From a humble beginning in 1996 on the set of "Beyond Our Dreams", a TV soap, Ihiala, Anambra State-born Benita Nnenna Adaeze Nzeribe, is now a top player in Nollywood movies. Here is the interview she granted in May, 2012. Read on.
You have been absent from the screen for some time now. When did you bounce back?
I have been back since late last year and since then I have been very much around working. As you can see, I am on location now and by next week I will be at Asaba for another movie location. I have been working since that last year. And I have one movie already in the market and another one any moment from now would also be in the market. After all these, I will get back to my feet to produce my own movie.
Does it mean that scripts were waiting for you, why such a rush from producers?
I don’t call it rush because I don’t rush my things. I think they saw me and believe I can interpret a particular role and they allowed me to have them. They are taking their time to know who fits a particular role.
You made mention of producing your own movie, what’s the idea?
I intend extending my tentacles to that area. This particular movie I am about doing in collaboration with a foreign-based company. In the next few weeks, I would be able to talk about it better. Right now, I don’t just want to blow it. I am going to bring my crew from outside the country and a lot of people would be given the opportunity to showcase their talents to the world.
What is the movie about?
It is about us and our culture. We are putting finishing touches to the story and my director would not want me to blow it up yet until we are set with it. Like I said, very soon it would be everywhere.
At a point you were big in the industry. Suddenly you vanished into oblivion. Why?
At a point, it was becoming a do-or-die affair in the industry and like I said earlier, I am not a desperado. I decided to try my hands on other businesses around. That was why I took a break from the industry, now I am back.
Does that mean you have been into business all this while?
Yes I went into contract, in Abuja, but I was shuttling here and outside the country. I was on and off. But now I am fully back to my job.
What has been the secret of your fame in the industry over the years?
I don’t know about other people, but for me, it has been God and the fact that I aim high. I don’t look at people; I look at myself and God. The secret is faith in God and I am very, very patient person; when I believe in something, I go for it, no matter how long it will take to come through. Patience goes a long way in success and I have that Patience. I am not always in a hurry. I take my time and wait upon the Lord for the fulfillment of my heart desires.
You are sounding like a Christian, are you one?
Oh yea…I am very passionate about God, no apologies. From day one, I have always loved God; forget what you see on the screen - somebody has to do that, somebody has to play those roles and I play it professionally. Once the camera is on, I am that character until the camera goes off. Once it is off, I am back to Benita, a God-fearing woman. That is why when I act a bitchy role, you think I am bitchy and when I act a good girl, you think I am good. It is all make-believe. When it has to do with a bitchy role I am a bitch to the core and when it is a good girl role, I become a good girl par excellence. I believe that is what acting is all about. When you act and people know that you are acting, then you are getting it wrong; but when you do it and people see it as being real, that means you are doing it well and that is exactly what I do. The public should stop seeing me from the angle of the roles I play. You see people don’t understand me. I live my roles.
Your acting career, how did you come about it?
I loved watching movies as a little girl. I think it started from when I accompanied someone to a movie audition. I remember vividly that the crowd on that day was just too much and people where pushing themselves here and there. I wasn’t just comfortable with that scenario so I screamed out for orderliness. You need to know how tiny I was then and from that singular act of my outspokenness I was noticed and at the end given a script. I think that was in 1997. I didn’t know then that they were still searching for their lead cast so at the end I got a lead role. That is why I keep saying that my fame came from God. It was a soap opera entitled Beyond Our Dream. I was also an English undergraduate then at Abia State University. I came in basically because of my love for acting. In fact, I started coming form the east to Lagos for auditions while still in a convent school then. I attended several auditions here in Lagos. My first movie was around the year 2000. I did two movies at a stretch then, Notorious Virgin and Gold Diggers. But it was the soap opera that actually brought me to limelight.
What has been the experience so far in the industry like?
It’s been interesting over the years. Ups and downs, it is so in every business. The industry is a place you make mistakes and learn from them. So it’s been good.
And how are you coping with stardom?
I have been able to live with it over the years; it’s just a matter of respecting oneself and respecting others as well. Stardom also calls for one being extra careful in whatever you do because all eyes are on you.
Now that you have grown to this level, how are you giving back to the society?
I have an NGO that focuses on helping the widows, motherless babies, and little girls with VVF. I don’t like blowing my trumpet; it’s like announcing your offering in the church. I don’t do that. How I give back is between me and my God, even the new movie I’m going into will also serve as a means of giving opportunity to new acts to show off themselves, get footholds and grow in the industry.
Tell us about your background?
I am from Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State. I was born in Aba because that was where my parents lived and they are still living there. My primary and secondary schools were also in Aba and Umuahia. I attended a Convent school with the hope of becoming a reverend sister. But I left when I felt I was not called towards that. My growing up was also normal and nice. Growing up was fun for me. We are four in my family: two boys, two girls. I’m the third child. Dad is an international businessman and mum is a retired Chief Nurse. So I be Nwa Aba, an Aba-brought up to the core (Laughs)
What was your parents’ reaction when you ventured into movie?
