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Monday, August 13, 2012

I had always dreamt of being on TV - Chioma Chukwuka-Apotha of Nollywood


Can you tell us what your childhood was like?
I grew up in a very large family, a Christian one and although, we were not rich, my siblings and I were contented with what our parents had to offer.

My childhood was pretty normal, as I did all a child would do; read books, did my homework. I ran errands and did my chores properly and on time too and I also played hard like other kids of my age did.

What about your educational background?
I did my primary school at Onward Nursery and Primary School, where I moved on to Federal Government Girls College, Onitsha, for my secondary education and later graduated from Lagos State University where I studied Banking and Finance.

Can you tell us how your journey into acting started considering the fact that you studied Banking and Finance?
I had always dreamt of being on TV, so when I went for my first audition in 1998, it further confirmed my desire to be in the field of arts. I played little Skita and minor roles until I played my first major role in 2000, in the movie; ‘THE APPLE’, directed by Lancelot Oduah-Imasuen and produced by Theodore Anyanji.

After my first audition in 1998, I didn’t do much because I didn’t know anyone and how to go about anything, in the sense that I didn’t know where and what time to get to the audition grounds. But I was determined to make it on my own, with or without help from those who were already there.

So, on this fateful day, on my way to school, a producer called me for an audition and there I did my first major role and there has been no stopping me since then.

How did your parents take the news that you would take up acting as a professional career?
My parents frowned on the idea of going into the movie industry. My mother in particular was of the opinion that young girls in the profession are regarded as loose and never seen as being able to settle down in a home.

Eventually, my parents were able to accept it because I promised not to let them down. Not that I won’t do anything wrong or that I am not capable of failing, but only by the grace of God I was able to make it.

So, if you look back now, would you say the acting profession has been quite rewarding for you?
I must confess that the industry has been very rewarding. I can afford a lifestyle I ordinarily wouldn’t have been able to. Huge rewards, I can’t even begin to mention them. I do have other things I’m into alongside being an actress, but sorry, I won’t disclose them.

By and large, how would you rate the development in Nollywood in terms of content and production?
Nollywood has come a long way, a very long way. I mean, out of absolute nothing springs a great industry that is rated third in the world.

This goes to show that Nollywood has come to stay and if and when the neccessary support comes, it will be simply explosive. But in the same breath, we still have a lot of work to do.

In terms of content, technical know-how, production, detailing, professionalism (craftmanship), we still need to do more to meet up with Bollywood and Hollywood. Well, it shouldn’t be all about matching up now, but raising our standards. We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to development.

What about the two factions of Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) presently existing in the industry? What are the likely implications for the industry since there seems to be no unity?
I do not have anything to say when it comes to the two factions in the AGN presently. I don’t delve into matters this sensitive. This shouldn’t be, though. A body cannot have two heads. There won’t be unity.

How do you think the menace of piracy can be addressed so that movie producers can have a better life in Nigeria?
It’s a very sensitive issue. Well, I think there has to be a proper structure before the government can even help through copyright protection and investment in the entertainment industry, because this will in turn boost the economy of our country.

Nigeria ‘s entertainment industry and Nollywood in particular are the future of this nation’s economy and the sooner the government and even the private sectors help out, the better for all of us.

Have you produced any film(s) of your own?
Produced any movie? I haven’t produce any movie of mine yet, but works are in the pipeline, so you will hear from me soon.

Which of the works you’ve done would you consider to be the most challenging?
I can’t say there’s a particular job that is most challenging because virtually all my works are challenging.

There is this general belief that you usually act the role of Holy Mary or a young suffering lady. Your fans out there would like to know why?
I am a very versatile actress. Why they give me such roles, I do not know, but it’s because I started off with those kinds of roles and once you are good at a particular role, you get boxed in.

Case in point is the evergreen Patience Ozokwor who started playing very emotional role and was very good at it, but when she played the role of a bad mother in-law, she got boxed in because she did it well and it has continued like that. There are other cases, but since I will soon produce my own movie, I would do little skits of different characters.

Who are your role models in the industry?
I have people who inspired me in the industry; the likes of Kate Henshaw-Nuttall, for her dedication to the profession. She’s just a disciplined actress, very focused and hardworking. I’m also a fan of aunty Joke Silva and Ramsey Nouah.

