Marriages These Days Are Not Working --------Steph-Nora-Okere
Cool, calm and captivating best describe the personality of Steph-Nora-Okere, the sassy Nollywood star actress. The amazing character interpretations of the seventh child of family of ten in most Nigerian home movies is what separated her from the rest of the Nigerian actresses, and this has obviously won her more admiration as well as accolades among the home video buff but controversy probably the right word to describe the Theartre c-Arts graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, by those who could not differentiate a character in the movie and the real Steph-Nora.
The evergreen sexy screen diva hardly grants interviews and whenever she does, it's probably worth doing so. Although the highly rated actress kept mute on what truncated her relationship with the famous star actor Jim lyke, her ex-boyfriend, and the current storm in her marriage.
In this interesting chat with KAZEEM POPOOLA, the down-to-earth screen goddess reveals more about herself and other interesting issues. Enjoy the excerpts.
Do you think we should have this interview?
You asked for it, so why not?
Let's compare the time you first started with the present time?
There is a lot of difference, because when we started we ain't so sure. It was like trial and error stuff, even though most of us were just coming out of the Universities with our degrees and little knowledge of what we were doing. But we are sure of what we can do now.
How was your first time on set?
Talking about movie set, it was different from what I was used to, because I was trained as a stage actress. So, I had to get used to the camera, stopping and starting all over again. It was different, unlike the stage where you'll do a lot of gesticulation and lots of body movement. From stage, I went straight to T.V, then to home movie.
On camera, you are more natural, you do thing the normal way, unlike the stage, where you really have to be a little bit exaggerative, so that people out there would understand what you are doing.
Did the stage thing affect your acting whenever you face the camera?
At the beginning it did, but I have to work myself into acting for the camera. I have to blend into those different that I earlier mentioned. It wasn't for so long because I am one person who adapts easily to situation.
You started as a stage actress, how would you compare yourself with other star actresses who did not have stage experiences?
I don't like to draw comparison in anything, I just like to appreciate situation because I started from theatre, as in stage, I don't think that's to say that I am better than anybody who did not go through stage. The only thing is that it gave me a little advantage at the beginning, acting for me is really an in-born thing, if you don't have it, even if you go through the stage act and all that, you cannot get it. If you now look at my works, you can now draw the comparison, but I do not really want to compare myself with anyone, I just do my own stuff and I am very contented with it.
Your name is not among the so called G-5 of the Nigerian home videos. How do you feel about it?
Is there any thing like that?
Yes! That's where we have the likes of Genevieve, Omotola, Stella Damasus, Rita Dominic and others I feel nothing; I won't say that I am hearing that for the very first time, I just know that there is a clique, let me put it like that. I don't feel anything, because there was a time when I was also in the G-stuff, if there is such thing. That was before the ban was placed on them by the movie marketers couple of years back.
The truth is that, you cannot be in vogue all the time. Things evolve and revolve, if my name is not among the G-5 as you said, it doesn't make any difference that doesn't stop me from being a good actress. That means nothing to me.
You actually came into the industry as a spinster, did your career affect your love life before you got married?
It didn't, because I came in as a professional, I came in with my degree, So, any producer or director saw me from the professional point of view.
Not that you fall a victim of sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is relative, because I did not come into the industry to find my fect; I already had my feet on the ground. I've been on stage, T.V, before I now came over to the home movie.
So, I don't have to impress anybody, it's when you want to show what you have, then somebody can take advantage of you, but when you already have what everybody knows you had, they will be pleased to have you. As it were, I could have even harassed them, not then harassing me. If there were sexual harassment when I was coming into the industry, I don't remember anybody directly harassing me.
Home movies actually projected your acting career. Do you have a particular person who made you?
A whole lot of people, because I believed that life is a process. I am one person who did not come through the back door, or scale the fence. I toll the lines, took my turn and paid my dues. There were a lot of people who I have encountered that helped my career. People who God have positioned in all my productions. So I can't say this or that person made me who I am.
As a smashing young pretty girl on movie set with other young and handsome actors how did you handle those crushes then?
I always try to draw a line between my work and my personal life. If there is much reason I had a crush on any one, it's never been on set. I have not had any relationship with a man after we finished acting together.
But I would not tell you that I have not dated anyone in the movie industry but it has never been an attraction that comes from working together. I see every job as a professional duty and I don't go beyond that.
You said you've once dated an actor. How would you get involved in a relationship which you quite knew wouldn't lead to the altar?
