Feb 15, 2018 – Steph Nora Okere: I Started Acting Way Before Omotola Jalade & Genevieve Nnaji Joined Nollywood
By Lanre Odukoya
Veteran Nollywood actress, Steph-Nora Okere made it to limelight in the 90s with the movie, Blood of the Orphan, produced by Kenneth Nebu and has been featured in a number of prime movies as well as TV series.
In this interview with LANRE ODUKOYA, the season professional speaks about her new project titled ‘Roberta’, growing cinema culture in the country among sundry issues.
You’re mostly remembered to have come to limelight in the movie titled “Indecent Girls”. Was that your first movie?
No, it wasn’t. I have done a lot of movies before “Indecent Girls” of 2004. The movie that brought me to limelight is “Blood of the Orphan” by Kenneth Nebu. And it was shot way back 1998. But I was already popular with the soap opera, “Beyond Our Dreams”, shown every Sunday on NTA.
People would say that your contemporaries should be people like Genevieve Nnaji and Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde…
[Cuts in] I had already cut my teeth in the industry way before they came in. But while in the industry we did some jobs together. I started acting with people like Sandra Achums, Eucharia Anunobi, Liz Benson, Alex Lopez and Susan Patrick and a host of others.
Why did you join the movie industry at the time you did?
It was just the right time. I used to tell myself that I started acting from my mother’s womb. Other babies stayed nine months in the womb, me I stayed up to 12. While there, I couldn’t have been doing nothing else, but acting. That accounts for why I had a natural flare for it even as a child. But professionally, I started acting in Nollywood after my NYSC in 1995. I studied Dramatic Arts in the university. So, while in school I was involved in a lot of stage acting. I joined an acting troupe during my youth service.
Which producer first singled you out in the movie industry?
For the movie industry, Kenneth Nebu and Zik Zulu Okafor were the producers that saw what I saw in myself, but the producer that exposed me to the entertainment industry was Pius Oluwole of ‘Beyond Our Dreams’
If you were to run through the history of Nollywood what would you say are the changes that your admire and those you don’t?
Now, we have better equipment. Back when I was the National Vice President of the Nigerian Actors Guild [now, Actors Guild of Nigeria], one of the things I clamoured for was the lack of equipment to shoot better motion pictures. But now we are shooting with e q u i p m e n t used internationally. I am happy about that. But what I am not happy about is the attitude towards money. I was discussing with a friend (Barbara Udo), everybody wants money before anything. The art is secondary. That’s not how we started. And this is not how I thought things will come to.
Aside decrying dearth of equipment, what other thing was adversely affecting the movie industry then?
Finance, basically. We weren’t working for the money anyway. I acted in a lot of films and I produced some myself. Most of them didn’t fetch us a lot of money, so we were just getting by, but we worked regardless. Most of the pictures we painted came from the much we could afford. I remember when I speak about Nollywood back then I would always hammer on support. When you have enough finance, you can get the best hands and equipment. With these, we can tell our stories better.
So, the movie industry has support now?
Yes, we have had some support. But I am not happy that it is gradually drifting from shooting a good movie to an entitlement mentality that some actors have. They now want a lot.
Do you think they are demanding better pay instead?
It should be about the job first, then the pay. We need more dedicated practitioners.
Let’s talk about the cinema culture. It wasn’t quite a medium in the beginning. How much doors do you think it has opened for today’s movie industry?
Few factors caused the death of cinema in Nigeria in the 80s. And we thank God for Silverbird for starting when it did with the galleria. It gave a lot of opportunity for people to see movies at the cinemas. Now, we have FilmOne, Genesis Deluxe and Ozone. We are getting there. Back then, there was a drought. But the re-emergence of the cinema has given the producer different platforms to express themselves. He can decide to shoot a straight to the video film, or a film for internet consumption or for the cinemas. Also, cinema has helped to upgrade the quality of our picture and sound.
Do you think your generation lagged behind because internet wasn’t around at that time?
Publicity on social media is the in-thing. And it has taken over just like cars took over from bicycles. Some people still ride bicycle anyway. What I am saying is that the media we had then was enough. We didn’t have to hire publicists. Media publicity for us was a mark of arrival. It was like your work had so well spoken for you that the media had taken notice. I am not saying that the use of social media for publicity is bad. But we did not miss it, because media awareness for us was something to be attained. Our fans liked us not because we were in their faces, but because our works were in their faces. But now, it is topsy-turvy. Then, you knew you had arrived when the media begin to follow you up and down.
