COMFORT Ene Ikwumonu, better addressed as, Empress Ene is one of Nollywood fast-rising actresses right now. The Idoma, Benue born thespian opened up to ENCOMIUM Weekly on Friday, September 26, 2014, on issues revolving around her career and life, including the Most Promising Upcoming Actress of the Year Award 2014, she won courtesy of City Pride magazine and more…
How and when did the journey start as an actress?
It all started in 2008. I was in the North then. I kept going for auditions all the way from Zaria, Kaduna State. Then, I was coming to Lagos, boarding night buses. People began to wonder why I was taking all the risk just because of audition, not even movie locations. But I used to tell them that when you want something, you don’t bother what it takes to achieve it. You keep struggling until you get to where you’re headed. And that’s why I am where I am today. I give God all the glory.
How would you describe the experience?
It’s full of ups and downs. But I know it’s all for good. It came to a point that I couldn’t even have transport fare. I couldn’t go for audition at times. I can remember a day I had to trek all the way from Cele Bus Stop, along Apapa/Oshodi Expressway, Lagos to Ikotun. But I still refused to give up. When I came to Lagos, I met many of my colleagues, both established and up and coming ones. So, I had to face a lot of competition. At times, you will go for audition, you will be given a script, but at the end of the day, you won’t be called for the job. That alone troubled my heart. At a point, I said to myself, “Is that what audition is all about? But I also consoled myself, I was sure if I merit to be given any script, I will surely be given, and be called for the job. Each time I went home, I would knee down and pray to my God that if acting is a job I will do that will earn me a living, then He should open the door for me. And to my greatest surprise, I am here today. I thank God for everything.
What were the challenges before coming this far?
A lot, which I think I have mentioned partly. For example, when I go for audition, I will scale through. The producer or marketer will pick on me, “Yes, this lady is good.” They will ask me to step aside, and I will be happy. But my challenge in this aspect is that after I might have been selected for the movie, after rehearsing several times, preparing to be on movie set, I will just discover that my name has been dropped. There was a time I was on a movie location for a month till someone came and played my role. I was still there waiting. And nobody informed me of anything. I was just kept there, waiting and hoping that I would feature in the movie. Until after one month in that location, it was somewhere in Ogun State. It was painful that I ended up not shooting any scene, despite all the pains I went through. But I picked up courage, left the location and came back to Lagos. The same person now called me for another location after some time, but I didn’t say I won’t go because of how he maltreated me the other time. Honestly, I went but when I got there, I discovered that the same thing might repeat itself, so I had to leave.
What actually would you say was the reason the producer was maltreating you?
I wouldn’t know.
But there is the impression both within and outside the industry that most producers don’t give roles to the up and coming actresses that are not ready to warm their beds, what’s your position on this?
I want to say that’s only meant for the desperate ones among us. If you’re so desperate to get to the top, it’s then you choose to take the short cut. But left to me, I believe in merit and God’s time. In the industry, there are some that will want to get there at all costs, but it’s not worth it. So, it all depends on individual.
But some actresses have confessed to us that there is sexual harassment in the industry…
(Cuts in) Even before I came into the industry, I have been hearing about that. So, when I joined the industry, I also heard a lot. But my position is that despite all what people are saying, we still have a lot of good producers and directors who will not exchange their roles for sex. Yes, I can say it authoritatively that there are still people like that in the industry, people that do things based on merit and not for anything, whatsoever. Just like the last audition I went, it was by merit. I didn’t know I was going to get the lead role going by the calibre of people I met there, but I was picked to play the lead role when they saw my performance. I was so surprised I was cast for the lead role, which I played alongside Bimbo Akintola.
I give God the glory. It was then I believed that when your time comes, no one takes it from you.
No matter what you might have said, you might have fallen victim of sexual harassment, if not more than once…
(Cuts in quickly) Yes, once. I think it has truly happened to me once. But I ended up not doing the job and I didn’t bother at all because I believe strongly that the person who rejected me because I refused to sleep with him will surely, one day call me or send somebody to the airport to pick me. I told the person frankly that a day is coming that you will send a person because you want to feature me in your movie. Maybe, this is not the right time to work for you. And I left. I summoned courage. Now, anytime the guy sees me, he will say, “Baby, how are you?” And I always replied him, “I am fine.” He said he is proud of whom I am and that I should keep it up. And that’s exactly what I want.
What do you think Nigeria movie industry still lacks?
I think funding is the major thing the industry needs at the moment. Some producers and marketers are still struggling to make ends meet. But I believe if they have adequate funds, they will also make their artistes happy. If you as an actor gets a script, you should be paid adequately. I don’t think there should be any reason for anybody you have worked for to tell you to come tomorrow for your money. You should be paid instantly, without any delay. But that’s what’s going on in the industry now, after you had played your part well, they will be telling you to come another time for your entitlement. It’s unfair. I believe if Nigeria movie producers are accorded recognition by government, and they assist them with enough fund, things would be better. But to be honest, things are getting better unlike what it used to be some years back. Now, some of us promising actors are embraced by producers than ever before.
Can you tell us about your first movie and how you felt?
I felt happy the first time I appeared before the camera on a movie location. Although, I wasn’t paid a dime, I was still very happy and excited. I believe everything is not all about money, it’s just an opportunity that one should first be appreciated. But I initially thought I was going to be paid. So, when I finished the job, and I wasn’t paid, I felt sad and also happy. I was happy because I was chosen to showcase my talent. It was in 2010, and the job was a soap opera. You won’t believe that till this moment, the job has not seen the light of the day but it was an opportunity for other producers and people in the industry to know me. It was from there, I got another job. Since, I kept working and working. No going back.
When you started out, it was surely a peanut thing but now you might have been reaping the fruits of your labour by collecting huge amount from producers before featuring in their movies, how much was your last payment?
I don’t think it’s good disclosing your fee as an artiste. But let me just say, my last payment was just N120,000. I give God all the glory because I wasn’t in that category before. Now, I am coming up. Very soon, I believe I will also be celebrated around the world.
You’re from Benue, why can’t you identify with your people there, acting wise, instead of moving down to Lagos?
I am from Benue but based in Zaria, Kaduna. As you said, we have our Benue movie group. So, I also go to Benue frequently to shoot Idoma movies. I have shot about two movies there, and they are out now. the titles are Iyono and Ejeh Mla Agaba. I had also shot a lot of Nollywood movies including Saved, Lady of Honour, Village Juju, Odowura, The New Village Headmaster, Going West, Crossroads, Comfort Zone, Mama Africa and more.
I am presently on the set of Newman Street directed by Bond Emeruwa and Fred Amata. I believe coming to Lagos to join Nollywood is a big plus to my career. Lagos is a land of opportunities for anybody who is serious. I thank everybody for accepting me.
Tell us about your love life.
I think that should be private. But the truth is that I am still single. I won’t want to go beyond that for now.
Days back, you won Most Promising Actress of the Year Award, courtesy of City Pride magazine. How do you feel about it?
In fact, I was humbled and highly honoured. I never envisaged winning an award this early. It actually shows that there are some people who are really monitoring the trend in the industry. I really appreciate it, and I sincerely thank the organizers of the award for believing in me. May God bless them all.
Can you tell us a little of your background?
I am from Idoma, Benue State but based in Zaria, Kaduna State. I attended Railway Nursery and Primary School, Zaria. For my secondary education, I attended Diamond Academy, also in Zaria. I later proceeded to Federal College of Education, Zaria, where I bagged Nigeria Certificate of Education (NCE) in Social Studies (Double Major). I taught for a while before joining acting because I have always loved to be an actress. I have strong passion for that.
– TADE ASIFAT