By DEDE STEVE
Though considered a newcomer by Nollywood standard, Ivie Okujaye already has strong claims to fame. Not because of her striking resemblance to one of Nollywood icons - she is playfully referred to as “Little Genevieve” - but on the strength of her modest achievement. This past winner of popular reality show, Amstel Malta Box Office (AMBO) has proved her mettle with her first starring role in Alero’s Symphony, alongside popular R&B star Faze, which won her AMAA 2012 award for Best Promising Actress.
At age 25, the Delta State-born thespian now has several films slated to be released soon. And with that also she has a big yearning to be the next queen of the screen. “I am not going to fade soon; I am going to be around for a very long time. Anybody waiting for me to fade soon is wasting his or her time waiting,” she declares to Entertainment Express during a recent encounter. In this 50-minute interview, the Economics graduate of the University of Abuja shares the story of her life - AMBO journey, family, love life and plans for the future.
Why did you display so much emotion when you won AMAA award?
Knowing where you come from can make you so emotional when you get to a point and look back and say “God I thank you”. Before AMAA, I rememebered going for AMBO, then I just said, let me just try, and I won. When AMAA came, people were asking me if I think I would be nominated. I said let us just watch; I was eventually nominated and I won. I cried because AMAA is the biggest award in Africa. For me, it was a dream come true.
How did the nomination news come to you?
I woke up after a long sleep and I logged into Twitter and lo and behold, I saw about 100 mentions of people congratulating me and all that. I confirmed if it was true and I was very happy.
You said earlier that you cried because of where you were coming from. Tell us about the place you come from?
I came from a medical background, a lot of relatives - uncles, aunts - all in the medical field. I was sort of expected to follow in that line. In other words, in the beginning, I wasn’t supported in my ambition to become an actress. But now they do. I remember the struggles and the quarrels I passed through to get to where I am. Hence, when I won the award, I was eager to go home and tell them about it.
Tell us about your background
I was born in Benin City. We spent about 10 years there before we moved to Abuja. My mum is from Edo State and my Dad is from Delta State, so I am a sort of pure Bendel girl. My dad is a surgeon; my mum, a business woman. We are five in numbers and I am the last child. I come from a home where education was made paramount. If you don’t have a certificate, you can’t talk about traveling; you don’t talk about your dream and all that. My parents are thorough academics, therefore, school was my top priority when I was growing up.
How did you start acting?
The first thing is that I have always love entertainment. I was a professional dancer before I went into acting. I remember then in Abuja, we use to have a dance group. Because I love dancing, I joined the dance drama group in my secondary school, Queens College. From there, I discovered it was not only dancing that I was good at; I was also good at acting. I could interpret roles and mimic emotions and all that; that was how I started nuturing it.
Tell us about the AMBO challenge which you eventually won?
Prior to going for AMBO, I never had any acting experience apart from acting Christmas drama back then in secondary school. I remember I played a prince because my school was an all-girl school and I have always had this athletic physique, so I played a prince. Prior to AMBO, I had no professional experience in acting. I went in for AMBO, because I love to act and I thought even if I didn’t win this, I will perform to the best of my ability so that somebody out there will know I did my best. Bigger things have happened to me since after that, but AMBO remains one of my biggest experience. Imagine someone like me who loves entertaining and I am with nine other people in the house that love what you love. And there was a possiblity of winning a car, money and a movie role by doing what you love. It was fun; sometimes I used to forget that it was a competition. It was an entertainer’s best experience, allowing you to express yourself. It wasn’t easy getting into the competition, because I had not finished school at the time, and my family with all good intention wanted me to finish my education first before pursue my acting career.
Tell us about your educational background?
I went to Our Ladies of Apostle private school for my primary education. I went to Queens College, Yaba, Lagos, and my university eduation was at the University of Abuja where I got my Bachelor in Economics. I did Economics because I knew I was not going to be a doctor like most of my family members. I appealed to my parents, who are very wise. My mother said okay, since Medicine is something that you can’t be forced to. We talked and we discovered that I was business-inclined. But I didn’t want to do Business Administration. I needed something broader, so we concluded on Economics.
