Popular Yoruba actress, Iyabo Ojo, is very, very serious with her craft and her life. And it is obvious in this exclusive interview with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine. The session which held at her office in Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 saw the pretty mother of two talking candidly about her failed marriage, booming career, expanding business and more. Excerpts…
What does it take to be a good actress?
Dedication. You have to be dedicated to learning all the time. Everybody around you, both the new and the old, you have to be willing to learn all the time. You have to believe that you are not perfect, learn from the new ones and the old ones, you have to listen a lot to the director, you have to watch a lot of movies that will inspire you, you have to learn to build on your charisma and your interpretation, delivery. Some of the movies that you do, you need to watch them; by so doing, you have to be your best critic. You must never believe that your best is good enough, you have to have that thing in mind that you are learning everyday and that’s what makes you to grow. You have to also pray for challenging roles, roles that you usually don’t do, that can take you out of your normal shell and put you in another realm and make something good out of you. And be dedicated to God.
What of a good producer?
No. 1 – you need to study the industry. That’s the first thing I tell people when they come into producing. Like I said, when I came into the Yoruba movie industry, I came because I wanted to be a producer, not even an actress then. I started with the AGN and in trying to learn the trade, I had to learn how to manage production, how they do it, study how they manage production, from the production manager, make up, costume and continuity. You have to keep details; you have to keep taking note of everything that goes on around you in a production. You have to study the production itself. I tell people, you don’t just wake up one morning and say you want to be a producer. It’s either you go and learn about producing and filming, or you join those already in the field and learn, see how they do it, how they handle welfare and costume; work with the best hands that you know, people that have been able to make a name, people that have been able to shoot good movies, learn from them so that when you start, it’s easy for you. So, you understand everything even before you begin: you know how your director is meant to be treated, the things he needs to do, understand how to manage your crew, how to manage your artistes. You need to know when to call your artistes on set, you need to know how your PM is going to negotiate with them financially. So, there are a lot of things that come with you being a producer. Now, one of the things I noticed with these new producers is that most of them don’t understand; they are like I want to produce. Before you know it, they fall into wrong hands. And if you come into the business without knowing it, it could be good or bad. You know it is a tick-tack game. It’s better for you to come first, learn, then start producing. Mix with those that have been there, that have been able to succeed. A lot of producers have produced, but not all producers do succeed at the end of the day. Not all producers do make their money. Some people even produce and sell at half the price they produced that movie and lose a lot. All because they didn’t take their time to learn the production and they did not move with the right clique. So, being an actress is easier than being a producer, because if you want to be a producer that will be here for so long and make money, you have to take your time and learn the field. It’s very big; it’s a broad field that you need to learn. By so learning, you need to mix with the right people that can help you get there and you take it from there; before you get to editing, marketing, advertisement aspect and all that. It’s a process that you need to learn, it’s not something you just learn in school. You have to come around and learn it. You have to do more of practical learning to understand basically how everything is done, because I did that. I tried to learn for two years. I was practically going to movie productions I wasn’t called. I go there anytime my bosses are working, either Ogogo, Yinka Quadri or Abbey Lanre to see how they do things. That was how I was able to produce my first movie successfully, Botife, in 2004 and I’ve been producing since then. It’s been ten years now and I am still producing.
What don’t you like about acting?
There is nothing I don’t like about acting because if there is any clause you have in acting that you don’t like, then you are not supposed to be there. Because as an actress, you have to love it to be able to deliver. But you might have your own rules. Your rules guide you. It might be based on your personal rules, it can be based on your environment, your society, but as an actress, you must love everything about what you do because that’s what gives you the drive to do it better and stand out among the crowd. So, there is nothing about my job as an actress that I don’t like.
So, what has being an actress done for you?
It has given me fame, it has given me connections and it has given me a lot of respect and acceptance in my society. I have also had a lot of bad side from the press, where certain things are being said about me. But give and take, the longer you stay in this industry, the more you begin to have an enduring spirit, the more you begin to take things very light, you begin to see it as okay, they want to make their money out of my name. Usually, in the past, I used to take it personal when things were written about me negatively in the media. But now, sometimes it might get to me, but after a while, I just overlook it. Sometimes it doesn’t even get to me at all because that’s the price you pay for stardom, because your private life is never yours. In those days, they used to say that around every rumour, there is truth or something. I can’t even remember that quote very well. But now, there are so many stories said that don’t have any element of truth or basis at all. People just wake up and feel let me write a story. Why they do that, I don’t know. But as an actress, you have to accept it that it’s the price you pay. But when you weigh it, you find out that the good is more than the bad. So, it’s all good. There is no profession that doesn’t have its challenges, but we are in the limelight. In the showbiz world, obviously, we are out there. It doesn’t mean that lawyers, bankers, doctors don’t go through crisis, challenge in their places of work. Everybody faces one or two challenges. We are trying to deal with ours.