How has your profession lifted your life? Any award?
Like I said earlier, being an actress has lifted me in many ways than one and to crown it, being appointed as a brand ambassador for Africa‘s fastest growing telecommunication company, Globacom, has been very rewarding.

I have also been blessed with my efforts in the industry by being given awards. There’s a long list of them and the very one that readily comes to my mind is winning the African Movie Academy Awards best actress of the year 2007 and the African Film Awards UK for best actress in English language 2010.

What dictates your fashion sense, how do you get your clothing? Do you believe in African and Nigerian fashion? Who are your major designers?
My mood determines my fashion sense, but I’m a very conservative dresser. I don’t expose my vitals. I wear what makes me feel good and comfortable. From contemporary to African, I wear them all. I don’t wear a particular designer, I just love what looks good.

Does your marriage infringe on your job, being a very busy and time-consuming job? Can you tell us about your family, hubby and children?
My marriage doesn’t infringe on my job in anyway. I make sure I take care of the home front before I leave for work, especially if it’s outside town. My family, no comment on that, but we are a good Christian family.

What is your most cherished earthly possession?
I don’t get attached to earthly possessions, so I don’t have any I cherish.

What quality do you possess that stands you out among your peers in the industry?
I guess it’s my dedication to my job and hardwork plus the fact that I’m a very straightforward person.

What is your favourite food, colour, car?
My favourite food used to be beans and plantain, but I’m not really sure what it is now because if it tastes good and is healthy, I would eat. No favourite colour. Yes, I love good cars and it has to be a very functional SUV like a RAV 4 or an X6 (BMW).

What can you not be found doing?
What I can’t be found doing….. stealing. Oh, I detest it!


Why were you so unnecessarily vocal during GUS? You were so vocal. Was that deliberate?
It was deliberate. It was part of my strategy and it worked for me because everybody sees Chioma as quiet.

Everybody thinks Chioma cries and if you notice at the initial stage, I was trying to see if the “quiet” thing would work, but it didn’t because that was the jungle and in the jungle, anything goes. So I had to switch to my initial plan and it worked for me. I did my job very well. It was a strategy and I will still stick to it anytime any day.

How did you know it worked for you?
When the opportunity came for me to be a part of the Gulder Ultimate Search, I was like yes, this is the platform for me to tell people that Chioma is not a stereotype of an actor. Chioma can do something different from what we are used to seeing. She cannot just cry, she can be hot, she can be fierce she can put it to your face and truthfully that is not just who I am, that is just what I do. My friends know me and I cannot change. I cannot change at my age and after all everybody has that point. Even in your home, you are defensive one moment and the next you are not. You cannot be defensive at all times but the substance that makes you will still be there. That is not the case with an actor. Our lives are different from what we do.

I was really surprised with what you did in the camp though I knew you are not totally “buti” but I was expecting at least a little of “effizy” from you as a Nollywood diva.
As I said earlier, we were in the jungle, so all the “effizy”; all the “feferity” were left at home. When we were trying to enter the camp, we left it at the entrance to pick it when we are going home. Why you didn’t see that was because I had a strategy, I didn’t want everybody to see me the way they see me everyday. You know a problem we have in Nollywood is to stereotype a person.

They actually write a script with you in mind. Okay there was this script I had and they forgot to write the character’s name they just wrote my name there. You know that is just the height of stereotyping. I didn’t want that, I just needed this platform to tell the world that okay Chioma needs to be out of this box. It doesn’t change who I am and it doesn’t change who I have been. It is just that I want you guys to see me in another light; it doesn’t affect my person. GUS provided that platform and I grabbed it.

Is it true that while going in for GUS you said you were just going there for a day and you would leave but on getting there, you were extremely competitive you wanted to win? So did anything change your experience when you entered the house or you never planned to go in there just to pass time?
Like I said earlier, I went in with a strategy and if GUS was all about the task that we were given to do: everybody running, who got the flag, who came down the plank first and all that, a lot of people won’t be watching and because of my strategy, because of the plan I went there with, I generated a lot of buzz for GUS and that is why a lot of people were glued to their TV sets just to watch and you will see, the remaining episodes after my eviction will be very boring. It was not a plan I had in camp, it was a plan I had to work for me like I told you. I just wanted to go in there to showcase myself as a different character so that people will know that Chioma can do something different from what they are used to.

Did you plan to win?
Everybody there planned to win. Those of us that were evicted were just unfortunate that we did not make it to the end, so that is it. There has to be a winner and there has to be a loser.

