She has a to-die-for figure even after four children, a face to match, talent that stands out in the Nollywood crowd and a marriage that has loads of made-in-heaven trimmings. She was the 12-year-old girl who grew up in a hurry when her father suddenly died and had to resort to a moneylender to keep her brothers in school.
She was also the schoolgirl who watched victims of Kaduna religious crisis stabbed and slaughtered as they scrambled to scale her school walls into safety while helping to deliver babies of female refugees when she hardly knew what to do.
Try and imagine this same girl being thoroughly whipped by her mother for coming home a minute after 5pm which was her curfew time. Do those descriptions sound like Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde? Well, she is the actress who has lived all these parts not in her movie world but in her real life in addition to singing for armed robbers and listening to their eerie confession, and has turned it all into a money-spinning venture.
The 'A' Class act dropped by our corporate office and told us things we are sure you haven't heard and we also learnt a few things from her apart from tips on how to invest in real estate. For instance, if you have had to speak up for yourself since age 12 and watch out for three younger ones and a widowed mother, bullies do not easily cow you. The journey has been long, very long, from the days she sold the family television set to pay urgent family bills to getting married to a pilot in an aircraft 20,000 feet above sea level. It is a no-holds barred story, another promise kept from Sunday Sun
I got into acting while waiting for my JAMB result.
When I left school in 1994, I was waiting for my JAMB result, and I had to wait for about nine months. A friend of mine, Akorede, who was a model told my mum that instead of wasting time at home I should join him in the modeling thing and my mum consented. That was how I started with entertainment. I was going for auditions. It was during one of those auditions that a lady told me about another audition and she asked if I'll like to go. I said OK. I accompanied her for the movie audition and that was the movie, Nneka Part 2.
She went for the audition but didn't get the part. She was quite sad and then she said there were still other auditions and would I like to go? I said no, but she said it was not like they would ask for money. I have nothing to lose. So I went and I got the part. That was my first contact with acting in movies. By the time I heard of the following audition, I was bold enough to go for it. That was how I started.
My widowed mother was so scared I would get pregnant before I was 16 and she used to beat me silly if I came home later than 5pm which was my curfew time.
I remember those days when I would finish acting and go back home and I'd be beaten silly. My mum was a disciplinarian and there was this belief that if you are into acting, singing, entertainment you have to be wayward. So, when you mention going for audition for a movie, my mum would say “Acting!”. You didn't even say you want to go into singing or any such area. My mum just couldn't understand the difference. She was just being careful and protective.
My dad died when I was twelve and there's a thing with your dad dying early. As a widow there was so much pressure on her. I'm the only girl and the first child and I understood the pressure on her. Everybody was talking and saying that I was going to become wayward and get pregnant. They told her to her face that they knew I was going to get pregnant before I was sixteen. She was really scared and when all those things were happening it was like I was doing exactly the things they said was going to happen.
Her response was to be really hard on me to prevent me from getting spoilt. I don't know what propelled me to go on despite my mum's disciplines because one, they weren't paying me well in the movies; two, I wasn't that interested in acting then, and three, there was nothing really to look forward to in terms of success models then. There was no fame then because the only famous people then were the ones on TV. Even those that were on TV then weren't so admired. I still don't understand what really kept me going. It had to be God or maybe because I didn't have a lot of things to do. There was no money in it for me, there was no fame and on top of it I got beaten.
I was always coming home late, there's no way you can do this job and still be in control of your time. No matter how much you try something is going to hold you back. I used to go home late I had a curfew of five o clock set by my mum, which I thought was unreasonable. Then, I still didn't get home until nine or ten o clock and there was no GSM to call.
There are so many producers in this country today that will tell you they've met Omotola's mum. Kingsley Ogoro, Emeka Ossai, Zeb Ejiro, Fred Amata, who has not seen my mum? Who? She never came on set. They had to go and meet her in the house to explain to her why they want to use me, and that they'd take care of me and when they were going to bring me back home. Everybody that had used me during that time had to go to her, all of them had to go to her. She had to know you personally, you have to give her your house address and everything about you. It was terrible I was so embarrassed.
