ON Friday, December 21, 2014, ENCOMIUM Weekly visited screen goddess, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, popularly known as 31in her Ikeja, Lagos new office where the pretty thespian and mother of four children spoke exclusively on 20 years in the industry and much more…
First, we congratulate you for clocking 20 years on set.
Thank you so much.
How would you describe the journey so far?
It has been very interesting. Actually, there have been times that naturally you would want to give up because you feel very frustrated. Then, you wonder if anybody understands what you’re trying to achieve if you’re even achieving it at all. And by God’s grace, there have been moments you now look back and say, “Wow! Thank God I didn’t quit.” So, I would say it has been a wonderful experience.
Can you still recall the specific challenges encountered on your way to the top?
When I started out, I got married just about the same time and started having children. For me, it was a very big challenge because prior to that time, I didn’t know any other actor who had done similar thing that I could call and ask how do I go about it. I was also scared of losing my fan base. I was scared of so many things. I didn’t even know if I would be able to cope. And I am sure you’re aware I had my children almost every year (laughs). So, at a point, I started getting frustrated. But it got to a point we started to understand the job a little more. So, personally, it got to a point I felt we can push the envelope further than what we already had in the industry. And my dreams started going wide. I started thinking of many ways of changing the career for the better. So, having to fight my own battle at a time where practically at that time there was no industry, was very difficult because a lot of people didn’t understand what that was about. Everything was just being done anyhow. But then, if people had to talk to someone else before you could talk to me, it was indeed a great thing to happen to my career then. We didn’t even call him our manager then, we used to address him as our chaperon. I am talking about early 90s or thereabout.
Who was the person?
For me, I think it was Zeb Ejiro. He was like my godfather in the industry. It was easier for me because I got that idea from the fact that people had to ask my mom first before I could act. So, I graduated from my mom before somebody else. So, at that time, it was just normal for you to talk to the artistes themselves and say you want to feature them in your movies. But in my own case, I started out with people having to ask for permission from someone else before they could work with me. Then, after a while, I got a bit of liberation from my mom, it now became Zeb Ejiro’s responsibility because my mother handed me over to him. After that, I just naturally understood that okay, it’s better when your business partner had to talk to somebody else, it’s even more prestigious. I think I was one of the first people that actually brought that message to the industry. It wasn’t easy. People thought it was pride, they called me names. Who do I think I am that they have to go through somebody to talk to me? A lot like that. I have gone through so many stages like that.
For instance, you could remember when it’s the time for us to make more money in this industry and put some standards in place that did not exist. For example, how we’re being treated as artistes. Personally, I was fighting for all of us artistes, I wasn’t fighting for myself alone. I was fighting, so also so many other colleagues of mine. They just decided then that we’re getting too powerful, we’re demanding too much. I am sure you also remember how we paid the price. And after one year, they called us back to apologise but some of us said we’re not going to apologise. They left others who complied of the hook. I think about two or three of us were left in the hook for another two years. But these are part of the sacrifices some had to make by putting their feet on ground and say no, this is how things should be done and not to be done.
And another sacrifice I am paying at this point I would say is make that leap from video movies to cinematic movies. And after Ije, we started that campaign. I, for one, just decided I am not going to be doing straight to video movies just anyhow again. If I want to do it, there must be a considerable amount of money involved, I mean budget, there must be a particular standard when it comes to planning. Even the quality of artistes that are going to be on that set also matters. The standard of living for the artistes, work ethics, code of conduct and all that for production. If a movie does not meet a certain standard, I won’t be on that set. I mean, it’s a very bold and almost difficult thing to do at this time but it’s just something I have to do. And as usual, I am trying the best I can to not only do it but also live it.
Was there anytime your career was like a threat to your marriage?
No, not seriously. At least, it was in a way that shook my marriage. The only time I would say I worried was when the movie, The Prostitute came out. And that was the first major fresh shaking I had. It was like a kind of controversy. From the movie poster to the sex scenes, whatever in that movie that was shot after I left there but was shot as if I was the one who did it. And you know, Nigeria was not ready for that, so there was a lot of controversies around that. So, that was the only time I really worried about my marriage. And to be frank and candid, until my husband told me he wasn’t bothered, then I had peace.
Every career has its highs and lows, what are the highs and lows in your career as an actress in the last 20 years?
