‘I’ve been a star for 32 years’
VETERAN actress, Clarion Chukwurah, 50 (on July 24, 2014) has been acting for straight 35 years! And becoming a screen star at the age of 18, her stardom has not dimmed, 32 years on.
ENCOMIUM Weekly’s Associate Editor, UCHE OLEHI had an exclusive interview with Ms. Chukwurah, who was adjudged the Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 10th edition of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) held in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
From how it feels to be so recognized for her excellent interpretation of the lead character in Apaye, a biopic produced by Emem Isong’s Royal Arts Academy and directed by Desmond Elliot, the Mirror in the Sun star took us through her career, charity work, life at 50, state of the nation, her dream for Nollywood and sundry issues…
On Saturday, May 24, 2014, you emerged Africa’s Best Actress in a Leading Role. Has it changed anything about you?
Has it changed anything about me? There have been a lot of congratulatory messages from the world over. People have been happy for me and the industry. Perhaps, people now have more respect for my work and my talent. Now people feel there is no question about it, she is a legend.
Of all the calls you’ve received, which one gladdens your heart most?
I can’t say that one particular person’s call gladdened my heart more than the others, because like I said, I’ve received calls from Canada, US, the UK, from South Africa, Kenya…So, I can’t say one person’s call is more special. Of course, my sons called me less than one hour after I received the award.
But in all, it has been a humbling experience, so to speak?
No, I won’t call it a humbling experience because it is something a lot of people feel I should have won long before now. I feel gratified by it and I’m grateful to God. It has been long in coming and I deserve every bit of what comes with the award.
Apaye is a good story, quality production, what in your mind is special for you about the biopic vis-a-vis the other movies?
What is special to me about Apaye is that it is the first time I will play the role of a person I had to stay in her community; I felt her loss from the impact she made in the lives of the people. I was in their midst. It was the first time I was with people looking at me, challenging me in their look, would she be able to give us Ipayeye?, the heroine of the movie. So, in that respect, it has been the greatest challenge of my over 32 years acting career, so far.
It was more like a stage play. The audience were there in front of you. If you get it right they will appreciate you. And if you didn’t, they would be disappointed. So, I was in the midst of people who were sensitive about everything about that woman. So, I have to relive Apaye for me not to fail their expectation.
While receiving the award in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, you commended your producer, Emem Isong and director, Desmond Elliot…
Emem Isong is a producer I respect because she has made her mark. While the work was going on, she was sensitive to the feeling of her cast and crew. Desmond Elliot is whom I watched his acting career blossom. He’s one whom I acted with when he was a young man. He gave me the honour of giving the toast at his wedding. I worked with him as a director and I was really impressed. He brought all the understanding, the patience, all the skills, the knowledge, the understanding of the interpretation of the actor into his directorial style.
Apaye was nominated for several other awards but the movie didn’t fare well in any of the categories except Best Actress in a Leading Role. Are you satisfied with this?
To be honest with you, I expected Desmond Elliot to be nominated in the category of Best Director. Again, I believe they sacrificed the fact that Apaye was shot in Bayelsa. It’s a biopic of a Bayelsan woman. So, because it was endowed by Bayelsa State, maybe they felt it would look as if Apaye won because of that sentiment. They sacrificed Apaye for sentimental considerations, which was unnecessary. I just think the jurors missed those two award categories. The film is purely about women empowerment which the heroine (Apaye) embodies.
I thought Apaye was going to win the Bayelsa Endowed Award for Best Nigerian Film. In my opinion, Apaye would have won. Also the one of Best Film that supports women empowerment, Apaye should have also won. Those were the two categories I was surprised Apaye didn’t win. I didn’t expect Apaye to win the Best African Film, Best Sound or other categories. Those other categories, I mentioned, I believe Apaye was cheated.
What is your take on AMAA at 10?
One thing you have to concede to the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) which is what I am especially glad about concerning my award, is that Peace Anyiam Osigwe built something from nothing. She built an Oscar-styled awards institution for Africa and in this 10th year, she stepped aside. Thereby institutionalizing AMAA. And for my award to come the year AMAA was institutionalized is my biggest point of appreciation and gladness. It has been a growth process. The Oscar is over 70 years now. AMAA is just 10 and it has done well despite its challenges. By and large, AMAA has fared well.
Have you been nominated for AMAA before now?
Yes, I was nominated at the very first AMAA but I didn’t attend because I was in the UK.
Before your emergence as Africa’s Best Actress, you were kind of out of movie scene, what were you really doing?
I was away from the country for about two years running my NGO, the Clarion Chukwurah Initiative International having been given the UN Peace Award and appointed a UN International Special Peace Envoy to some certain conflict areas in East Africa. So, when you are appointed, you take time out to face your new assignment. And that was what I was doing. But since I returned, I have shot eight movies so far.
Have they all been released?
Two have been released. Hurstlers was released in January. Apaye followed. The rest have not been released.
A lot of people also feel you should start your own production?
I have been producing before now. I produced Angel in 1999, Conductor in 2001. I will still produce more for the cinema.
We also learnt you would be 50 in July?
Yeah, July 24.
What are you most grateful to God as you hit the golden age?