In the initial days, you were into movies more like for the love of it and anybody who got on any pedestal at that time was purely on merit. Nollywood was not as wild as it is now. There was not much of the issue of sexual harassment then. I think Nollywood was decent then. It wasn't as wild as now. Most of the people I met then were like father figures. It was even worse when they got to know your family. They felt they had to watch out for you. Sometimes when I was loitering around Zeb Ejiro's office then he would shout and order me home and I'd have to immediately take a bus and go home. We weren't that many, it was a small world. Everybody knew everybody. There wasn't too much money in the game so nobody was trying so hard to impress anybody. Most of us used to come around in slippers (laughs) and shorts. We were all family and you wouldn't even find anybody to attract you for affairs then, unlike now when you look at another colleague and he's all trushed up, rich, clean.
I was still a virgin when I got married.
Given my mum's stern attitude, it is natural to think I didn't date anybody before I got married. But, that's not the case. I had boyfriends before I met my husband but it's not something too deep as people may think nowadays. You just go out and have lunch together and all the rest of it. As for deep my affairs went before I met my husband, it is just to say that I got married as a virgin, so that answers the rest of the question.
Everybody already knew my husband in the family before I got married to him and he was just like one of those friends. We actually got to know his elder sister before him because he didn't live here and when he started coming around it was like an extension of the family friend, though my mum was always suspecting that that he had something up his sleeves. She was like hmnnnnnnnnn(laughs) but my husband is a very humble and likeable guy. I think she just naturally fell in love with him and we became like family. And I guess she knew when something started between us but she was doing as if she didn't want to know what she didn't want to know! She didn't want to hear any story.
When I was 18, I felt I was already an adult. We told her what we wanted to do. She found it very difficult because she felt that this is not America, this is Nigeria, nobody sees you as an adult at 18. She thought I should finish my education at the higher institution before getting married. She knew the guy was good and didn't want me to lose him. She knew the guy would take care of me but because she was thinking of my dad's family, she didn't want things to go wrong and get blamed.
Growing Up Without A Father
I wish I don't have to answer this question. My father died when I was 12. My younger brother was four while the one after him was just two years old. My mum did not see it coming because my father was so full of life. It was my father's club Ekimomi Social Club that paid my school fees throughout my secondary school. He was working at Ikoyi Club. I remembered that lots of meetings were done after he passed on so that we can keep up with our lifestyle. I was attending Chrisland, (an elite private school in Lagos) and that was not a cheap school. My mum was like a full time housewife though she had a store where she was selling drinks. Lots of people were telling her about all sorts and incisions were made on our bodies to keep away evil. You can see the one they put on my chest. It was a very terrible period.
The most interesting thing was that everybody would be with you within a few weeks when the incident happened and all of a sudden everybody leaves. It is the worst feeling in the world because you feel confused and alone. That was where I started developing independence. I had two options at that time, it was either I went down the drain or up the ladder. I did a lot crying in private but I never cried in front of my mother. She would cry and I was always telling her everything would be alright. But anytime I left her for my room, I would cry. My brothers had to move to another school because Chrisland was too expensive and by then I had gained admission into Command Secondary School, Kaduna. My mum had to struggle. There were times when we did not have food to eat.
I went to a money lender, sold our TV and Video sets to pay my brother's school fees.
I tried to keep busy and even though my mum was not in approval of what I was doing it was helping. The modeling and acting helped. And I've always been a shrewd person. Though my mum was not willing to take the money I was making but there was no where else money was coming from. I remembered a particular experience. There was this particular actor that was called Black. I used to go to Zeb Ejiro's office and he knew about my struggles. My brother's school fees was due and there was no money.
