My dad was murdered in church----Monalisa's revelation
You may not see it, but deep down, Monalisa Chinda Dejo-Richards, the sultry Nollywood actress, has been carrying an emotional wound that time has not succeeded in healing and that has made her 'paranoid', to use her word.
Like a volcano, it is there waiting to erupt. It took just one question on the circumstances of her father's death for Mona Lisa to break down and weep at The Sun Newspaper office where she had come as our special guest. It was a very touching scene.
Specifically, she was asked one simple question, which turned out not to be that simple: How did your father die? For minutes, she sat down there on our hot seat struggling to fight tears that easily came and distorted her facial make-up. This was no acting for the camera, which is Mona Lisa's main trade. This was a reality show of a kind - unrehearsed and unscripted. And very moving!
After some traumatic moment of silence, sadness and headshaking, she gradually regained her composure to finally reveal the dark secrets of how her father was gruesomely murdered in church two days to Christmas.
“My father was murdered,” she said bluntly and abruptly, as if dropping a bomb. “Yes, he was murdered.”
We asked her: What happened?
The enemy within, I guess.
Was he poisoned, shot, stabbed or what? Tell us as much as you can
It's too sensitive. I don't know if I want to go there. I wouldn't know what exactly went wrong. I was abroad at the time when it happened. I was told after a week plus that he had passed on. I hate to visit this area but the fact is that he was murdered on his way to see the Bishop on a Monday morning on the 23rd of December 2003. This was what I heard when I came back, although I didn't want to go into wanting to know what killed my dad and all that because I was just too distraught and too devastated at that time. He was killed when he was going to see the Bishop on that morning - very early in the morning. And he was still very alive till about 5pm on that same day, but they just killed him. They took him to the mortuary, claiming that he was dead. Apparently, they bribed the mortuary attendant and they put embalmment on him and all that. He was still warm after that time. That was all the stories I could gather as at that time. Even when they gave me the pictures of where he was injected, it was agonized feeling. He was killed in his car. They killed him; they took him somewhere and dumped the body. I don't know. It was just crazy.
Was it a business deal?
It was not a business deal. I don't know if this is being safe. It was a church thing; knighthood - conflict over knighthood in the Anglican Church. They do knighthood in the Anglican Church too just like in the Catholic Church. My father was very religious. He was a man of God - if I can use that word. My father was 66 (years) at the time he was killed. My father's death was tough on my mum. It was horrible. People in the church were always around her, trying to console her with prayers and words of faith.
Forgiveness of dad's killers
Through her experience we learnt to forgive. At some point, the killers were arrested and some of them died mysteriously on their own. After six months, we learnt to forgive. That was one of the hardest things for anyone: to look at the murderers of your father. You stare at them, they are in church and you know them but you can't do anything because of the Christian way we were all brought up. So we forgave them and we had to move on.
Of course, it was difficult to forgive. I had to forgive so that I could move on. Forgiveness is very important. It is a relief. You realise that you have forgiven somebody that has hurt you so badly and you find out that you just have to move on. You are free. The steam is off you. You are like a free bird.
As an actress, I have played the role of a wife who loses her husband. I have done it several times. It is totally devastating for a woman to lose her husband. You feel empty. You feel completely empty. There is this emptiness. There is this void. All of a sudden you become highly paranoid. I became paranoid after my father's murder. Till now, I am still struggling with it, with prayers and all that. I became very, very paranoid, I mean as in reality, not in movie.
Starting out as an actress
I actually started acting as a baby. Not from the church per se. During break time in nursery school, I would get the kids together to act. We did this mother-father acting roles. I grew up in Port Harcourt. With my emotional background, you might think I would get roles related to crying but I am not famous for crying roles in Nollywood. Instead they give me bitchy roles. I am famous for playing bitchy roles in Nollywood. Most of the time, they give me those very bad daughter, spoiled brat role.
