Omani Oboli: Returning to Nollywood after 10 Years, I Struggled to Excel

imageOmoni Passionate, pretty and purposeful, she wormed her way back into the hearts of millions of Nigerian movie viewers. Gorgeous, gracious and gallant, she won confidence and admiration of movie producers in the country. Homely, hard-working and helpful, she earned the trust and respect of other stars in Nollywood; all this, after ten years of absence in the movie industry. Returning to Nollywood with three children after 10 years hiatus wasn’t a walk in the park for her though. Beautiful and brainy, Omoni Oboli had to blow off her socks to reach the top. An actress with a dazzling brilliance, she sparkles on and off the screen. Married with three children, Oboli’s gait is that of a sweet sixteen –with gorgeous face, sexy figure and twinkling eyeballs, she exudes class and cool-headedness. With exhilarating roles in ‘Figurine’ and ‘Anchor Baby’ Oboli went on to play a stellar role in ‘Being Mrs. Elliot’, the versatile and vivacious Nollywood superstar isn’t slowed down by anything. In this interview with Oge Ezeliora, Oboli shares the secret of her success, how she got her groove back and how a Nollywood movie can win an Oscar

• I am a Very Hard-working Woman –Acting is My First Love
• I’ve been Discouraged and Disappointed –But I Got My Groove Back
• Producing My Movie ‘Being Mrs. Elliot’ Took About Four Years
• There’s Nothing Stopping Nollywood Movie Winning an Oscar
• My Boys and I Take Out Time to Bake Together

You act, you direct and you also write; how do you manage all that?
It’s God. He has been faithful to me. All I have today is by the grace of God. Besides, I am a very hard-working woman. So I concentrate on my career at all times and God uplifted me.

What were the challenges you faced putting the movie, ‘Being Mrs. Elliot’ together?
My initial challenge was getting funding for the movie. Writing the script to actual shooting took almost four years because it was a nightmare trying to get funding, and also because I wanted to do a good story. I wanted something that was very detailed; it won’t be business as usual. Of course, that kind of thing costs money: as they say, ‘Soup wey sweet, na better money kill am’. So, I needed to have some good funding for it and I wasn’t getting it. But then, sponsors came along the way and with the help of my sponsors I was able to put the movie together.

Besides writing, acting and directing, what are your other areas of interest?
I love business. What I do is business; in a sense, it’s empowering people as well. During production, you are responsible for so many people: the crew, the cast. You have to take care of a number of people for a certain period of time. You encourage them and make sure people get food on their table for that period of time and that just gives me so much joy. I’m trying to work towards making this a proper production company where we always have something going on, so there would be people who can actually depend on me 12 months in a year. It’s not just about when we are shooting, what if we don’t have a shoot for three months? What if they don’t get any other job with any other production companies? I would love to have a production company where the people who are working with me for 12 months in a year need to be taken care of. They are part of this company and they get paid their salaries. For us to achieve that, all hands have to be on deck to make sure that we get everything in place.

Do you see a Nigerian-produced movie winning an Oscar any time soon?
There’s nothing stopping us from winning the Oscars, it depends on the mindset of producers and directors when they are doing their movies. There are certain things you have to put in place if you are gunning for the Oscars, when I did Being Mrs. Elliot, I wasn’t gunning for the Oscars in any way, I just wanted to do a movie that Nigerians would watch and would be happy about. If we do have our mindset on winning the Oscars, I think we will.

You married quite young –at 21. It’s been 13 years and still counting. How have you been able to manage a healthy marriage, raise three wonderful kids and also act?
One of the phrases I use a lot is, ‘I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.’ I know that I’ve got to be a wife, I’ve got to be a mum and I’ve got to be an actor, producer and director. I try to make sure that all the aspects of my life have the attention that they require. When it’s time to just be with the kids and spend time with them and be a mummy, I don’t hesitate to do that. I just give them all the attention they deserve. It’s not just about spending time. It’s about spending quality time. My boys and I take time out to bake together; we play, have fun and watch movies. When it’s time for production or time to act, I give that total attention as well and they are fine because they know that when I’m around, I’m around. They know that I’m going to give them all the attention they deserve. It’s always a very difficult balance but one has to try to achieve it. Luckily, God has given women the ability to multitask; I think that makes it easier.

What did you do during those moments?
What I do is relax, first of all. Because one can get all worked up about the fact that, ‘Oh, I’m not giving the kids enough attention. I’m not giving my family enough attention. I’m working a little too hard’. One needs to realise that this intense work that one’s doing right now is for a season. Once this season has passed, then I can now go back to giving them the attention they deserve. Thus, there is no point worrying myself sick about it right now. I just need to relax, focus on what I’m doing right now. And then move on from it when it’s done.

Are your kids are also involved in acting?
The first one says he wants to be an actor –and he is doing a good job of it. He’s featured in a couple of movies. He has won a couple of child acting awards. He’s actually a good actor. The other two, I don’t think that’s what they want to do. But, they happen to be handy when I was shooting, so I put them in the movie.

If you had to choose between acting and directing, which would you prefer?
It would probably be acting because acting is my first love. I can do it at the drop of a hat. But in directing, one has to prepare for it. Every time you have to direct a movie, you have to absolutely prepare. I’m not saying you don’t have to prepare for acting a role; but it’s such a part of me that it is almost easy to act at the drop of a hat. I cannot direct at the drop of a hat: I have to prepare for it.