I did not know that it won't lead to the altar.
But you said you've once dated one or to actors?
I did not say that, I said I could have dated someone.
Are you now telling me that you've not dated anyone before in the industry?
I did, but it's not like one or two (laughs)
So, how many?
Just a person, who everybody that know me, know that I was involved with him, and we had a healthy relationship. And you don't start a relationship believing that it would crash or would not lead to where it's supposed to, you just hope in your mind and I thank God today that I cannot be classified as one of the people who are being kicked around the industry.
Have you learnt your lesson?
That wasn't my first relationship, it just happened to be my first in the industry (pause) it's when that was my first ever and my last so far, then I would say I learnt from that, but that wasn't my first.
How can you define a good actress?
There is no need to put gender to it an actor is an actor whether male or female. An actor is one who can interprete a character to that point, which you watch him or her, and almost makes you to feell that you are actually watching the real type of that character. Somebody who is so professional who submits her body, voice and soul so to speak. To me, that's a good actor. I don't think acting is about what you wear, how good your make-up is, your hair, kind of cars, appearances you make in the newspapers and all that. Have you been able to capture your audience? Have you been able to sell a story to the viewers? There are some times that you finished a job and some woman man, or person now sees you on the street and begins to relate to you as if you are the character which you played in the movie. If you haven't got to that point, then there is a lot of work to be done.
If I have to take you for your words. How would you relate that to sexual roles in movies?
For instance if you come to me with a script which stated that I am going to make love to Emeka Ike or anybody. If I look at the script and I agreed to do it, then I better do it, but if I know I cannot, then I have no business taking the job. So, if you contracted yourself to act nude or seduce someone, then you better do it to convince the audience.
Have you ever done that in your movies?
I must have, I think once or twice.
Is that not one of the reasons you have been seen as a controversial actress?
I don't know, because I just work. There was a time people were typing me as an armed robber, there was another time they saw me as-husband-snatcher, I have done a lot of things in the movies.
Has any one of these characters in the movies, happened to you in real life to have you snatched somebody else's husband before or accused of doing such?
I have never snatched anybody's husband in real life but there are some embarrassing moments. There was a movie I did with RMD, titled The Price, I seduced him and indicted him in the movie, and the movie came out, I didn't know. I went to a restaurant with a friend of mine, we took a table, a man was already, sitting there so, when I sat down, the man was like 'No'! You can sit on the same table with me. And I was like why? He said because I indicted a man of God. In that movie RMD was a pastor, and I was still like I indicted a man of God? The man was really fantic. I was so embarrassed, and then I left the restaurant. A week or so, Teco Benson, the producer of the movie then called me, and asked me if I had seen the movie and I was like oh! That was why the man asked me to leave the table. Aside other situation like that, I have never snatched somebody else's husband in real life.
Are you aware that there has been a mix-up in your names with other actresses most especially Stephanie Okereke?
If her name is Stephanie Okere and mine is also Stephanie Okereke, she is an actress, it's just a coincidence, but I am Stephanie-Nora-Okereke, for short it is Stephanie Nora Okere, she is Stephanie Okereke, what ever, what's in a name? It may interest you to know that there is another actress in Port-Harcourt who presently says that she is Steph-Nora, which I find very funny, because Steph-Nora was a name that was coined by the producers in the industry; I am not even the one that coined it. I used to tell them that my names are Stephanine and Nora for them to choose out of the two, and they always ended up writing everything. I have my, personality and I made my name. The only time it bothered me, was when people called me and always says is this Stephanine Okereke'? That's the farthest stress I had about that. She's my friend loves her so much, and incidentally she is from my home town too.
Has that not been given you any headache?
Am I not a good actress? Am I not known in my trade (laughs)
Any regret as an actress?
Not for a second, because it's what I really want to do, but what I really do regret is that art for me did not start from acting, it started from music.
Do you sing?
Yes! But my father won't hear about it, that was then, but he's late now, I don't know what he would be thinking now if he watched the entertainment industry in general.
Art for me actually started from dance to music and then acting. So, I'd never for one day given it a thought that I should have been a banker, because I had chances of doing other courses in the Universities after I graduated even as at two weeks ago, somebody still offered me a job in an office.
You keep mentioning entertainment. Instead of Nollywood, are you now claiming to be an entertainer rather than an actress?
I'm an entertainer, I just happened to come to the front with home videos. I don't think I want to be bracketed under that. Because I am an entertainer, producer and if you may know, I am a director and a writer. For four-years, I studied Play-writing and Directing, I sing, when I was in school, I used to do shows.