I studied theatre arts at the University of Port Harcourt. The university did not prepare me for what I am doing now. And that's the truth. I wasn't prepared to be where I am today but I thank God. I realised that if you do not rediscover yourself, if you do not discover yourself and your God-given talent, you just keep going round and round in circles. I read theatre arts, yes, although my parents wanted me to read law. My dad wanted me to read law, my mum wanted me to read international relations, which are almost similar. And I was beginning to think: maybe this theatre arts is really not for me. But let me try it. The day my JAMB form was to be submitted, I had to stop the driver, erase the supposed course and then put theatre arts as my first choice in the University of Port Harcourt, just in case I do not meet the cut-off point in the other courses. That was how I found myself reading theatre arts. And I actually thought that after theatre arts, I would probably go into the corporate world and work in a bank. I didn't know I was going to be here today in the world of acting.
I graduated in the year 2000, though I did a couple of movies while in school. In 1996, I did my first home video, Pregnant Virgin; the story of a very strict father and mother, and she became pregnant. And then all hands started pointing towards the father because he was always particular about wanting to just cage her and all that.
When I graduated, I did a couple of movies with other artistes. It was just one leg in, one leg out. I was doing other things and trying to see if I can work in a bank but that didn't work out. I just couldn't cope with working as a banker. I worked for a couple of months at a bank and left the job. I tried trading, but things didn't work out. Then I travelled to the UK. When I travelled to the UK for a course, I met my husband for the second time. I met him and he encouraged me to come back into the movie industry. And here I am today.
He felt I was good at what I was doing. He had seen a couple of movies I had done in the past and he was wondering what I was doing in the UK - paying bills, struggling, always angry. He told me: Why don't you just forget this place and go back to your country that needs you? And true to his words, I am so happy I came back to serve this nation. I am so grateful to God for sending him to rescue me. We all know that UK is a frustrating place to be, particularly if you are not a citizen and if you are not able to get your act together. The weather out there is grey and cold, people are cold and grey. I just realised I was wasting my time there. I had just one job and it was difficult paying my bills. You can only live comfortably there if you have plenty of money.
My love story
My husband is the man sitting next to me here. He would bear me witness. He is Segun Dejo-Richards. He is an artiste manager. He is basically into music production and artiste management. I am one of those he manages, although I am not a musician. I am his wife. He manages me. He is also into computers of all kinds but his first love is music. He is a producer. I met my husband for the first time in 2002 here in Nigeria. We met in a going-to-church circumstance. I would say he made the first move. In our society, if a woman makes the first move, she is branded lose and promiscuous. For me and my cheeky nature, he had to make the first move. He just saw me as a complementary figure to him. I did not cooperate instantly.
As at 2002 we weren't ready for any serious thing. I was just busy enjoying myself. But he kept persisting, oh, God! And when I finally took off to the UK and he came, I was shocked. He told me point blank: “I came here to fetch you. The main reason I am here is that you are my wife.” That in a nutshell is the story of our love. He actually came to rescue me. He is God-sent. Who was there before him is not important. He just succeeded where others failed. And that's about it.
In my husband, I saw the future. I saw someone who would groom me. I knew I had weaknesses; I was too soft. I wanted someone that would make me face reality. I was too much in the fantasy life. It was as if I wasn't in this particular planet. I evaluated the whole marriage thing. Though I wasn't ready, I was still very scared, but then I saw a great thing about him and I decided to get married. As for other men toasting me, men would always want women whether they are married or not. There has never been any moment where I am being pressured or anything like that. They just see that I am married and they just go. I tell them, I preach to them and they just go. I tell them I am married and they just go.
The challenges of being married to a Yoruba man
Honestly, I never knew much about Yoruba men until I met my husband. It isn't the tribe. It is the character that I saw. Naturally, when a woman is going to be married outside her tribe, the family of the bribe who is trying to cross over would just be a little sceptical and a little bit worried about their daughter going to marry afar. It is only natural that they worry. As for my family, they encouraged me and that's that.
Yes, I didn't find marrying a Yoruba man problematic. And this is because of the particular man I married. I think it's just what God wanted because I didn't have any hassle whatsoever. One is that 99 per cent of his family members live abroad. I didn't have any challenges as such. My in-laws are fantastic. I don't monitor my husband so that he doesn't stray. It is about him. He knows what is right from wrong. There has never been a time I got worried or lost sleep over where he is.
We got married in 2004 and I got a baby last year February. We tried to make babies. Twice it came and twice God took it. And then the last one stayed. We thank God for that.