The people that were supposed to pay couldn't come up with the money. I was at Zeb's office crying when the Black guy saw me and asked what the problem was. I told him and he promised to help. He took me to one man who did Visa for people to travel out. I met lots of people in the man's sitting room seeking help. When we met him he asked what my problem was and everybody's attention shifted to me. I just started crying considering the background I came from. He loaned me some money and I was supposed to pay the Black guy the money from a job I did. Unfortunately, they didn't pay me on time. The Black guy turned my life into a living misery. It got to a point where I had to sell personal effects from my house. I had to sell our TV and video to pay him which were the only consolation my younger brothers had. My mother cried during that period and it was then that my mother told me never to borrow money again. Yet, I didn't take it against Black because he was there for me when I needed help. It got to a point where he was threatening my life because the guy was threatening his too. That was the peak of our suffering.
Mortal Inheritance was my fifth movie but it shot me into limelight
A lot of people thought Mortal Inheritance is my first movie because it shot me into limelight. It was officially my fifth but it came out as my fourth, coming out before Abused. Then, unlike now, you first have to be a local star in the movie circle before you'll now be projected to the world. There was still a measure of formality then unlike now where you come from nowhere, do one movie and you'll start feeling like a star and they start calling you top actress. In those days you came on set and you see the people that are older than you in the industry and you have to show them respect because you know that these same people are the ones that would recommend you.
I was one of the first to earn N150,000 per movie
The defining period for Nollywood came with Onome and Rattlesnake in 1995/1996. People started turning to it. I was one of the people that started earning good money like N150,000, N200,000 but before that time it was just between N30,000—N70,000. And even the first time, they were telling me I was overpaid and the guy is still owing me N5000 (laughs). That was when the traders started trading with the Nigerian movie industry and later became marketers. It was that period that they came in that it now moved into home video the way it is now.
Stories were very balanced then, not written to project any particular region but towards 1997 things changed. I don't blame them (the Igbos) for doing what they did, naturally I think you will want to project where you are from. I don't think the Igbos necessarily buy more movies. Till date, the people that still goes to the theater to watch cinemas are Yorubas. I don't think Igbos are still buying more movies than Yorubas but I think the bone of contention is that people think they should have been doing the movies in Igbo language so that we'll know that they are doing Igbo movies. A filmmaker will not do a film based on a belief but because they were not film makers they projected their belief and I don't blame them.
The Igbos took over Nollywood because they are better businessmen while people like the late Hubert Ogunde made great, in-depth pictures just for the love of the arts.
The theater started in the west with the likes of Hubert Ogunde but somehow the Igbos seems to have taken over especially when you are talking about home videos not cinema. I think it's because they are business men. When Hubert Ogunde and the rest of them started it wasn't because of business it was for the love of the game. I've watched some of these movies that were done back in those days and you could see the depth of art and you could tell that most of these people weren't paid in millions but they enjoyed what they were doing, pictures that could live to any standard. These days a lot of people are more interested in doing movies for the gains. The first Igbo people that joined then were traders but now we have people who have transcended from traders to producers and marketers but in the beginning they just came in as business men.
I once heard that there was a gang-up to get me out of Nollywood because I was getting too powerful for an outsider.
When I started in the movie industry, we had a lot of independent producers then who just wanted to work. You didn't have to be Igbo, Hausa ,Yoruba then to be in Nollywood. We had people from every tribe in Nollywood but as time went on I remember a notable producer whom I don't want to name but I'm sure if he's reading this interview he'll know I'm talking about him and he'll probably be laughing. He called me and sat me down because he was like a godfather to me. He said you are a very bright act but there is a gang-up against you and you really have to be careful because some people have vowed to get you out of Nollywood. And I said what did they say I did wrong? He said because I'm not from their place and I'm becoming too powerful as an outsider. Actually, there were two of us that he talked about. The other person was a lead actor and I don't want to mention his name as well. He is also not Igbo. They said both of us were becoming too powerful and we were outsiders and that there was a gang up to move us out of Nollywood.
He was really scared because the people that they were talking about were powerful. I laughed and said I was not going to bow at anybody's feet just to win their admiration or anything. I believe I got to where I am on merit and by God's grace I believe those two things should sustain me and if they don't I'll just fall back to business and in the mean time I have a man taking care of me so I won't suffer. I remember him bursting out laughing and saying he should be discussing with the guy and not me. After that discussion I looked out for the signs of the gang-up. Maybe they came but I didn't notice. Most of the people that have employed me are actually Igbos. To me there is no balance in that story. Maybe it happened and I didn't notice, maybe people tried and they gave up or maybe they are still trying.
