How I escaped from a mad woman – Ngozi Ezeonu

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Unlike most of her colleagues, Ngozi Ezeonu has been able to manage her stardom well enough to keep her name away from scandalous stories. A journalist cum actress and mother of three lovely

children, she tells FUNMI SALOME JOHNSON her reasons for not playing romantic roles in movies and the trick she has adopted to remain relevant for the past 16 years on the acting field as well as her other involvements.

For 16 years running you have had a scandal free time unlike your contemporaries. What's the magic?
We thank God for His grace and mercies. It is by His grace that I have been sustained till now. God has planned my life for me ever before I was born and I believe that was why it's been easy. I am indeed grateful to Him for this. Another magic, I guess is that I don't see myself as a star and that has made me know where to go and where not to go. I also know how to respect myself and others. I know what to say at a particular time and what not to say. That has really helped me a lot. I know where I am coming from and I know where I am going.

Did you, early in life, ever imagine that you would end up being an actress?
Not at all. I have always wanted to be a journalist and I came into this by accident. Although I have a flair for acting because I used to mimic everybody then, my mother and everybody around me but I have always wanted to be a journalist.

Being an ex-student of journalism, do you still have any intention of going back to journalism, your first love?
(Laughs) I am a freelancer. If anybody wants me to do a television programme for him or her, I will do it. If anybody wants me to write for him or her, I will do it. Right now, I don't see myself working in a newspaper establishment because I don't know why but I love what I am doing right now. All the same, I may do that by the side.

Apart from acting and journalism, which other things do you do?
Well, being a mother is a job on its own. If you are talking about business, I have a Non-Govenrmental Organisation that is just being registered now. We are two that are involved in it and once it is ready, I will let you know.

What is the NGO about?
It is for polio survivors

Why polio?
I don't have anybody that has polio but my partner is a polio survivor. Beside that, as a growing child, I witnessed lots of people that fell prey to the condition and I feel I can do something for them. Thank God, I met my friend about two years ago whose interest is in the same direction, so whenever we are ready, you will hear from us.

What is your impression about the movie industry in Nigeria, especially with the on-going crisis in the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN)?
Every organisation or set up is bound to disagree one time or the other. Even in family circles, there is definitely going to be a time when disagreement will come but what I know is that after all the disagreement and troubles, there is going to be peace somehow. I know that after everything, AGN is going to be a better organisation; it is going to be a better guild and it is going to do what it is supposed to do. What is going on now..., I am not a politician and I don't like politics, no matter the level, even family politics, I don't play, but what is going on right now is what everyone of us will be proud of at the end of the day, so I call it restructuring.

Is it true that some actresses at the top of their career in the industry today slept their way to the top?
I do not believe in hearsay. When I came into this industry in 1993, nobody harassed me sexually neither did anybody tell me to do this to have that. Till date, nobody has told me that. But, there is one thing I keep telling our girls. People are desperate and everybody wants to become a star, everybody wants to make it by hook or by crook. And I keep telling them that you don't need to be desperate because desperation comes with a lot of things; desperation is evil as far as I am concerned. If you are desperate, you will want to do anything to get to where you are going which is not right. If I am a producer and you sleep with me for me to give you a role, what happens after my job, do you want to sleep with another person? By the time you do 10 to 15 jobs, you would have slept with ten to fifteen men. People do it, especially our girls; they dress seductively to be able to seduce men around, but it wouldn't really work that way. The industry is not about all that but it is about what you can do: Can you act? Can you be as natural as possible? Can you be yourself? That is the way I see acting. Sometimes ago, when I was talking with some directors and producers and when we got to the issue of sexual harassment, they were like, who is harassing who?, when the girls themselves are the ones coming to offer their bodies to them saying that ' they are ready to give you this and they will show you.' I really don't believe that it is all the time that we have cases of sexual harassment the way it is being presented. I am not saying it is non-existing absolutely, but it has never happened to me. I have not seen anybody it has happened to either and nobody has complained to me that Mr. A or Mr. B harassed her sexually. So, as far as I am concerned, it is still a hearsay but I know things like that happen where people are desperate.

