On stage or screen, Zara Udofia-Ejoh is dependable
She probably didn’t appear in more than 10 scenes in that epic drama on the Ebola scourge, titled, 93 Days. But in every scene that the stage and screen actress, producer and talent scout, Zara Abimbola Kokomma Udofia-Ejoh featured, she lit up, literally.
Originally from Ikot-Ibiok in Eket Council of Akwa Ibom State, but now married into the Delta tradition, Zara, the last of seven children born to the Udofias, is a gifted and competent performer.
Cast the delectable actress, wife of the die-hard thespian, Toritseju Ejoh, in a cameo role and Zara would make it large. She is trained to know that in acting, there are no ‘small parts, but small actors.’
It was Zara’s performance as Nurse Justina in the well-helmed Ebola movie directed by Steve Gukas that inspired this piece. Zara was believable as Nurse Justina and her delivery of the role contributed in heightening some of the movies emotional moments. She spoke about her career and life shortly after the premiere at the Rock Cathedral.
Congratulations on your outing on 93 Days. How did it make you feel seeing the movie on the big screen?
Well, I felt great. A few people who had seen the film before the premiere had told me that it was very good, but seeing it on the big screen felt like an out of body experience. It looked so real and felt good.
You turned a ‘cameo’ performance into a lead and you played the role well. Did you ever meet the real character to understudy her that well?
Thanks for the compliment (my head dey swell). However, it was important that I put in everything to make it real, as we were telling a very important story. I have learnt as an actor that there are no small parts, only small actors. Unfortunately, I didn’t know nurse Justina to guide me. I had a long conversation with the director on the script, as everyone on set did. I also read what I could online about the days before she passed and did a bit of research on nurses. Of course, we had the director to guide us.
How did you get on the set and what was your experience working with the cast and crew?
I got involved in the production through an audition that held at Terra Kulture last year. It was exciting to work on the project and with the team. I had hoped for an opportunity to work with Gukas since I saw Keeping Faith and was super excited that I got one.And everyone was very professional on and off set and I must say that I picked up one or two new tricks. I learnt a few things, but most importantly, it was the communality on set that was humbling.
The movie, 93 Days, is certainly not your first movie run. What are your other movie runs and which has been challenging and memorable so far?
I featured in Relentless by Andy Amadi Okoroafor, which was released in 2010. I played a character from Sierra Leone and I had to learn to speak a bit of Creole.Then, I did Jungle Ride with Kingsley Omoefe and Big Daddy (a short film) by Amaka Igwe Studios directed by Chris Ihidero. I think my role in Big Daddy, which was a lead, is still my most memorable. But I also like my role as Nurse Justina.
You do so much- dance, sing, act on screen and on stage and talent hunt, as well as manage. Was showbiz your career choice as a child?
Well, I wanted to be a nurse (not a doctor oo) between age five and eight and as a teenager, I wanted to be a flight attendant or a diplomat. But all that were dreams. I was introduced to entertainment at 16, but I knew for sure that showbiz was it at 22. So, I ventured into it, started as a dancer and stage actor and grew from there.
What is interesting about my career progression is that I still do everything that I started out with. I still dance, act and so on. I am a choreographer on a forthcoming theatre production, Heartbeat the Musical. I still dance and it pays me well. I am often cast in roles where the character is singing or dancing/acting or even doing all. I choreograph too, as often as I get the chance, but you will also agree that trying to make it all work can be a bit tedious. The joy is that I do what I love to do and I try to balance it out. So, it will be difficult to put me in a hole. I really don’t like to be classified as a stage or television or radio or film actor. I am a performer and like a fish that is still alive, put it in water and it will swim.
You have a rich pouch of stage play performances. Which are some of your memorable stage performances and memorable roles?
Too many to mention! But let me try. I think playing Ify in A Horse on My Back directed by Mathias Gerht for a tour of Germany in 1998. Then Merchant of Venice by Tosan Ugbeye; Abinu (little drummer boy) in Song of a Minstrel by performance Studio Workshop; Unoka (Okonkwo’s father and Nwoye (Okonkwo’s son) in Things Fall Apart by Chuck Mike and then Hear Word by Ifeoma Fafunwa, to mention a few.
How did you come about the middle name, Abimbola?
I was born at the Island Maternity Hospital in Lagos and I have lived in Lagos all my life. Abimbola was given to me at birth by a family friend and my mum kept the name by including it in my birth certificate. I attended St. Mary’s School, and then switched to Itire/Ikate Primary School. Secondary school was also in Lagos and I studied History and International Studies at Lagos State University. Growing up was hard, especially as a teenager, because my father died before I turned eight and my mum had to stop working and business wasn’t great.
But when I had theatre and dance… it was my “run to safe haven,” not much mattered. I was happiest when I was performing and my mother, who passed on three years ago, God rest her soul, was the most supportive and biggest fan a girl could have.
Any reason you decided to settle down with a theatre artiste?
You should ask my husband oo. He tells that story better. But we were friends for a few months and dated for a little longer before we got engaged.We met on the job on the set of Tina Mba’s production of Return of the Golden Sword in 1998. I didn’t plan to marry someone in the business; I never even gave it a serious thought, but when God talks to you about someone, you look again.
What are your likes and dislikes and what do you do when you are not working?
I like to travel, watch movies/series back-to-back and when I am not performing as an actor, I am producing. I run a production company with my husband, called OxZygen Koncepts and we are involved in mentoring through performance and technical workshops for young ladies in theatre, theatre productions, costuming and production wardrobe management.So, as it is work and it is also play.
What is your career ambition and what are you working on next?
I have a couple of offers for the end of the year both for television and stage, but nothing has been agreed. So, I won’t mention.But like I said, at the moment, it is the stage musical production directed by Najite Dede and produced by Lufodo Productions. As for ambition, I think it is continue to be the best in what I love to do and at that is showbiz and nothing else.
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