Steph-Nora Okere Makes A Rebound With Roberta
THERE are no two Steph-Nora Okere in Nollywood. The only person by that name is the multi-talented University of Ife-trained theatre artiste who has remained relevant in the movie industry as butter is to bread. Time it was when ‘Steph’, as the Imo State native is simply called, featured in six out of every 10 movies released in Nollywood. For most movie producers then, common sense dictated that Steph should be in the mix if the movie required a steady actress. She was that relevant.
An actress, singer, event manager, scriptwriter and current Vice President of the Script Writers Guild of Nigeria (SWGN), Steph, who has not changed a bit in looks, hugged fame and fortune so early. Observers say it was so easy for Steph to break into the already top heavy industry because she was one of the very few truly trained professionals who had the ability to live roles believably.
Although Steph would admit that she rose steadily up the ladder, she however recalled that it was not as easy as she thought. “The major challenge for some of us at the beginning was basically to prove that we could deliver. Don’t forget that not all those who were there at the beginning were trained. So those of us with some training from the university were not given the opportunity. Some of the people then were scared that we will come and take over. But thank God for reasoning. We were given a chance to prove our abilities and the difference became very clear,’’ she recalled.
Steph who speaks Yoruba fluently joined Nollywood in 1994. She was just 21 then and was already a graduate of Dramatic Arts. Before then, she was doing well as a stage and television actress and was in fact on the cast of the successful television soap, ‘Beyond Our Dreams’. But when acting on home video became the main stay for most actors, Steph joined in too and in no time, the star of commercially successful movies like ‘Indecent Girl’, ‘Angels Forever’, ‘Lagos Babes’ and ‘Sharon Stone’, became notable.
An easy going, humble and amiable personality whose artistic contribution has retained something of a permanent place for her in the scheme of things, Steph who revealed that she would have featured in over 100 movies grabbed lead and supporting roles both in the English and Yoruba language movie divide of the industry as she ran along. She also ventured into production of movies and penned scripts, which she either produced or sold out rightly. “I majored in scriptwriting and of course, my training as a dramatic artiste exposed me to managing productions. So I decided to venture into those two areas,’’ she said.
Perhaps it was because she got so busy with writing and churning out movies as a producer than she did with taking up roles in movies that a lot of her fans concluded that she has taken a back seat in moviedom. But did she ever withdraw from acting? “No, I didn’t’ she snapped. I have always been around. I have been everywhere. I only reduced the numbers of films I featured in and ensured that anyone I accepted will be something worth the while. Besides, I chose to remain visible and to do that I concentrated more on soap operas because you get to see soaps every other week. So I have been around. If I took a break at all, it was to work on my talk show that would soon hit television screen and to write more scripts and produce more movies. So there was no time I left entertainment because I was writing scripts and doing other things that were entertainment related”, she retorted.
So there was no truth then in the tale that the relevance of most of the top actresses petered out when some younger actresses joined the industry? “Why should that be?,” she cuts in. “Have you ever heard that birds collide in the sky? It is the same thing here. The industry is big enough to accommodate every good actor and actress. I have featured in a number of movies that will soon be in the market. I have also produced some movies and I am at the verge of producing one titled ‘Roberta’. So nothing like taking the back seat or our relevance fizzling out. I am trained to take on any role. Even if my frame will not allow me play maybe a teenager, there are other roles I can play,’’ she maintained.
An old pupil of St Paul’s School, Ebute Metta, Lagos and an old girl of Jubril Martins Memorial School, Lagos and Akwakuma Secondary School, Owerri, Steph is currently working on her talk show called ‘The Lounge With Steph Nora’. She hinted that the show is designed to celebrate icons that are doing things to project Africans to the world. “The major target is to create positive role models for the youths,’’ she said.
But beyond the talk show, Steph who became the talk of the industry when she ventured into what was roundly described as a less than sensible marriage with notable Nollywood actor, Lanre Falana is at pre-production stage of a big budget production titled ‘Roberta’. “I have been on it for a long time. I am ready with the script but I am scouting around for funding. It is not just another movie. I want it to be of international standard. So I am looking for funds. Sadly I missed the Project Act Fund of the Federal Government but I have just applied for the BOI Nollyfund and I am hoping I will be considered,’’ she said.
Although it is a subject she hates to talk about, it is difficult to engage Steph without recalling her short-lived marriage or what she described as ‘marriage process’ with the actor Lanre Falana. Their relationship packed up just before fans could spell out her surname. “I was never married to Lanre,” she clarifies. “But I was involved in a marriage process which didn’t work out. You are married after your bride price is paid and fully married after your traditional and white wedding. But all that didn’t happen between us. Yes, we had planned to settle down as man and wife but we broke up and it was based on personal conduct and irreconcilable differences. Agreed, we wedded in court but we did because the Catholic Church where we began the marriage process requested that we tender a marriage certificate issued by a court. But once we discovered that we couldn’t go on, we went our separate ways. I was under intense pressure to continue the process but I gave it up because I was concerned about my happiness. But it is all good that it happened because it taught me a lot of life lessons,’’ she said.
Any regrets? “I have absolutely no regrets. I believe God allowed anything I have encountered in life, whether good or bad, to happen for a purpose, so I have no regrets. Everything happens for a reason and I believe it happened because He wants to teach me not to judge a book by its cover. But I am surrounded by His grace and mercies now and I will definitely settle down at God’s time’’.
Steph-Nora’s career ambition is to continue to remain relevant as an artiste. She also wants to be involved in a lot of charity work. “I want to remain relevant as an artiste, as filmmaker and producer and as a playwright and scriptwriter. I also want to be celebrated in the areas of event management and production consultancy. I want to be engaged in productions that are of international standards. I also want to be involved in charity work. I have an NGO and I want to do more for society through my NGO: Big Sisters Care Foundation. Let me just say that I want to be different and also set standards for others to follow,’’ she surmised.