After she made her debut movie appearance at the age of seven, Nollywood was Nkechi Nnaji’s to take but she threw in the towel and acquired an education. Now she is back with a bang after obtaining a degree in Mass Communication from the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu. In this interview with CHRISTIAN AGADIBE, the fair-complexioned actress who has become the toast of movie producers gives conditions which must be met before she could bare it all for the cameras and why she can’t fight over a man.
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Nkechi Nnaji. I am from Enugu State. I am from a family of two; a boy and a girl and I am the first child. I graduated from IMT where I studied Mass Communication. Growing up wasn’t really fun; it was rough but to God be the glory, I’m grateful the experience has made me who I am today.
Were you born with a silver spoon?
I was born with a silver spoon but I lost it there and then. My childhood wasn’t fun but let’s leave that for another day.
How did you venture into acting?
I started out as a child actor at the age of seven after a neighbour of ours appeared in a Nollywood flick. I had passion for acting so one very good day I approached him on my own. He goes by name Oluchi. I was like ‘Oluchi, I’d like to follow you into the movie industry’. So he took me to an audition at Presidential Hotel, Enugu. My first role was actually a waka pass. I was casted alongside Uche Obi, Segun Arinze and Steph Nora Okereke and the movie was directed by Lancelot Imasuen. I played about three scenes but they were not speaking roles. After that things started picking up. At a point I no longer went for auditions; I’d just be on my own and they will call me up for roles. There was this woman by the name Ohiri; she was like my guardian angel. Whenever they needed me she contacted my parents.
What challenges did you face as a kid actor?
To be honest with you I never faced any challenges because everybody loved me, everybody took me like a pet. I was everybody’s daughter kind of, so everybody protected my interest and they paid me good money too.
How much was your first earning as a kid actor?
How did your parents take it?
My mum was so happy. Initially she did not want it but everything turned out good so she started supporting me. But at a time I stopped because it was clashing with my education and I needed to concentrate on my studies so I had to go back to school. By the time I came back, Nollywood had changed to what it is now.
What were the challenges you faced when you returned?
When I got back everything had changed; the producers, the directors and everything was new but God just connected me to the right people. I started out with three jobs but it was really challenging because everything had changed.
What was the first movie that shot you into limelight?
Tears of The Innocent parts 3 & 4. Maybe Sorrows of The Orphan also helped but Tears of The Innocent was the movie that really paved the way for me.
Did anyone try to discourage you in your early days when you wanted to join acting?
Yeah I had a lot of challenges. At a point I almost gave up.
Were you sexually harassed?
No, I wasn’t sexually harassed; it is all in the past, I don’t want to dwell on it; let us discuss my career.
You are a pretty lady; you’ve got apparently everything that a man could want. So what would you say is your selling point?
My selling point is divine favour from God. I can’t really say exactly why but I know I am good so I just have to say it is God. No matter how good you are, there is still someone who is better.
Aside from what we see on the screen, who really is Nkechi Nnaji?
Nkechi Nnaji is actually a prayer warrior; I’m not joking. The real Nkechi Nnaji is different from what you see on the screen. On the screen I have to interpret my character well but talking about the real me, I won’t say I’m calm neither will I say I’m on the hot side. Let us just say I’m humble. However, I’m this kind of a girl who doesn’t tolerate rubbish so people misinterpret me. When I respect you I expect you to reciprocate. I don’t take it lightly when people try to bring me down.
You share the same surname with a very popular actress, Genevieve Nnaji. Have you come in contact with her?
I’m actually looking forward to meeting her. Whenever people hear Nkechi Nnaji, the first question they ask me is ‘are you a sister to Genevieve Nnaji?’ If you google my name, you will see Nkechi Nnaji and Genevieve Nnaji coming up so people are like ‘I just googled you and I saw Genevieve Nnaji, are you guys related?’ And I am like ‘no, I’ve not even met her in person.’ I will be the happiest person on earth if I could work with her; I love her for real. I look up to her because she is a woman of substance. She knows what she wants and she goes for it; she is very hard working.
