Fast rising Nollywood actress, Ini Dima-Okojie, spoke to ENCOMIUM Weekly about her love life, why she dumped banking for acting and more.
Why did you quit banking for acting?
I used to be an investment banker. It was a good job; it paid well and I learnt a lot. Normally, I’m a very organized person; I arranged my itinerary for the week from Sunday most times. But as time went on, there was this longing in my heart and I knew I wasn’t fulfilled regardless of how much money I was making. In my head it didn’t seem logical to abandon a career I had built and to pursue something that was just a passion, so I kept doing what I was doing for another year.
At a point, I applied to the New York Film Academy (the annex in Dubai) just to fulfill all righteousness as it were and see if the idea would die off inside my head but it did not. I eventually knew I couldn’t put it off anymore when I got to a point where I stopped ironing my outfits to work. I would just find something stretchy to throw on and head off to work. It was at that point that I really knew I wasn’t fulfilled as a banker anymore.
Why did you choose the New York Film Academy?
I wanted to get quality professional training, and I didn’t just want to be reckoned among those who just popped up on the screen and started acting. I wanted to get trained and also receive feedback as I honed my craft, so I could really be sure this is what I want to do.
How did your parents take your decision to dump banking for acting?
I actually delayed telling my parents about it because I didn’t know how to break it to them. I couldn’t go to the institute in Abu Dhabi because they had issues: it was either I settled for a course in production, or I went to one in New York. All I wanted to do, for now, was act, so naturally, I chose New York. I was almost through with the whole process of applying before I told my mom. I told her a month to when I was supposed to travel, and surprisingly, she was totally in support of the idea. She even told me she had sensed it before and supported me fully. My dad had issues initially, but when he started seeing things happening, he also came around eventually.
What kind of issues did you have with your dad?
He wasn’t hostile towards me, but he just couldn’t understand why I would want to leave stability for something unpredictable like the arts.
Did you always want to be an actress before you went into banking, or did you develop the a passion for it much later?
I would say I kind of fell into investment banking, I’d always wanted to be an actress.
You know how Nigeria used to be. You’re expected to study banking, accounting, international relations, or economics, and the likes when you go to school, and start working when you graduate. I guess, I was just following the perceived norm. My mom was a banker and my dad was a medical doctor; everybody was in the academic lane and I guess I didn’t want to be the odd one. I was always interested in the creatives all through school though, which was why my mom supported me instantly because she knew I had a passion for the arts.
Did you pray about it before you made the move?
Oh yes, I did. I had to inform my pastor about it. He prayed with me and told me to inform my parents about it if I was truly convinced I wanted to do it. I must admit I was scared because I didn’t know how I was going to survive from having steady pay to a career where virtually nothing is guaranteed.
How has it been for you so far?
It’s been tough. You have to deal with a lot as an up and coming actor. People here don’t associate with potentials; they associate with what and who’s already established. I don’t want to focus on that negativity though. I just make sure I use every opportunity that I get really well, because I can only make my dreams come true through these opportunities. I’m trusting God to keep bringing new projects my way and I’ll give my all to each one as they come. I’m focusing on taking it one step at a time right now.
What else do you do beside acting?
I’m a TV host. I also attended the Become A Host Academy in Los Angeles, California, USA, after my training as an actor. I’ve been privileged to host a show called My Big Nigerian Wedding, which will be aired soon in Nigeria. I’ve also had this idea to start my own talk-show since last year. I’m working on it.
Who have you worked with in Nollywood so far?
I’ve worked with a lot of the younger generation actors in Nollywood, and they’re so receptive and wonderful to me. I’ve worked with Blossom Chukwujekwu, Lillian Esoro, IK Ogbonna, and a host of others. I’m aiming for the older ones too, and I know I’ll get an opportunity to work with them one-by-one soonest (chuckles).
Don’t you miss the steady month-end income you used to get as a banker?
Of course, I do. That was one of my initial fears, but you have to pay your dues and make sacrifices for your dreams to come true. It’s not easy, but I know I’ll be fine. I’m ready.
What are your strengths as an actor?
With the background I have now, what I bring to the table is simple: I treat every script I get like my child; very personal. I break it down and internalize every aspect of it. I’m also very open and teachable when I go on set, because nobody can know everything in this world. I always do my homework and come prepared. I’m a method actor, and I like to literally become every character I play.
You’re obviously religiously inclined, but how far would you go to become a star? Would you act nude or semi-nude?
Everyone has his own moral codes, and I believe in setting boundaries for whatever one does. This helps you stay grounded. As we speak, I don’t like to give definitive answers to anything, but as of today, I wouldn’t do a nude movie. Semi-nude or romantic scenes; I wouldn’t want to take anything out of a story. So, if it is tastefully done, i.e, the director and production team know their onions, and it’s a scene important to the story, of course, I’m ready to do it. The emphasis is on being professionally done. I’m not keen on having nudes flying around because I’m not a porn star (laughs).
What do you think makes you stand out from every other actor out there?
I don’t know what makes every other person choose to do what they do, so I focus only on myself because I know I have a passion for this. I went the extra mile by going for quality training at the film academy, and believe me, schooling in New York was not a walk in the park. It was very expensive, and the first month I was there, I lived in Queens and my school was in Manhattan. That is extremely far. I had to wake up every morning by 5 so I could jog in the cold to catch the bus to the subway where I would take the train into the city. It was really not easy at all.
Has your background as an investment banker helped your career as an actor in any way?
Yes, it’s helped me be very professional. I’m always very punctual to my appointments. I don’t joke with my work, and I always meet my deadlines. So, yes, it’s helped me quite a lot. It’s also helped me look at acting from the business angle because the truth is that everybody can have a passion. If you can’t translate your passion into profitable income, you can’t become successful. There must be a balance.
No, I’m not married yet.
Are you in a relationship at the moment?
No, I am not in any relationship presently. I’m single.
How long have you been single? When did your last relationship end and why?
(Laughs) I’m not a ‘serial-dater’. My last relationship was in 2010. I’ve been single for five years.
What would you look out for in a man?
Every girl likes the ‘tall, dark and handsome’ fantasy. But, when it comes down to the real deal; someone loving, understanding, and God-fearing. Someone that respects me and what I bring to the table and someone I can respect as well.
Can you date someone in the movie industry?
That’s tricky. If it’s all up to me, I would rather not. I’m so focused at the moment and I don’t want things to get messy. The affection live would just be too much strain on the relationship for me eventually if something goes wrong. Love is crazy and unpredictable though, and you can’t really choose who to love. But, left to me, I wouldn’t date an actor.
If you end up with a very wealthy boyfriend who insists you quit acting, what would you do?
That’s why I said my man has to respect what I’m bringing to the table. I didn’t make all these sacrifices just to be sitting somewhere counting some rich guy’s money.
If you were not an actor, what else would you do?
I’d definitely still be involved in the creative world and entertainment. I love story-telling. So, if I couldn’t act, I would surely be writing scripts or producing. I’ve never written a full story, but I have glimpses of scenes in my head that I try to pen them down from time to time.
How many productions have you featured so far?
I’ve been on a couple of productions. My first was a telenovella entitled Taste of Love. After that I did Desperate Housewives, Vendetta, and I just wrapped up Death Toll with Alex Ekubo and IK Ogbonna.
Do you have any celebrity crush in Nollywood or Nigerian entertainment?
Yes, I have a crush but he’s not Nigerian. My crush is Chris Hemsworth (chuckles).