You claimed to be a singer but unlike other actresses turned singer with debut single track or album, to show for it?
If I am going to dropa single track or album there is no rush in me, there is no pressure.
If I want to do music, I just do music alone, like I did with acting. I am not following any trend, I am not doing music just because it's what is in I trend now, it's like something that I am always doing, something that's been there in me.
Can you really sing?
I was in a band, I used to sing in my church choir.
Most other actresses do say such.
It doesn't matter. The problem we have in Nigeria is that, we love to bracket people. It's not good, an artiste is an artiste, whether you are in acting, music, dance, fine-art and in any kind of art, you are an artiste. Probably because you made your name through this or that, then claimed to be an actress trying to sing, no! The only time it becomes a problem is when you go out there do stuffs, and make a fool of yourself.
So how would you brand your own kind of music?
Like I said, I don't have any heat on me, I am not like trying to do something right now, but if I want to go back to what I used to do, then it will be strictly soul music. I listen to all kind of music; I am more of a soul music singer.
Apart from the popular soap 'Family Ties' and some others, you've not been prominent in most recent home videos?
Like I earlier said, you don't have to be always in vogue. One of my driving forces is to be contented with whatever I have, I am a child of God and I believed that God's has his hand in all that concerns me. Anywhere I found myself at any particular time, God's has reason for it to be so, and it's the will of God. For now I've not been featuring in most movies like I sued to be, I think it's for a purpose, I can't tell you that I don't desire to act and I won't tell you that I don't want to be featured in a whole lots of movies. But if that is the way it is now, I am sure there is a reason. Although I turned down script, that are not so good, but they don't come like they used to, and that to me is a reason I cannot explain. I am an actress, I am still as good as I was , the best I can do if I am so desperate to be in a movie, is to shoot my own movie and act in it.
Do you engage yourself in another thing aside acting?
I write movie script, I package events and all that
Did that fetch you more money when compared to acting?
Anything I do fetches me money, but I have not really sat down to equate which has being giving more money.
Let's talk about your marriage.
It's not for you.
But there is news milling around that you've broken-up with your husband!
I've told you it's not for you, and you better leave that if you want us to continue with the interview.
You might have learnt one or two things about marriage.
You still want to dribble your way into the marriage of a thing?
Would you agree that most marriages of actresses don't last for long?
It's not true! If you go to the registry, a lot of divorce cases are going on. Let's put it straight, so many marriages are not just working, reasons, I cannot say that I have an over all conclusion; I can only draw my own little observation.
Those actors/actresses marriages don't work, such commutation, I don't really support. If you watch the ratio of divorce cases and compare it to the happenings in the industry, which is part of the society, there is a high level of divorce in the society, it's only normal that it's also happening in the movie industry.
This is because they are celebrities, people got to hear about it; they are in the lime-light, that doesn't mean that marriages don't work with artistes, it's just that marriages these days are not working.
So what is your own advice?
I can't, because you cannot advice on marriages.
Because situations that break up this marriage are different from which affect others? They are all peculiar situation, so, how can you begin to liken your situation to advise someone else, it's when I know your situation, that I can now advise you. Because what makes this relationship thick could be a put off in the other. I don't ticks I am in the best position to advise.
What are your own opinions about men generally?
They are God's creation.
Have you ever been treated badly by men?
No! Because I always tell people that we all have a common enemy, which is the devil. When the devil wants to do something to you, he uses someone he could be a man or woman. So, when someone, regardless of the sex does anything that is not nice to me, I don't see that person as a person, I can only say that the devil used that person against me.
You have always been patronized by the Yoruba movie industry, how come?
I don't know, they always wanted me to be in their movies. And I've been in the western part of the country all my life, I school in Lagos, attended the University of Ife and I speak Yoruba language relatively well.
Let's compare the Yoruba home videos and the so-called 'Nollywood'?
Is Yoruba home movies not part of the Nollywood? They don't believe that, because most Igbo speaking Actors and actresses are more celebrated as Nolly-stars.
I don't think so, an actor is an actor irrespective of language that you speak. There is no comparison, the only thing is that the language is different; the mode of work is the same.
No doubt about the fact that the Nigerian film industry is becoming so popular. Are you happy with the trend of things in the industry?
I told someone in England last April that I believe what we've been doing in the Nigerian movie industry is more like test-running and we've gotten to a point where what's next? We have to move to the next level, who is going to take us? We are like the Biblical children of Israel in Egypt waiting for the man to take them to the promised land.
