I don’t joke with my relationship –AMBO winner Ivie Okujaye
Ivie Okujaye, the winner of AMBO 5, is a 27-year-old graduate of Economics. Having acted in a few movies, she is now set to release her debut movie, Make A Move. In this interview with VICTOR AKANDE, she talks about her experience on the project, among other interesting issues.
IN the movie, Alero’s Symphony, you played an aspiring musician. Also, your new movie is about music. So, what really is music to you?
First of all, I have always loved the theatre and anybody who comes from a theatre background will tell you that it is essentially about music, acting, dance and maiming. So, I have always loved all the aspects of theatre. Music is not necessarily alien to me. I can sing, act, dance and write too. These are the things I have studied over time. At least, I can be someone to look out for. This is because being an actor is being a different person every time you are given a part to play. If, for instance, you give me the role of a doctor, I will research and do it. Engaging in dance, music and acting does not necessarily mean that I am a musician. But it only means they are part of my strength and I intend to take advantage of them.
Which of these genres will you like to specialize in?
It will be hard for me to put one aspect of film away from the other. I am a writer, an actor and now a producer. I intend to take these three very seriously. I can act and produce; I can also act and do one of the other things. But at the end of the day, I am first a filmmaker. When I’m asked what my job is, I say filmmaking. I don’t say acting or writing because I believe that I can do more than one of these.
Are you sure you are not saying this because AMBO came first?
I understand that question. AMBO came in 2010/2011. We are now in 2014 and if not for anything, I have achieved some things over the last two years. Like my AMVCA award, you will agree that it was not just a mere coincident. AMVCA is one of the biggest African awards; so, it shows that I am good at what I do. I won’t have gone for a musical or writing competition. I always knew that I wanted to act first. That is what I wanted my foundation to be. And this why I was part of the drama group in my secondary school, Queens College, Yaba, Lagos and in the university. So, I have always known that my priority is acting and filmmaking, before dance or music. These are just other things I am good at by God’s grace, and I just want to explore them.
Is Alero’s Symphony your true life story?
(Laughs) It is not my true life story. The script had existed before I worked on that depth.
How come they are similar?
I have played other characters that are similar to my life. I might not be the best in the industry, but I am trying to. For all movies, you will have a similarity between the sub and the character. At that time, the AMBO team did not know about my story; so, there is no way they could have written the script for me. It was just a coincident, but it helped me deep into the character. This is because there were things in the script, which made you to say it is probably about my life. It has helped me to understand the character better. Under the supervision of Isi Ojukwu and Israel Edward, I was able to pull out a good job.
Who were the people who influenced you while growing up?
Honestly, the things I saw on television that encouraged me were cartoons. I know it sounds very funny, but I love cartoons. I love watching Superman. I remember I would tie a wrapper around my neck and run around the house. It has always been something that interests me; that is beyond what the human mind could really just comprehend. If I am to mention human, I will say Will Smith. I love his comic timing, but he is not my best in comedy. I have always loved Kate Henshaw’s smile and she knows that.
Talking about animation in Nigeria, do you have plans to do any in the future?
Animation is extremely expensive. Even with our normal film production, we take risk everyday with piracy at all time. So, putting the life savings of different people in animation, when you are not sure if our audiences are ready to accept it, is very risky. But animation is something I would love to do. I am very good at animated voices; I can mimic a lot of the foreign animated voices. But I am not in a position yet to invest in it. If I find one or two people who are ready to invest in it, I will be on board because, as you said, it is another area for us to explore. And hopefully, our audience will be open- minded enough to appreciate it from our soil.
Apart from the training you got in school, have you, in anyway, tried to update your skills in any of these areas?
Yes, I took a writing course because being a story teller is completely different from being a scriptwriter or a playwright. I was always good at telling stories, but I could not get the format, the plotting. Sometimes, I would put a very important part of a story before the other. The writing course helped me to understand certain things. Every set I’m on, I get better and I have had the opportunity to work with fantastic actors like Tina Mba, Wale Adebayo, Majid Michel, Lydia Forson and Desmond Elliot. Over time, I have gotten stronger in my acting. But writing-wise, I haven’t had anybody to look at in that aspect. I have, however, trained myself and have taken a writing course, which I want to believe has helped. Right now, I am writing for African Magic Original Movies, independent producers like Desmond Elliot and a lot of other people.
