BY JAMES EMMANUEL
Stella Damasus is a delectable actress that sparkles on and off the screen. Gorgeous and gifted, multi-talented Stella, who became an actress by accident but experienced a stellar rise to stardom in Nollywood, was recently appointed an ambassador for Women for Africa, a continental flagship organization dedicated to the cause of women in Africa.
Despite wearing an ever-cheerful mien, Ms Damasus is a woman with a bleeding heart. The Asaba, Delta-state born diva hurts for being perpetually made a subject of wicked gossips and unfounded rumours. A case in point: she was recently rumoured to have been detained at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, by the NDLEA on suspicions of drugs trafficking. She does not take kindly to these false reports.
In a recent interview, the Abused actress pours out her emotion even as she goes down memory lane. “There was this story, that RMD and I were seen doing something in a car at the Bar Beach, a very untrue and painful story. I cried after that rumour filtered into my ear”, she recalls.
In this encounter, the 34-year-old belle, a single mother of two, shares with Entertainment Express some of the scars she bears which are caused by the thorns and thistles of false rumours. She painstakingly reconstructs the true versions of the falsehoods circulated about her and also sketches a broad outlines of her current engagements. The interview, refreshing and riveting, is a bird’s eye view and also a closed up of Stella Damasus’ world.
Congratulations on your recent appointment as an Ambassador, Women for Africa. How is the feeling like?
I must tell you that I am very happy for being spotted among many and made an Ambassador, Women for Africa. There are also two other women from Uganda and Kenya that were also appointed. For me it is a thing of joy that someone somewhere believes in me and believes that I can be a voice for African women. It is an honour to me and I am ready to work, initiate programmes and other things that would better the lots of the African women. I am proud to be an ambassador for ‘WOMEN FOR AFRICA’ and I celebrate the achievements of African Women around the world.
What is Women for Africa all about?
Women for Africa emerged from a desire and passion to see women honoured and appreciated in a celebratory way. Everywhere you go in life you see women. Focused, driven, determined, ambitious, resourceful, passionate, talented, inspiring are just some of the characteristics that are embedded in these women. It is an initiative borne out of the desire to celebrate the African woman and at same time lift them away from certain menaces and vices. The first edition of ‘Women for Africa Awards’ will be held in London on May 19, 2012. At the awards, women of African origin would be awarded in different categories for their achievements, works and contributions.
What are you up to now to realize the goals of the initiative and justify your appointment?
So many campaigns are going to be on. I feel sad when I see children hawking on the street when they are supposed to be in the class rooms. And don’t forget that most of these children, especially the females end up being sexually molested. We are going to work on a bill to put a stop to that and things of that nature. We cannot continue paying lip services to sensitive issues of this magnitude. Women are being abused on daily bases by those close to them. Imagine the experiences young girls shared with me on the day we celebrated International women day; imagine young girls being abused by those who are supposed to protect them? Imagine a girl of about 13 years telling you that her boyfriend beats her and threatens to abandon her if care is not taken? Imagine the insecurity at this tender stage of their lives? So we will keep on talking and making them to believe in themselves and to speak out when faced with conditions like these. It pains me because one of my daughters will be 13 soon while the second will be 10.
Apart from your activities in Women for Africa, how else are you giving back to the society?
I believe so much in empowerment and that is what brought about Stella Damasus Art Foundation. The foundation trains talented young acts for three months in drama, singing and fine art, for free. We are trying to help those talented people who ordinarily cannot afford the fees of a proper school and other institutions where these talents are being groomed. So, we are giving that opportunity by training them for free as long as they are talented. It is very difficult putting all these together but I am determined to do it. I always put myself in the shoes of others and say, if I were not fortunate enough to have the kind of parents that I have, I don’t know where I would have been today and I don’t know what would have happened to all the talents that are running inside of me. And you know there is something about frustration. When you are a young person and you have so much talent but there is no person to help you and no medium to bring it out, by the time frustration pushes it out, you start to do the wrong thing. That is why we have a lot of young people doing all kinds of crazy things they are not supposed to do. It is just the frustration inside all of them because they don’t know what to do with all that they have.
How do you run the training, is it a practical thing or theory-based?
It’s the combination of both. We have seasoned professionals that lecture and train the students for that period of three months, after which they will be awarded certificates. There are other benefits because some of them will be privileged to work with us; many notable names in the entertainment industry have been there to do one or two things with the students of the foundation. I also lecture them alongside many others. With the kind of trainings given to these people, I don’t think anything can stop them from coming out, waxing strong and making it to the top of their careers. We already have students who graduated from the foundation who are making us proud. The unique thing about the foundation is that before the students graduate, they must have produced something that they can present to anybody who wants to know what the person can do; it would no longer be a question of what I can do, but presenting what I have done. Students for the foundation are selected based on their performances during the entry auditions.
Your hands are on different things, how are you coping with all these - acting, music, foundation, and your ambassadorial appointment?
God has been my strength, coupled with my determination to do what I love doing and what I think would put smiles on faces of people. I try to live my life to its fullest, doing what I believe in and trusting God that my efforts would yield fruits in my life and that of others. I’m also working on my new songs that will be released soon.
You have grown in the movie industry, how did the journey to stardom start?