Talking about having bad press, what is the worst you’ve ever heard about you?
I am not talking about that. If I keep repeating it and keep doing that, it doesn’t go away. It keeps recurring. So, whatever bad you said, I don’t remember and I don’t even want to remember. I want to move forward.
You are one of the few successful actresses in this industry. Tell us your success story.
It’s God. I give God all the glory because without God nothing is possible. We just try as human beings. I am a very hard working person, I love to work hard because I have a lot of responsibilities. If you are someone who has so many people who look up to you, you don’t even have a choice, you just need to work. And I’ve put all my efforts into acting. I’ve ben acting since 1998. Putting all my efforts into producing. I love doing business, I do a lot of businesses that come my way. So, I just work. I’m not someone who is stagnant. I don’t settle for one thing. I believe that as long as I have the strength and ability and wisdom to move, I can do so many things as long as it’s legal and it’s good business for me. And I’ve tried my best to get to where I am today.
You have a movie production company, a beauty spa and you are also an actress. How have you been combining all these?
Like I said, I am a very busy person. You have to be able to plan your life. I’m a very organized person. I always draw out a plan of how I want to live my life. If you are disorganized and you are doing so much, everything will just fall apart. You have to be organized. I have a business that I run. What I do is that I have a lot of professionals that are good, if not better than me in that field, that can handle it. I know I have staff that relate with customers very well. Sometimes I send my friends down, that they (staff) don’t know to come and interact with them and see how they relate with them. Because you need to have customer relations, you have to be able to attend to your customers very well. So, I try to make sure that my business is in check when it comes to my staff and I try to be nice to them, I try to support them, I take them like my family and I treat them the same way I will treat a sister of mine so that when I am not there, they will handle the business well. If I have to work, they know that yes, I am going to work and then I face acting. If it’s producing, I take time off acting and I face my production squarely. If I want to be a mother, it’s not even if I want to be a mother, because I am a mother. So, I try to make out time and make sure that I am home almost every day. If I am shooting around Lagos, I always go home, so that in the night, I have to check on them and in the morning, before they go to school. Sometimes when I am not shooting or when I am not producing, I try to stay home. I can stay in my house for a week or two without going out. People find it hard to believe, but I do it. Sometimes when they go to school, I go to the office and when it is time for them to come back, I try to make my way home so that they meet me at home or sometimes they come back before me and they will go through our normal process because they are teenagers now. I try to give them that much attention because they need it. So, it’s just learning how to plan your life, and I don’t take too much jobs. I pick my work. I plan my everyday life. If I have one job that I need to do and another one comes between that time, I’ll have to tell the person, you have to wait or you find someone else to do it. So, I plan myself so that I don’t have to break one for another or affect the other negatively.
There have been many negative stories written about your Pinky Foundation. Tell us what it’s all about.
I have said what Pinky is all about, and I’ve said it a thousand times and I don’t think that I’m going to keep saying it. But you people keep asking. It’s an NGO, it’s a foundation that deals with kids with disabilities. It has to do with a few of my friends, both junior and senior women who do other things. Working mothers, business women, students. We have people who live abroad. Seventy percent of the women in our group are all married women. It’s a group I founded because then, when I wanted to start the group, I started with Kids Want To Dance With Iyabo Ojo. I wanted to take kids round these homes, enjoy, party with them, give them gifts, relate with them as an actress. I told my friends and they were like oh, it’s okay, you are giving back, we are interested. And then it was just five of them that said they were interested. So, we started. We could chat, send messages; we have the BBM group chat thing. Then, it started growing. Some other friends and their friends picked interest and joined the group. Then, we said let’s name it Pinky Foundation. At first, it was Sexy Pink Ladies. Actually, then, I didn’t think of any negative implication. I was just doing my thing because people call me Sexy IY and I call a lot ladies sexy and that’s where the sexy comes in. I used to say every woman is sexy. Sexy is something I say a lot to women, trying to make them feel good about themselves , trying to let them know that no matter how you are, whether fat, thin, big or small, you are sexy in your way. Pinky stands for ladies and during the time we formed that group, my daughter did her tenth birthday and that was three years ago and the colour was pink. So, I said Pink For Ladies. But later, when there was so much noise that Sexy Pink Ladies is a lesbian group, I now said okay, let’s rename it. And it became Dhe Pinky Ladies Foundation, under Dhe Pinky Global Foundation. But we’ve changed it to Dhe Pinky Foundation. So, pinky represents female. It’s an all female group. We meet once in two months. So, we meet six times in a year to support ourselves. We have this monthly contribution that we make to support our businesses. Whenever any member is getting married, burial or naming ceremony, we rally round that person, we buy gifts, we show love to one another. We contribute money basically every month, we celebrate our birthdays together. The money we contribute, we pick a foundation, go to them, ask them what they need, they give it to us; we buy those things and visit them and celebrate with them. The last one we went to was just few weeks ago. Not up to two weeks. We went to the School of the Blind, in Mushin.