In the last 20 years, let me start from the low, which was the time you had to make sacrifices, especially when not very many people were in that boat with you, you sometimes feel alone. You sometimes feel you’re carrying the weight of the whole world, all by yourself. Another part of the lows I can remember is when you hear a very ridiculous rumour about you, you don’t want to degrade your brand and all that. Every time people say something about you, you don’t want to go and start granting interviews, they will turn you to chatterbox. You don’t have to be talking, talking and constantly defending yourself. So, those were the few lows I can recall. But when you talk in terms of the high aspects, to be honest, being in this profession is a major high on its own, for me. I love what I do. I was born into it. I enjoy doing it. I think and live it. That alone, I am always grateful to God about it. Every time you do a project and it comes out the way you expect it, it’s a high because there are so many times your projects won’t come out the way you designed them. Anytime the project I am doing is successful is a major high for me. It’s like a personal victory. So, to me, everything about this job is a high.
What have been your landmark achievements in the last two decades?
I really can’t say. I think everybody already knows what they are.
But would you say God has blessed you marvelously?
Oh, yes! I am extremely grateful. When you look back to how I started in 1995, just like I said, there was no industry then. It was almost like a taboo for you to say it in public that you’re acting. People would look at you and laugh you to scorn. It was like saying you’re a prostitute. That was how dirty it was then. It was that ridiculous to say I am an actress. You can’t even say it in your family dinner that you’re an actress. But here we are now, for you to say you are an actress, you could stop traffic. And that’s a major landmark. The fact that in just 20 years, I have seen a profession move from taboo to glory, from dust to stardom and all of that. It’s amazing. Another major landmark, my witness is that of our industry which was formerly at the stage of embarrassment to our lives and families to being an industry recognized and counted as one of the major stakes in the rebasing of the economy, even before so many sectors everybody was looking up to. I thank God, that such a thing happened within my 20 years in the industry. I am really happy about that.
What has being an actress not done for you?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. I would say everything I wanted to do so far I have done. I will say the only thing that has been a little difficult for me is maybe, my music career. That’s the only thing I have gone into that I cannot say specifically I am very successful with. And not for me to blame myself also because I have not really given it the required time. There are so many musicians that after their two or three albums, they still didn’t make it but after they continued and they are consistent in what they do, they eventually become big names in the industry. For me, I would not want to say entirely it’s because I am an actress and that’s why I have not done really well music wise. People that have listened to my music know I really do good music. But some would want to say I can’t sing or do good music simply because I am an actress.
People would remember Naija lo wa till tomorrow. And that was done in 2005. People only don’t want to credit me that I released a hit, whereas Naija lo was was a hit even before most of these hit albums. But when they’re calling their hits, they will never mention Naija lo wa. They won’t because I am an actress.
Can you recollect the first fee you collected as an actress and in which movie?
That was in Venom of Justice, that was my movie. I really can’t remember precisely how much I was paid but I wasn’t owed. The only movie I still remember how much I was paid was Flaming Python produced by Shola Adeyemo. So, I think I negotiated N30,000. That was my second movie. It was shot also in 1995. I remember always because the producer didn’t complete payment. He disappeared with the balance. I think I was only paid N10,000 or N15,000. I can’t remember exactly how much it was. I was angry, looking for him. And Zeb Ejiro too was very angry.
Can you also recall the highest amount you have ever collected to feature in a movie since you started out?
I can’t disclose that.
Okay, how many movies altogether have you featured in?
The last time they counted the movies I have shot so far, I think that was last year or two years ago, they were about 300 movies or thereabout.
Which of these movies would you say still lingers in your memory?
I am usually very passionate mostly about my character. I mean, there are so many I like for whatever reason. Maybe the movie didn’t come out the way I wanted it, so that maybe another reason I don’t like it. But that does not mean I wasn’t very passionate about the character. But all in all, I will mention some movies including The Days of Old, Mortal Inheritance, Abuse. I also like the character I played in Kosorogun (No Rival), a Yoruba movie. I also like very well the character I played in My Story. I was an old woman in My Story and I like the way it came out. So, that’s all I can remember as regards character and output. There are some other movies that I like that do not have to do with character but just about the movie itself.
But which was the biggest you ever participated in?
There have been big movies at different times. People will say at that time, the biggest movie, not just for me, but in that era was Mortal Inheritance. But recently I would say Ije is one of my biggest movies, at a point. And it was a game changer. I think Last Flight to Abuja, is bigger than Ije. So, some people will say Last Flight to Abuja is my biggest movie till now. One other very big movie I did which is not yet out is Amina. It’s a big character, big movie. It was shot early this year. Then another one is Up Creek which is also not yet out. This year I have been concentrating on building a structure for the industry.
It’s like you’re working towards being more of an entrepreneur than an actress?
Even though I love acting, I love being in front of the camera. I feel we lack so much in this industry, infrastructure wise. And I wish I didn’t have to do this alone. Many of my other colleagues have become producers and all that. But for me, I am not very eager about being a producer, what I am eager about is having my own school, my own structure and film village. That will be my own contribution to the industry. That is the legacy I want to leave behind. So, when I am done with this, I can act anytime.
