I owe my life to God, my spouse and my kids – Stella Damasus-Aboderin
THIRTEEN years ago she accompanied her friend to the casting of a movie tagged “Abused”. The director saw her at the audition and asked her... to do a reading. The rest, as they say, is now history. Stella Damasus-Aboderin is now a star. Sadly, three years ago, Stella lost her husband, Jaiyejeje Aboderin. She spoke with YEMISI ADENIRAN on the huddles she faced as an aspiring actress, her challenges as a widow and single mother of two and other matters.
Was acting part of your childhood dream?
Not really. While I was growing up particularly when I was in a private secondary school in Ibusa, my talent which was glaring to everyone including myself was music. I loved to sing and that was what I actually wanted to build up.
How then did you find yourself in acting?
It all came by accident. And that was about 13 years ago. I had accompanied one of my friends to the casting of a movie titled Abused and was just waiting for her at one corner when the director of the movie saw me and just asked me to do a reading. He was impressed and gave me a role. That was how I got ushered into the entertainment world. To God's glory after that other requests kept coming and here we are today.
Did you actually had it smooth especially with your peculiar background as a daughter of a Benin chief?
Well, it wasn't that cheap. My father was not happy and didn't speak to me because of that choice for three years. And I don't really blame him afterwards. As the daughter of a traditional Benin chief I am not supposed to be in the public eye and this is actually what acting is all about. He actually explained this but I had to fulfill the urge in me too. I had fallen in love with the job and was ready to give up anything for the course. So I continued in spite of all these. But we are back on track now.
What about your mother?
Oh yes, she gave me all the encouragement I needed. Being an opera singer herself she had performed severally in England before returning to Nigeria. So, it was not a strange field and no big deal. She accepted me and my choice and really encouraged me.
Your family name was originally Ojukwu, why did you change it?
It was changed to Damasus by my grandfather, his first name just to avoid confusion with Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. This happened during the Nigerian civil war. It had even happened before I knew myself.
How did you meet your late husband?
I met him at the Jazz ville Club in Lagos. He had been performing for a while before realising the need for somebody to sing along with him. I simply got up and sang. We met afterwards and a relationship that blossomed into marriage later took off. We were blessed with two daughters, Isabelle and Angelica before death snatched him away.
That was very unfortunate. How then have you been coping?
It really is very painful. Coping has been very tasking. If I had been single it would have been fair, but for somebody like me whose dream was to have my man by my side all the time and then suddenly, the person left for a journey of no return. It is very unbearable. The gallows are so deep and the wound is very wide. Every woman can attest to it that the absence of the man of the house is usually one of the most challenging things that any single mother can face. For instance my generator is bad and instead of focusing on my major assignment of going to the market and filling the house with food, I have to attend to that. For crying out loud, this is not a woman's job but a man's. Along the line, the child will also fall sick and she needs to get to the hospital. Even NEPA bills, water and the like. What is not supposed to be my concern, is now mine. There is nobody to call to assist. Everything now is predominantly my business even when I have only one around, I have to oversee the whole exercise, and then the loneliness is another one. But for my kids I wouldn't have had anyone to occupy my big bed. You know it really hurts. I now have to repair my car myself. Before I would just put a call through to my husband and say Jaiye the car has stopped and there's no money, he would just send somebody to come and fix it and ask me to take a cab home. All those have gone with the winds now, there is no more Jaiye to call and then I see other people with their own husbands all the time, it hurts. But you know, no one can question God and I can't do that.
But why have you not made up your mind to settle down with another man?
It is simply not that easy. This is a man I lived with for about eight years and suddenly, he disappeared. The shock is not the type that goes easily. It is not as if men don't come, oh yes they come in their numbers but that is not just my priority yet. I still need more time to heal, to stabilise and be sure of what I really want. I am not really game about settling down with any man now. I married Jaiye when I was very young and I really don't have much of the experience for today 's men's wahala. I have gone through a lot of pain and I don't want to go through any again.
Are you saying you would not remarry?
I would neither say yes or no now because I have not made up my mind about that. The most I can do presently is to have a male companion who understands my predicament and can cope with me and my children. Men can be tricky and I have no time to be scrutinising people. It is my career and my children's well being that are my priority now. How much of the time do I have to discover those that have healthy intentions? Men have been coming but the problem is in knowing those who are honest.
What would you describe as your biggest career challenge?
I would say it is the stress of trying to break into the G5, that is the top five actors group. We all struggle for this position because the criteria for making it into the G5 are not obvious.
Who are your favourite actors?
Jack Nicholson whose eyes usually tell a story, Kate Henshaw, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde and Genevieve Nnaji.
Who are your role models?
My mother and grandfather. They thought me about focus. As far as my mother is concerned there is no such thing as negative publicity, publicity is part of showbiz. That explains why I take publicity very seriously.
What's your favourite food?
Starch and Banga.
What would your comment be on the state of Nollywood currently?
Nollywood has really improved. Artistes have actually come of age. Nollywood artistes now receive a lot of respect for what they do. The image is changing considerably. A lot of us are educated, professionals and serious-minded people. We are more recognised all over the world. The journey to this limelight hasn't been easy; it took us a while and we are where we are by our self effort. We did by ourselves without government aid. No one including the world itself thought it could happen but it did. By the rate we are going we will soon be bigger than Bollywood.
Have you ever been sexually harassed before?
No, who or why would anyone do that? We are all matured and decent and relationships are supposed to be built on friendship. We have respect for ourselves. I haven't experienced any of such before.
But is the story we hear about sexual harassment rampant in the industry true?
You people keep asking this question. Is there an industry or a sector where we don't have sexual harassment. It is everywhere but I tell you it takes two to tango .In any relationship, whether serious or not serious, casual or not casual before a man or woman could be said to have been harassed sexually there must have been a lead to it. And how many of our actresses have come out to admit being harassed and by who?
What advice do you have for upcoming actresses?
My sincere advice is that they should be sure of what they want and be sure of what they can do. They should dwell on their talent, be sincere with what they do, be hard-working and patient. They should also learn to pray to God because the competition in the industry is quite stiff. However they should not be too desperate in their bid to climb the ladder of success.
Is there anything that you feel Nigerians don't know about Stella?
A lot of people won't believe that I am a very shy person. When I tell people I am shy they would ask how I have been managing to stay in the front of camera. I am shy and I usually tell them that it is easier in front of the camera than in front of people.