They needed board for writing and walking sticks. We bought some, took food and provision. They even told me that I was the first actress to visit them with my colleagues .We met a blind guy that makes bed spread, I took pictures of it and put on Instagram and put his number there. And he has called to say thank you, that people have been calling him to patronize his work. So, it’s just like giving back to the society. That’s what Pinky Foundation is all about. We also contribute to other foundations, apart from ours. We have other foundations like CUD Foundation supporting us. And I just shot an English movie titled Beyond Disability to create awareness about them. I was surprised to hear that I was the first celebrity to visit them in Mushin. People need to go out. Just knowing that a celebrity came with her friends to visit them gave them joy. Sometimes it’s not even about the money or gift; it’s the acceptance and love. I have passion for people with disabilities. It’s not only children, we visit old people’s homes. The two old people’s homes in Lagos, we have been there. We’ve been to the ones in Sabo and Mushin. If there is any other home, I tell people to let us know and we will also visit them. So, Pinky Foundation is an NGO that caters for disabled children and old people.
Is it true that there is lesbianism in Nollywood?
I think that lesbianism is everywhere, but I cannot say whether it’s in Nollywood because I am not a lesbian. I don’t practice it, I cannot preach it and I have not had any of my colleagues walk up to me and say Iyabo, I’m a lesbian. I have not seen it. I hear it , I read about it , I go to clubs, I see ladies dress like men and they tell me they are lesbians; I don’t condemn them. Everybody has the right to live their life the way they want it, as long as it doesn’t affect my life. But I cannot say if truly there is lesbianism in my industry, because I’ve not had any encounter with them before. So, in that situation, it’s difficult for me to say yes, there is or no, there is not. You understand? Until that happens, I cannot say yes, there are lesbians in my industry.
What do you think is responsible for broken homes in the industry?
Broken home is everywhere. If you read cases of marriages that are breaking down everywhere, you will be so shocked. In the industry, we are so small; it’s just one percent. If you go to court today and they bring out all the divorce files, you may not even find one celebrity there. So, you are talking about nothing out of so many. You are talking about the industry alone, but if you are talking divorce in the country, it’s a national anthem, not only in Nigeria, but all over. In our industry, I don’t know, I’ve not even heard of anyone recently. I’m not too sure, but it’s bound to happen. It’s the society that we are in, which we live in. It’s not everybody that will like to be in an unhappy relationship. I’m one. I cannot compromise my happiness for anything in the world. Everyone has a reason, a story to tell. So, whatever causes it, I don’t know. I have said many things in the past about celebrities getting in and out of marriages and each time we keep hearing different stories. Not even the celebrities alone. Even people out there. I hear a lot of stories. Sometimes it’s the man, woman, family; sometimes it’s both of them, etc. I can’t really say. I can only talk about my own, but what I tell people; what I have learnt from my own experience is that before you marry any man, take your time to study the man. Same goes to the woman. Don’t marry because of physical appearance or material things. Let there be something you cannot explain. Marry your friend, someone you can tolerate, because both of you come from different backgrounds and everybody has one or two things that might irritate the other. So, you have to learn to tolerate all this and you can only know all this by courting that person. Take your time to court. A woman, your husband met you slim, I don’t know why you will give birth and you become fat. He met you the way he pictured his future wife; remain that way. If you are a woman, make an effort to look sexy. I’m an actress, I don’t think I will ever want to leave my job forever. If your man is cool with it, he will marry you. Don’t say because I’m getting old or because people are harassing you, get married and the man says once we are married, you will no longer act, you accept when you know that you will still want to go back to acting. So, I think that this calls for dialogue. Let your partner into your world. It will help you to make a decision. I’m not saying that this is the only reason why marriages fail, but it’s one of the reasons. My own case was that I married a man that I didn’t court. I was not even acting then. I married a man that his way of life is totally different from mine. What he wanted was not what I wanted. I was young, I was 21, and I think he was 30. I was picturing a man that will go to work and come back, and he was picturing a woman that will understand. So, I asked myself if I wanted this; it’s a yes or no. It’s a choice I had to make, because no one will be there to mourn with me. But that’s a mistake that I made. If we had taken time to study each other, we would have known that there are things about him that I won’t tolerate. We wouldn’t have gotten married at all; maybe have baby or not. I don’t blame myself now because I have two wonderful kids that I thank God for everyday. I know of my friends who are looking for kids. I am not mocking them, but it’s a blessing for me to even have them and out of a disappointment came a blessing. Don’t try to change anybody.