Are you building your film village here on an academy?
There will be an academy here but it’s going to be an entertainment centre. Just like what obtains in Las Vegas, you have a hotel on the third floor you have entertainment stuff downstairs, casino. But we’re not going to have any casino here. But everything after the hotel, is going to be all entertainment. We have our studio, cinema, Bolynally. It’s going to be amazing.
Was there any rumour or scandal that almost put you off balance career wise since you started out?
I don’t care about them. I can’t give them life. If it makes whoever that peddled whatever rumour about me happy, if that extends their life span, that’s not my business.
How would you describe your husband in the last 20 years of acting?
He has been very supportive. He has been an angel. He is my rock of Gilbratar. I will say my husband is my fan, so also my critic. Most important, he has been my pillar of support. If you’re doing this job, you feel like you always want to fear what somebody will feel about you. When I am talking of somebody, I mean your parents or husband, somebody that means something to you, that limits you as a creative mind. God is my witness, my husband has never for once felt anything negative about me being an actress. In 2016, we’re going to celebrate 20 years of marriage. I can’t remember anytime I wanted to do anything and he kicked against it violently. I have had to travel out of the country sometimes, it may be that same day he would know. You are also aware of the sensitivity of our job, we’re very disorganized at times. You know how it feels for you to tell your husband that one thing you have been pursuing for the past three months, all of a sudden, you just got a call that they have bought flight ticket for you, and you’re going for maybe one week. So, naturally that’s just something you would say no, you can’t. But I would go home and tell him. He would be like wow! He would even encourage me to go. He is very understanding and very supportive.
What do you think has kept your marriage intact till date?
I would say first, it’s the fear of God. Then the fact that the reason we do all we do or the person we’re all answerable to is God. He is the one guiding us. I would not lie to you that there was no time we almost gave up on both sides, but at the end of the day you know you are answerable to God for whatever you do. Therefore, take your worry to Him. And the reason you don’t do anything stupid is because this person is not who you’re answerable to ultimately, but God. So, when God knows you depend on Him, that much I think alone helps you. Second is patience. You have to be very patient in every relationship, not just marriage. I feel very sad that a lot of people put so much pressure these days on marriages succeeding or not as if it’s an alien relationship. The truth of the matter is that people fight their fathers, you fight your best friends. So, why is it that you feel that you and your spouse can’t fight or quarrel? I think it should be a crime for anybody to come in-between a couple. I feel everybody that comes between a married couple be it a man or woman should go to jail. Such a person is robbing the family of their joy. To me, it’s a crime that is worse that stealing another person’s property.
When you look back, would you say you’re fulfilled having come this far in your career?
I won’t say that but I will only say I am contented with where I am today. God has been really kind to me and I will forever be grateful to Him.
Your son, Matthew Ekeinde Jnr, a.k.a Captain E, has emerged Africa’s youngest music producer. How does that make you feel?
I feel very much elated. I am very happy for him. He is a very focused young guy. I was trying to push him to sing instead of being a producer, “Why can’t you go and do the glamorous one? Why do you want to do the one that will keep you inside the studio?” And all that but he is very determined and focused on what he wants. He can sing but he only chose to make a name as a producer. I believe that is where his passion is. I am extremely happy for him.
What are you doing right now to round off this year?
I am preparing for my tour next year, in commemoration of my 20 years in the industry with Omotola Youth Empowerment Programme (OYEP). We have so many other things in stock for the tour. While doing that, our entertainment place here and the film village in Badagry, Lagos, will be starting by God’s grace. And I have these two young men, Nasiru and Verchi that have been signed to my record label through my son, Captain E. He is their producer. They have an EP coming out. Also, a lot of people have been expecting my second album. Some think it is out because they keep hearing about it but it has not been released. It’s going to be out officially and portrayed on Konga, that will be at the beginning of 2015. Also, a lot of people have been asking for Gba and so we’re going to do Gba revisited with a lot of remixes. My songs are collector’s items. I am not in competition with anybody. If you don’t want to purchase, just keep watching. If you want to listen to good and calm music, music that makes sense, then you can buy and listen to it. I also have a soap opera, Smoke. It’s coming out soon. It has Funke Akindele, Segun Arinze, Larry Koldsweat and more.
How would you assess 2014, has it been a rewarding and fulfilling year?
Yes, 2014 has been very fulfilling and rewarding to me. That’s the year I recorded a lot of successes in my career and business. I am very grateful to God for everything.
– TADE ASIFAT