Friends sponsored my wedding
Omoni Oboli is an actress that can best be described as a humble and meek woman. Her gentle disposition sweeps whoever meets her off his feet. Tall, dark, a mother and wife, Omoni interprets her roles in such a way that has gained her numerous admirers. In this interview with Saturday Sun, she reveals a lot about herself and career.
You came and over took the industry. What did the magic?
To be honest, I don't know if there is a magic. A lot of people don't know that I was actually in the industry when I was a teenager. In 1996, I was here and I played a couple of lead roles. But then, I left after about a year plus because I was in the university at the same time, and it wasn't working. There were times that I had to be in school, and there were some movies I was doing, and I got back to school, really late. I did not want to drop out. Then, many people were dropping out at that time and it was sort of cool to be a drop-out, but I didn't think it was good. I left the industry totally and got married right after school.
So, I couldn't get back till almost a decade after. When I got back, it was not easy trying to get back my position because nobody remembered me for over 10 years. You don't leave something for 10 years and come back and think it would still be there waiting for you. I had to work my way back with the help of some people like Emem Isong, Desmond Eliot and Lancelot, who I had worked with then. They were of great help. Little by little, I did a couple of movies with Emem before I did Figurine which was my big break-out movie. Immediately Figurine was released, people started wondering who I am. Then Figurine was not released on DVD. It first went to cinema and it was a big cinema movie. It was the first movie that broke the whole cinema thing. It was a big break for me. Then last year, Anchor Baby got released, and that was it. Since then, everybody says I am doing it.
Why did you choose acting?
I have always loved acting right from when I was a little girl. I was in every church and school plays. I don't know why. I guess some people are born to act. If there are people who are born to act, I think I am one of them. I didn't choose acting, it chose me instead.
Was it not that you loved a particular actor or actress who you desired to be like?
No, I just love it. What's your family background like?
I am from Delta State. My mum gave birth to two girls. My sister and I. She had problem with my dad who went and married another wife and had other children. I grew up with my mum. We were very close and happy while growing with mum. I am like my mum. She was a very happy woman. Even when there was nothing, she still had that joy.
Why do you think Figurine brought you to limelight?
I have done a lot of movies that people talked about but because Figurine was so big, went to the big screen, everyone was talking about it. It was in the cinema and in the press for months. It made it look like another level. It took me to the next level. Then Anchor Baby supplemented it. Couple of months ago, someone said I was the biggest cinema actress in Nigeria because some of my movies were premiered in the cinema and it actually made more money than every other actor that has gone to cinema.
Which other movies have you acted?
Apart from the Figurine and the Anchor Baby, I did Entanglement with Emem. I also did Sweet Tomorrow, Behind The Smile and many others I can't remember now.
What are your expectations?
I expect to get to the topmost of my game. I don't expect to just be the biggest Nollywood actress and artiste. I expect to be big in Africa and indeed the world. For me, I feel that what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. If I can't go all the way, there is no point even starting it at all.
What are your challenges in the industry?
Nollywood has a lot of challenges but we have grown a great deal in the last two years. We have great quality movies now that are being released in cinemas. One of my movies, Bent Arrows is actually at the cinema right now. It is a great movie for every parents to get their kids to watch especially their daughters. The story is centred on three girls who somehow along the line, missed it because of peer pressure, undue parental control, societal ills, etc. It is a Christian movie buy you may not know. It has a Christian message at the end of the day.
We have our challenges in Nollywood and the greatest of it is piracy. We need to curb piracy. It is the killer in the industry now. That is why most people that are doing good movies would go to cinema first to get some money from the cinema before it goes to DVD, because once it goes to DVD, the pirates would not let you make your money back. Again, we need better distribution network. It will make a movie to circulate properly. If a movie is released today, it should hit everywhere in Nigeria at the same time. By the time the pirates are getting their ace together, you have already made a lot of money. I must admit that there is nowhere piracy does not exist even in America but because their distribution network is good, before they get their hands on these movies, a lot of money has been made already by the producers and directors. We also need more cinemas.
All these movies I am calling made so much money out of six cinemas. Imagine if we had 50. I won't even need to release my film on DVD. By the time, I am releasing on DVD, as far as I know, it is pocket money because I would have made money and returns on investment and then go on to make even better movies. Then some of the crew need to go and get professional training. I went to New York Film Academy last year to study digital film making because I want to direct my own movies. Why did I go and study it? I could have just said that I can do it and pick up a camera and direct a movie. But I said to myself that I need to get professional training. This is a technical job. You don't even need to go to New York for the school. There is a lot of online stuff and DVD that one can buy or use to upgrade oneself. Study to make yourself. You cannot just sit down and say you have been doing it for 10 years and you keep bringing out the same thing every time. Then something is wrong with you. So, we need to get professional training as well.
