Tell us about your soon-to-be-released movie, The First Lady?
We are almost at the premiere stage of ‘The First Lady’. It’s a very entertaining, hilarious, romantic comedy. It’s the kind of movie people will appreciate. I think people don’t want to go to the cinemas and come out depressed. They want to forget what’s going on in their lives, whatever it is. That was my driving force when I was writing the film. I want people to watch a very well done movie, that’s why we pay attention to details. So that, when we release a movie, it’s not just like every other movie out there. We don’t want to insult the intelligence of cinema goers by doing stories that don’t make any sense.
What influenced the storyline?
I just wanted to entertain people, make them laugh and have fun. That was what I had in my head when I set out to write this particular story. I decided to weave it in a way that it’s not just hilarious, but also intriguing. It’s not just one straight story that you can tell the end from the beginning, it has many layers to it.
How challenging was it shooting this film?
It was very tedious. It’s always tedious when you’re acting, producing and directing at the same time. It’s one of the most difficult jobs in the world. But I do it anyway because it’s what I love to do. Even though it’s stressful and tiring because I get to sleep for only three to four hours every night, I still enjoy it. It’s tough, but I love it, so I keep doing it.
Do you think the Nigerian cinema culture has grown to be a thriving market?
We are hoping that Nigerians out there would support what we are doing, thereby supporting the Nigerian economy. The truth is, every money spent on watching a foreign movie is money that’s taken out of the country forever. The one spent on a Nigerian movie stays here and comes right back to you in one way or the other. It’s a vicious cycle. When I make money from my movies at the cinema, it means I can pay school fees of my children and buy food. The owner of the school and the woman selling food get that money. The money comes right back to the economy, it stays here. People watch some Nigerian movies and say because it didn’t make sense, they stopped watching Nigerian movies altogether. How many foreign movies have we watched that didn’t make sense? Yet, we still watch foreign movies because we hear that a particular one is good. When you support us and we make money, we make better movies.
Are you saying this movie would be better than what we had before?
Is it a big budget movie?
It’s an okay budget movie. I don’t talk about the budget for my movie. The movie industry is the only business that you tell your consumers how much you spend making it. We do everything we can to make sure our production value is very high, that it isn’t going to insult the viewer. You’re going to get good pictures, good sounds and a great story, that’s the most important thing.
Would you support any of your kids wanting to be an actor?
Sure. My son has already one two acting awards. He’s been nominated a number of times. He was in ‘Figurine’ and ‘Brother’s Keeper’ with me. All three of my kids were in ‘Being Mrs Elliot’, so I have no problems with it whatsoever, I would support them 100%.
What influenced your choice of cast for the movie?
When I write, I see the images of actors in my head. So when I’m casting, what I look at is ‘Do these people fit the image I have in my head? Can they deliver on these roles?” I don’t really like to stereotype actors. People are going to be blown out of their minds by Alex Ekubo in this movie. This is seeing Alex like you’ve never seen him before. Every time, I watch Alex in this movie, I get goosebumps. I don’t believe that we achieved that. It’s totally out of this world. Yvonne Jegede took her acting to another level in the movie. It was just so real and fantastic. I’m so happy for my actors and what this movie is going to do for them. I’m really so excited, I can’t wait for people to see this movie so they can see my actors. Tony Monjaro nailed it in this movie. You’re looking at him in the movie and you just want to almost love the devil. I’m excited about showing this movie to the public. I know they will love it. I want people to watch my actors and fall in love with them. As a director, that’s very key for me.
What aspect of your work do you enjoy most; acting, producing or directing?
Acting has always been my first love. Directing and producing are taking it to another level. Directing is very technical, you’ve got to know what you’re doing. I would say I enjoy acting most because I’ve always acted even as a little girl, but I love producing and directing.
You also write the script for your movies, at what time did you decide to go into scriptwriting?
I’ve always been a writer. That’s another thing I’ve always done even as a child. I would spend hours writing. I used to write novels, though I didn’t publish any. I didn’t have a parent that thought it was important and that was because she didn’t know better. I grew up with my mum. I wrote so many books, I used to do character breakdown. Now, I understand that was what I was doing back then, but as a child I didn’t know. By the time I got to secondary school, I used to write plays that I produced and directed for the school. I didn’t understand it then, but now I know that God was actually preparing me for now.
Do you hope to publish a novel any time soon?
I’m actually in the process of writing a novel. But because I’ve been busy with so many different things, I’ve been writing it for about four years now.
What are your projections for this movie?
I believe it’s going to hit everyone really hard, they’ll totally love it and I’m going to recover all my money. (Laughs)
It seems as if you set out to do one movie every year?
I didn’t set out to do that in all honesty. I actually have another movie that is completed and we’re in post production. We finished shooting almost the same time as ‘The First Lady’, but I need to make out time to be with the editors for editing. But because I have a lot doing I’ve not been able to do that. I don’t intend to do one movie per year.
So, why the title ‘The First Lady’?
In the movie, the character ‘Obama’ sees himself like the king of the land, the lord of the area. So everyone started calling him Obama as a mark of respect. He’s a local pimp who has prostitutes under him. The prostitute who’s also his girlfriend is his First Lady. He calls her his ‘First lady’. So everyone started calling her Michelle since he’s Obama. Obama and Michelle are nicknames. So, the main prostitute in question is Obama’s First Lady.
Was the success you had with ‘Being Mrs Elliot’ a motivating factor for you in doing this movie?
I’ve decided that this is what I want to do, so whether I succeed or fail, I’ll keep doing it. But of course, it helped that my directorial debut was a huge success. That has prompted and pushed me further to do more.
Do you hope to get an award with this movie?
I hope so and I hope that my actors also get awards. In fact, if I don’t get any award and my actors do, it’s a success for me.
How do you know a movie is successful – is it by the money it made, the impact, or the awards it brought?
I think it’s a combination of many things, not just a particular thing. A lot of things come together to make a movie a success. It might not be a box office success, but have a great storyline, great production values, huge reception and so on.
Did the success of the comedy ’30 Days in Atlanta’ and others influence your doing a comedy?
I’m of the opinion that people should go to the cinema and have a good time. We need to make ourselves happy once in a while because of the kind of society we find ourselves in and that’s why comedy shows sell a lot. People want to have a good laugh and forget their worries and problems, even if it’s just for a short while.
Talking about stereotyping actors, do you think it’s a good thing for their careers?
It could be a good thing and a bad thing at the same time. I think every actor wants to be able to show their range, but sometimes they don’t get the opportunity because they are stereotyped and people just keep giving them those kind of roles and they are not happy. I think that as an actor, you want to be able to express yourself in different ways. But it could be a good thing in the sense that any time they think of that character, they are going to call just you. So you are going to be making all the money for that particular kind of character. It could be good and bad at the same time.
What’s your impression about the quality of Nollywood movies we have presently?
We are getting better. People are paying more attention to details and we are getting better quality movies. Even though we still have the regular Nollywood movies, people are trying to raise the bar.
Would you say the cinema has helped movie producers escape piracy?
Nobody has escaped it really, the cinema just opened a different avenue stream.
What do you dislike about being in the limelight?
The loss of privacy. The fact that you can’t do what you like to do and be like everyone else. You’ll always consider what people are going to think and say.