I’ve flushed my engagement ring down the toilet – Benita Nzeribe
Although Benita Nzeribe is as old as Nollywood, it looks like new faces in the industry have taken the shine off her. But she tells 'NONYE IWUAGWU that she is still a force to reckon with. She also talks about her love life and why she is not yet married.
Nobody seems to see you these days. Have you left Nollywood?
The thing with showbiz is that you should know when to start and when to stop. You should not allow yourself to be overused, therefore you need to pause at some points. I am running an NGO on women and girls, and a youth health care development and enhancement programme.
Right now, I have a pet project dealing with children in motherless babies' homes and children with HIV/AIDS. But right now, I am ready to come back.
So, how have you been surviving?
It is true that you make no money in running an NGO initially. But you invest in it and reap later. So, that was what I did. I have some other things I do by the side, like small contracts. I don't intend to go into details. But there is no how I will just sit down and make no money.
How come you suddenly decided to run an NGO?
It's not a girl/woman thing. While many other NGOs deal with women, my focus is on the health angle.
There are a whole lot of people out there who are dying and don't have anybody to help them.
HIV/AIDS, is something that some people still don't believe exists until it happens to someone close to them. How many people go to check their HIV status? They are scarce.
Do you know your HIV status?
I have done my own test, so when I talk, I talk with authority. I am not interested in the impact my NGO would make, my focus is on how to help the society. I am not looking for gains for now but trying to help out in the little way I can.
Why didn't you go into music?
I am not a person who goes along with what is in vogue. I go with what suits me as a person. Music is beautiful if one has the voice. But a lot of people are going into music because they feel they are good in it. I have a good voice but I am not going into music now. Maybe later.
How did you become an actress?
It all started years ago when I came to see my elder brother in Lagos. While strolling with my friend, Judith, we saw an audition notice and she suggested we should go for it. I refused initially, but after much persuasion I agreed and we went. When we got to the venue, they were not that friendly, but we stayed a while. It was an NTA audition for the series Beyond the Dream. Then, it was the crowd that chose who should play what role. Not the producer, director or marketer like it is now.
What happened thereafter?
I didn't like the place, so I told my friend that we should leave. As I said so, the man in charge, one Adeola Onyidibia, told me that he wanted me to come to the centre stage and read for a role for their female lead. I read it and the crowd said I should be given a chance to play the part.
I went there the next day. By the next week, I had the role.
What became of Judith?
My friend Judith was in a relationship then. Her family frowned at her being an actress, so she left.
Your own family didn't frown at it?
My parents did not frown at it, but they didn't embrace it totally. They just said I would get tired of it after a while. But when they noticed that I was determined not to go back, they accepted my choice.
You attended a convent school. Did you plan to be a nun?
My dad is a very protective person, and I used to be his pet. He believed his little girl was safe in a convent.
Maybe he sent you to a convent because you were a little wild.
No, I was not wild. I first attended a secondary school in Aba as a day student. I came to school one day and my teacher, in his own way of telling me to keep on being a good girl, gave me a pat on my bum. Innocently, I told my dad what the teacher did. My dad didn't say anything. The next thing I saw was that he had transferred me to a convent school.
Did you think you could become a nun?
While in school, I had the best result in JSS 3 and was given a scholarship. I had a choice to enter a novitiate from the convent or go to a normal school. I decided to go to a normal school. It is not that I don't love God. I do, but I needed to come out.
So, which school did you attend?
I attended Abia State University where I studied English.
Are there challenges that come with being a star?
People love to hate you and hate to love you. At times, people take what we do on the tube a little too far. Like me, outside the screen, I am a very quiet and humble person. But if you don't know me and judge me from what you see on the screen, you would make a mistake.
I tell people who say I am very bitchy to wait until they meet me before they draw conclusions. I try to play each role I am given well, but people mix me up with the roles.
Maybe it is because you play bitchy roles so effortlessly that they think you must be bitchy in real life…
But I have also done very emotional movies where I have had to cry from the beginning to the end. The bitchy roles launched me into the limelight, particularly in Beyond the Dream.
The entertainment industry tends to identify you with the role that brings you into the limelight. But then, people tend to overlook other roles you play.
Do you have any regret being an actress?
I love my job passionately. I have no regrets being an actress. I have not got to where I am going, but I am a very patient bird. I take my time but I will still get to where I am going.
What else would you have done if you weren't an actress?
I know I would have done very well in a law firm. It's a natural thing with me and many thought I would have gone into that. But acting is a job that I love. Even if I am making money from doing other things, acting is inborn.
