A master of the screen and stage plays, Zara Abimbola Kokomma Udofia-Ejoh is certainly not a pushover in the make-believe world. In this interview with OLUSHOLA RICKETTS, the actress, who played Nurse Justina in the highly celebrated ’93 Days,’ speaks on fulfilment and difference between stage and screen plays. Excerpts:
Between acting on stage and screen, which is more fulfilling?
The most fulfilling thing for me is being able to perform. For me, it does not matter whether I am performing on stage or on screen. I love being a performer and that is what matters to me.
I started as an actress and dancer on stage before I moved into films. An actor is an actor; there is little difference being an actor on stage and on screen. The medium is the only difference; you are either in front of the audience or the audience is in front of you.
Was there a time you got tired of acting?
I have asked questions. I wanted to know if I was doing the right thing and I thought of looking for regular source of income, a regular job. But I would always come back to my passion, one way or the other.
I once took some months off acting to look for a regular job because I was jobless. Those were the periods I just finished school, at Lagos State University.
At what point did you start making money from acting?
I have been making money as an actress since I was 16. But at a point, I was seeing myself through school and I was not working during examination periods. And those days, when no one can reach you, they just go to the next person who is available. There were no social media platforms too that people could quickly reach you on for jobs.
I studied History and International Studies; I spent seven years for a course I was supposed to spend four years. That was longer that I planned. But I am not ashamed to say performing arts paid my way through school.
Why didn’t you study theater arts?
When I was seven-year-old, I wanted to be a nurse while as a teenager I wanted to be a diplomat or an air hostess. I did some research and found out that one of the courses that could help me achieve that dream was International Relations.
Before I left secondary school, I had been introduced to performing arts. I followed my cousin to a rehearsal and it all started from there. But some people in my family did not think following that path was worth it. They believed that artistes were promiscuous and poor. My mother was the only one who encouraged me to do what I wanted to do.
To satisfy them at home, I decided to study International Studies in LASU. I did not want to leave Lagos as well, because of my love for the theatre. I had applied to study in two drama schools outside Nigeria, but I could not foot the bills at the time. So, studying International Relations was my plan ‘B’.
What do you consider as your strength?
I will say my versatility. I can sing, even though I am not a professional singer. I can dance, I can act and I have a good voice.
So far, which project gave you nightmare to pull through?
I am yet to see that project. I have had some pretty challenging projects. During my younger days, I was part of ‘Things Fall Apart’ and many other performances. Some of those plays were highly tasking, but I came out excellently.
Why does it still appear that dancers are not well respected and appreciated in Nigeria?
Even in the villages, they do not respect dancers and they call them many unpleasant names. I think it has to do with our mindset. When did football become popular? At a time you cannot tell your parents that you wanted to become a footballer. What happens to being a lawyer, an engineer and a doctor?
How do you ensure there is a balance between your home and career?
I create the time. Do you ask a doctor when he would have time for his family? Why do you think actors do not have time for their loved ones? I have been in many countries flying the flag of Nigeria and I am grateful for that. My husband (Toritseju Ejoh) is even more of a performer than I am.
What would you like to change about you?
When I am 40 or 50, I would be in the best position to answer that. I am happy right now and I do not believe in dwelling on the past. When you make mistakes, learn from them and move on. There is no point regretting and crying over the past. You cannot turn back the hands of time; it is not possible. ‘
What’s your major cooking blunder?
It has to do more with forgetfulness. There’ve been a time I made soup and I never knew I did not have ‘garri ‘at home. I had visitors at home already, so I had to rush out. I do not know if that could go for a cooking blunder.
What is the craziest thing a fan has done to you?
God has been kind to me. I have had a marriage proposal. He was someone I did not know, but he claimed he was a fan.
When I was much younger, about 10 years ago, there was also another fan who proposed. But he mistakenly told me that as soon as we were married, I would stop acting. When he said that, I thought he was actually drunk. He must be drunk actually. The reason he saw me and wanted to marry me was because I was acting and he was thinking of stopping me from doing the same thing.
Do you think women are doing enough in Nollywood?
They are doing even more. At the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival, you could see how many female producers were there. We are doing more than what we were doing 20 years ago and this is happening in all sectors. We now have more female chorographers coming up and so on. It can get better, of course.
I am hoping that I will contribute my quota to empowering women. This year, my company started a technical training programme for young women in the theatre.
Is ‘93 Days’ your biggest projects so far?
Yes, it is. It is my biggest screen credit so far.