I don't know what they mean by I was getting powerful but I think if you comport yourself in a certain way in an industry that was beginning to employ a lot of people with many suffering from poverty syndrome and people talk a lot to curry favour and some people do other things to get work and stuff. When you don't fall into those categories, don't greet anybody specially or call them any special name, you don't attend their naming ceremony if you don't feel obliged to so that they can count you worthy; at that point they start to feel who the hell do you think you are. Maybe when they meet with their friends they talk about it and end up saying 'but we need am sha'.
Yeas, I've heard those things like producers telling people to change to Igbo names. I don't think anybody will risk telling me that to my face because they know that I might talk. I might say we have talked about it because we joke about it. People say I look like an Igbo girl. They gave me names like Ugonma. Instead of calling me Omotola they call me Ugonma in the movies. I don't have any problems with it because my husband is half Igbo. I don't see it as a slight on my person but as a continuation of who I am. I understand also that people think I'm Igbo because when I went to the market in those days people used to speak Igbo to me.
Top actors and actresses were banned to drive down our fees and pave way for new actors and actresses.
Actually before the one-year ban happened I was told it was going to happen. There were so many things some of us heard and then when it happened there were so many other things that you now saw on the news and we were like are they trying to confuse us. The people that we heard were going to be banned were a certain kind of people (I don't want to say more than that) and then we felt if it was because of this why is this person there or what am I doing there. It was one event that was confusing in a lot of ways. What we arrived at as the reason is that they were probably doing it to push down our fees.
Some people were not from a particular region, also that they wanted to launch some new faces into the industry at a cheaper cost. Obviously, they'd been struggling to do it because of us. There were some personal things also like somebody insulted one person, also that some people came on set with big cars. That was the most ridiculous of it all, and that some people tell the producers to pay their fees into their accounts. But we've come to agree that the reason was simply because of the pay because most of the people on that list are the highest earners.
I think initially it worked because they had to bring up a lot of propaganda to justify their actions and to get the whole public to lose respect for us. Things like Omotola is a snob, she's very troublesome on set and people are like why is she like that now? There were all kinds of rumours about those on that list just to get us on the wrong side of public opinion and tilt goodwill towards the new person that they were bringing. Even journalists helped them hype it a bit but after a while the whole thing just died down.
I invest in real estate
I'm comfortable. I invest. I'm a business woman even before the so called boom in Nollywood. I was making money from other things. The only thing I don't do is buy and sell because I feel I'm not cut out for that. I don't think I have the temperament for that. I'll lose money.
I think a lot of us have seen what happens all over the world and are wise. We don't want to end up being famous and then ending up in poverty. If you are from my generation of actors and that happens to you then they are following you from the village because you should have known better. I think a lot of my colleagues are money-wise.
I invest in estate. As a matter of fact, I studied estate management. To invest in estate you have to check out the history of the property and that's a major mistake a lot of people make. They forget that all that glitters is not gold. You go to buy a property in a place and you forget that it is dry and that there is something called raining season. And then the property that you bought and thought should increase in value at a point starts to depreciate, the area has a long standing history of increasing and then depreciating because of the condition of that environment. That explains the reason why some places are always vacant. When a place is questionably vacant, that's why you should do extra check. Ask questions.
Don't feel like you are the luckiest person in the world. To make money in real estate business, at times, you don't need to go for the most expensive property, sometimes you can project what the place will look like in the next 10 years. I remember my aunty and uncle then who own Chrisland Schools, they told me that when they bought the place they built Chrisland in Opebi, the place was in the bush and they almost didn't take it. You also have to project and check with the government to see what the area plan of that place is. Some of them have ten year- plan. The value of a place goes up based on the type of houses that are around it. Other people don't have that kind of information and they wonder why you buy acres upon acres and later when they see it they want to buy that same place from you or beg you to take that place. You don't have to sit down and go for high-end property if you don't have millions. You can actually buy a place, refurbish it, and then lease it out or sell it. A lot of people don't think like that, they want to buy a property just because they want to live there but you can actually buy a property, refurbish it, bring up the value and sell it.
