I was almost abused by my ‘uncle’ – Omotola
One of the most famous and successful Nigerian actresses, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, speaks with TOFARATI IGE about her career, marriage and other issues.
How do you feel being a member of the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences?
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the body that organises the Academy Awards (Oscars), among many other things. I am also a voting member of the Oscars (committee).
I must confess that it feels good to be able to lend my voice and choice to the movies that win the Oscars eventually. It’s wonderful that I get to see at least 90 per cent of all movies put forward (for the awards), and help decide who wins. I consider it such a privilege.
In what ways have you and would you be promoting Africa on the committee?
My votes have only been used for foreign films as no African movie has made it to final selection since I became a member. Hopefully, I can get the opportunity to use my vote for movies from our region soon; so long as they are worth it.
Do you see a Nigerian movie winning an Oscar anytime soon?
Yes, I do. We are working really hard and pushing further continuously. It has not been easy, as you know. Many things are stacked against us but due to our hardworking and resilient spirit and lifestyle, we are still pushing.
In your own words, what is TEFFEST 2019 all about?
Teffest is actually a short form of The Entertainment Fair and Festival. It is a platform to strengthen the business end of entertainment.
What inspired the programme?
The fair and festival were inspired by the need for both administrative structure and physical infrastructure in the industry.
It is also a reaction to the fact that so much money is lost, or not directed properly, for lack of organisation.
Lastly, I was motivated to do this because my last son now studies film, so I feel pressured to do my bit in helping to organise the industry.
What should attendees be expecting from the fair and festival?
Attendees are of two folds. One part is made up of industry creatives/business owners, while the other part includes businesses owners. People who will attend the event should be expecting to learn about finding the ease of doing business, (identifying) business opportunities and business growth.
Do you think Nigerian entertainers really understand the business aspect of showbiz?
Yes, they do— maybe not as clearly as necessary. But that and much more is what the festival was created to help with. It will clearly show us the money trail and train us on how to follow it properly. It will also show ways by which entertainers can harness the wealth in their talents and industry.
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Your movie, Alter Ego, dwelt on sex offenders, and the lead character (which you played) was a victim of sexual abuse at a young age. Did you have any such experience as a kid?
No, I did not. However, I have almost been abused by an ‘uncle’— a very much respected and an older one, so I could relate with the defiance and mental struggle that comes afterwards.
What inspires your philanthropic activities? Some people feel that many public figures do this in order to score publicity.
Some people’s feelings cannot be the basis on which facts and hard work should be verified. We have gone way past the era of ‘some people’s feelings’. I am glad to announce that we are the generation that pushes for change and possibilities. That’s what we have time for.
What are some of the major philanthropic activities you have carried out?
We have worked with youths on the Omotola Youth Empowerment programme for over 14 years (since 2005), and the Give and Let Give initiative since 2010. We did the well-received ‘20 Widows Makeover’ in honour of the late widowed Mrs Toyin Jalade. There have been several others over the years.
You don’t seem to have done much in your music career recently. Why is that?
Music is more of a passion than a business choice for me. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time for some of my passions as I had to build my businesses, so as to have a fallback option. Luckily, my businesses are mostly infrastructure/real estate-based, so when I’m ready, I can return to my passions with a proper business structure. Then, my passion and business would make sense to me, and hopefully, my fans.
What are the personal qualities that have kept you relevant for so long?
I would credit that to my ‘spiritual stem’. I have always held on to my source of strength, which is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Being focused on my goals and not getting distracted by things happening with others or around me has also helped in no small measure.
Also, staying grounded and persistent, while being socially active— even on social media— have helped to get me to where I am today.
What are some of the most memorable moments of your career?
There have been too many of those to mention. I have had one of the most interesting and memorable careers of my generation.
You are known to be quite choosy about the movies you appear in. What determines the type of scripts you accept?
Firstly, it has to be a good script. The storyline must be intelligent, mentally stimulating, socially/topically relevant, and entertaining.
Secondly, it must be adding something to my career. It could be something I haven’t done before or one that I would be required to do differently.
Thirdly, it must be compelling enough to take me away (mentally and physically) from my other business interests.
Lastly, it must be a script I would read and wouldn’t be able to sleep. I would actually visualise what it’s about to offer and what it can achieve in years to come. Yes, it is that serious for me.