I am not from a family where you are pushed around to do what you don’t want to do; though they had their reservations, I later proved them otherwise within a year. Like I told you I started with a soap opera which was on the network and I played the lead female. Luckily, it was successful. What more can you ask from a young girl as a parent?
Tell us about your academic background
I attended Abia State University where I obtained a Bachelor degree in English language.
Does the course you read in anyway give you advantage over your colleagues?
I don’t think so. It is all about loving what you do and thriving in it.
What do you think makes relevant to producers?
I think this question has to go to producers and directors because I actually don’t know. They know why they would always say this role is for Benita and no one else. Apart from that, a director has a particular person in mind when he picks up a script, sometimes during the writing process they attribute some things they know you can do well to the script (though I stand to be corrected).
Perhaps, it’s your beauty that attracts the producers-
(Laughs) I don’t know about that one; everywoman is beautiful, beauty is not just physical but something of the mind and it is an inward thing.
What is the current state of Nollywood, from your own perspective?
Some would say the industry is growing while others are saying otherwise. But I tell you I see a success story in every situation, the industry has grown and will continue to grow. I see better days ahead and I believe we are on the right track.
How do you feel about incessant marriage crashes in the industry?
I don’t like it when people attribute marriage crashes to Nollywood, we are human beings and the fact that one’s marriage crashes is not because she is an actress. For crying out loud, we have doctors, lawyers, bankers, among others, that are facing similar thing and nobody is blowing them up. I try to make people believe that there are many stars that are still enjoying their marriages. Nobody is happy to have a break up because there was love before the marriage. Even the media is not helping matter; you are an actress and you lodge in a hotel with Mr. A or Mr. B, then someone will see you and go back and write what he feels about you, knowing well that nothing exist between you and the Mr. A. When you write all these things, even if the husband would understand, what about his family members? Would they also understand? And most times people take the movie roles one plays to be the person’s real self and the press still worsen it by writing something negative about you. It’s not fair. It hurts! We are decent human beings with consciences contrary to opinions about us, especially as prejudiced in the media.
Talking about love, do you believe in it?
Yes I do, I really do believe in love but I don’t like talking about love because it is a foul cry in this area. Love is something you can’t even control, it’s something beyond definition. It’s something that accepts you the way you are – both your good and bad aspects.
How does it feel to be heartbroken?
That is what I am saying, maybe what they call love is an extreme form of likeness. It really hurts to be heartbroken; at times it would look as if the entire world has forsaken you.
Share your heartbreak experience with us
It has been overblown in the past and I have moved on with my life. It’s been over blown that I flushed my engagement ring inside the toilet. I am happy now. I made a mistake and that was in the past.
But did you actually flush your engagement ring inside the toilet?
Yes I did. I was in a relationship and it crumbled. So I did and I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I have since then moved on with my life.
What did you learn from that heartbreak experience?
I learnt to be careful and not to trust any man again. Most men are not what you may think they are; they may fail you but God will never fail you.
Do you think lesbianism has really spread and affected Nollywood?
I don’t have the facts about the existence of such in the industry and nobody has approached me and nobody will think about that. You don’t just see any woman and you walk up to her for such act; I believe there are tendencies that ignites them, if you say there are lesbians in Nollywood tell me who are involved. Tell me!
When was your most depressed moment?
That was when my relationship crumbled and that was long time ago and when I lost money in business - big money and I learnt from it not to trust anybody in business. I don’t trust people when it comes to money. No matter who you are, when it comes to business, I will not trust you.
Share your most embarrassing moment as an actress with us.
That was in a supermarket where I went for shopping. Something fell from a woman’s shopping bag and I picked it for her but she turned against me and said: You! So you can be nice like this! I said “Ma, what do you mean?” She replied by asking me: “Do you know how much I hated you?” In the end, I told her to try and watch the movies where I played good roles after which I know she would stop hating me. The Second one was in an airplane. A woman just walked up to me and said: I hate you. I asked why and she said: it’s because my husband loves you. All those things you do…taking peoples husbands and wearing those useless things”. I protested, “Madam I was paid to do that. My director asked me to do it I didn’t just do it!” At the end, she became my friend.
What is your view about acting nude?
I don’t judge people who do it but as for me I cannot because I am an African woman, I am an Igbo girl and I don’t have the guts to act nude. I can show you all the cleavages by wearing skimpy wears but I can’t go nude. Skimpy wears, fine. I have respect for myself as a woman.
Where are you seeing yourself in five years time?
I expect to be high up there.
And probably in a man’s house by then?
Definitely I will be in a man’s house.
I will marry very soon and I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t worry, when the time comes I will give you notice!
Talking about marriage who is your ideal man?
I want a man that is complete. A man that will understand, respect and love me. That is my idea of a real man.