Why did you choose acting?
I did not choose acting. I was a trained journalist; but out of adventure I am where I am today. I joined Nollywood in 1993. Nollywood producer, Zeb Ejiro, actually introduced me to film makers in the industry in those days. I was offered a role in a movie – ‘Nneka the pretty serpent.’ I played a supporting lead role. The movie turned out to be a big hit. Thereafter, I starred in ‘Glamour Girls’ and other movies. I have a diploma in Journalism and worked as a journalist for some time before I joined Nollywood in 1993. I worked at Radio Lagos and Eko FM before going into full-time acting.
Which would you consider first: acting or journalism?
Both of them are my first love. But I started journalism first and it prepared me for my acting career. I’m a journalist any time, any day, because I know how much both career work together.
How many movies have you starred in?
I have actually lost count. Let me guess: I have starred in over 500 or close to 1000 movies. I am the first set of actresses that Nollywood produced.
Most people don’t believe you are married with children. How long have you been married?
I have been married for many years. I have grown-up kids who by the special grace of God are in higher institutions. Let me say, God blessed me with four wonderful children. I consider myself a wonderful actress and a proud mother.
Can you act nude in movies for a huge amount of money?
No. I will never act nude; no matter the huge amount of money I am offered; rejecting such offer doesn’t make me unprofessional. I cannot act nude for so many reasons. I cannot act nude because I have children and my children watch my movies. Also, I can’t act nude because of my spiritual life. But I can play romantic roles.
You seem to appear in few movies lately. What has changed?
It’s because I don’t act in all movies. I select my scripts and go through them properly to be sure it suits my taste of movie. I am choosy when it comes to scripts. A lot of young people look up to me and I wouldn’t want to do anything that will make them to be disappointed in me. I have my reasons for not acting in all movies and that has really helped my career.
Have you been nominated for any award?
Yes. In 2012, I acted a movie called ‘Adesuwa’ and it earned me the Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 8th Africa Movie Academy Awards in Lagos. I was shocked when my name was mentioned but I had no choice than to give thanks to God.
How was growing up like?
Growing up was fun. My parents, Mrs. Ezenwanyi Joy Nonyelum Ikpelue, and Mr. D.O Ikpelue, really took good care of me. My mother died in 2014 and it’s so painful she has to pass away. I enjoyed every bit of my youthful age. I was really pampered by my parents, especially my mum. I actually lacked nothing as a child because my parents provided everything for me. I was born May 23, 1965. I am an indigene of Ogbunike in Anambra State, Nigeria.
What led to her death?
She died of natural cause. My late mother, Ezenwanyi Joy Nonyelum Ikpelue died at the age of 65 and was buried October 17, 2014. She was a popular figure in her community – AzuOgbunike. She was involved in several humanitarian works before her death. I was shocked when I heard of her death. It was even rumoured that I was dead at that period. She was a mother to everybody. We call her ‘Madam Go Slow’ because she very caring to everybody. She really influenced people positively within and outside her community, taking good care of both the young and old. God knows best and we can’t question him when things like this happen. She was an exceptional woman.
We heard you are divorced. How true is that?
People can say anything they like. I don’t care. Do you know most people live their lives on gossip? I believe gossips are for jobless people. Nigerians like negative stories and I am not ready to say anything that will tarnish my image in the media. Envy is a root of gossips. It must come from people that are jealous of one. But I don’t care. My God has lifted me above all my enemies. I am not afraid of scandals.
Do you think a female president will make a better leader in Nigeria?
I want to say women make great leaders. Women can multitask. What would totally overwhelm a man might not overwhelm a woman – not because women are better than men. Women’s ability to multitask better than men indicates that women will actually make great leaders. Also, women are more industrious and compassionate by nature. They think with their heart most of the times. Because they are more compassionate, they would be able to feel more what the people need. I believe women play significant roles in the family, home, school, office and Nigeria as a whole. I think they will make great leaders if given the opportunity. You know it’s a man’s world and we are Africans. Nevertheless, women work hard to become great leaders.
What do you make of sexual harassment in the movie industry?