Tell us about your recent involvement with African Magic?
I give credits to them all the time because they opened their door to just about anybody. When they came up with the project, African Magic Original Movies, they asked writers to send in synopses and that was how I ended as their writer. There are over a dozen writers and some had never written for anyone before. They just found out that these people had potentials and they just took them in. You know, it is a livelihood for some of us now. So, there is no direct involvement with them. I am not the only writer there; there is Peace Oni, Emmanuel Udoma and other fantastic writers. It is not because I have won awards.
How many scripts have you done for them?
I really don’t want to put a number to it, but I think I have done six or seven. I am not sure of the ones that have been produced. They still have some on their desk that hopefully will be produced soon.
Tell us about the feel of these scripts?
A lot of my scripts are slightly different, in terms of the themes. A lot of my scripts have to do with athleticism because I feel it is greatly overlooked. Now, you can look at me as a jack of all trades. I was an athlete in secondary school. Every now and then, if there was nobody to be at the post for the football team, they would call me to be jumping up and down. I think that is why I am very good with my stunts. I do all my stunts myself because I play basket ball and football. Besides, I am used to throwing myself around as long as I stop the ball from going into the net. My scripts have to do with athleticism and other topics that we don’t really explore, like being autistic. Those are the things I really love to write about. Drama is good, comedy is good, but there are ways you can infuse these genres into very important issues that need to be discussed. Because the movie industry is a very fantastic platform to speak to the whole world, I intend to send messages through it.
So, who is Ivie Okujaye?
She is a normal girl you will meet; she likes to wear slippers, sneakers and dress well. I am extremely normal. I know they are going to quote me on this. But I don’t look like a star per se. It is when you see my work that you will know I am good at what I do. I was born in Benin City, but grew up in Abuja. My dad is a medical doctor, while my mum is a business woman. I have siblings from a very large close- knit family. They are all in support now that they have seen that there is still a way you can be in this industry and still keep your head in place. It does not necessarily mean that, if you have to be a star, you have to lose your focus or go off the right path. I am passionate about filmmaking and will love to do it as long as I live.
What did you have to do to convince your family that you could still keep focused?
What I had to do to convince my family that being in the industry would not dent the morals that they had input in me while growing up was just to be myself. As I said, I am a very normal, simple girl- maybe a little boring. It works for me; it keeps me grounded and they see that I haven’t changed. Also, the little popularity I have hasn’t changed who I am. Now, they hold their confidence and are very proud. Every time they see me on TV or their friends call them, their smile is from one ear to the other.
How will you describe in Nollywood that someone has lost his or her sense of moral?
The beauty of this question is that it is not unique to Nollywood actors alone to go off the path of true righteousness. Sometimes, popularity can confuse you. Also, fame and money can all do the same to you. Anybody can lose his or her way, if he or she allows things like money and popularity to affect his or her lifestyle.
Given that we have peer group influences, who are your friends?
My friends are much grounded and I am always so happy to call their names because they are who they are. They are people who have not forgotten where they are coming from; they are people that have worked hard to get to where they are today. In the industry, I would say my friends are people like Lydia Forson, who is proud of her big natural hair and her African self. I will also mention Linda Ejiofor, who will pour her heart and soul into every character; I will also talk about O C Ukeje, who remains humble, grounded and working hard and Wole Ojo, who is blunt. These are my kinds of friends, but it is still very important for me to keep my old friends because it’s with them that I grew up to be this person I am.
Tell us about your movie?
Make A Move is about healing hearts. There are a lot of movies out there that deal with abuse. But this one does not just deal with that, but it also talks about how you can escape through it. A lot of people have escaped through what they love doing, and that is what Make A Move is all about. It is about escaping through a form of art from abuse; it is not dwelling on the abuse, but on the healing process, which is the escape, the emancipation and the ability to find love, friendship and passion in a craft.
What inspired this story?