If you are a star, nobody wants to see you looking very ordinary but don't borrow money to service the show. The show has to come before business but don't forget the business.
Yes, you can't be in showbiz and not be glamorous. It's called show business, the show has to come before business but then don't forget the business. I think a lot of people get it wrong when they do the show and they forget the business and some do too much of the business and they forget about the show. You have to find a balance between two of them. People like Puff Daddy became who they are today because they put up an image. If you are a star and you are worth being celebrated nobody wants to see you looking very ordinary, they want to see something about you that they feel like waoh otherwise you are not worth being talked about. That's what you are there for.
Give them things to talk about, that's why you shouldn't be too upset when people gossip about you. If they don't talk about you, who are they going to gossip about? It's your cross, so carry it. The moment you sign up to be an entertainer you sign your life out for people to sit down and use. Some people will use you to make themselves feel better which might hurt you. In showbiz you have to be glamorous as much as you can but you must not forget about the business that is what keeps the show.
There were times that I started out that I was not using cars that were very glamorous. I was driving then a jalopy BMW three series but I knew then that I had to be glamorous but I couldn't afford anything better. Those were the times I had just started and I knew that I had to plan. I was driving that and taking the shame but I was planning. If you are just starting out don't do more than yourself, don't borrow money to service the show, and don't run into trouble to service the show. Take it one step at a time and be focused, know that this is where I want to get to, this is what I'm supposed to be like. So the business can now propel the show and make enough money to do the show.
The day I sang 'Naija l'o wa' for armed robbers
I've had brushes with armed robbers. The one that stole my car wasn't an armed robber. He was my driver. The one that took my own laptop was the armed robber. The guy took my laptop by mistake. I was in the Lincoln Navigator that had Omo- Sexy on its number plate. I was coming back from a set and it was very late. I was with my make-up artist and driver. They stopped us, about eight of them.
They had first offloaded everything from the car into their own bus and later said they wanted to take the car away. They made all of us lie down on the floor. It was at night and they didn't even see me. They were shooting into the air and they were asking us if we had guns and they were checking because my car windows were tinted. My driver kept arguing with them, so they hit him with the gun because he was even speaking Igbo with them and they were like how dare you start speaking our language with us. They grabbed me by the collar to come show them where the security of the car was. I kept saying there was no security and they were like it's a lie there must be security in this kind car. I was looking down all the while and I now turned to him and told him there was no security, why would I be lying? Would I be lying and let you shoot me?
As I turned they now saw my face and shouted, Omo Sexy. I think they know that my cars are always branded so he went to look at my number plate and he saw Omo Sexy. They said I should sing 'Naija lo wa' for them. That was how they returned everything back to the car. Actually the guy that recognized me actually had a long battle with their boss on the phone who was somewhere else because one of the guys that was there did not want to agree, he kept saying 'oga said we should bring the car'. I think they wanted to use the car for another operation. While I was there they argued a lot about the car.
…The leader of the gang's wife wanted to be an actress.
That guy really fought for me, I think he was a leader of that gang. He just stood and asked them to return everything. He said he didn't want any money, they returned all the money they collected from us to the last N20 and that's why I said that laptop had to be a mistake. He checked and asked if everything was back with us and I said yes. Till today I have his number. After they returned everything he told me that his wife is my fan and she wanted to be an actress. He asked for my number. I wanted to give him the wrong number but my make-up artist said if I give him the wrong number they might hunt me down. So, I gave him my right number and that day before we got home they called me more than three times because they told us to start driving home. When we got to the gate we sat on the floor and started crying. They called and asked if we were at home now and I said yes, they asked if we have locked the gate we said yes and they asked why are you crying? And, I said no, I'm not crying o (laughs). He said did anybody beat you, did any of my boys slap you, I said no. So why are you crying, you are upsetting me with the way you are crying, so I said we are not crying, we are not crying, so I started cleaning my face, Go inside your house and go and sleep.