I actually came into the industry already married with kids. Therefore, most producers have a lot of respect for me. Nobody disrespected me. All I hear from most producers I worked with is ‘Madam.’ I was addressed as ‘Madam’ while shooting. So, I never experienced sexual harassment from anyone. Besides, I don’t see why anyone would think a married woman with four kids would make a great partner or whatever they call it. For me, I put the blame on whoever allows a producer or actor to harass her (sexually) for a role. Nobody forced anyone into it. One chooses to be harassed. I’ve heard one or two people talk about it. But I think it is not as common in Nollywood compared to other sectors. Sexual harassment happens every day. It is more common in the force and banking sector. Bosses sleep with their customers, junior colleagues and the rest. So, it’s in every industry and not common in Nollywood alone. Too bad, because we are in the limelight, people get to hear everything that happens to us. No private life anymore. Both the story that happened and the ones that didn’t really happen, they all get spread to the whole world.
Sometimes celebrities complain about burden of fame? Did you at any point experience that?
Fame comes with its good and bad sides. As a celebrity you are now exposed to the public. Everybody wants to know about you. Too bad, you can’t enjoy the good side of limelight alone. Everything one does is recorded. Bloggers are monitoring celebrities and journalists are watching there every step. So, as a star one has to be watchful.
Apart from acting, what else do you do?
I love travelling and I love (doing) business. I love empowering people as well. As a mother, one is responsible for many people. When shooting a movie one is responsible for those one is working with; at home one is responsible to the children, relations and the less privileged. One has to take care of a number of people for a certain period of time. So during this process, you have to encourage people; give them good food and drinks and watch them carry out their duties properly. Sincerely, I will love to set up a proper production company where we always have something going on. So there would be people who can actually depend on me for 12 good months in a year. It’s not just about when we are shooting. What if we don’t have a movie to shoot? What if they don’t get any job with any other production company? I will love to create a place where people who are working with me for 12 months in a year need to be taken care of. They are part of this company and they get paid for their salaries.
What has motherhood taught you?
You can see everything about motherhood all over me. It has taught me not to scare my kids away from me. I and my children are very close and they understand me more than anyone else.
You have been married for years, what is your view about failed marriages in Nollywood?
I tell the younger ones to be ready. A woman must be ready to be in a man’s house before she gets in there. If not, at the end of the day, she will walk out of the marriage before anyone knows it.
Would you blame celebrities for failed marriages or their spouses?
I am not talking about the celebrities alone. I am talking generally. What I mean by ‘talking generally’ is that as a young girl if you want to get married you have to make up your mind and as a young man if you want to get married, you have to tell God about the marriage. For celebrities, they shouldn’t forget they were not celebrities from their mothers’ wombs. The fact is, stardom easily gets into some celebs’ heads. For me, I always put the blame on the men. Men of nowadays are gigolos. They are looking for women to collect (money) from. Only few men are responsible. Most men prefer rich women to marry, so that they can depend on them. I will advise women to be watchful and consult God before settling down.
What are the problems facing Nollywood?
The problem facing Nollywood is finance and depth.
Do you think Nollywood is growing?
Nollywood is growing and will continue to grow by the special grace of God. At least, we are not where we used to be when I started. Everything has changed. We now have cinema movies and collaborate with international actors and actresses; Nollywood has developed greatly.
How do you relate with your secret admirers?
An admirer is an admirer to me; it does not matter if it is secret admirer or not. To me, I see people as very important in my life because they made me become who I am today
How much do you charge for a movie role?
How can you ask me to tell you my fees? It is not possible because I am a journalist like you. I know what it takes. I can’t lie to you. I don’t want to talk about it.
Do you see yourself still growing in the movie industry?
Yes, I am still growing.
What is your advice for upcoming actors and actresses?
I will advise them to be patient. They should not be desperate; to become a star is not easy.
What will tell your your fans?
I’m very grateful. After God, you are the reason why Ngozi Ezeonu is everywhere. I have a word for you all: by perseverance the snail reaches the ark. Never give up or sit down and grieve. Keep pressing on and the sky will be your limit.