Most times you act sexy roles. If the need arises, could you do a nude scene?
It all depends on the story line. If the story has a positive message to teach about nudity I wouldn’t mind doing it. But if it is just to go nude for the sake of making marketers notice you then it is a big no! Some people believe that going nude is the only way they could sell themselves! If you like, have all the sex you like in a movie, nobody will give a damn about you. What matters is the story behind going nude. What message are you interpreting? Is it a message that can change somebody’s life? Is it a message that will inspire people? I could go nude but it depends on the message the character is passing.
Nollywood actresses rarely marry on time. Do you have such fears?
No! But sometimes I am like ‘what is happening?’ If you look around, there are a lot of broken homes and all that. But I don’t think it has to do with Nollywood alone; I think it is a general thing. There is a high rate of broken homes today so it’s not just Nollywood. It has to do with individuals and how they carry themselves. Marriage is worth more than what we think it is. Before you go into marriage you need to invite God, you need to seek the face of God.
How do you handle your male fans?
I treat them as fans; I make sure I respect you but when you want to use it as an avenue or whatever to go beyond your boundaries, I’ll either cut you off or shut you out.
What is the craziest thing a fan has done to you?
It happened in London at a mall. I walked in not knowing that people were watching my movies out there. Two ladies from an African country screamed immediately they saw me, they were like ‘Oh my God!’ They rushed towards me and I was like ‘what is it?’ They said ‘sorry but we watch your movies.’ I was like ‘oh my God I’ve forgotten who I am!’ I was surprised that it had gotten to the extent where people recognize me when they see me on the streets. Though, fans write me, I never expected what happened that day in far away London. That experience has helped me to recognize who I am.
Would you fight for a man you love?
No, never will I fight with my fellow girl over a man. It’s not possible now though, I have done it before. That was then when I was naïve. A man should fight for you and not the other way round.
You sound like someone who has been broken-hearted. Have you?
Yes, I’ve had my fair share of heart breaks but I don’t want to talk about that because it’s in the past; I have put it behind me. I could never fight over a man, never, not again.
A lot of fans will like to know if Nkechi Nnaji is still single.
I’m single but not searching.
That means there is a lucky man in your life. Who is that lucky man?
No, there is no lucky man yet (Laughter). You know when you say you’re single, everyone will be like ‘ha, this one is single, let’s try. Let’s pack our entire village to come and meet her.’
Are you lonely?
I’m not lonely, and there is no man in my life.
So what do you mean when you don’t have any man around you? Is it that you’re not proud of your man?
A man should be proud of me first then I will reciprocate. Okay, you want me to start chasing men?
No. What I mean is that there should be a man in your life. Or are you into multiple relationships?
I have friends but I am not into any relationship. Maybe very soon I will start but for now there is none.
But you are not getting any younger?
How old do you think I am?
A lot of guys would expect that by now you should be planning to settle down…?
These are the type of pressures that pushes a lot of girls into wrong marriages. All these stories you hear about broken homes and all that is because some of them jumped into wrong marriages.
Could you describe your ideal man?
I have told God and He knows what I want; He perfects that which concerns me. I desire a God-fearing man, a real man not just a boy. He must be hard-working and financially buoyant (laughter).
What if he is not financially buoyant?
As long as God says he is my husband I will go; I have no choice. What God says is what I will do.
But does that mean that suitors have not started disturbing you?
Oh my God! What do you want to hear (laughter). I get toasters everyday even as we’re talking, guys are chatting me up. But it’s now left for me to choose and I am yet to see the kind of man I’m looking for.
What determines your fashion sense?
My mood I guess; I love fashion. I’m so passionate about it. I guess I’m a fashion freak.
What is the most challenging role you have ever played?
The last job I shot, an action film entitled My Legacy. I was abducted, tortured and crying and all that from scene one to the very last scene. The crying and the beating really drained me. At some point we had to escape through a thick bush and I was scared of being hurt by one of those things in the bush which I don’t want to mention.
In the next five years, where should we expect Nkechi Nnaji to be?
I will be a super star, I’m not kidding.
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