Would you say that the social media has helped to celebrate less talented actors?
It’s an era. Social media has been a blessing to many talented people as well – both established and budding. A lot of talents have through social media gotten themselves out there. But what I think it celebrates more is in the department of shallow talents. Some artistes have become lazy as a result. Being popular before your act doesn’t give the same depth or bite that time tested artistes have. We have people who are more known on social media than on the screen. As a result, we have more social media celebrities than ever before. And when you are already popular before your act, you already set a high pedestal for yourself. But if you grew with the act, you would be immersed in it and by the time publicity comes you are grounded in what you’re doing. And people would come to appreciate the depth of your act. But taken the other way round, they can easily nip your career in the bud.
Do you think that this is also responsible for the flamboyant lifestyle that celebrities live?
Of course, it has contributed in its way. When you go ahead of something, it puts pressure on you. You want to keep up with it. We have actors who are more popular than their jobs. But it is not something I bother myself with. It is neither here nor there in the end.
People haven’t been seeing much of you on social media…
I am on social media – not just that active. You know how you like a coffee: a little bit of sugar, a little bit of milk. That’s how I want it. I just do not feel the urge to. I feel I should be seen doing things to support both the industry and the society. I want to be seen supporting the children, women and the indigents in the society with my NGO instead of on social media.
For a long time, you weren’t doing movies. Where have you been?
I didn’t stop doing films. I have been in a couple of TV series. The movie Roberta that I intend releasing in cinemas across had been in the making since 2009. I have been trying to get it started. I also shot bit of my talk show, which I haven’t released yet, for some reasons. I stayed in the US for some time and then in the UK. But I have been around for the past two years because of Roberta.
We learnt that you lectured at some point?
Yes, I taught Acting for Film and Television in an academy owned by Asari Dokubo in Cotonou, Benin Republic.
There was a time when actors turned singers, you also sang…
I started out as a singer, even though my father wouldn’t hear any of it. So, when the music began to boom, I wanted to externalise that part of me. No sooner did I enter than I met with a hustle environment. I felt I didn’t need to fight the same battle in the movie and the music industry just in one life time. So, I let it go. It is not like I will not further that part of me some day, but I had to let go. I sing real good.
Let’s talk about your new work, Roberta. What story are you trying to tell?
Roberta is a pet project that centres on the average African woman in the African environment. The truth is every woman in Africa is Roberta, but Africa women are not Roberta. Roberta has talents and ambition, but Roberta is like a robot of her environment. The movie x-rays every aspect of her life, drawing out real life issues about women and the society. It is a well-rounded movie made for the cinema audience.
Is it a gender based movie?
No. Roberta is not about gender. Roberta is not even about patriarchy. It is about the society, the environment with which the African woman has to contend. It is a story everyone needs to watch.
From what is available on social media, Roberta incorporate comedy, dance, music and drama. How did you manage to infuse the whole entertainment industry in one film?
Roberta is a talented singer. Music of goes with dance, that’s why we have the dance angle. Comedy is a necessity. Everything was packaged to ensure that audiences enjoy it. I wrote the story. I didn’t want a situation where everything would be kind of serious. It is light-hearted, but topical. For every scene there is something to entice, thrill or amuse. It is like taking a good meal: the condiments would have to be in the right proportion. In the cast list we have Wole Ojo, Kalu Ikeagwu, Somkele, DJ Jimmy Jatt, Kaffy among others. All of these people were carefully selected because of the aim of the story. Most of them jumped in because of the story.
There is so much energy. What are your expectations for this movie?
Yes. It is a bounce back energy. It has been stored in there for a long time. And I want the story of Roberta to get to everyone. We all need to see it, because we are the society and we are the only ones that can change the society. Roberta will not only create awareness about our society, it will, sort of empower people. In fact, the picture I have is a situation where every woman can look up to her situation and say, “I am not Roberta. I can change this.” Where every man who encounters a woman will say, “She is not Roberta”. The Nigerian girl child is not Roberta. The Nigerian girl child is intelligent, wilful, strong and focused. But when you see her as Roberta, you defocus her talents.