Being Nse Ikpe-Etim
“Look at me, Look at me. I am the mother of three kids and you say this fat thing from Lesotho is what is meant to be my rival? This is no competition Ken, it isn’t. If this is it, You have failed!”
Susan (played by Nse Ikpe-Etim) screams at Ken (played by Joseph Benjamin) as they go at loggerheads, Susan trying to find her voice.
In this opening scene of “Mr and Mrs”, Susan takes on the semblance of a maid. Her transformation in the last scene is what women in situations like Susan’s want to be like- confident, outspoken, ambitious, knows, and understands her value. Nse’s extraordinary acting, her gracefulness, mystery, and beautiful interpretation of each role is what make her a beloved of Nigerian film lovers.
No wonder she is nicknamed “The Silent Tsunami,” the actor who interprets her role and delivers them effortlessly.
For many, their childhood influenced their dreams, and the eclectic actor was not exempted. From listening to and watching Hollywood classics ‘Sound of Music, EL CID, My Fair Lady, Ben Hur’ alongside many others. These classics influenced her dream to live the life she constantly watched on the screen even though she had no knowledge of how to achieve them.
It has been a long journey becoming the Nse Ikpe-Etim, a journey of a lifetime. When asked how long it has taken her to become the woman we all know today, she explains,
“To get to this point in my life, it took years of unlearning that which we are conditioned to believe, relearning new things, accepting people for who they are, and appreciating the little things. In my career, it took never thinking I know it all. Constant learning is key. To be this version of me, it’s taken all my life.”
Jim Rohn, the American Entrepreneur once said: “Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.” Nse Ikpe-Etim can be said to have risen above the ordinary, a secret she attributes to her voracious appetite for knowledge. When asked how she has mastered her craft over the years, she says:
“I am a bibliophile. I am one person who believes that you only stop learning once you die so I am open to learning from even babies. I soak up almost everything without judgment, but then I’ve mastered the art of filtering and differentiating between what truly aids my growth and what diminishes it.”
Anyone who has doubts when pursuing their dreams hope for that moment when they can be sure that they are on the right track. As an all-round actor who has grown over the years and made her mark in the film industry, she flashed back to the moment that she knew she had made the right choice.
“My moment of awakening came after I was nominated for different awards even when I thought I did not deserve them. That, combined with the joy acting gave me, was all I needed to know that this was what I wanted to do.”
And indeed, her joy for acting makes all the difference. For each character she plays, she studies learns and becomes that character.
When questioned on how she does this, she replies that it boils down to falling in love with her characters and giving her character “life” in every sense of the word.
“Haha… that’s crazy. I don’t know if saying “I become” makes any sense, but the first thing I do is ask myself if I am in love with the characters’ stories and if they are stories I am interested in telling. Then I research everything about the project, all the while constantly relying on the support of my family and friends.”
It is also why every time she is done with a project, a feeling of nostalgia sets in.
“I think every time I am done with a project is a low point. I fall in love with my characters and then I miss them when I’m done.”
As much as she has played so many roles in diverse films, for most actors there seem to be a favourite character they have lived. One film that stands out to her is the silent film, “A Hotel called Memory.” “The silence of my character was everything. It helped me deal with my health issues at the time, plus it was something I’d always wanted to do… a dream come true,” she tells me.
Interestingly, Nse Ikpe-Etim has set her eyes on the paranormal genre and even this, she has done. And in pursuit of perfecting her craft, she is open to genres as long as she is comfortable with the role she is given.
Protecting Her Haven
Success takes a lot of sacrifices, and this involves mental health. As such, mental health must be totally catered to.
We cannot rule out the fact that in a digital age like ours, bullying, rumour-mongering and so much more is the order of the day. Actors like every human, have a breaking point. Nse Ikpe-Etim speaking about mental health says:
“It’s funny that you ask about mental health seeing that it’s a topic that is not regularly spoken about in Nigeria or maybe Africa as a whole. Taking from a tweet I saw from Jemima Osunde recently, we all need therapists. And that’s like saying if you have malaria, you treat it by seeing a doctor. Right? So, I guess that’s how to handle it. When I feel depressed, I also change my diet or look for a safe haven which is mostly meditation for me.
“I gave a TEDx talk a while ago and I started with a slide of happy faces. Guess what the title of the talk was? “This is what mental health looks like.” And that’s the truth. Depression does not start with a morose face. We all mask it with smiles and laughter which becomes increasingly difficult when you are on my side of the divide.”
Speaking further, she touches on Nollywood and the lack of an enabling environment to attend to issues of mental health especially with issues of support for film creation.
“Every time I witness a storyteller’s dream die simply because the project did not get the required support, it hits pretty low. But as always, I remain hopeful.”
When issues that affect mental health happens, there is always the need for calm to help still the waters.
Despite being a public figure, Nse Ikpe-Etim is a private person. She explains that she has learnt to stay within the limits of what comes with being in the public eye, an art she has mastered.
However, as a public figure, she has youngsters who look up to her, a sweet-bitter burden that affects some public figures.
Bending in to pressure, the demands of the public influences their actions. For Nse Ikpe-Etim, she admits that even though she is true to her actions, people must understand that she is still finding her way.
With awards and numerous recognitions to her name, the highlight of her career is knowing through her interactions with critics that she needs to do better. Speaking about this highlight, she says
“The times I got with critics all over the world as a member of the juries at different international film festivals. I get to watch films from around the world and see other people’s great works. For me, it highlights the things that I should do better.”
Another striking thing about the actor is the way she exudes confidence. While many yearn for when they will become recognised Internationally, she succinctly explains the International is right here waiting to be grabbed by the wise, passionate and hardworking actor,
“Hasn’t the international come to us? My take has always been, “Hone your craft, conquer your home front and enjoy the journey.”
Most of her avid followers keep asking when she will be back on the screen and the Silent Tsunami says this is coming sooner than expected.
In Allegiance To Womanhood
Besides being an actor, she is a voice for the voiceless woman. She believes in equality, she is a feminist.
“I am a feminist. I believe in equality and this is what we ask for. We ask that a nation like ours doesn’t throw us under the bus because we are deemed lesser than the man, we are all humans and deserve equal respect. Lawmakers owe us this and so much more.”
Nse Ikpe-Etim is the definition of what being a screen goddess is, an embodiment of success, simplicity, audacity, and versatility.