interviewBy Opeoluwani Ogunjimi
Mercy Aigbe needs no formal introduction as one of the most sought- after actresses in Nollywood. She's one of the top rated actresses who has paid her dues in the industry. In this interview with Showtime Celebrity, Mercy opens up on many issues, including her marriage to her ex-husband, her recent marriage, career, challenges and others. Excerpts:
What's been happening?
I have been busy working and some of my movies have been released in the market. I just completed my most recent movie titled, Suru Lere(Patience Has Gain). I also traveled to shoot the concluding part of my movie, Osas, and by December, we're going to round everything up.
You started as an actress and now, you're a producer, how has it been?
It hasn't been easy because it involves more responsibilities. As an established actress and now a producer, you want to give what people will see and respect. Producing movies that are not up to standard will affect the way people look at me. So, it's double work because I also play lead roles in my movies.
How much do you spend producing a movie?
Like I said, as a producer, I love to give out my best on a project. But with the kind of environment we have here, one of my challenges is piracy. Sometimes, when you have a project and you're to spend like N10m, you'll always want to cut cost because you're not sure pirates will allow you recoup your money. But at the same time, because of my status and the kind of person I am, I always want to do what I want to do.
You being a Benin woman, why did you choose to act in Yoruba movies?
I'll say it's providence because it's not by choice. I didn't know I would be more prominent in the Yoruba movie genre. But I'm a professional- I studied Theater Arts at the University of Lagos. So maybe this is where God wants me to be for now.
Actually, I started off acting in soaps. I did a couple of soaps before going into Yoruba movies. And it was after I featured in few Yoruba movies that I started getting more scripts from Yoruba movie producers. It's not as if I don't get called up by non-Yoruba movie producers and it's not as if I don't want to diversify to feature in English movies or even produce mine, but for now, I'm okay with where I am.
You're so fluent in Yoruba. Did you grow up in the West?
Yes, I grew up in Lagos but I would say I learnt the language on the job because before I started acting in Yoruba movies, I wasn't fluent in the language. My father was the type who didn't want us to lose our root so, most of the times, we speak Benin and English at home. It was because we lived in Lagos that I started picking up a bit of Yoruba. When I started, my scripts were written in Yoruba and I would pronounce words just anyhow. But because I love my job, I had to learn and as I continued acting, I got better with it.
So you knew you were going to be an actress?
Yes. That was why I went to study Theater Arts. I first went to Polytechnic, Ibadan where I had my OND in Financial Studies and Instead of continuing with my HND, I went to the University of Lagos for my degree in Theater Arts.
So what happened after the degree?
It wasn't easy because I had to battle my dad who never supported my decision to go into acting. He didn't believe I could earn a living with it. So it was hell until he consoled himself, in Nigeria, you don't necessarily have to work with the certificate you have.
How much were you paid when you just started?
We were not paid at all. When I started, it wasn't easy finding people who believed in me and take the risk to feature me in their movies especially to play lead because most producers wouldn't be sure if one is capable of playing a character for a long time even after auditioning. So when I get opportunities to express myself as an upcoming, I was grateful even when I didn't get paid. I wasn't paid in most of the movies, and if I got paid at all, it was peanut.
Like How much?
I had been on the set of a movie for three weeks and at the end, I was paid N2000. And I remember on my way back home, I was crying because before I came into the industry, I already had a car and I was okay. So it was like leaving a lucrative job for an unknown place where I wasn't even sure I would be accepted. I think my passion for the job kept me on until things became better.
What determines the kind of script you accept?
The number one thing is the script- it has to be well dialogued and has to make sense. I love to play a character that someone can learn from. Then comes the director, the casts and crew which matters a lot because it's one thing to have a good script and another to bring it to life.
You said you don't belong to any caucus. But actresses like Funke Akindele, Eniola Badmus, Bimbo Thomas and others belong to one. Are you a loner?
I'm not a loner no. I didn't just have to join any caucus because after the movie, Ara, everybody just started giving me scripts. So, there was no need for it. But maybe I should say that I belong to all caucus because I have a good working relationship with everybody, whether it's the Odunfas, Akos and others. Yinka Quadri, Oga Bello are my fathers and I work with them a lot.
And you didn't get harassed by producers?
I wouldn't call it harassment. Yes, men make passes at me because I'm very beautiful. It happens everywhere. I'm an adult and if I wanted to date someone, I would have but I didn't date anyone.
Because I just believe that relationships in such industry doesn't work.
You don't trust anybody?
Exactly. I just have that thing at the back of my mind that such relationship won't last long.
Was that what determined you choice of a husband?
Probably, but the thing is that I knew I wasn't going to date anybody in the industry. So, I wasn't attracted to anyone and didn't allow any feeling to develop inside me for anyone. When I'm on set, I just do my job. But I can't say it influenced my choice of husband. Fine, my husband isn't in the industry. I didn't know I would get married to a hotelier and a car dealer. I didn't have a particular picture in mind. I just met him, fell in love with him because he was very kind, matured and understanding.
One hopes he doesn't get jealous whenever you go to location for weeks?