You can wake me up first thing in the morning and ask me what I am passionate about and I will tell you women and children affairs. I am very passionate about what women and children go through in the world. And for me, this was an opportunity to speak to young girls and boys, who are not in the situation they would like to be, but are good at something. This is a chance to tell them that, no matter what you are going through, just give yourself a second to think about what you would like to do and can do; and then, you use that medium as an escape from the world of abuse you are living.
You are not a feminist, are you?
A feminist is a very tricky word because nowadays people have different definitions for it. I am someone who is passionate about children and women’s affairs. But beyond all this, I am a person who loves to see things done in the right way. I like to see people treated fairly and equally, whether you are a man, a woman or a child. So, saying I am a feminist removes from the fact that I know the duties of the woman and I appreciate them. I don’t think a woman is above a man or a man is above a woman. I simply think equality is the best way to move forward in life. So, I intend to keep away from that word feminist and say I want to have a fair mentality about everything I do.
Do you think such a story will be appreciated in Nigeria?
Why I think it will be appreciated in Nigeria is that the bulk of the movie is what is really happening here. It is not about hip hop steps; it is more than that. It is more about these two girls who are suffering and how they escape. Now, the beautiful coincident of escape is dance. But it is not necessarily centered on dance. But I know we can have some people who are cynical and say, ‘Oh, they have gone to copy’. But if they see it, they will know it is really an African story.
How peculiar are you cast to this movie?
First of all, we needed actors that look a bit like our characters. For example, the character Wale Adebayo played is an intimating person. Though he is a gentle soul, he fits perfectly for that character. Tina Mba is one of the women who embrace motherhood so well and Beverly Naya is one of the upcoming talents to watch out for. What we did was to study our characters, had several meetings and talked about who would fit into a particular character. And because of the storyline, it was easy approaching people like Tuface, Majid, Omawunmi, and Denrele Edun. As soon as they read it, they knew it was a story worth selling. And that is why they came on the project to support.
What part did Tuface, Omawunmi and the rest play?
Omawunmi and Tuface played themselves because one of the sisters, Esosa, the younger one in the movie, is all in all Omawunmi in real life- the musician. So, in her head, she can’t wait to be like Omawunmi; to go out there and say what will save the way women and children are treated. Majid played a different character. More or less, they just came in to support the course.
You are the producer of the movie, and it is your first. Was it a marketing strategy to bring these renowned stars in?
I would be lying if I say I didn’t think of the marketing strategy. Yes, it was a thought, but it wasn’t just centered on marketing alone.
People are skeptical about the commercial value of Nollywood movies. Are you this movie is going to make a break?
Nobody that takes the risk is completely sure and that is why it is called a risk. This is a risk for me, the sponsor and everyone who has been a part of the project. But it does not change the fact that we are trying to be optimistic and believe that it will pull through, home and beyond. But like every business project, it is a risk.
Who are the sponsors and how much did the entire movie cost?
I did not mean sponsors when I mentioned that earlier. I meant executive producer; somebody who put money with me to do this. I don’t think I can say how much the movie cost. I should have asked them if I could. But every day, we are still spending. Movie is never finished until it is released. But I would say I am deeply into my life-savings to see that the project is a success. I pray I don’t regret it.
Are your parents financially in support?
They are in support emotionally and they keep reminding me that it is a risk, so I should keep praying.
When will the movie be released and what is the distribution plan like?
It will be released theatrically on June 6, and we have the Silverbird Distribution Company handling it; and from there, we are going to go online. We just haven’t decided yet the online film platform it will go with and the DVD sales.
Tell us about your experience on the project?
It was a beautiful one and I hope that everyone who watches it will love it the way everyone who was part of it loved it. I hope it inspires people too because at the end of the day, that is what we are in this for: to be able to make a change.
How old is Ivie?
Is there a man in your life now?
I am a serious-minded person; everything I do is serious. So, if I am in a relationship; then it is serious.
And he is not jealous?
There was a year Omoni Oboli won an award and I still remember what she said on stage: “It takes a confident man to step back and allow his woman shine.” Omoni has been blessed with that, and I want to be on that same path.
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