Have you had a situation where you were asked to come to a hotel to pick a script?
No, I have not.
Do you know that it exists in the industry?
I guess it would but I have never had to do anything like that.
Could it be because you are married?
I hope so. I feel that the way you place yourself is how people would respond to you. I just don't think anybody would look at me the way I am and tell me to come and pick a script in a hotel. I am not hungry. On a more serious note, I reject scripts. Is your script so fantastic that I have to come and get it in a hotel room? It does not make sense to me.
How do you get your roles?
My roles get me. I don't know but I think the harder you work, the more you put yourself into a role. Also, the more people take note of you and decide that you are the best for the job. I think that is what has been happening over the years.
Have you had an embarrassing moment?
None that I can remember in the last couple of years. Maybe earlier when I was younger but for now, no.
What is your most memorable day?
It was my wedding day.
What made it memorable?
I feel so happy the way things turned out because then, my husband and I were both young and we hadn't enough money. We are just very care free people so we decided to do the wedding any how but, it turned out so well which we did not expect. We were pleasantly surprised how it turned out but it was possible because of friends and family. Our traditional marriage too was great. My dad handled everything and he did a great job.
How do you combine acting with home front?
I am not one of those people that could jump from one set to the other. I try to space out my work so that I would have time for my family. They are more important to me than the work. God forbid but if anything happens tomorrow that I can no longer act, my family would still be there. I give them as much quality time as I can.
Do you go clubbing?
Not really. It may be once in a while. At someone's birthday. Not that I will wake up and start going to the club. It is not possible.
What could be the reason marriages break up in Nollywood?
The thing is that marriages break up everywhere. In this dispensation, marriages are breaking up everywhere but because we are on the limelight, it seems that it is more in our industry. It is not so. I really don't know why marriages are crashing so much but people should go back to the drawing board and look at the reasons for marriage and also seek the author of marriage which is God and find out from him how it should be done. If I read a book and I have questions about what the author says, I will go back to that book and find out the answers. A lot of people need mentorship. I think that a lot of men hadn't been mentored very well. They go into marriages with great expectations. When they get in, it would not be what they thought. It is little demoralizing. Even the women need to get proper mentorship as well.
There is a notion that actresses live fake lives. What is your take on that?
To be honest, it is a show business. Moreover, your fans don't want to see you in a certain way. I am trying to be honest with you. Fans put their stars on a pedestal and they don't want to see you drop from there. That is why a lot of celebrities try to look or live a certain way maybe to please their fans. I don't know but for me, do your best to look great but don't over do it or do the one you cannot handle. As much as it depends on you and is within your means, look the best you can.
How have you been able to avoid scandal?
I am just being myself. I am not avoiding or looking for anything.
Cigarette smoking and lesbianism are rocking the industry. How is the experience like?
I have not encountered it in any way. Maybe because I am married, people don't come to me with all that. I have never done that.
What are the awards you have won?
Last year, I won the City People Best Actress Award for excellence, best actress at the Harlem International Film Festival, New York for Anchor Baby. I also won best actress at the Los Angeles Film Festival for Anchor Baby. I won the Nollywood award best actress in the leading role for the Figurine. Same last year, I won the Sunlight Clean And Fresh actress of the year, also at the best Nollywood award.
Have you experienced the gains and pains of fame?
There are lots of gain associated with fame. Now, I am the Face Of Dettol. I just got the deal. It is not out yet. That is one of the gains. Obviously, if I wasn't a famous person, I wouldn't have gotten the deal. I am also one of the ambassadors for Zodafone. It is a new telecommunication company. They would launch it later in the year. I have a lot to be thankful for.
Aside acting, what else do you do?
I do a bit of dieting and fitness on the side. I have my clients who come to me for diet plans and advice. I also do some consultancy for some companies.
What would you like to change in Nollywood if you have your way?
I will change our distribution pattern. I will also create bigger and more cinemas.
Could you assess the entertainment industry?
Music has really grown. It is amazing what these young people have been able to do with the music industry. I am so thrilled. Comedy has grown so well too. The like of Ali Baba has done so much for the comedy industry and I really commend his works. He is one person I admire greatly. He didn't come into the industry and decided to eat alone. He got there, saw that there was a lot to make and he called other people. When we have stuff like that, the industry would grow bigger. The sky is so big and there are so many stars up there. We have never seen one star fall because they were fighting. So, there is room for everybody. When we all work together, we make a better and bigger industry. This is an industry that has never had a government support but we have been able to make it grow, and thousands of people are employed.