By Olamide Jasanya
Undoubtedly, one of Nollywood’s favorite actresses, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde shares in this interview her experience growing up as well as how she has managed to balance her marriage, career, and kids.
Let’s talk about your latest flick, Last Flight to Abuja. Tell us about the significance of your character in it.
My character was Suzie. It’s one of those type of stories where you have different mini stories running side by side, and then they all have a common ground, and that common ground is a plane where we all met. My own story is, I’m a young lady working in Abuja, in a relationship with a guy who stays in Lagos, and we’re having issues because he thinks I’m too career minded, so I decide to pay him a surprise visit and I get into the plane to Lagos to do that. So, there are different stories of different people all on this flight to Lagos. I think what I want to celebrate in this movie is that in life, spend every day like it’s your last; you just never know when, though our hope and future is bright and promises for us to be great, but you have to love people, say the things you need to say, and live right the best way you possibly can.
Prior to your getting the script, have you had a similar experience, with your husband being a pilot and you being a regular flier?
Luckily no, I hope never to have such an experience, but I remember my husband had something close to that, there was a little crash, and he flew that day, and I think he dropped the plane that eventually crashed, which our friend Captain Adebayo took away and then unfortunately crashed, so I don’t know if that gives me any kind of credence or any kind of extra emotion for this movie, but just to answer your question that’s the closest shave I’ve had to that kind of thing.
Still talking about planes, you got married in one, what was that like?
I got married in 2001, and we thought of something that might be different. My husband and I are kind of crazy people, we’d been married at the registry for a while and we were planning the white wedding and we thought we couldn’t just have a usual wedding and then go to church and all of that, so let’s just really do something different, so we were thinking of a destination or a very nice cool resort to celebrate everybody, to invite different couples, but we thought about logistics, and then my husband just came up with the idea ‘What if we did it on plane on a destination to somewhere?’ We started the whole process and it was very tough getting the papers right, and even to get approval, it just had never been done before. Soon, people started saying are you crazy, are you people serious, but the end of the day, thank God, we did it and it was a beautiful wedding
So where did you fly to?
It was Lagos to Benin. We couldn’t get approval for anything farther and we actually wanted to do an International flight but the procedure and the cost was enormous.
Sixteen years down the line, how has the marriage fared?
Thank God it’s been wonderful, I don’t like to talk too much about it, but again, why should I be ashamed to talk about something good? And maybe I could just be encouraging somebody out there. It has been very good, I have a very wonderful marriage and I give most of the glory all to God who I depend on, because if everything was up to me, things would have been downhill and secondly, I would give most of that credit to my husband, because I think I’m the difficult one. To keep up with my career, my schedule and everything, he’s been very supportive, extremely supportive and I thank God.
How about your kids?
My first kid is going to be fifteen years old and I have a fourteen, twelve and seven year old.
How do you juggle your busy career and taking care of the growing kids?
I’m a very hands-on mum, but my kids think I’m extremely strict. I was raised by a very strict mum, an Egba woman. She used to sit on me and I don’t even sit on my kids. I grew up with a woman who was extremely over board with the discipline and I have to cut back a little bit of those things and infuse some of the modern things, I use most of the verses from the bible, I always tell my kids that the bible says spare your kids of the rod and in future they will come and hit you, so basically if I hit you, it’s not because I don’t like you or that I’m doing it out of anger, it means you need correction, so that’s the way I trained them. I tell them I could be your friend just a little bit, but my job is to be your parent.
From all what you have said, you seem to be enjoying a stable home, coupled with your booming career. Would you say at this point, you are successful?
Oh no I’m not, I think when you are fulfilled, then your job is done and you might as well start packing up to go to Heaven. I’m not fulfilled, I’m content and I’ve always been, even when I had nothing. I learnt on time that if you give God the attitude of ‘so why haven’t I gotten it’? I think it pisses God off because everything you have, somebody has none of it. There is something you have that somebody else needs desperately, so if we can just look back and be grateful for everything, those other things will come, because God knows you are going to be grateful for them when they come. Even though I want more and hope for more, I don’t act like its hurting me, I make do with what I have and it has always worked for me.
You are associated with a couple of NGOs, Amnesty International, Shell and your own OYEP. How did you come to be a part of it?
It would have been a waste if I am this fire brand and I don’t use it for anything other than to talk, so I thought the best way to use that is to help other people. It’s just wonderful when you don’t have to campaign or win elections before you can make influences. I realised that when I tried a little bit, people were reacting to it and it was blessing to people, so I just went on and on. I started working with the UNWFP, we were able to influence different ideas and raise money for food for children in Somalia, Liberia and other countries in Africa. From there, my passion grew, so I decided to have my own NGO, which is OYEP. It was supposed to be a movement, but we couldn’t register it as such, so we had to develop the less activist side of us and made it an NGO. There is also a softer side of OYEP, which is the ‘Give and Lets Give’ which is what we do every year, and then Amnesty International approached me. They said they had seen some of my work and needed a female that could advocate for some of their beliefs.
Where does Occupy Nigeria occupy in your activist roll call?