It's a lot of hard work being a mother, wife and a professional and still be on top of my game. Sometimes, the whole thing just gets to me and I feel exhausted. But I have an understanding husband who loves my job and supports me. He knows I love my job, he knows I'm an independent woman and I love to work for my money. I love his money too o but there's this pride that comes with me spending my money. So he supports me because he knows my job makes me happy and he doesn't want to have an unhappy and unproductive wife at home.
Whenever I'm away on location, I make his food and keep in the freezer. I also have domestic staff who help me out . My mother also help me with the kids whenever I'm away.
Doesn't he suspect you having an affair whenever you are away on set?
The reason he doesn't doubt is because when we were dating, I didn't give him any cause to doubt me. According to him, he has tested me and he trusts me.
So how do you cope being the second wife. Don't you and the first wife have clashes?
Laughs. This question is very funny and I'm going to deal with this now. What happened is that when I met him, he was already separated from his first wife. Although, they were still married, but no longer together. She lives abroad with the children. So, they were already separated when we started dating.
They weren't divorced?
They weren't divorced as at the time when I met him but now, they've finalized their divorce and I'm the only wife. They were separated for like five years before I came into the picture and their divorce case was in court. They were divorced before we got married. A lot of people don't know the real gist- now I'm not the second wife but the only wife.
So now you're happy?
Yes because even when I started dating him, I just allowed people to say whatever they wanted to say. They were still in court then, I didn't want to say anything and just kept quiet and the town went agog. They finalized their divorce before our wedding and even before I had my son.
You're a very beautiful woman, how do you cope with male advances?
I get a lot of that because people tell me I don't look my age. I get a lot of male advances and it makes me feel good because I get reassured of my beauty even after two kids. So I tease my husband about it. A times I even let him know whenever someone makes passes at me so he can know I'm still hot. But jokes apart, I'm a married woman and I don't want anything that will stain my name. I love my home and I pray to remain married for the rest of my life. I always know how to draw the line.
So how does he handle it whenever you get advances from men?
He just squeezes his face and asks me if I don't know that I'm old and I just tease him back that it's only to him that I'm old, the other guys don't know that and we just laugh it off. But I think he likes the fact that men make passes at me- I think you should ask him that. But to me, we just joke about it.
Aren't you due for another baby because your boy is two years old now(laughs)
Yes, I want to have another one by the special grace of God.
So what are you waiting for?
It's God that gives and I know he'll do it very soon.
Does your ex husband still bother you?
No, he doesn't
Did he let you be just like that?
Has he moved on like you?
I don't know anything about him.
Both of you don't care?
Why would I care? I'm married now and I care only about my husband and my kids.
Are you not bothered about the negative gist in town concerning it?
I don't have any business with him again. That's my past. My husband and my children are my present and future.
Divorce cases are many now. How do you hope to remain married again?
It's not me and I don't have the power to keep my home. All I'm determined to do is my best in the relationship. What I've done as a woman is to take my marriage to God because the divorce cases are scary. It's everywhere. Ladies of nowadays are independent and don't care about marriage.
In the past, single mothers used to lie about their status but today, ladies flaunt it, the world is changing. I'm going to sound a bit spiritual here- the devil is against marriage because it was instituted by God. And anything that has been done by God, he wants to make sure he pulls it down.
Marriage is meant to be sacred but it is no longer like that anymore. A lot of things have changed, even men don't care what broken home can do to their kids. I feel our spiritual leaders should address it and make people start thinking of the vision God had about marriage.
I've been a victim of divorce once and I know what my daughter went through because I had an issue from that marriage. I don't want to see any of my children go through that again, and that's why I've taken my marriage to God.
So what were those mistakes you made in the last one that you wouldn't want to repeat in this one?
It's not like I'm trying to sound holy but, I didn't make any mistake. I just feel it was meant to be like that. I had a mother-in-law who didn't like where I come from. She didn't like the fact that her son didn't marry a lady from their village. She made me go through hell. At a point when I couldn't take it any more, I left the marriage.
So you wouldn't blame those ladies who wish their mother-in-laws were dead before they got married?
I swear I wouldn't blame them. If I think back to what I went through, I wouldn't pray for anyone to go through such because I went through hell in the hands of that woman. And for me to have woken up one day and decided to leave, it wasn't easy because I was young and tried my best to please her. But she wasn't pleased. I went out of my way to learn their language, learn how to cook different dishes just to please her but she didn't bulge.
So what did your ex-husband do about it?
At first, he actually fought it but some women have a strong hold on their sons. In the end, he obeyed her. He didn't like it that I was leaving but he couldn't hold me back at the same time because he wanted to please his mum. We had fought the battle for a long time and it wasn't as if it would come to an end, I had to leave.
Have you ever been broke in your entire adult life so far?
Of course, I had when I left my job for acting. But it wasn't as if it was that bad because before I left my job, I already made a provision. I had a cosmetic and fashion accessories shop. I knew I would face financial challenges as an upcoming actress. It wasn't that bad, I 've just been blessed.