Meg Otanwa: Passionate and creative
Meg Otanwa holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, a Master’s degree in Human Resources Management from TIME Universite Tunis, Tunisia and an MBA training from Universite Jean Moulin, Lyon France. Meg worked at African Development Bank in Tunis, Tunisia several years before moving back to Nigeria to pursue her passion as an actress.
She made her Nollywood debut in the dance film ‘I’ll Take My Chances’ in 2011 and has since moved on to major roles in some of Nollywood’s biggest movies. She played the role of ‘’ in Kunle Afolayan’s AMVCA award winning hit movie, Óctober 1’, she also starred as Aisha in the popular series ‘B430’. Her other major credits include Charles Novia’s Atlanta, Gidi Culture, Ojuju, Kpians (Festival of Souls) and others. In this interview, she tells Guardian Woman why she dumped banking for acting.
You speak and write five languages fluently, three of which are international languages. How did you manage to achieve that?
I am lucky to have a flair for languages. I’d say it runs in my family, as my father is a polyglot and each of my siblings speaks at least three different languages. I am fluent in five languages— English, French, Hausa, Yoruba and Spanish and of course my native language Idoma.
My educational background also contributed to my learning these foreign languages, as I simply had to communicate with people, wherever I went to school.
You left your work at African Development Bank for acting. How easy was that decision and what prompted it?
I would say I left my job to follow my dreams. I have always loved acting; it is something I have been passionate about. It wasn’t such an easy decision, as I was happy and fulfilled working at African Development Bank, where I gained a lot of experience and the opportunity to learn about Africa as a continent, its pride and challenges. But it got to a point, where I felt I wanted to move on to something else. I didn’t look back, I just took the leap and I have not had any regrets for one day.
Between 2011, when you made your Nollywood debut and now, in which ways would you say things have changed for you?
This started as a passion for me at first. Since then, it has blossomed into a job, my way of life. Naturally, from experience, I would say I am much better than when I started in both skills and roles I have taken. I am also incredibly busy now, in terms of work that I get; my schedule is now very tight, as I am always on set most of the time.
I used to pray to have a job that would creatively consume me. And that is the sort of what I have now. I love accepting new challenges, more tasking roles and putting my all into my work.
Since that debut, you’ve featured in some notable movies, such as, October 1 and Atlanta. Which of these movies was most tasking and why?
I would say that every role has its challenges and what they demand of you as an actor. I am generally challenged by roles that give the character a lot of depth and a story deeper that what is just seen on camera. I enjoyed working on October 1, especially because it entailed playing a wife from pre-colonial Nigeria with a husband who was an officer of the law.
Obviously, challenges are many in Nollywood, especially when just starting. What are those challenges you faced as an individual and as a woman and how were they surmounted?
When I started out in Nollywood, I was very aware that there would be challenges. My primary concern was proving myself as an actor, able to interpret roles perfectly; that is the only way you can get a steady stream of jobs. I am lucky that people are convinced that I can play any role given to me. I have been blessed with a steady stream of work, since I got into the industry. I would say I was able to surmount my challenges by working hard. My career is not about the money, but rather about doing what I love to do with passion. Everything else is falling into place gradually.
In what ways has your background impacted on your career, as an actress?
Working at African Development Bank has helped me learn a lot about Africa, as a whole. Looking back, you realise how much past experiences help shape your career. Working 9 to 5 in a bank helped me go beyond just playing roles as a working woman into the depths of: how does she think? What is her background story? People are a lot more than pictures, they are flesh and a lot of emotions running deep inside.
I can also add that because most of the stories told in movies revolve around the everyday experiences of people, I am able to interpret my roles with a better understanding.
You have acted in a few stage plays, something some actors may not consider. What is the attraction for you?
Acting on stage is something I love doing any time I am offered the opportunity.
My last stage play was THE CHIBOK GIRLS-OUR STORY, which was inspired by the true story of the students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok. As an actor, I like to dress up occasionally and look pretty for the camera, but above that, I want to positively affect the world around me. Taking part in this production was an eye opener for me on so many levels.
I got the opportunity to share the stage with three of the world’s most courageous teenagers— three of the Chibok girls that managed to escape captivity in the hands of Boko Haram. I held their hands and told their stories and from them, I learnt that even in fear lies unimaginable courage. That is the strength theatre has; it draws you in non-stop, because unlike TV and movies, where you can cut until you get it. On stage, you just run through and the flow is uninterrupted.
What was childhood like and how did it prepare you for your current career?
Growing up was a lot of fun. I am from a large family, so there was never a dull moment growing up. It helped me a lot in my versatility in languages and my ability to relate the roles I am given more conveniently, as I have been able to relate to a lot of people from different cultures, characters and upbringing. Being exposed to so many experiences as a child, helped me understand the challenges people go through too, which makes my interpretation of roles a little more dynamic, based on the relationships I have had right from childhood.
Are there roles you will not take as a woman?
Yes, but it doesn’t really have to be connected to gender. It can be for other reasons. However, right now, I cannot think of one!