Occupy Nigeria was actually in conjunction with OYEP. I got a call from Chude [Jideonwo] and Adebola [Williams, both of RED Nigeria] and asked that I get on board. Initially, I didn’t want to get involved because as an Amnesty International spokesperson, I shouldn’t be practising Politics, and I told them the only reason I will join this fight is if you add to your agenda, the cause of the women in Jos, whose children were being killed, so after a while, they did and I was able to join on that note, but it ended up with Omotola in the forefront and after a while, they said Omotola take over this thing. I guess I’m just too loud for my own good.
Let’s delve into your career as an actress. Your first movie was in 1995, titled Venom of Justice. Since then, what are the things you think have changed about Omotola as an actress?
A lot, I have grown, like everybody else in any kind of career. When I started acting, I had no prior training. The first set of movies that were out were the Ibo movies, so we were like the first real movie stars, so it was very new to us. We didn’t know how to handle it or how to react. Everybody was new on the job, we didn’t have good costumiers or makeup artistes, so we had major challenges and couldn’t sustain professionals in the industry as at then. Personally, because there weren’t many role models, we didn’t know how to act in public, it was however you felt. For me, it was even harder because I think I’m the first actress who has actually gotten married and had four kids while on the job. Also, I had them in quick succession, so it was a lot for me to handle. I had a lot of issues to deal with, my image and body changing every now and then, but you have to grow and become mature and become your own self and that has helped me a lot, and I’m still learning.
And 17 years after, you still are in demand, so what will you say is responsible for that?
I wanna first give all the glory to God. I’m not the prettiest or the most intelligent in this game. I’m not the best actress and I don’t think I’m the one who has the best attitude or PR, I always ask God for his grace to let me know what to do. You have to always ask God for the manner of the present. Its new challenges every day, so I ask God to teach me, and having said that, you really have to work hard and I try very hard to work hard. I mean I’ve been knocked down a lot of times, I can’t even start to telI the press things I have to deal and contend with. I think I have had one of the biggest battles in this industry to be here. I have been attacked a whole lot of times.
Physically, spiritually, so much. The truth of the matter is you have to always remember that there is nothing special about you. It’s just grace and you don’t want to take it for granted and if God is doing His part, you have to do your part, because there are younger, more aggressive people coming up. You have to be consistent and be yourself and continue to work hard.
You have been acting for a while now, any plan to delve into production?
I’m still trying to get my hands on music, I can’t handle any more. If I can’t do it well, I won’t do it. I’m so hard on myself that if I know I won’t do it well, I won’t do it at all. I have struggled so much in the acting that I don’t think I want to struggle again in the production aspect. I have done a soap opera, which I directed. It was actually on Africa Magic. It’s a lot of work to produce; I didn’t even produce my soap, I just directed it. Directing is something I would love to do, but I don’t think I will anytime soon.
Away from acting, let’s talk about your music.
I think people who criticise me have not listened to my music. I call my music inspirational music, not necessarily gospel. I sing about issues and my second album, which is yet to be out, has been ready since 2010. I have been shooting videos and if its not right, I am not going to put it out. If it was about money, I would have given it to a marketer. Do you know how many marketers are asking for that CD? I got a lot of money from my first album, but I realised that was not my dream; it wasn’t done the way I would have loved it to be and this second album, I wanna handle it the way I want to.
Your last album had you playing with different genre of songs. Will this forthcoming album be a more focused one?
I consider myself a rock artiste. In the first album, they didn’t let me do rock because they said nobody will buy it, so I’m gradually getting back to what inspires me, which is Rock, so I do pop-rock. Most of my songs have rock influences, but I came out with more of it in this new album. Just a few of the songs are hip hop, I did one with Vector and another with Mode 9, but most of my songs have a rock feel.
So when will the album be out?
We are looking at it coming out before the end of December. We are about to shoot three more videos. We are shooting one with Clarence and working with Aje, which is what I think was the problem with first album.
Do you have your husband’s support with your dresses ?
My husband is extreme, I can’t wear some things my husband buys for me. He’s an enlightened person. He’s one of those who believes in the heart. Even with his kids, initially, I used to think he was so obsessed with me, that’s why he doesn’t care about anything but even with his kids, he trusts them a lot and that’s one thing I have learnt from him. He watches all of my movies and supports me.
And how does he react with the romantic scenes?
I’ll tell you the truth, there are some he does not watch. He would tell me do what you’ve got to do but forewarn me. He will never say, I’m going to stop you for doing it, but will rather say, if it’s that bad, I don’t want to watch it.
For somebody who has spent over 17 years in the industry, what is your take about their desperate attitudes?
It’s two ways, desperation is not a bad thing. It’s only when you apply it in the wrong way. It’s actually a tool that should propel you if you use it well. I think the problem is now they use it for bad, and I always tell the young ones, if you allow your desperation to make you the things you are not proud of, it will come out and put you in a bad place. By God’s grace, I can stand tall today and say nobody made me. I worked hard to be whoever I am.
How do you react to the impression that Omotola is proud and snobbish?
I guess it was in those days when we didn’t have social media and people couldn’t reach you and they thought that. I guess I have this demeanour that makes people think I’m always in my own zone, and for that reason they assume I’m a snob. I’m two extremes, I can be overly bubbly and overly quiet, I am never really in the middle.
You are one of the highest paid actresses, so how much do you charge for films?
So that they will come and meet me abi?
On a final note, you got married at the tender age of 18. If your 16 year old daughter tells you she wants to do the same, what will be your reaction?
If he’s as good as my husband or better, why not? If he falls short, then no.