As for me, my phones are always on. They hardly ring except for business. I don't put my phones on vibration. People have my number but except they have something to do with me, they don't call me. I carry two phones - 2 Glo lines. As a Glo ambassador, I have to comport myself well in public. I cannot afford to embarrass the brand.
Nollywood and me
My journey through Nollywood has witnessed high and low points. There was a point I was almost being stereotyped - playing a particular role, a bitchy role. So I had to let them know that acting is all about flexibility and versatility. You can't just be playing a particular role all the time. I was almost getting frustrated. Outside that, I don't think I have any low moment. Thank God, I was able to prove that I am a versatile actress who can play different kinds of roles. In 1999, when I started I was earning N30,000. Today, I can't obviously divulge how much I am earning.
I have three favourite movies. One is the Wrong Woman. It's about a bitchy girl, a spoilt brat. The other is Games Men Play; then Girls in the Hood. Those are my three favourite movies. I call them my three favourites because I gave my all interpreting those roles. A good actor or actress must be able to interpret a role very convincingly. At school, we were taught to get a script, read the script, assimilate it, digest it, then live it. Pretend to be that particular character. And that is how I go about interpreting my roles. One thing I do is that I always pray. Any time I get a job, I pray on that role, because role-playing does affect a lot of people. It does affect people in some ways. I may not be able to speak for other people but I know it does affect a lot of people. I am not saying that if you play a lunatic, you end up being a lunatic.
Passion is important in everything. You must first love what you do. Not just that, you have to know what you are in for. It is not just about wanting to be a famous actor or actress. You have to love the job. And then be able to interpret the role as much as you can. It is not about reading theatre arts. It is about developing your God-given talents. Just develop your skills. And then try and see if you can do one or two researches. You watch movies and get to study characters similar to the ones you want to portray and see how you can be better off in interpreting a role. Every professional should watch his or her own movie. I watch mine so that I can be better in the next one. I don't get bored watching my own movies. Nobody gets bored seeing themselves on TV.
My strength and weakness as actress
Let me start with my weakness. I tend to show emotion. It could be negative sometimes. You could show anger sometimes which is only natural. You could show excitement, you could show sadness. I tend to show a lot of emotion. When I am happy, I am happy; when I am sad, I cry. When I am angry, I am so fiery some times. But anybody I have any issues with, I just have to call later on and we make up. I don't like sleeping over matters. I hate it. I can't rest. So I try to make up and that's about it. My strong point is my punchy lines. The way I speak, I guess.
Success to me is being determined. It is about starting from a humble beginning and growing big. It is about being focused and not be distracted. It is about knowing yourself, knowing what you set out do and being confident that you would be successful in a chosen area of specialisation. Success is doing well whatever you do.
For me, the challenge of success is managing it well and not having airs around you. I think that has really opened doors for me. It's about having the wisdom to interact with others and not discriminating and not thinking that you are bigger than everyone else around you. I don't think being a successful actress in Nigeria comes with any headache. I try as much as I can to be nice to people, which is at times very difficult. For example, you are going to the airport, you are struggling with your luggage and people want to take pictures with you. You can't be nasty to them. I try to talk to them politely to just give me time to settle before the pictures. And it can be a tough balancing act, which at times get you worked up. You can imagine the scenario where you are rushing to board the plane and fans are asking you to pause for pictures. At the end of the day, I get so worn out and tired with talking to people. In spite of the challenges, I have never ever regretted being a star. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages. People accept me everywhere and I get first class treatment as a star. I am treated like a queen. In a way, I can say I am a success story. I didn't set out to be in this business in the first place. I thank God for where I am today. I can't stop being thankful to God.
Failure is the opposite of success. Failure is not being able to reach your goals, not being able to be who you are in this life. Naturally, I have experienced failure. Failure is very discouraging. You just don't want to try again, because of fear of losing. I remember in school, when I was trying to pass one of my courses and I tried so hard to pass that particular course but I wasn't able to pass that course. And I decided to drop it, even though it was my favourite. That was French. I really wanted to learn French but I had to drop that course and move on to the next. I tried so hard to pass it but it was always F9 all the way.
By Mike Awoyinfa, Dimgba Igwe, Funke Egbemode and Samuel Olatunji