Genevieve Nnaji is undoubtedly the most misunderstood actress in today’s emerging movie industry in Nigeria. But by all yardsticks, she’s also the most prominent right now. In this interview by Sola Osofisan, you will meet the Genevieve Nnaji you have never read about – in her own words. In the most extensive interview she has ever been put through to date, she talks about the pains of stardom.
Whether we accept it or not, we have never seen a star like Genevieve Nnaji in Nigeria. She is the first of a new cadre of personalities Nigeria is producing: glamorous faces, icons every youngster aspires to be like. Nnaji has probably inspired more people to consider a career in acting than all the other popular Nigerian actors put together. She came across as very confident, even to the point of being impatient, but one can also argue that it is youthful exuberance. At 24, she’s barely just become a woman and now has this huge responsibility thrust upon her, to be the vanguard of a new class of celebrities created solely by a larger than life screen presence.
She will not talk about her daughter, aside of accepting that she has one. She believes she is protecting the girl from unnecessary media attention and speculation. Probably the sensible thing to do, considering the danger children of popular people can be exposed to in the world today.
She is a tough one to interview because she gives short answers and you have to keep on probing to get more out of her, but she got across as a friendly and warm individual. Her ideas appear to be in the formative stages, but she knows her own mind and is not afraid to voice it. She says it as it is, not one to pull punches. After reading this interview, you will either love her more or dislike her even more. She obviously wants the world to take her on her own terms.
Sola Osofisan: You’re a very very very popular young lady. Do you know that?
Genevieve Nnaji: I am beginning to realize that.
S.O.: Let’s talk about your fame. Sometimes, we ask for something, and then when we get it, we’re not sure we want it anymore. Did you ask for this fame? And now that you have it, do you still want it?
G.N.: I didn’t want the popularity. That wasn’t what I set out for. I set out to act because it’s something I enjoy doing. But the fame came with it. It’s there, the benefits are there, but that’s not what I set out for and that’s not what I’m doing here. I’m not here for the fame. I really do love my work.
S.O.: But now that you have the fame, do you still want it, considering you don’t have your privacy anymore?
G.N.: I try. I try. I try to have a bit of privacy for myself. I try.
S.O.: Does it ever get difficult, tiring, having to smile and say hello and greet everybody you meet on the street?
G.N.: No. No. Because people come up to me with different approaches and one way or the other, you just laugh at their excitement, the different expressions. But I don’t fake it when I smile. It comes naturally. If you make me smile, I smile. If I don’t find you funny, I don’t.
S.O.: Your website, I’ve been there a few times. Where did the idea come from to build a website?
G.N.: I was called by my manager, Media Business Company, Helen Prest-Ajayi – that’s what she does. She builds websites. She told me about the importance. With the speed of my popularity, I needed some form of communication, some form of medium to be able to reach out to my fans. It was a good idea. It’s like a portfolio for me. The idea came from her.
S.O.: Do you stop by your website? How many times a week do you stop by your website?
G.N.: It’s hard because I am extremely busy, but I try at least once a week to be there and personally, since I get so many mails, I read and try to see if there’s anyone different. They all have the same thing to say really, that they appreciate me and all. So I try my best to go through the ones I can and then send a general reply. I do.
S.O.: When I did an article on you a few weeks ago, there were just 3000 entries in the guestbook. This morning, it is over 10,000 entries. How do you respond to all these people?
G.N.: Yes. What I’m doing is I’m planning to make the best use of it, since I have so many people on my site. I’m trying to make it more interesting, more like a TV show on the Internet. I’m going to be running games on my show. I’m going to be asking questions to find out how well they know me. There’s going to be gifts. There’s going to be prizes. The one thing I know they all want is to meet me.
As time goes on, I intend to run a charity program which I will involve as many people as I can. I also intend to update it because it has been running as a test for the past five months since I opened it. I just wanted to know if people would react to it properly, if they would embrace it, because it’s quite expensive running a website. So, I’m satisfied now that people like the idea and I’m encouraged. Now, I intend to update my fans on my activities, especially my work. Even outside my work. Let them know about everything I do, functions I attend, awards I receive and stuff like that.
It’s going to be hard because I can’t do all that and be on location shooting at the same time, attending different functions and all that. What I try to do is get pictures and do a write up on different places and different events. That’s what I intend to do. Just fill them in on my lifestyle.
S.O.: So all these will happen in the next few months?
G.N. Oh yes. I’m still running around getting pictures. Last thing I did was my trip to Sierra Leone. I made a little write up, few pictures of me and my fans over there… It’s hard. I have to get my own personal photographer to really go around with me just to get the pictures. It’s hard that I’m doing this all by myself though.
S.O.: It’s becoming very expensive being a star, isn’t it?
G.N.: Yes. Yes, that’s what most people don’t know. They think you’re getting all the money, but we’re actually spending all the money to be where we are at the same time.
S.O.: Having to get a personal photographer…And you’re going to need someone to be helping update the site fairly often and all that…
G.N.: Yes. I’m already paying somebody to do that.
