Women in any industry have the hardest jobs. This is usually because unlike their male counterparts in the same role and the same industry, they have more to juggle if they are to make a success of their career, but many women do it everyday, and because of that we forget that they are accomplishing extraordinary feats. Chioma Akpotha, a wife, mother, actor, and importantly, a movie maker, in this interview with Saturday INDEPENDENT’s Tomi Falade, talks about her life, her personality, family and most importantly, her works, including the upcoming Biola Alabi Media’s latest movie, ‘Lara and The Beat’
When you saw the script for Lara and the beat, what was your first thought?
From the get go, it was a beautiful script, so I didn’t object to anything. First we had the first draft which we did a reading for. You know when you read a story; it’s one writer, maximum two or three writers. But when people get to read it at the round table, you find that one or two people might point one or two things out and you go back to your drawing board. So we did a back and forth before we finalised and started shooting. So it was awesome. It was awesome coming on set. I got the script and I was really excited. Biola Alabi is someone I have admired, and considering the fact that she had just released a blockbuster, the year before, my thought was “Abeg, let’s do this!” So it was exciting.
What was the part that stood out most for you in the movie?
It was just the entire production, the quality of the production. First and most of all, I got to understand that in as much as you are of a certain age, you will be required at all times to play a certain age. When I read the script the first time, I was thinking, “So what role am I playing because I am not seeing myself as one of those young girls that their father died.” They said, “You are Tonye’s mum.” I told them that I did not understand because Tonye’s mum is about 50 something. I am not in that range, but they told me “Oh, Chioma, you’ll be fine. We’ll try and age you a little, and considering the fact that most women these days are quite youthful, have you seen the trend, have you seen the forties, they look like they are 26.” So I thought, “Fine, let’s do this, I’m up for the challenge.” And it was awesome.
We heard you sing in the trailer, and they said it was your real voice.
Are you shocked that I can sing like that or you want me to sing so you’ll believe? I’m not going to sing, sorry. When we did it in the studio, I had to learn. Christe Essien Igbokwe was my mum’s favourite, so we had her records – not CDs, but the plates – at home. So it was easy for me to resonate with the song. Like I said before, I have not sung in a while, so I was a bit rusty. But they said I would be fine that when they get to the studio, they either take it up a notch or take it down, which they did. They took it down to make my voice a little bit tiny. So it sounded nice, and I was thinking maybe I would go do some training again and probably sing an octave higher than what I usually sing.
So which is your first love, singing or acting?
I am married to both of them.
What was it like working with music artistes on a movie for the first time?
It was awesome. It was difficult at first; I like being truthful. At the initial stage, it was difficult because even though it was still from the entertainment industry, we were coming from two backgrounds as it were, the music and the acting. They are used to things being snappy and sharp, they do their thing and they run off. We are used to preparing, first take, second take, third take, camera rehearsals and all of that, so it’s in our system, but they are not used to doing one thing over and over again. They had to learn and we had to be patient. It was a fusion I would want to see often. We are entertainers, and the more we marry ourselves, the better the industry becomes and the understanding would be a whole lot better.
You mentioned that you want to do some musical training. Are you planning to try music out?
Yes, I will sing to my children. It’s not something I intend to do on a professional level though. It’s stressful, it is tasking and it is a lifestyle. There are some things you won’t do, there’s a way you won’t talk… With an actor, you have to try different voice ranges. You have to be calm, you have to be cool, you have to be angry, you have to be husky and all other moods. So it takes a toll on the voice. I think that’s what happened to me after I had my last baby and then continued acting. That’s because when you are pregnant, your voice octave drops, either one octave or two octaves below. I think I dropped two octaves. When you drop, it takes you a whole lot of practicing to come back to where you used to be. I just didn’t bother.
We grew up watching you, how were you able to maintain your looks?
Hello, ‘wetin you take old pass me?’ I think it’s because I started off just after I left secondary school, thank God my parents let me do it. Because you see actors everyday on screen, the more you see them, the older they become, and it gets worse for us that get married. Once a woman gets married, she adds about ten years to her age. And when she has children, you hear people call her “Mama.” I started off at 17, so when people call me Mama, I just accept it because ‘I don tey for the industry’. It’s been almost 20 years.
But you still look young, how come?
‘When suffer hold you and you look slim’, you know how to package yourself, you are in the business. I do exercise though but not consistently, and not consciously. Looking good is good business. If you understand the kind of business you are in and you understand the demands that come with it, you have to be ready to give it all it takes. For those in the Diaspora, it doesn’t matter if you are fat or thin, you can get a job that demands for you to put on a lot of weight, and the other one you have to shed a lot of weight, so you have to be ready at any point in time.
Some people think that you are a cold and are a snob?
I think Nigerians are quick to generalise. I am a very shy person. The job I do helped me come out of my person. It was even worse because I went to a single sex school, so I was just used to women. Mixing with guys is something I am not used to. I just started coming out of it as an actor. So the first impression you get of me is that I am cold and that is me shielding myself from people I do not know.
But if I’m in a room and I am comfortable, I am the loudest because I am free and I want to talk to everyone. But if I am in a room and I don’t know anyone, the perception you will get of me is that I am cold. But I am not here to blow my trumpet, all I am saying is that if you know me you know me, and if you don’t, you don’t. So the ones who don’t know me are the ones that say I am cold.
You started acting at the age of 17, at a time when parents were wary of their children going into the industry. How did you battle peer pressure and shun vices in the industry? Were you even exposed to such vices when you joined the industry?
I wouldn’t say I was exposed, because first, my mum was strict. If she didn’t have any other job, she probably would have been a solider, even though she was a woman. So, the way she raised us was to be proper. I am the first daughter, and if you are an Ibo woman, your first daughter, that’s the Ada, has to be an example of what the good home is. So I didn’t have the chance to do all of that. Plus, I’m allergic to smoke, and so many other things. I get high easily, and I am stupid when I am high, but I like to comport myself in public. Hence when people see me I appear uptight and all that. So I cannot throw all of that away, it’s my person, not just that I did something extraordinary to achieve that. I had friends that tried to persuade me to drink and all, but if you know who you are, why succumb to peer pressure?
You are one of the celebrities that are not as vibrant on social media, you don’t share pictures of your family continuously, why is that?
That’s not being vibrant, that’s being private. I believe everything I have is in the open, so I should have something I can keep for myself, and that is my family, because that is what I fall back on when I’m not comfortable with everything in the open. I fall back on my family to relax, enjoy, rejuvenate, recover and recalibrate to face the world. But if everything is in the open and I have to fight for everything, I’ll burn out.
It’s been five years since your mum passed, what do you miss about her?
I miss everything about her. My mum was my best friend.