Did you feel disappointed?
I felt a little bit disappointed at the point when I was leaving. But as I speak, I feel very okay.

Looking at your face when you were leaving, I thought you wanted to make up with Muma Gee?
There was no quarrel, so there was no need to make up to anyone. Like I said earlier, it was my strategy, we were cool before the camp and we are cool outside the camp.

Have you gals spoken since?
We were not on speaking terms before the search, so, I don’t understand.

Do you have a cordial relationship with Emeka?
Of course, as a colleague, we have a working relationship

Do you think this will bring the ‘ferocious’ on the rooftop like the Muma Gee and Eucharia kind of role?
Well, yes. The roles have started coming; I don’t think you are getting me. It is not that it will change my person; it’s just to let people know that I can do this. The roles are coming and if it is within the confines of what I can do, I’ll do it.

But has the platform GUS offered started ‘working the magic’?
Yes. Everybody now knows that Chioma is not quiet, Chioma is not stereotyped. She can do something different.

How has life been for you?
You are one of the few ones I know who doesn’t ‘keep friends’. You are one of the few who doesn’t live where other Nollywood persons live.
That is what works for me. Let the Chioma that people know be the Chioma that people know and me and my family. Let me cherish that, because they are all I have. I can’t share everything with people; I can’t share my family with the public. They can let me have that, can’t they? My life alone is enough to share with the world not to talk of my life and my family.

Has the strategy of separating your home from work been working for you; though it won’t be fair to say it is only in Nollywood that marriages fail?
Truthfully, I believe my strategies didn’t do that. It is God. When it comes to marriage, career and stuffs like that, there is no particular plan. I just feel it’s God’s favour. That is what I believe and things are working for me and I thank God for that.

How does it feel to be a mom?
It’s wonderful. It is not an experience that you can share; it is better experienced. I thank God for my family and for everything He has deemed fit for me to have.

How do you juggle everything you do with Nollywood, and I learnt you still go to the market. How true is that?
(Chuckles) Of course, I have to go to the market. I have to cook for my people. How I juggle it? It has not been very easy, but I thank God for the kind of family I have. They are very understanding and they know my job can be very demanding. So, sometimes they have to let mummy go and come back. They miss me when I’m not around; they just hold on for me when I’m not around.

As a stakeholder and as an actor, what do you think is wrong with Nollywood?
What is happening to Nollywood is what is happening everywhere in the world. It is the social crisis we are experiencing: the recession. People thought it won’t hit Nigeria, so when it did, it hit us very bad. Some people are acting as if it took them unawares, but we had been warned and it is affecting every part of the country.

Nollywood happens to be part of it; but it is not completely down. It is just that we are going back to retrace our steps and to find out where we missed it and to correct it, hoping that we will have a new Nollywood that will stay, that won’t be moved, that won’t crash in spite everything that is happening around the country.

A new Nollywood that will have a voice for the masses, that will have a voice for the country, a new Nollywood that will stand as a channel with which to correct ills that are happening in the society because I stand for good morals, discipline. I stand for the family and our norms. I believe in our culture, so it is going to be big. It might take time but when we come back it will be. So it’s not completely down.

I didn’t see you at 2009 AMAA awards?
I wasn’t there in 2009 because I was not in the country and in 2010; I was at the location I wasn’t given the opportunity to attend. I hope to attend by 2011.

When you look back at the years when you were not an actor and now, what comes to your mind?
I have been in the industry for ten years and looking back, first of all I will say I have no regrets. I love the peace I’ve had, I love the growth I’ve had and I love my consistency. Basically, it was not easy at the beginning because I didn’t have any godfather or anybody that will say let me get this for you, let me get that for you. But on my own and definitely with God by my side, I got to where I am today. It’s been challenging but it’s worth it. I paid my dues and you can’t say you’ve stopped paying your dues.

What did you pay?
What do you think I paid? Do you think after my first movie that was it? You didn’t know that after my first movie I was still moving from auditions and all that? After my first movie, I didn’t do any other movie until the following year. So people thought because I started with the lead role, it would be easy. But no, I still went for auditions and I didn’t get roles. I still stayed at home for some months without getting jobs. It has been an experience of a lifetime and I am so glad.

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Dedicated to the memory of Teslim Olamilekan Suleiman (1992 - 2005) [Click Image to read about him]