While growing up, who were you best entertainers?
I am always careful when I am asked this type of question, because when I say I like certain actors and actresses, they tend to think I said they inspire me. The truth of the matter is growing up, I didn’t look up to anybody in acting; I was just doing my thing, because it was nothing serious, just something I enjoyed. Growing up, I loved Aaliyah, Eminen. Till today I can still rap Stan and In the closet from beginning to the end. When Eminem came back after his break, I was very happy, he is somebody I love so much. I loved Aaliyah because of the way she used to dance, it was so simple and I learnt a lot of her dance steps. I didn’t have it in mind that I was going to be an actress; it was dancing that was on my mind while I was a kid. I dreamt of being the best dancer in the whole world.
With no ambition to become an actress, why did you go for AMBO?
At a time, I started thinking about becoming an actress. I am a very ambitious person. I have always been. At a tender age, I have been brought up to work to get what I have. When I need money, I would go wash my dad’s car, so he could agree to give me, because I had worked for it. After secondary school, when I discovered that I love to act, I had some sober reflections. Nollywood is not easy to break into - I have heard stories of the extent people go to and I didn’t want to be part of that. So I sat down, googled different reality shows and I read about AMBO past winners - Azizat, OC,Wale Ojo and the rest. They all appeared level-headed and talented. I was like okay, this is a proper platform, so that I can go into the industry without anybody spreading rumors and dragging my family name through the mud. Because apart from everything else, my dad had always told me, a good name is better than riches. I thought about all these and I adjudged that AMBO was a respectable platform. I said to myself, let me try my luck and that was how it happened.
The first day you heard you were going to play along Faze, how did you feel?
(Laughs) The way I played Alero’s Symphony I think the reason it won awards was because it was very natural. It was natural because I related to the character. Alero was a girl who wanted to do music but her parents wanted her to be a lawyer. In reality I was a girl, whose parents wanted her to be a doctor, but I wanted to be an actress; Alero was bit of an athletic in body type, in reality I am athletic in nature. It was really easy to blend into the character. When I heard I was going to play along Faze? I remember my first thought was: Can he act? I was worried because I wanted to act alongside people that can help me improve in my own way.
The chemistry between the two of you in the movie was extraordinary and enough ground for people to think that you both had something for each other
We don’t have anything for each other; it just showed how good he was. When we got on set, Izu Ojukwu (who is such a fantastic director) made sure we had our chemistry right before we got on set. Acting alongside Faze was easy because he is humble and he is open to ideas and correction. For someone who is older than me in the industry, and a hundred times more popular, he still listened to corrections - that was why he did so well. A lot of people watched Alero’s Symphony and they were surprised. I doubted him in the beginning, but in the end, we gave him a standing ovation.
What was your peception about Faze, because you knew him all along as a big music star?
What I know is that Faze is good. He is such an amazing singer. Alero’s Symphony got AMAA’s nomination for Best Soundtrack. Every single song from that movie was by Faze - the lyrics, the instrumental, everything - he is talented. When he was in Plantashun Boyz, I loved them; when they split, I didn’t follow his career that much. But when I worked with him, I found that he is extremely talented.
After AMBO, much has not been heard about you again. What are you into?
After AMBO, I took a year off. I used the opportunity to finish school and I did my National Youth service. Since then, I have done other films which are in post production. Because I also love to tell stories, I went into scriptwriting and I studied for it a little in an institution. My first script is being shot in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria right now by Desmond Elliot, the name of the movie is Volunteers, a movie about post-war Liberia. I wrote and featured in the movie. I have finished a movie which will be coming out in a few months’ time. It is an action movie, first of its kind in Nigeria. I worked with Niyi Akinmolayo, who is such an eccentric producer, he doesn’t believe in playing safe, and I am like that, I am very unconventional. A movie which has a lot of martial arts and terrorism stuffs. The reason I am not in the spotlight is because the movies I have done back-to-back are yet to be released. Nevertheless, I am happy because when they come out, people are going to know that I have been working since.
There are instances whereby winners of talent shows fail to fulfill their potentials, what is really the problem?
