Omoni Oboli- Stepping Into Character
There was a time a few names and faces made Nollywood. Omoni Oboli was one of them. Most people recognise Oboli from her early Nollywood days when she made her first appearance along with the likes of Liz Benson and Richard Mofe Damijo in the 1996 film Shame. According to Oboli, “It was a dream come true for me. I went on to play the lead role in three other movies,” including Hilda Dokuboh’s movie, Another Campus Tale.
Oboli describes her first day on set with enthusiasm as she says, “I played alongside two of the industry’s giants at the time, Liz Benson and RMD…It didn’t matter whether it was “waka pass” or a speaking role. I loved it, and I couldn’t wait for other roles.”
The actress played a leading character in the 2016 film, Okafor’s Law, The Figurine, Being Mrs Elliott and more recently starred in the new film My Wife and I, where she acted alongside Ramsey Nouah.
Oboli had an interesting chat with Guardian Life on her new film and her Nollywood experience thus far.
What was growing up like for you?
Mostly happy and eventful, even though we weren’t rich. My experiences with my mum and my sister were such that I couldn’t trade them for any other. Living in the Delta Steel Complex at Aladja was a dream for us then; it had all the facilities that made for a great community, and that made me live a somewhat sheltered life, away from the larger society of Warri. The schools there were great, and that’s where I also discovered my love for acting. I loved those days.
Would you say acting is a natural gift or training is necessary?
Both. You can be naturally gifted in anything, but without any further training, I don’t see how you can get very far. The training may be formal, studying at an institution or taking courses, or it may be informal, which can include on-the-job training in school dramas or any plays with friends and people of like interests or in Nollywood directly. The naturally gifted ones then shine when they are featured in roles after they’ve been trained either way. So yes, acting is a natural gift, but even some people who didn’t think they had the gift still go on to be great through training and sheer determination.
What is it like stepping into a character?
Every role has its own demands and challenges, and depending on the director and the script, I always try to put myself in the place of the character I’m playing. They say an actor can’t or shouldn’t judge the character he or she is playing and that is what I always try to bring to any movie production I’m featured in. We also somehow still retain a bit of our own traits and mannerisms, which is what makes two actors give different performances for the same role and that is also what brings spice to the entertainment world of movies.
“Okafor’s Law” – describe your character in the film?
I played the character of the “good” church girl, Ejiro, who had been stood up at the altar and after finding God, fell for an old seduction trick to find herself in the same position as when she was first jilted. We have all come across an Ejiro in our lives, who has, due to experiences, given up on relationships on the surface, hoping for that person who ticks all their preconceived boxes of the ideal Mr Right. Unfortunately, some people know just how to satisfy those requirements on the surface, until you probe deeper to find that “perfect” doesn’t always come in ideal packages.
How did you decide to start directing?
Back in my secondary school days I was writing, producing, directing and acting in the school and church plays, even though I didn’t know that was what I was doing back then. So it kind of came naturally to me to take the next step from acting to directing. So I went to take a course in directing at the New York Film Academy (NYFA) in New York and now I’ve written, produced, directed and starred in four of my movies and a series.
How would you describe your experience so far in Nollywood?
Great! I dreamt of this, but I didn’t think we would see Nollywood grow this fast to become a force to reckon with at the cinemas alongside other international movies. It has happened and we are competing with Hollywood and doing even better at the Nigeria cinema box office. I have a good relationship with many of my colleagues who have also come to see that the sky is big enough to accommodate even more than we currently have, and I’m glad.
How has the industry transformed for you over the years?
The international recognition says it all. With the great outing at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) we shone brightly. We now have so many great moviemakers, and I’m especially proud of the high number of female filmmakers and producers that have sprung up lately when it was only Amaka Igwe at one time. Nigeria has been the better for it with the influx of employment opportunities and entertainment business doors being flung open. Our movies have grown in production value and the fan base has grown exponentially since I first got in back in 1996.
What has been the highlight of your career?
My career has seen many highlights thank God! My first movie was premiered at Aso Rock Villa. I won the best actress award at the Harlem International Film Festival and also the best actress award at the Los Angeles Movie Awards with Lonzo Nzekwe’s movie, Anchor Baby. What more could a girl ask for? My movie was officially selected at the TIFF 2016 edition, and my movies have been doing great at the cinema box office. Not to forget The Figurine, which sparked off the new Nollywood cinema movement. I could say my career has all been in highlights.
What are some challenges you’ve faced as a female actress in Nollywood?
Nollywood has a lot of female lead actresses, and when a good role comes along, the producers and directors have to sift through them all to find the one they want. So sometimes I find that some roles I would love to play would be given to someone else, and likewise, I get roles that others would want for themselves. That was my first challenge getting back into the industry after a ten-year break. I still lose some juicy roles, but I get so many other roles that it doesn’t matter as much as when you’re first trying to break into the industry as the new girl in town. Also, with a family, it’s hard to stay away from my family for long periods because of the job, but that’s what the job calls for.
You’re a working mother, how has that been for you?
Like any other working mother in any other field, it’s hard to be away for too long from the children and my husband, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, and it’s always great to have a good support system. My husband is a great support for me and I don’t have to feel like I was neglecting them because he makes sure the home front stays functioning properly when I’m away.
What are some projects you’re working on right now?
I have a movie out in the cinemas that I’m promoting right now, My Wife And I. I have other movies in different stages of production. Wives On Strike (The Revolution) will be released in December and I have a series to release even sooner.
How does My Wife and I depict the marital struggles couples go through every day?
Every marriage has its challenges. Couples need to take time to understand each other and their various needs and challenges.
Would you say it’s difficult for wives to step into their husbands’ shoes sometimes?
It’s difficult for anyone to step into anyone’s shoes. If the shoes weren’t made for you, it’s a struggle to fit into them.
How long have you been married for? What would you say is the most challenging part of being married?
I have been married for 17 years. Understanding and living everyday with someone who’s not like you can be quite challenging.
“My husband is a great support for me…
he makes sure the home front stays
functioning properly when I’m away.”