Your fashion statement and beauty routine?
I don't believe in label, I wear what fits me. The weather, way I feel, and the event that I'm attending, determines what I am going to wear. I wear all kinds of clothes, so long as its fits. For food, I eat anything edible, as long it doesn't kill and there is no substance in it which I may be allergic to. Above all, food that I eat, I love vegetable a lot and I take a lot of water.
My beauty routine like body massage, facial treatment, trimming and all that, the one I cannot play with is my sleep, because if I lose my sleep, I will fall apart.
I don't compromise my night sleep, that's why I hardly hang out.
We normally have one or two dreams when we were growing up. Are you still living up to your dreams?
As a child, I saw myself as a singer than as an actress. It was during my secondary school days that acting thing came up. It used to be dance and music for me, and I actually started writing songs when I was in primary four, that's the truth. But as I told you my father quenched the fire quickly, because my father was a conservative person. So, I saw myself as an actress and here I am. I am happy but this is not where I dreamt to end I dream to go much higher than I am, and how I am going to get there is in the hand of God.
What about the true picture of your dream man?
Above everything in any man that I want to have anything to do with first, he has to be clean and when I come close, you'd better be a God-fearing person.
Did your man fit into those qualities?
What man? If you want us to continue with this conversation, don't be tricky with me.
Any case of bad press?
(Smiles) there was a time when it was the order of the day, but I thank God I swam out of it so, I don't want to get back into it. That's why I don't want anybody to write anything about me.
It was in the news couple of year back that you sent some guys after a reporter. How far is that true?
(Laughs) that reporter as you said, is my close friend now, that's Azuh Amatus. That's not true, he was actually preempting. He wrote something that he later realized it was grouse and he anticipated that reaction from me.
He wrote something about me then, which was grossly untrue and not nice, he then came out with another write-up that Steph-Nora sent people after him. (Laughs)
Was it only Azuh?
The other person I had an issue with, that was long time ago, was Stanley Okoronkwo, he wrote something about me that wasn't true, and we then asked him to do a rejoinder that the story wasn't true. He's also my friend now.
Before any pressman could put pen on paper for a write-up about you then, you must be controversial?
I am not a controversial person. It was really painful, when the press tagged controversy on my name, because I tried as much as possible to stay clear of controversy.
It's not because I want to be seen as a holy or a good person; no! I stayed out of controversy because it doesn't allow my mind to operate the way I want it to it causes too much distraction and makes me feel jittery.
Let's share one of your pains as a celebrity?
Honestly, sometimes people out there really get judgmental. They already assume and sum you up, even without talking to you. It's really painful, I went to a bank last week and innocently because I rushed down there for an urgent transaction, I didn't make-up, I just put on my eye-glasses, and normally if I don't make-up I always wear my Eye-glasses, so, that my face won't look somehow. And somebody in the banking hall was like 'why are you disguising' we know you! (Laugh). So many situations like that make me feel as If I have lost my privacy and human right. I am one person who loves to be herself anywhere, do things the way I feel, not try to put up character for people. But I am not allowed to do that because I've sold that in the market of popularity.
Have you one any abnormal thing as a celebrity?
Yeah! There was a day I jump a motor-bike Okada. I had a meeting at Ocean view and there was terrible traffic which I was in for almost three hours, I just told my driver to pack, and took a bike, people were wondering why but I just didn't care because that meeting was so important to me.
Any other crazy thing?
I am not a crazy person, and I don't really do crazy things, that are the truth. I am not an introvert but being a bit withdrawn from happenings, that's doesn't mean that I cannot deliver.
What about the memorable compliment that you ever had?
The best compliment I ever had in my life is from somebody who is not in my family.
This is from a colleague and each time I remember, It, I am always like. 'Why did he say that? He walked up to me when we went for A.GN meeting and he said 'Steph 'anytime, I think of you, I think of a nice person, that's really touched me, this was a long time ago but up till now, it's still echoed in my mind.
As an aspiring singer, who are your Nigerian favourite artistes?
I love P-square, Tu-face, Asa and a couple of others
Lastly, you've been seen as a screen goddess, but what did you see in the future?
Screen goddess! Whao! I am thrilled because I don't see myself that way, I see myself as an actress who has been putting her efforts.
Like I was taught at the University that an art is universal, so, I want to be universally accepted, I want to be a world class actress.