Sometimes, wisdom is not knowing everything. I think what some reality TV show winners do sometimes is that they become too confident and they forget that they ought to hustle. They become too proud to do certain things like going to auditions and all that. I am not like that, if I hear of a proper movie audition, I will wear my sneakers and my shorts and go and queue up; if anybody recognises me and says don’t queue up, I would go, but if they don’t, I would stay in the queue. The mistake of reality show winners is that they forget that they are not made. I have not forgotten that. I still do things the way they should be done; so I don’t think I am going to fade off, anybody who is waiting for me to fade off, is wasting his or her time.
As an emerging actress, many have started comparing you to Genevieve. Has the comparison been an advantage for you?
It has not had any effect yet; maybe one day when they are doing a movie and they need somebody that looks like her; but for now, it has not had any effect, just an observation from some people. Right now, any role I get is because I was impressive during the auditioning. When I met her, I am going to tell her that people have said I look like her. She is the only person I have not met right now in the industry.
Tell us about the people you love in Nollywood
Kate Henshaw is number one - that lady has a smile that can turn a Satan into a saint. She is so humble, sometimes I forget she is huge. I think during my AMAA award speech they said I called her name. I can’t even remember. Another person I watched when I was a child was Liz Benson, she is on point, no matter the age, she is always on point. Then OC Ukeje, before I even thought of going for AMBO I remembered watching White Hunters and I was like: God who is this boy!
How have you coped with attention from men as an actress?
For some reason, when men in the industry see me, they are not seeking for anything, instead, I become like a small sister. Nobody says “see me privately or in my hotel rooms”, nobody. And I am so happy for that. I am so lucky - maybe because I look young or the way I talk or because I don’t have hips and bumbum everywhere - so they don’t see me and start having ideas.
Has your job affected your love life and how do you cope?
Hope it is okay to say this: I have been dating the same person since I was 18 years old. We started very young and he knows me, and knows all these things –fame or fortune - will never get into my head. Some people die at the age of 10, I don’t know what tomorrow holds, so in case I die, I would love to go to heaven. Therefore, whatever I am doing, I always have it at the back of my mind, that whatever I do will not end here. Nollywood is not the end, there is an afterlife, and it is about living a conscious life. He already knows that about me and he trusts me to maintain that mentality.
Most Nollywood marriages don’t last, doesn’t that scare you?
Not at all. I have never been the one to compare myself with anyone. Nobody can be my yardstick, so whether or not women from my industry stay in marriages or not, that does not concern me. No two people have the same heart. I will follow mine.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I am looking that in the next five years, Angelina Jolie, would be calling me as a friend. They say the best way to dream is to aim higher, so that even if you fall short of your dream, you can still fall into something worthwhile. I have my eyes on Hollywood.
What is the ultimate achievement for you?
If I can feed thousands of children, I would know God has me in His good book. When I see children suffering, I feel the need to give them something. When I have much to give out, I will definitely do that. I will have charity homes that even the media will not know I am the one behind it.
Being in the spotlight means you are liable to scandals, whether real or imagined. Have you had any type of scandal?
Not yet, but when it comes, my skin is thick; it won’t even get to me.
There was once a rumour that you were once dating either of the Nigerian footballers, Mikel Obi or Obafemi Martins?
Wow, where, when? I have never heard such. I am just hearing that from you. I have never seen Mikel face-to-face in my whole life. I am not that big yet. Obafemi Martins, I have seen him once, I can’t really recall where. Honestly, I have no idea about that.
Can you go nude in a movie?
Well, I just want to be open-minded for now, but I don’t think so. I have not really thought about that for now. But for the future, I can’t do it. I don’t want people mocking my children that “I have seen your mummy’s nakedness”. Because of family values, there are things I wouldn’t do.
What turns you off?
In Benin then we use to call it Sme-Sme, which is sluggishness. I don’t like people who are sluggish at all. To me, life is moving so fast and you are here moving slow, so get up and be sharp.
Message to your fans?
To all those who have loved what I have done so far, I am glad about it. Messages from Facebook, Followers from Twitter, it is really encouraging.
I appreciate you all, and I won’t disappoint.