Renowned Nigerian actress, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, has been absent from the movies screen for a long while, but recently she made a comeback in Alter Ego, a movie directed by Moses Inwang. In this interview with Mary Ekah, she justified her choice for a role where she is featured in exceptionally rare and sensual scenes in the new movie
You have been away from the movie scene for a while, so what have you been up to?
I have been around but I was building my business. I have been building, slowly but surely, a film village in Badagry and I had some things I needed to do also internationally. I also used that period to creatively re-organise myself.
How far have you gone with the film village?
We have over 20 hectares of land in Badagry and my husband and I are operating different businesses there. On my own side, I have the Double Doors - the film village. I hope it will be ready next year hopefully. I also began another project on Mobolaji Bank Anthony, Lagos, which is supposed to be annex of the film village called, Double Doors. So, these are some of the things I was busy putting together when I went off the scene. I have always said that what we need in Nollywood is infrastructure. So, I needed to go and start developing infrastructure.
How come you suddenly got drawn to Alter Ego?
I have not featured in any movie for about three years now. I knew I was going to go on break so I starred in a few movies but by sheer luck - I don't know if it's bad or good luck, they were not released, so I have like four movies that are still not out. I shot Blood in the Lagoon with Teco Benson, and another one in London called Amina, which are yet to be released. So I thought I needed to go away because I was getting creatively siphoned. You know in the creative terrain, it gets to a point that you feel like there is nothing challenging you anymore and then you start to feel like you are dropping. So I went through that period and knew that I needed to stay away and wait for the industry to catch up with some of our ideas. So I was away doing my business and other things and coming back, I was looking for something that will challenge me. I knew I had to be set - I was looking for something will excite me the same way 'Mortal Inheritance' excited me and something that will bring out some values in message, entertainment and reality. And so when I decided to return, I got a lot scripts but none of them excited me. I had to look for something that will really excite me and the truth of the matter is, 'Alter Ego' did it for me and I knew that was a project I had to take.
So what actually drew me to Alter Ego is the soul of the movie. It must come quickly in a movie and must also be emphasised throughout the film. Some come naturally while some don't. The movie got me on time because I switch very quickly; so if I read through the first 10 pages of a movie script and I don't get the story, I get bored. I loved the film from the beginning, it was a diamond in the rough. I knew what was lacking in it. So, I called the director and told him we will have to tear the script apart and rebuild it and he gave me his nod. It takes a big mind to shoot 'Alter Ego'.
Was your husband comfortable with you playing the role and are you ready for viewer's criticisms, especially the way you got so vulgar with your co-star actor, Wale Ojo?
Some of the sex scenes in Alter Ego were downplayed because I'm married. But I won't play the sex scenes if it wasn't necessary in the film. I know by starring in this movie that my fans would either hate me or love me forever because I knew we were getting involved in something quite risky but also I knew it was necessary for this film. There are several ways to shoot a sex scene tastefully. I'm all for playing a sex scene convincingly and my husband knows this. I tell my husband, 'You know what darling, you married an actor'; and secondly, he is my biggest fan. I tell him, 'Do you want me to be great or do you just want me to be good?' He will say, 'I want you to be great, sparklingly great'. Then I'll say, 'Ehen, we go love o' and he's fine with it. He understands but just like every other human being and the professional that he is, he too wants to be convinced that I played a sex scene because it was necessary. I know when he watches movies sometimes he would say, 'Did they have to kiss if they were not going to kiss well?' And again, when I wasn't even confident, I starred in a movie called A Prostitute, which was released 22 years ago. If I didn't die then, is it now? I'm ready.
Also, people would be wondering how you were able to build some kind of chemistry with Wale Ojo?
I was working with Wale Ojo for the first time, so we had to spend time together and we played very rough. I understand the power of being friends with your love interest in a movie so we became like a couple. We ate together and basically just broke down the walls to make sure we were both comfortable with each other and have each other's backs and interest at heart. So, it spilled into the movie without you even noticing. In Nigerian movies, we have downplayed chemistry. I hope we can bring that back. Back in the days when I shot Mortal Inheritance in 1995, I had to spend time with my co-star, Fred Amata. He was already a renowned director and in those days, directors were revered. So imagine, my director who had directed me in a movie prior now acting as my lover. I was really afraid but we broke the ice by spending time with each other. So, he demystified himself and we had chemistry and you could tell. So, I'm hoping all of these return to Nigerian movies. So, as professionals, we need to ask ourselves if it is necessary for a movie to have a sex scene and when it is, it should be done well.
Do you think the message in Alter Ego, which has to do with sexual abuse and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, will appeal to Nigerians?
We don't talk about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that much in Nigeria, so, when you see someone that is mentally traumatised, the first thing that comes to your mind is, "this person is crazy!" We don't talk about depression in Nigeria. We don't talk about how it affects children, especially those that have been abused. When you ask a lot of adults, you might find out that some people have been abused as children. And if we want to tell ourselves the truth, how many of us were actually able to tell our parents about this? In Africa, it's always a taboo to say, "uncle, somebody touched me". They will practically ask you one million questions. "What did you say to him? How were you sitting? What were you wearing?" As if it's your fault, you become the victim. Alter Ego sets out to address how sexual abuse affects victims as kids and as adults. Sometimes, you see people as adults behave in a certain way, but because we have not diagnosed this problem - because in Africa, you are either just crazy and should go to a psychiatric hospital; but we don't think about the fact that people actually have psychological trauma and that PTSD actually affect Africans. We think it's a Whiteman's disease.
How have you managed to reinvent yourself year-in-year out?
I think it's knowing what matters and being authentic and hoping that your authentic self makes sense. I am blessed that from a very tender age I was able to find God and my Christian values have shaped me. The real me is real; "I no dey form, I no dey do pass myself and what you see with me is what you get." Somewhere along the line in my career, I deviated because of the distraction of money from our brothers that were bringing so much unnecessary money into the industry and were the ones dictating the pace. Thank God that I was able to find myself back.
Did your marrying early boost your career?
Absolutely, it's one of the biggest blessings of my life because I look back now and I am like if I wasn't married then, will I be married now? I can understand that as a celebrity it is hard, really hard, to get people who really love you for who you are and not because of the image of you that they have in mind. So, I can understand what some of my colleagues are going through because it's not easy. Having said that, marrying my friend, a very wonderful, powerful man, who is confident of himself, has helped me. It has allowed me have that stability and be able to go out and fly.
What is happening to your music career?
I want to get back to music so bad and I am coming out viciously and it's not like I care about what people were saying when I launched my music career. I hope we can get to that place where we can find a balance. But, I want to do music in such a way that I can be in concert like Barbra Streisand. I want to fashion my career like hers; I won't be a Tiwa Savage because music is her career. So, I can't compete with her because of movies; but I've told people in the past that I almost love music more than movies. That is why I love to express myself a lot in music. I want to build my own place and be in concert and have people come watch me. That's the way I think I'll be able to do music.