While I was growing up, my talent was obvious to everyone, including myself, was music. I loved to sing and that was what I actually wanted to build upon. My acting career actually came by accident; that I was about many years ago. I had accompanied one of my friends to the casting of a movie entitled Abused and was just waiting for her at one corner when the director of the movie saw me and asked me if I had done my audition, I said no that I accompanied a friend. He was like I should do a reading. I did the reading but I was not really expecting anything out of it. I just did it without any seriousness attached to it. Even when I was told that I would be contacted, I was not just hoping for anything. Surprisingly I was called three weeks later that I had been chosen for the role. That was how I was ushered into the entertainment world. They said they were going to pay me N10, 000 and I nearly passed out because my salary then was N700 at Klink Studio. The movie was entitled Abused. That was a good start for someone starting out. After that it was easier because other producers watched the movie and started calling me for jobs. I didn’t know most of the actors and actresses very well by then but I had seen Omotola’s movie before that time and I think it was very nice. But the first person that struck me then was Kenneth Okonkwo because of Living in Bondage. I asked the director if I was going to act with them and he said yes. I said ‘oh my God, how am I going to do it?’ But they were very good to me and they helped me understand my lines. Later, when I saw that it was worth looking into, I went to study Theatre Art in University of Lagos (UNILAG). Going to UNILAG, for me, was great because before you can say you are a professional you need to understand some things about the profession. It was a bit hectic for me because it was while I was studying that I had my two children. I was married while I was a student, had my children and was working in-between. It wasn’t very easy but we were grateful because we had lecturers that understood our schedule and I graduated in 2004.
Numerous controversies and scandals have trailed you since you hit the limelight, the most recent being your alleged detain at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, by the NDLEA on suspicions of trying to smuggle drugs, how did you feel when this happened?
When the news first came to me, we were actually on the set of a film in Cameroon. When the e-mail came in I was stunned. At first, I was really shocked, but later, I brushed it aside and continued my work, because I knew that nothing of that nature happened. They stated that it happened on November 10 in Lagos, but the fact is that at that time, I was already in Cameroon because I left Nigeria on October 29 with my film crew and equipment and we didn’t have any issues whatsoever, even with the heavy equipment we were taking to Cameroon. However, after we finished shooting for the day, I realized that the news had spread and people were talking about it and it was everywhere on the internet. It hurts because people were so quick to spread the lie without waiting for a minute to verify it authenticity. That really hurts because I am human. I felt bad because I don’t understand why somebody would want to run me down by tarnishing my image and hard-earned name. I got calls from several family members and fans all trying to find out if I was in the custody of the NDLEA. It was when I went online that I saw several screaming headlines that NDLEA arrested me on my way to Europe. Nothing of such happened to me, I only came to Cameroun to shoot an international movie. Why would some jobless people sit somewhere and fabricate falsehood to feed the public about me. The movie I went to make was actually my first attempt as a producer and I must say that it was worth every minute. The movie is entitled Unspoken and it was written by one of Nigeria’s top directors, Daniel Ademinokan, who also co-produced the movie with me.
Apart from that unfounded rumour, what other story did you hear that was not true and really shocked you?
There was this story that RMD and I was seen doing something in a car at the Bar Beach, a very untrue and painful story. I cried when that rumour filtered into my ear. We were shooting a film - a bar beach scene. Before we started shooting, my late husband told me that he missed his flight and he asked me where I was and I said I was shooting at the beach. He then called his assistant to pick him from the airport and they came straight to my location. I remember my husband bought Agege bread for everybody on location. We were all there, we ate Agege bread, crossed to the other side, shot some scenes and then we came back to him before he asked me to go for a meeting and that he’d go home. A week later, Richard called me to read one paper because people had been blasting him that he did a bad thing. I was reading it and saying Oh! who could have written this thing about this man. But suddenly, as I read on, I discovered the woman they wrote about with RMD was me. I went mad and I started shivering. I drove home immediately and showed my husband, he read it, went into the bathroom and he came out laughing and I asked, “why are you laughing, I’m not finding this thing funny. I’m going to fight these people”. I was just sobbing and asking “God why me?”
He said, “cool down, who are you going to fight, can’t you see the date they put here, that was the day I came to spend time with you at the bar beach, I came there with my assistant, so why are you killing yourself? Is it about what people are saying or what I think of you or the truth that you know? How many people do you want to go and start fighting?” That was the same time people were saying my husband had stopped me from acting. I actually stopped then because the rumours and lies about me coming from the media were just too much for me? It was a very painful and devastating period in my life.
So when was the most depressed period of your life?
It was my husband’s death - Jaiye Aboderin. His departure was devastating and a very traumatizing period of my life.
How are the children doing now?
They are doing very well; Isabel would be 13 this year while Angelica will be 10 years old. I am doing my best to take care of them.
What has life taught you all this while?
I have learnt to stop trying so hard to please people and instead just be me. I have learnt never to give up on love no matter how many times I have been betrayed because I know I have offended God many times but he has never given up on me. I have learnt to be wiser and stronger. I have learnt that I should never give up on the very essence of life and to remain focused.
We noticed you are writing for a newspaper; are you back in the business of writing?
(Laughter) actually writing is something I have love doing; it’s a means of expressing my feelings and that is why the column page is titled My Thought. You know I used to have a column in The Spectator. I was called upon recently by the paper (PM NEWS) that people love reading what I used to post on social media. They said why don’t I express my thought on the paper and that was how it actually started. I like being blunt and straight, saying the truth the way I see it and that is why it is called My Thought.
Any plan to settle down soon?
I don’t want to talk about that now; but I still believe in love. Everything is in God’s hand. People should learn to leave my private life alone. I would actually love it when people focus on my work. I really want to reduce all the attention because I’m a family person and I like to see myself as a mother who wants to care for her children.
What do you think is the basic cause of broken marriage in Nollywood?
It is not only in Nollwood that you have marriages crashing. And it is not anybody’s wish that his or her marriage should crash. Most times these people are pressurized into getting married and when anything happen, it is still those who pressurized them into the relationship that would be quick to condemn them.
What is your fashion style like?
I wear everyday design as long as it keeps me comfortable and happy. I like being simple.