VETERAN actress, Esther Idowu Phillips, popularly known as Iya Rainbow, is one of the oldest actresses in Nollywood with about 43 years acting career. This highly respected thespian just arrived from London where she went to promote the Yotomi Housing Scheme initiated by the late movie mogul, Alade Aromire and also embarked on some movie projects with her son, Femi, who is currently learning Film Directing in London.
ENCOMIUM Weekly spoke with her in her moderate bungalow at Ishaga Inside along Ojodu-Berger, Lagos state on Tuesday, September 14, 2010. She talked extensively on why she left nursing for acting, her challenges in the housing scheme, the purpose of her journey to London, why she opted not to remarry, the lessons life has taught her and many more…
What is the secret of your ageless look?
I didn’t have any secret than God. I prayed for it and God gave me. It is a blessing from God.
How have you been coping as a single mother?
It’s terrible. As a single mother you can’t cope unless God helps you. It has been God because I didn’t have money, I didn’t have strength but I have God and He is the only one who can do it for anybody to succeed with children. They would eat, buy clothes, go to school and other things, it is not easy but if you have God, He would help you.
You were a nurse before, do you have any regret quitting nursing for acting?
No. I didn’t have any regret. If I had stayed with my nursing career, I won’t have had this name, Iya Rainbow and with this name, I can enter anywhere I want to get to in the world. So, I don’t have any regret for quitting.
So, what informed your decision then to leave nursing for acting?
I didn’t just leave nursing like that, this job (theatre) belongs to my late husband, Ayanfemi Oroniyi Phillips who died on January 22, 1984, that is the Osumare Theatre Group. He was the leader of Osumare group during his lifetime. When he died, he left me and Mr. Tajudeen Gbadamosi to oversee the group which we did for about four to five years because everyone of us has one or two things to do, people like Kanran, Kokonsari (late), Ayanwale and about four lecturers at the University of Lagos (who later formed their own groups after a while). Like a Yoruba proverb which says, T’omode ba to lapo a lapo (if a child is matured he should be left to display his maturity). All what we used to do then was stage performance, there was nothing like movies within the group.
What is your level of involvement in Yotomi Housing Estate project?
I am an ambassador of the project. If you see all our banners, buses and billboards it has my name and pictures on them. So, in and out of Yotomi, I am involved.
What are the challenges you have faced so far on the project?
When Alade Aromire, the initiator of the project died, people were shouting, ‘How are we going to get our money, house and land back?’ Then, I went to MiTV and LTV 8 to tell them that there is nothing like that, that if they have paid for the property, they would surely get it because all transactions has been recorded.
We learnt you travelled to London of recent because of this project, how successful was the trip?
It was good. I went to BEN TV house in London to promote and enlighten Nigerians over there on the need to own their own houses so as to have a place to call a home whenever they come back for holidays.
During your stay there did you shoot any movie?
Yes, but we are yet to finish it. I will still go back to finish it so that we can do the premiere in America, Canada and other countries before coming to Nigeria.
We learnt that your son, Femi is planning to quit acting, how true is it?
No, it is not possible. But he has gone back to school to learn Film Directing. It is only going to take him sometime and he will be back.
What is happening to your church in London?
Nothing, the work of God is progressing. I will soon go when it is time. We have over 200 worshippers there.
How have you been coping juggling acting with your ministry duties?
It’s not easy. For example, they have been calling me at Ikorodu to come and shoot film and we are having night vigils in the church. I can’t leave night vigil for Ikorodu, how much are they going to pay me? Even if they are paying N100,000 and God said I won’t spend it, that is how it will be. So, I prefer to spend my life with God than theatre. I have been in active acting for over 43 years, I built my house when I’m still collecting N2,000, N3,000, where we have some then that are earning N20,000, N50,000 without a house now. It is only God that can do it, so I need to serve Him before theatre.
So, don’t you think this ministerial job will be affecting your acting?
No, no, no. If I want to act I will act and if I don’t want to, I won’t. if God calls you and you refuse, He would punish you because when He first called me I refused and He punished me. I’m in my house for two years, I had nothing to do, no one called me to shoot any movie until I answered His call. For your information, I’m going to Jerusalem very soon.
Do you have any plan of retiring from acting?
As far as I am alive, I will continue with acting. In fact, both acting and ministry work will not stop me because I’m going to spend 120 years. That was what God promised me if I serve Him to my latter end.
What are those things you used to do in your youth that you can no longer do now?
Have you watched Madanwo. In the film, I climbed, look at your back (pointing to the fence of her house) a fence that is as high as that with some of the cast of the movie like Baba Suwe, Segun Rasco (the film producer) but I can’t do it now. Before if I want to go to Berger, I can trek but now, I can’t do that. I can’t go along the street now and abuse people if I am annoyed because of my name.
You lost your husband about 26 years ago, why did you decide not to remarry?
With five children? Who is going to marry me? Even if they promise to, they will come to your house to eat your food and the other thing (laughs) and go. At least, you are a man you should know what I am talking about. I have three graduates already in America and London, by God’s grace, I am okay.
What are those things that you will never forget about your late husband?
He used to slap me because I’m very troublesome. I don’t like seeing other women around him and as a leader of a group, women will surely flock around him and immediately we finish rehearsal, they won’t go, they would be saying, ‘Senior, I want to see you.’ I would shout on them, if you don’t go I would beat you. But now, I regret it because he was a good husband, he cared for the wife and children. I know I can’t see someone like him that is why I didn’t remarry. But above all, I thank God.
We learnt that you gave some widows a sum of N100,000, but the money was rejected. What do you think informed their decision to return it?
I am a widow, but I have something to do while some widows don’t have anything to do. So, myself and Opelope Anointing decided to give out that token. But it was a lie that they rejected it, we only don’t want to publicise it then so that armed robbers will not visit our houses. We went to where they used to have meetings and we gave them food, clothes and money, so as to ease their suffering because some of them have been rejected by their in-laws.
So, what was the greatest mistake you ever made in your life?
That was while I was still in school. I am very troublesome, I used to fight a lot.
What lesson has life taught you?
I can’t mention all, but we all have to be very cautious of those that dwell in the spirit realm because they only go around with human flesh, but they are not human beings.
What is your advice to the younger generation, most especially those into acting?
If they are able to exercise patience, they can make it. It is not easy, but with dedication and patience, everything will be alright. They must all respect the elderly ones and stop gossiping. Also, they should know that working for God is not easy, so they should endeavour to see that God calls them.
When will you be celebrating your next birthday?
October 16, I will be 68 years old.
Any preparation towards that?
Let us wait till my 70th birthday. Then, by God’s grace, I will mark it.
So, what would you like to be remembered for?
I don’t want my name to spoil, that is the reason I pamper my name. So, I want people to remember me for a good name.
- THIS INTERVIEW WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN ENCOMIUM WEEKLY ON TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2010