In new interview with Ventures Africa, Genevieve Nnaji bares her mind, dishing secrets and details about her father and career which many of her fans had never read before. According to the actress, she fell in love with the screen at the age of 16 while watching the epic Living in Bondage, and she got her lucky break years later in the feature film, Most Wanted.
Her flawless acting earned her more roles which thoroughly upset her father, but she succeeded in convincing him to let her pursue her dreams. Decades later, with over 80 movies under her belt, she debuted her first production, The Road to Yesterday, which cost a whopping N150million to shoot.
Now, Ms Nnaji, who just turned 37, is letting her fans into her private life for the first time, and we must agree, we totally fall in love with her more after reading this illuminating interview.
See the excerpts:
“I’m one of the masses, and I’m a Nigerian. I’m self employed. [I] continue to run my own businesses here and there…I’ve done something with myself – by God’s Grace – because luckily he gave me a gift and I had the wisdom to discover that gift, and I used it to my advantage.”
On growing up:
“I was a tomboy. I had three brothers right behind me. My sisters were too busy with themselves – you know how elder sisters are. I played football on the street. I got into a fight with a neighbor of mine who was a boy and I beat him up… I was six years old. We were mates and he was fat. He definitely asked for it and he got it. My dad was the kind of person you didn’t want to speak to you because you would actually feel the disappointment that you are at that time. In fact he had a way of – its not even pleading to your conscience – I think it’s a silent threat to your conscience.
I watched a lot of TV as a child, so I think I was pretty much screen trained. Of course there was no Nigerian cinema then, so everything was on TV. I would have my classmates bombard me to write the next one while they were reading.”
On surviving difficult times after her father lost his job twice, moving them from upscale Surulere to Egbeda:
(My mother) traded, she sold stuff, she got her children to sell stuff for her and we had to. We had no choice. We were living in her house. We cried. She did things you needed to do at that time. Your friends are not doing it. Why should you be the one to be doing it? You’re embarrassed about it, but I’m grateful for that because I think if I wasn’t even given that chance to be humble, I probably wouldn’t appreciate what I have today and understand that it doesn’t make me better than the next person. And [I] just know that everyone is equal and everyone is entitled to love and respect.”
On falling in love with Nollywood at the age of 16 after seeing Chris Obi Rapu film Living in Bondage:
“…Nollywood was pretty new and I was watching one of the films back then—I can’t remember the title—and this was me watching another actress, and in my mind I was criticizing how she was performing: ‘No that’s not the reaction she’s supposed to be having to that line.’ I was thinking ‘Oh, I would have done it this way’ or ‘No, I can do this!’ and it’s deep in your gut that you actually know, you actually believe you can. There’s no doubt about it, no questions about it. That was when I realized that I had interest. Did I ever think I would do it as a profession? I don’t think so.”
On her first role in Most Wanted, getting roles and having to deal with her furious father:
“My role was to interview Regina Askia, a former beauty queen turned actress who was a goddess at that time. That was major. I had to pull it off as a pro and I did it, and the producers asked me if I had done it before and I said no. They were amazed at my confidence—probably I had some training in church or something— but I remember I enjoyed doing it.
My dad didn’t find it funny. He wasn’t happy about it, but I kind of reassured him that I would go back, that it wasn’t over. He was mostly concerned about the amount of exposure film was going to bring me, coming from a very conservative, almost prudish home of a Catholic Igbo family.”
On her net worth, she reveals she hates talking about her wealth:
“Even the kind of car I drive right now cannot give me that kind of joy that my first ride gave me. I must have a minimum of my first salary in my wallet — two thousand Naira. I can have more, but that’s the minimum. It was my first salary. It’s dear to my heart. That was my welcome fee into the world of entrepreneurship. It’s just there. I love it. I spent more than that to get the two thousand though on transport fair, cause by the time they tell you to go and come back so many times, you’ve spent way more than that, but that was who I was. I worked for it. I have to get paid for it. I’d probably squander every money that is dashed to me, but the one I would sweat for, I don’t play with.
“I don’t talk money because I want people to focus on work. Money is not good for creative people. I don’t value myself materially. Take everything.”
On her personality and how it inspired her movie, ‘The Road to Yesterday’:
“I’m someone who’s dark a lot of the time. I just wonder a lot. My mind really travels a lot and I think during one of these mind journeys of mine, I was wondering about the thin line between life and death and I was thinking about something my mom had told me, stories in the family and stories from random people about how their loved ones who have passed, have appeared to them, right before they passed or the time they’re passing.”
On influences in the industry, being a role model and more:
“Entertainment is new in this country. It was new when I started. The celebrity lifestyle—obviously, there was no blueprint to how things worked.
I didn’t set out trying to be the next somebody, to be like this person. I just set out to do something that I didn’t understand, but something my heart wanted, something that comes out from within, and I just wanted to be given the chance to let it out and express myself. I am me, but I am also conscious of the fact that am being watched. I have a responsibility not just to myself but to young people.
I didn’t set out to be anybody’s role model but you grow up, you grow into yourself and become aware of how much impact you can have on the lives of other people. I don’t take it for granted and I believe in setting an example. That’s all I’m trying to do. I’m not saying I’m a saint or I’m going to be perfect. But I’ve learned that acknowledging my imperfections and my mistakes has enabled me to become wiser and smarter in the choices I make in my life. For me it’s all about being true to yourself. When you do that you will never be a ‘wanna be’, you will be who you want to be.”