Women are beginning to play significant roles in Nigeria, but we’ve not had a female president yet. Do you think having a female president will augur well for Nigeria o r better still, do you think women make better leaders?
I don’t want to say better or worse; I just want to say women make great leaders. Like I said earlier, they can multitask. They are able to do a number of things at the same time. What would totally overwhelm a man might not overwhelm a woman –not because women are better than men but because women were created that way. Obviously, God knew we were going to be taking care of the home, as well as working and doing other things, so He had to put that skill and knowledge of multitasking in us. That’s why I think women would actually make great leaders because they would be able to juggle different things at the same time. Also, women are more compassionate by nature. Women think with their hearts a lot of time. They are able to actually feel what the people’s needs are and try to meet them. So, yes, I do think that women would make great leaders.

You left and came back successfully to Nollywood. How did you achieve that?
I didn’t have any fears when I was coming back. But when I got in I realised I should have those fears because nobody remembers one from 10 years before. When I got back I was the new girl, whether I liked it or not, and nobody wanted the new girl. Everybody had their position and they wanted it to stay that way. It was a struggle trying to get back in and I would go to some of the people I knew in the industry but a lot of them weren’t as relevant as before or they just weren’t doing it anymore. I met Emem Isong; I met Lancelot (Imasuen), who I’ve known before and we got to do one or two movies together. Then I did Kunle Afolayan’s The Figurine and it was like, boom! ‘Who is this girl? Where has she been?’ Thereafter, I did Anchor Baby and that was it. The rest is history.

We’ve had complaints of harassment in several forms and indecent proposals in the movie industry, have you ever been harassed?
No, I’ve never really had that because obviously when I came back to the industry, I came married with three kids. I don’t see why anyone would think a married woman with three kids would make a great attraction. I do think it is (sexual harassment) there and I’ve heard one or two people talk about it. It’s not peculiar to Nollywood. It’s in every industry – doctors sleep with nurses every day; teachers sleep with one another; bankers sleep with their customers or their bosses –it’s in every industry. It’s not peculiar to Nollywood. Unfortunately, because we are in the limelight, people get to hear everything that happens to us, both the ones that really happened and the ones that didn’t really happen. Well, it just never happened to me, but I guess it is there.

Sometimes you hear celebrities complain about the burden of fame, do you have that kind of burden?
I always say: the whole fame comes with its good and its bad sides. Unfortunately, one can’t take the good and leave the bad. If one is in the limelight, everything that one does or even the ones that one doesn’t do go public.

What turns you off?
Lies and fake people turn me off.

What has been your most challenging role so far and which is your favourite movie?
Every single one of the movies that I’ve been part of has been challenging for me. I see each of them as a new project, and I want to give each project 110 per cent of myself. The challenge is always there; I don’t go into any movie thinking, ‘Business as usual; let’s go and act.’ I try to make sure that I look at the character very well; no matter how short the notice that I have for the movie. I look at the character and determine what the characteristics of the character are. What can the character do? What can the character not do? How they react to certain things? I try to become the character. That in itself is always very challenging. But then, there have been movies that have actually not been just challenging in acting, but also physically challenging. ‘Figurine’, for instance, was very physically challenging. Anchor Baby was very emotionally challenging; it was one of the few times where I have become a character and it was actually difficult for me to get out of it. Yes, I’ve had a number of challenging roles.

Was there a time in your career that you felt like giving up?
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like giving up. I don’t know if giving up ever really came to mind. But I’ve felt discouraged and disappointed, and I’ve gone over that with just falling back on the passion that drives me on the job; which pretty much happens to everybody. One gets to a point where one is just tired. Then one thinks about the fact that this is what one really loves. This is why one wakes up in the morning and one can do this for free sometimes. I think about the passion and I just dust myself up and move on.

If you weren’t acting you said you would have been a surgeon. Why?
I just love medicine. I love medical drama. But of course, that’s just on TV. Honestly, I don’t cringe at the sight of blood. I feel like I would have loved to stitch people up and…

Cut them open?
(Laughs) No. Let’s concentrate on stitching them up; stitch people up and make them feel better. Yes, I would have loved to be a surgeon. I’ve actually been part of a surgery for a woman that was giving birth through caesarean operation. I thought it was a lot of fun. They cut her open; she was really chubby, just all the layers of fat they had to cut through to actually get to the baby and then they took the baby out. It was a really big baby. She was so huge; she was just sitting there not even trying to come out. And they had to kind of smack the baby around a little bit because she wouldn’t cry. She was just tired and almost distressed. Then, stitching the woman up took some time, because they had to stitch through different layers of fat, and I said to the doctor, ‘Why don’t you just take out all this fat?’ He replied, ‘Well, she didn’t sign up for that. She didn’t ask us to get the fat. Maybe her husband likes the fat like that (laughs)’.

A lot of young women look up to you as a role model. What’s your advice to them if they want to succeed?
My advice to anyone who wants to succeed in any profession is, first of all, you have to be sure that’s what you really want to do because the only way you can really be happy is if you really want it. I mean you can be successful doing what you don’t really want to do but are you happy? If you have all the success in the world and you don’t have happiness, then what are you? You are nothing. The first thing to determine is: is this thing going to make me happy? Is this what I really want to do? When you actually answer these questions, then you’ve got to go at it with everything you’ve got. You have to give it a 110 per cent of yourself. You have to study. Even the Bible says ‘Study to make yourself approved.’ You have to study, even in acting. The fact that I didn’t go to a film school to study acting doesn’t mean I didn’t study. I didn’t get a formal education but I educated myself. I would read about acting. I would check my expressions in the mirror, acting out scenarios with myself and all that is what you put in your craft. You have to study to make yourself better. You have to think, ‘What can I bring to the table that no one else has? What is that thing that is going to make me stand out? That is going to make me the go-to person in this field, or in this industry? You have to put all that together and then trust in God.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I think in the next five years I would be extremely successful as a director. Of course, I would be more successful as an actor, and I would be a lot older too.

Are you going to concentrate more on producing or directing?
I’m going to be doing both side by side. -ThisDay

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