…They told me they were going to rob the Marina Branch of a bank
They told me they were going to the Marina branch of a bank (name of the first generation bank withheld) to operate and they would call me if it was successful or not and I was like ehhhhhh, there is trouble today. I was asking my people if I should call the police and they were like which police do you want to call. I was terrified when he told me where they wanted to go and rob. For a long time he kept calling and texting me that if I have any problem I should call him.
I've thought about making a movie about the experience and I will someday. The guy actually told me some things that night and subsequently he sent a text that 'does it mean that when I was telling you my story you weren't listening?' He told me some things about his private life, his wife, about how he wanted to leave the job and that was going to be his last operation. I thought he could be lying because most of them say all those same things. He sent me a text that is it that I don't believe what he said that day and that he wants to meet with me but I refused.
There was another incident before that one, I was coming from location again and my husband was coming back from his flight. He called me to ask where I was. I was in Festac and I told him to you come over since I was on my last scene and we could drive home together. He came over and when I finished we started driving through that express road. He was in front of me, he was driving a BMW seven series, I was driving seven series also behind. They had robbed him and then they came to me and knocked on my window and I wound down and he said give me your bag. I turned to give him my bag and then the other one just opened the door and sat in and said give me your bag and I said I just gave the other guy my bag. He just pushed my head and said why did I give him my bag, they were in a hurry and when my husband saw that there was one in my car and was staying long he came down from the car and he started walking towards my car. The guy in my car came down and pointed the gun at him and all his other colleagues did the same and they told him that if he didn't go back they were going to shoot him and I started pleading with him to go back into his car. That was another terrifying moment for me.
I play with my phone when my husband is watching me in a romantic scene.
Sometimes when my husband is watching a movie where I'm playing a romance role, he's like ahh, Omo Sexy, the guy's hand was going too far o or when it's a kissing scene I just starts looking at my phone and he will say leave the phone, watch, you are the one that did it. We play about it. It's not a comfortable thing but I think he's just matured about it.
As my in-laws, my mother in law is extremely psychedelic. She's like a white woman.
But, playing a romantic role is not always romantic when you have to do it with somebody with mouth odour and so on. I have had to deal with a romantic scene with somebody who has a mouth or body odour and it's not a pleasant situation. You have to smile and do the kissing and just try to make it as convincing as possible. You can go and cry afterwards.
Yes, I get tempted when playing romantic scenes but it does not go beyond the set.
As for whether it is possible to get stimulated while playing romantic role, it is possible. I'll be lying if I say once or twice it had not crossed my mind that I should transfer what's on scene to real life. Once or twice I'd thought that this guy is not so bad but if you have experience it'll just be like a flash. You know when you get to work with a person for like two weeks or more than that, naturally you get fond of the person. If you are wise you will understand that this is just a periodic thing. Why didn't I like this person all this while, why now? And the minute you are not with this person it begins to fall off your eyes, no more getting fond of each other. I think that's the biggest risk that actors go through psychologically.
I'm a thinker. I have learnt and understudied Hollywood, at some point in my career I sat down and studied how it works. By the time it started happening I already knew how to detach. All you naturally need at that period was to stay away from the person as much as possible. It's nothing absurd or something to be ashamed of but you just need to control yourself till you finish shooting. The truth of the matter is that once you finish shooting, just like a door was left open it just gets shut and that's it. The problem is when you start feeling like that about something, you should know that it's going to end. It's like couples that are divorced and every other person saw it coming but them, before they got married. Every other person saw that it will never work but they wouldn't see it because they are so engrossed in their feeling, in their thought. I think the wise thing to do at that period is to know that everybody can't be wrong.
I have never fought my husband over a girl
Before you get married, there are so many things you wouldn't take ordinarily because you don't have to answer to anybody or tolerate anybody. When you are angry you could close your room and not talk to anybody but when you are married and you are angry you can't close your room and s