What are those special things you do to play your roles very well?
If I am given a script, I read and study my script. If it means going to understudy a mad person just to play a mad woman, I would. Because I am not a mad woman and I don't want to fake it, I would go and understudy a mad woman for some time. I can remember there was a job I did and I had one scene of madness and because of that scene, I had to understudy a mad woman. On my third day of understudying a particular mad woman, she discovered I was always there hanging around her and she had to chase me away and that I had to run, I ran seriously (laughs). So, I try as much as possible to understudy the character I am to play. There was another job I did and the character I was to play happened to be my mother's character. I remembered how she treated us when we were young but that was not enough. I had to go home and stay with her for like a week; she did not know why I came. By the time she watched the movie it now dawned on her that my coming home then was actually to understudy her and she was like 'come, was it me you played? Was that why you came home?' I said no I just came to see you and I had to do what I did because I was researching and she said 'okay I was the research'. I then asked whether she liked it or not and If I had done it well, she said I tried. So that is just what I do, I research my character very well.

Was the movie a true life story about your family?
It was a true life story, but not my story. So, all I do is to try as much as possible to put myself in the shoes of whichever character I am supposed to do.

In most of your movies, you seldom play romantic roles. Is it because of your marital status?
I don't play romantic roles, even before I got married. I don't do it as a matter of principle. The reason is because, if I agree to do it on set, I will not do it well because I am one person that believes that if you must do something, you have to do it well and you know that can be dangerous. So, since I know I cannot be that free to do it well it is better for me not to pick it up at all. You can now see why I don't play romance in films.

Don't you feel you would have made more money playing such roles?
Well, may be if I did, I would have been richer but I am not complaining.

How much fortune does having you on set cost?
Well, once the fee is big enough to put food on my table and take care of what you are seeing now, I am okay. Let's just thank God for his grace and mercy.

Is any of your kids showing interest in acting?
Not at at all; they don't want to act. One wants to be a banker, another one wants to be a lawyer and the other one wants to be an Electronic Engineer.

What are their ages?
Fourteen, twelve and ten.

What fond memory of your childhood would you like to share?
All I can remember was that growing up was very, very tough because I was from a very humble and poor background and you know, when the background is poor, growing up will be tough. We were virtually feeding from hand to mouth but we were happy. But looking back now, I cannot but thank God for everything He has done well. However, my only regret is that I lost my father about six years ago. I would have been happier to have him still alive because he used to be my best friend. He was the pillar of whatever I have become today.

When you ventured into acting, were they supportive?
My father was so supportive but my mother was like, you cannot. She told me that outrightly and she could have made good of her promise if not for my father's support. Honestly, I would have had no other choice but to opt out.

What was her reason?
She did not want me to be in the public eye; she wanted me to be a teacher. You know her dream for me is to keep that common life style of women in everyday skirt and blouse attire, going to school to teach and coming back home latest by three o'clock in the afternoon. That was her plan; to always be available to take care of the home and all that. I am really not cut out for that. Suprisingly, I found out that even with what I am doing right now, I teach. With my job, I teach, I evangelise and at the end of the day, it had turned out all well and good. But my mother did not support me when I was coming out, she disowned me like three times and she has owned me again like three times. Today, she is so proud of me.

What is the craziest thing a fan has ever told you before?
I want to marry you. And I told him I was already married. Although it was crazy but I appreciated him too because he spoke his mind; that was what he felt.

What special beauty treatment do you do that has kept you this beautiful?
Am I looking good? You want me to start blushing now. I don't have any special thing I do but I know I take a lot of water, fruits and vegetables when I want to drop some weight just like I am doing now. But naturally, I don't really watch it all the time, but when I do, I strictly pick what I eat.

What is your view on dressing to flaunt whatever endowment you have?
What are they flaunting? When it comes to fashion, its sense is simplicity. Once whatever I wear makes me feel comfortable, that is fashionable for me. If it's not a barrier for me to enter a particular place, I believe I am in the beauty world. I don't believe in signatures actually. Not that I do not have signatures but I don't believe in them. If I see something I like out there right now, I will park and buy it. I am not crazy about signatures or anything in fashion.

What is your career vision for the next five years?
I want to be like two to five steps ahead. I want to climb the ladder three to five steps more

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