I’m grateful to God every day for life, for my family and the children He has given to me. I’m also grateful to God for taking me this far. I became a movie star at 18. And at 50, I’m still a star relevant to the industry. There are those who we started together but somehow they are not able to draw as much strength from God, from family, their fans to remain as relevant as I have been. I will be grateful to God for all that.
When you look back at when you started, who are the people who are still relevant you still remember?
The only person is Jumoke Fashola. She is now with the BBC, she is no longer with us. The other person I met in the industry was Sam Loco Efe and Toun Oni, they have all passed on. If I now move forward to when I did Money Power in 1982, any actor except those in the technical crew. When I come down to Mirror in the Sun, I can talk about Barbara Soky, Larri Williams, Joke Silva and Dupe Adetuwo. They are still very much around.
So, you must have spent over 30 years in Nollywood?
Not Nollywood, in the Nigerian acting industry. It would be 35 years in October. While I said the acting industry is because I’m a stage actress, television and film. Those three are not Nollywood. I didn’t start acting on screen. I started on stage. It has been stage and television for me. My first film was in 1982, and that was my third year as an actor. You can say 32 years of stardom in Nollywood. But if you talk about how long I have been acting, it’s 35 years!
What has really kept you 35 years on?
Originally, if your talent is deep and you are an artiste to the core, and that is life for you, you keep going and it sustains you, especially when you are backed with focus and determination.
How are you going to celebrate your 50th?
I’m not celebrating my 50th because I will be out of the country to party with my friends. They would be doing one or two things for me in Atlanta and Chicago, USA. But I will have a small party for my friends in December. That is when I think I will have the time according to my schedule.
You look ageless and healthy at 50, what’s your secret?
First, it’s what I eat. I’m a disciplined person in this respect. I focus on health foods. I also rest a lot when I’m not working. It’s very important. I also exercise and I maintain peace around me,
You are not a politician. You are a humanist, what is your take on the ongoing protests and campaign to bring back the missing Chibok school girls?
My position is this. The Boko Haram concept is socio-pathic. And the men who make up the leadership and membership of the sect are psychopaths. And by nature, psychopaths, that part of their brain that responds to reason is either damaged or obscured. So, these are men who do not respond to reason by their nature. These are men who thrive on attention. Attention bolsters them. The only thing they respond to is a force that is more destructive than their own. So, in my opinion, I feel all the protest marches, all the campaigns, they are feeding on them. They want global attention. So, rather than the protests to be helping the Chibok girls, it has been counter-productive. I feel that the Federal Government is being too civilized about the Boko Haram issue. I believe that the Federal Government has wasted a whole lot of time. They should have reacted the way President Kibaki of Kenya reacted to Alshaba, by invading Somalia.
President Goodluck should act as the title he loves so much the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He should use maximum force which would be more destructive than the insurgents. I don’t understand why there is much noise about the Chibok girls while thousands are maimed almost daily. And nobody is talking about them. I believe the Minister of Information that some of the protests are seeking attention and gratification from the Federal Government.
You have an NGO like you said, what is it all about and where do you operate?
We have partner NGOs in Cameroun, Kenya and the Caribbeans. The Clarion Chukwurah Initiative was founded in 1999. In Nigeria, we work with 16 orphanages and three riverine communities as well as grassroots on organization of Nigerian VVF. In Cameroun, we work with the children and youth organizations. I’m the vice president and the headquarters is in Yaounde, Cameroun.
We have the Shiloh Community Centre in Kenya. It comprises the Shiloh Community School, the Shiloh Women Development Centre. That is in Soweto, Kayole, Nairobi. We presently have 500 children in the Shiloh Community School. These are children of women with HIV AIDS, alcoholic parents and destitute. We have about 78 women in skill acquisition and developmental programmes. In Nigeria, I’ve been supported by good hearted artistes, like the late Lady of Songs, Christy Essien Igbokwe, DJ Jimmy Jatt, Emeka Ike, not necessarily financial wise. The First Lady of Lagos State, Dame Abimbola Fashola, Ondo First Lady, Mrs. Kemi Mimiko, Dr. Amina Sambo, the late Hajia Leila Dongoyaro, former National President of National Council for Women Society (NCWS), the Deputy Speaker of the Camerounian House of Assembly, Chief (Mrs.) Amina Makia, the UN Habitat office in Nairobi, Kenya and of course, I must not forget to mention the Church of Scientology, Hollywood, Los Angeles.
Let’s talk about Nollywood. Can you please, share with us the Nollywood of your dream?
Thank you. The Nollywood of my dream is one that the Actors Guild of Nigeria will operate like the Screen Actors Guild of America. Every state chapter of the guild will work like a casting agent like it was originally planned.
Actors in every state can become stars in their states. They don’t have to start trooping down to Lagos before they become stars or relevant. I know that Lagos is more or less like Hollywood, still our level of development is not comparable to America’s. It is hunger and lack that is pursuing most people from their state capitals down to Lagos, causing population explosion in Lagos as well as crime. Nollywood can assist the development in each of these states of AGN chapters if each of the state of the federation is autonomous with a strong base to throw up stars. That is the Nollywood of my dream.
Are you still going to run for AGN Presidency?
I cannot run for AGN presidency as the guild is right now.
– UCHE OLEHI