Were you battered?
No, mine wasn’t a case of battering. I’ve never been battered by my man before. It was just a situation where my man wanted to be a bachelor even when we were married and it didn’t go down well with me. I can’t carry the load all alone with you there. I felt like if I’m going to sacrifice so much into this marriage, you have to do same. If I had taken my time, I would have known all these because it didn’t take me long to start noticing all that. People need to date. Even people who date still divorce. Sometimes you see a marriage of 30, 40 or even more years fall apart. So, it is just God. You just need to pray about it, you can’t really pinpoint the real reason why marriages fail. Nobody is perfect.
Is there any pressure or advice from your parents or kids to remarry?
I’m not one who can be pressurized, but if you give me such advice, I take it in good faith.
Do you think about it sometimes?
I don’t think about it. If it comes, fine; if not, fine. I don’t wake up thinking about it. I’m not saying that I’ve shut the door, but it’s only when you people (press) talk about it that I remember and talk about it. Honestly, I’m so happy. Maybe it’s because I have two kids and four others that stay with me. So, when I wake up and see those six kids, I feel so blessed. My work is doing well, so is my business. My mum is living with me and she is healthy, I’m healthy, everything is fine, I’m comfortable. I have a man in my life that I love very much. If tomorrow, the wedding bells come, and I feel that it’s okay, then we will dialogue. It’s an agreement. If it’s the person I’m dating now or someone else, we will still sit down and talk. It’s not the wedding that matters, but the home. I’m okay. Maybe it’s because of my children, but I’m comfortable and I’m not pressurized at all.
Why do they always make reference to Musiliu Obanikoro whenever they write about the man in your life?
I don’t know why they do that and I don’t have any comment for that.
What do you think of female up and coming actresses complaining about being harassed sexually for movie roles in the industry?
I will say that they are not serious, because almost all the actresses in the industry are producers. We have Funke Akindele, Foluke Daramola, Mercy Aigbe, Funke Ojo, Fathia Balogun, Laide Bakare, Doris Simeon, Bukky Wright, name them. Hello! Where is that coming from? We are like 20 or 30 female producers. It didn’t even happen in my own time; how can you tell me you are being pressurized for sex for movie roles when the female produce more than the male in the industry now? Most of them don’t want to go through the process. If you want to join First Priest Academy, you get the form as a student, you come to rehearsals, and most of them are the ones taking themselves to the producers for sex. When they come to you and you tell them to come for rehearsals, you won’t see them. Then, the next time you see them with the male producers and they will say they pressurized them for sex. How many of them have walked up to me and said that they want to act? I produce two to three movies a year and so are many of my colleagues. Gone are those days when we listen to such stories. It’s a choice. Don’t mind them.
There is a report that you want to drop Ojo from your name, why is that?
Many people got it twisted then. When I decided to name this place First Priest World, I put all my businesses under First Priest. Before, I used Iyabo Ojo Film Production. Ojo is not my real surname, it is my husband’s name. It has become a brand name for me and I didn’t want to use Iyabo Ogunro Film Production Company, because I already have a registered film production company, so I decided to use First Priest to register the company. So, we have First Priest Production, First Priest Academy, First Priest Outfit, First Priest World. Everything comes under First Priest. I’m still bearing Ojo because my divorce is going through a process, so I just decided to start building the First Priest Name so that when I’m done with the divorce, I won’t start changing my company’s name. People will keep calling Iyabo Ojo because it’s like a stage now, but my business name is First Priest. I’ve been separated from my husband for about 11 years. He has moved on and I have to move on too. But we are doing it gradually.
Since 11 years, what took you so long to start the divorce?
When we separated, we decided to give each other space and see if we could come back together, but it never happened. Maybe I didn’t even take it serious. It was just separation, not divorce. We took our time, living our lives. But now, we have started the process, we are taking our time doing it step by step. He is not in Nigeria. That is why it’s taking time, but he has remarried. So, he needs to move on and so do I. We are very good friends when it comes to the kids. He is close to his children. I needed to change the company’s name, especially now that I want to be doing more of English movies, so I need a name that will identify with that market, as well as my other businesses.
Are you happy being who you are?
Yes, I am happy. I’ve said it, I am blessed. You know why? Because I have three things that make me happy. First, my kids; secondly, people I help, the people I have been able to reach through my foundation that I don’t want to die. There is no greater joy than being able to extend a little helping hand to people out there that need it most. Thirdly is my fulfillment as an actress, a producer, a mother. I’m just so blessed and I cannot say that I have any regrets because my life is successful. Many of my colleagues that started with me are not even here. Also, many women that got married when I did are still looking for the fruit of the womb. So, I can’t complain.
NB: first published November 2014