How do you handle the scandals that come with your job?
Nothing good comes easy. Even in Hollywood, it is like that. Scandals and entertainment go together. Some of the scandals are true while some are false.
But many of them are true in your own case…
In my case, many of them are false. They say I am controversial, I don't know about that. I tell people that when they see me one on one, they should judge for themselves.
Which of the scandals hurt you the most?
The one where it was said that I was nine months pregnant. That was the funniest of all. I was getting calls every minute from people congratulating me.
How did the rumour come about?
I don't know. I had not been seen for a while. I decided to come out for people to see I was not pregnant. And when people saw me and saw a flat tummy, they changed their opinions. They said I was nine months pregnant and was walking down the aisle soon. They reeled off so many names that could have been responsible for my pregnancy.
By the way, what is keeping you from getting married?
It is not a question of jumping to collect somebody's ring because he has a fat bank account. This marriage thing has a lot of ups and downs. It's like a school; you learn each day. You don't jump into marriage, because it is not something you wake up one morning and say you are no longer interested in. You have to make marriage work. I am taking my time, because when I get into marriage, I intend to stay in it.
Do you think time is on your side?
How old do you think I am? I started acting very early and I was less than 20 when I got my first big break. I have a whole lot of years ahead of me. It's not like I am bidding my time or anything.
Maybe men are not even proposing…
Ha! Of course, they propose! It's not as if the proposals are not coming, no. If I want to get married next week, the men are standing by and are lined up. At my own time, I will get married and stay in my marriage.
Are you not envious of your married friends?
I don't envy them. I love them for that because, at least, they are making us raise our heads high that actresses in Nollywood are getting married. I pray that God helps them stay in marriage, because we are coming. It's not that I don't want to be like them. We all pray to get married one day.
Would you marry an actor?
I am not dating an actor. If I meet an actor and both of us click, why won't I give it a chance? There is the likes of Uncle Zach Orji and his wife; and uncle Olu Jacobs and his wife.
Are you in any relationship now?
I have a special person. But I won't go into that.
Is he London-based like most of your colleagues' husbands?
I am very patriotic, so he is based in Nigeria. But he travels outside the country for different things.
Do you feel threatened by the rise of the present crop of successful new actresses?
No. It is a good thing that new people are coming up. It makes you to feel more challenged. It means we have varieties and many faces that can play many roles. So, a director or producer will not be waiting for one person to be free before coming to do your film.
Tell me about growing up…
Growing up was not much fun, because it was with strict parents; I didn't get to go out often. It's not as if they didn't let me go out, but they would give me the time within which to come back home. It was the same thing with the boys. There was always a curfew at home.
Who would you consider the biggest rival among your colleagues?
I'm not bothered by such things. I meet them on set, we relate while working, and when the work is done, we go our separate ways. We don't need to call ourselves to hook up later. I don't do such things.
So you don't have a friend among them?
No. They are just my colleagues.
You have stepped up. We hear you bought a jeep…
Is it a fleet of cars? If I decide now to drive a 20-year-old Volkswagen, I will, because it is what I want. If I want to drive a jeep tomorrow, I will use my money to buy it. It is not a do or die affair. But I am comfortable in what I drive. I may not say I am rich, but I am very comfortable.
Have you ever been approached by lesbians?
No. Maybe because they know what I would do to them. I don't 'do' women when there are a lot of guys everywhere.
Have you been embarrassed before?
Yes. There was a movie I did and my character died, and handbills were pasted around. I was somewhere cooling off and the cast were carrying the coffin around. A woman saw my picture and started crying, rolling on the floor. I didn't know I was that loved. They tried in vain to console her. They had to come and call me from where I was. When I met her, she hugged me and was happy to see me alive.
How do you keep male admirers at bay?
I handle them tactically but respectfully. The person won't get angry. The persistent ones fizzle out, but we don't become enemies.
I have learnt one thing: you never hurt a man's ego, whatever you do. No matter how big or small a man is, you shouldn't touch his ego.
Your heart was broken some time ago…
Yes. I have had my own share of heartbreak. I am a very emotional person, but I had my friends around me to share my pain.
Since then, I have decided to take my time. Now, I stretch men to the limits since the last heartbreak. Most men are not very patient, so it helps me. I had an engagement ring but when it crumbled I flushed it down the toilet.
What if your current beau asks you to quit acting?
He met me acting. But if he asks me to quit acting, I am an African woman, I will listen to my husband. But he can't tell me to come home and be a housewife. He has to get me to do something else if I must stop acting.