruba play in 1993 called "Owurolojo" which also got me noticed by the Yoruba audience. It was a lovely role because it took me from an adolescent girl to a thirty-year-old woman in one story.
Most embarrassing moment
One of the most embarrassing moments of my life was when I forgot my lines on stage in front of a large audience I felt bad and immediately I ran back crying.
Rewards for fame
l have no anonymity. I live like a gold fish in a bowl. I don't live beyond my reach. I cannot live like a Hollywood star. l have children that l want to bring up in which case I try to live a normal life, hence being a celebrity to me is never an anonymity for me .
Juggling parental responsibilities and acting career
Yes, I got married and after giving birth to my second son, I continued with my schooling at University of Lagos. Although, it was very hard it was funny because older students like us, we were a bit more focused than the younger ones.
Expectations as a young girl
I had expected to be richer than this and have more children than l have now. l had expected to have had six children but God gave me two and I am thankful. Apart from that, I'm okay.
The challenges of acting
For me, because l am into a lot of production (stage production), a lot of producing, a lot of stage production, investment that will put my production on a high production value is a big challenge for me. For instance, to compete favourably with the trends and challenges of the times, one needs good lighting, artistes, set, rehearsal space, accomplished actors, well written scripts, funds, good publicity and someone who understands how to market our product to the media. These are big challenges for me.
Leaving a legacy
I think it will be interesting for me to be remembered as one of those who helped to put the movie industry on a firm footing. I think a lot of people have gone before us and have given their lives to the profession in which we all enjoy today but unfortunately, most of them were not able to eat from the fruits of their labour.
Would you encourage any of your children to go into acting?
Yes, the eldest of my two sons is going into directing.
Recently, there seems to be a shift of so many actors and actress from film to television, what do you make of this?
No, it is not really a shift. Rather it is because of an expansion of work in the television stations. Consequently, with the new stations coming up, there is a lot of scrambling for dramatic programmes. Although, there are so many people producing chat shows, magazine programmes, but there are few dramatic programmes due to the high cost of production but interestingly, it is what keeps the stations blossoming.
Do you hope to retire someday from this job?
It is a life-long career, as there is no retirement in one's hobby