S.O.: You have a personal assistant?
G.N.: Em, yes, I am taking up my friend. I have someone.
S.O.: Do you miss your privacy at all?
G.N.: Yes. Of course I have to, because sometimes you just want to be normal. You just want to something, do what every other person is doing around you, especially when you’re in a gathering, you’re in a party and you just want to let loose. You just want to boogie the way every other person is doing, but you can’t do it. You just have to act like the star, all eyes on me kind of person. So, it’s hard. But I’m trying not to deviate from my true self anyway.
S.O.: Talking about your true self, what kind of person are you really?
G.N.: Everybody asks me that and I say the same thing.
S.O.: Well, you told everybody. You didn’t tell me.
G.N.: I’m very reserved. Quite principled. I have my own view of life. I’m simple. I believe I was well trained. I’m resourceful. I can be nice to those who are nice to me. Generally, I’m a very normal girl, just like the next-door neighbor. Nothing different.
S.O.: Talking about your upbringing, do you still live with your parents?
G.N.: Sort of. Yes, my family is very much around. And even though I have a place of my own, I still stay with my brothers and sisters. The family house is in Lagos as well and I’m always there.
S.O.: I know you grew up in Lagos. You were born in Lagos too?
G.N.: Yes. Well, kind of. I was born in my mom’s village and came into Lagos when I was like a month old or something.
S.O.: Is there any difference between the Genevieve we see in public and the one that is at home right now?
G.N.: Yes, definitely.
S.O.: What’s the difference?
G.N.: I am myself when I’m at home.
S.O.: Oh, you’re not yourself when you’re in public? (GENERAL LAUGHTER)
G.N.: I’m very playful. I’m a very playful person. I can be funny, naughty. I can be a clown, according to my friends. But I can’t be all that in front of people because people won’t understand. They’re like “you know, she doesn’t do comedy”. I believe I’m a different person at home.
S.O.: Tell me one naughty thing you have done.
G.N.: I don’t know… Can’t remember.
S.O.: Hopefully, we will see you do comedy.
G.N.: (LAUGHING) Ah, very soon. Sooner than you think.
S.O.: What experiences have you had with your (GSM) phone?
G.N.: Hm, more than enough. (LAUGHING). My friends experience them with me as well. A lot of people pick up my phone pretending to be me. Trust me, a lot. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing people want to reach me and talk to me, different kinds of people from all walks of life, educated, non-educated, the housewives, the men, the professionals and all of them. It’s a good thing so I get to meet a whole lot of people on the phone.
S.O.: Your phone number is a very precious item on the Internet.
G.N.: Please tell me which number it is. I don’t know.
S.O.: How many times have you had to change your phone number?
G.N.: Eh, let’s see… six.
S.O.: In the last one year?
G.N.: In the last one year, three times.
S.O.: I was talking to Fred Amata a few days ago and he was telling me how much you guys enjoyed Sierra Leone. What was it like for you?
G.N.: Oh, it was unbelievable. The awareness, you know, it was something else…how much these people appreciate what we do. I was pleased. I was so flattered. I cried. I felt so moved. And it was touching because it was almost like the whole of Sierra Leone…In fact. I believe (I may have) the whole of Sierra Leone as my fans. Very warm people. I particularly like the language.
S.O.: Was that the first time you met the president of a country?
G.N.: You could say yes. Yes, first time.
S.O.: What was the experience like? Some of us have never met presidents you know…
G.N.: (LAUGHING). Don’t worry, they’re normal human beings like us. I’m sure I know what he’s going through. I’m beginning to experience it.
S.O.: Would you say you’re more popular outside Nigeria than you are in Nigeria?
G.N.: I know I made a statement in Sierra Leone when I was getting carried away with all the attention that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown… I don’t think that is totally true because it’s the same thing in Nigeria, trust me. The same thing. For crying out loud, you know how many states we have in Nigeria alone. And the kind of attention I get in Lagos where I live… In V.I. (Victoria Island) I know I’m always around everyday… And my friends are like “don’t they get tired of you? They see you every day, come on”. I haven’t been to all the states in Nigeria, but I know most of my fans in Nigeria are from either the North or the Middle Belt (you know what I mean), so I don’t think so. I think it’s the same thing.
So they’re (the Sierra Leonians) like the same with every other African outside Nigeria, every other Nigerian outside Africa, you know… They haven’t seen me. That’s why they’re still very excited.
S.O.: What is the secret of your good looks? What do you do to keep yourself looking the way you are?
G.N.: I’m a simple person. I like looking simple, and yet classy, trendy. That’s me. For my looks, nothing. I don’t do anything special. The products I use for my face… Clinique is what I use. My designers, different people. I don’t have a particular person, no. I buy my clothes and match them myself and I come out looking the way I am. It’s my own doing. So let’s just say I’m a very creative person when it comes to fashion.
S.O.: I also read on your website that you like singing. In what way do you like singing? In the bathroom or…?
G.N.: Very interesting, I sing in public.