What’s the most challenging role you’ve ever played?
Most of the movies I have been in and the characters I have played have been very challenging. However, I will pick three for different reasons— I was so young when I did them, I didn’t think I would be able to pull them off properly and was amazed at the result.
Anyway, the first one is, Abused. It was the third movie I ever made. I was about 16 or 17 years old when the film was shot. I honestly didn’t know I had the emotional depth I got to while making that movie.
The second one is titled, My Story. The lead character was played both as a young lady, and a woman in her 70s. The woman was the mother of a character acted by Chidi Mokeme. While making this movie, I was so worried about what the outcome would look like, but I was utterly amazed, as it turned out to be outstanding. However, part of the credit for achieving that also goes to the amazing make-up artiste on the project, Gabazinni.
The third one is, I belong. I actually co-wrote this particular movie. It was a comedy. Even though many people say I’m very comedic because I say and write comedy perfectly, I didn’t think I could perform it. Another actress was actually supposed to play that role, then the director (Tchidi Chikere) changed his mind and asked me to act it instead. I was terrified initially, but thankfully, I was able to pull it off eventually.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learnt over the years?
I have learnt not to always believe what is said. Rather, it is better to believe what can be proven.
What are some of the challenges you faced in the early stage of your career?
The earliest challenge had to do with getting my family to accept my choice of career. Similarly, it was also quite tough getting the public to accept this as a formidable career.
Do you still face challenges at this stage of your career?
Not as much, luckily. However, things are still not the best or where they should be business-wise.
Do you see yourself going into politics someday?
I would say, ‘Who knows…only God knows’. We (human beings) cannot predict or determine the future.
Did you actively stir your children towards having an interest in the entertainment industry?
No, I did not. Only two of them are really interested in entertainment as a career— Captain E, who is an artiste and music producer, and Michael, who is currently studying filmmaking. However, I have been told it is hereditary (laughs).
There have always been rumours that there is a sort of rivalry between you and Genevieve Nnaji. What’s your reaction to that?
This is 2019 for crying out loud. I just hope that the rumours and their mongers can catch up with the times.
What changes would you like to see in Nollywood?
I would like to see the industry have a real structure. My dream is a Nollywood (and indeed the whole entertainment industry) where one can do proper business and see the money trail clearly. I want to see an industry where one can put in 25 years (as I have), and get residuals, proper healthcare, insurance and business investments that one can retire to. And this is not too much to ask for as it is what is enjoyed by other industries and professionals.
Some people believe that entertainers cannot have successful marriages. How have you been able to keep yours over the years?
I believe in possibilities— everything is possible. For a marriage to be successful, it mostly depends on the parties involved— their orientation, priorities and vision. May God help us all (because it is not an easy task).
You got married at quite a young age. How was the experience in the early days of the marriage?
There were less serious issues, less money talks, less stress, yet inexperienced.
Can you briefly recall how you met your husband and was it love at first sight?
It was not love at first sight for me. However, I grew to know and love him.
Do you still have time to cook at home?
I don’t have a chef anymore since the last one cleared our home (stole properties) many years ago. Even before then, I had always done most of the cooking in the house. Now I do all my cooking myself. I love to cook; I just hate washing dishes.
You have a lovely figure. How do you keep in shape?
I have been able to maintain my figure by understanding my body and listening to it. I am known to be workout lazy, so, I watch what I eat and stay active. I also pray often about my body.
Can you recall your most memorable childhood experiences?
That would be the loss of my father, Mr Shola Jalade. It was the singular/most memorable situation responsible for my life’s journey and direction.
When was the first time you knew you wanted to act?
That was when someone told me to audition for free, and that I could even get paid for doing it. I tried what the person said and I got the lead role in a movie. Back then, my goal was just to help my widowed mum. However, I fell in love with acting because it came naturally to me.
What other childhood ambitions did you have?
I have always wanted to be a singer. I actually thought that was what I would be known for. At some point, I also fancied being a lawyer/advocate or some sort of international liaisons officer.
How do you relax?
My best idea of relaxation would be to spend time with my family. Those are the times I let go of my brand, let my hair down and just try to enjoy the simple things of life.
How do you like to dress?
I like to be sexy, yet comfortable.