I have interviewed many people in my time…But I have never had the pleasure of interviewing someone as obviously unpretentious as Stella Damasus-Aboderin. The star of movies like DANGEROUS DESIRE and NEVER SAY GOODBYE, Stella has a passionate following among the lovers of Nigerian movies scattered around Africa and the African Diaspora.
That is all the introduction you’re going to get. Read the rest.
– Sola Osofisan
Sola Osofisan: Stella, you are called Damasus by some, Damascus by others. For the record, tell us the correct name please.
Stella Damasus-Aboderin: It’s Damasus. D-A-M-A-S-U-S. There’s no “c”.
S.O.: I’m sure you must have grown tired of correcting people by now.
S.D.A.: Oh, I just let them call me whatever. I’ve heard worse. I’ve heard “Damastockings”. I just let them call me whatever, but everybody knows they’re talking about me.
S.O.: Damasus is an unusual name. What part of the country are you from?
S.D.A.: I’m from Asaba, Delta State. Damasus was actually my grandfather’s first name. It’s a Greek name. The family name was actually Ojukwu, but when the war broke out, the Nigerian Civil War, a lot of Nigerian soldiers mistook my family for the real Ojukwu himself, so a lot of things happened to my family members until my grandfather came and said look, instead of them killing our people thinking we’re Biafrans, let’s just change our name, so we’re safe. That’s how the name became Damasus.
S.O.: And it has remained the same ever since?
S.O.: Interesting. You grew up in Asaba or in Lagos?
S.D.A.: I grew up in Benin City actually. I only lived in Asaba for about three years when my father was transferred from former ACB Bank in Benin to Asaba Branch.
S.O.: So you did all of your schooling in Benin City?
S.D.A.: Yes. But my JSS 3 to my final year in secondary school I did in Ibusa, in a private school in Ibusa about 15mins away from Asaba. But from the time I was born to that time, I did most of all my education in Benin.
S.O.: In what way did your childhood prepare you for a career in the entertainment industry?
S.D.A.: I think it was basically my mom. My mom used to be an opera singer. She used to be a stage actress. When we went to church together, she used to make me sing with the junior choir and all that. And then whenever we were in school and they wanted to do a school drama, she would tell me to go for it. Since I was in primary school, she was always there making sure that I did one drama piece or one song or something.
And when I was growing up, they bought tapes of Boney M, Abba and she made me sing along and things like that. I would actually hold the electric kettle cord as my microphone and all that in front of a mirror. Ever since then, she just basically knew that I was going to do something in the entertainment world and she just kept encouraging me to do that.
S.O.: That is also unusual. The typical parent in Nigeria would never encourage you to go into the entertainment business.
S.D.A.: Yeah. My mom’s case was different because she was in it. I had a problem actually (with my father) when I started acting because of the impression a lot of people had about actors. My mother was always supporting me and she was there telling him its not like this, have you forgotten how we met, though I was a banker but then I was doing my singing and acting on the side so let her do what she wants…
And my parents are very liberal people, you know, so they let their children be who they want to be. It was easier for me because my mother was already an entertainer before I joined them.
S.O.: Wow, you’re one of the lucky few.
S.O.: It appears you did a lot more acting work in 2003 than any other year… What happened?
S.D.A.: I honestly don’t know. I can’t say for sure. I just know that each one I did, people just kept calling me. I won’t lie to you, the money got better and bigger, so it was difficult for me to say no. As a fact, I used to say let me take time off for my kids or let me take time off for… Last year, it was just like a blow out. Everybody remembered that I was around. I also realized that the scripts that came my way were very good and they were characters that would project me more. So, I guess that’s why. But I can’t tell you why they wanted me all the time. I don’t know.
S.O.: What kind of roles do you accept?
S.D.A.: It has to be something that is based around me, something that makes me important, something that challenges me, something that will make me really work. I cannot just take a script, look at it and just go and talk. Something that will make me rehearse in my house, look at my mirror, have someone to read with me at home, something that will make people to be blessed, so every day and say please can we break down these scenes and let’s do a character analysis, something that moves me that I don’t really need to do anything artificial, something that will make me bring out the best from the bottom of my belly, you know… Something that will make me work like the one I’m doing right now… Its really making me sweat. Scripts that make sense. Scripts that will talk to you – as you’re reading it, you’re imagining it and you’re going through the motions with it, not just any story, you know? Stories that you can relate to, that you know that whenever people see it, they will remember you for doing one thing or the other… That’s it.
S.O.: Which is the one you’re doing right now?
S.D.A.: Dangerous Twins, the one with Tade Ogidan.
S.O.: I know they shot a series of scenes in England. You’re not in the England sequences?
S.D.A.: No no, I’m the wife of the other twin in Nigeria.
S.O.: Dangerous Twins id promising to be an explosive thing.
S.D.A.: Oh yes, oh yes it is. And then with the cast as well, it’s going to be fantastic. We have Sola Sobowale and Bimbo Akintola also in the movie. It’s going to be very nice.
S.O.: And Ramsey Nouah?
S.D.A.: Ramsey Nouah is a fantastic actor. He’s doing so well. In fact, I’m really really complimenting him. I do that every day because it’s not easy playing a twin. You wear one costume, play all the lines of one person, wear another costume of the other twin and start doing all the lines and remember what the other person said and how he dressed, and you know things like that. And he’s been doing it so well. I’m really really impressed with what I’m seeing.
S.O.: What is it like, Stella, to have two talents? I’m talking about the singing and acting now. Do you get pulled to explore one more than the other?
S.D.A.: Em… Maybe. I’ve been doing both together at the same time. I think I prefer it like that because I don’t want a situation where I would have to choose between the two. I manage my time very well. My husband and I, we have a band called Synergy, and we have a lot of shows. Private shows for weddings, launching and things like that. And then I do my movies as well, but if you ask me to choose between (two) of them, I will tell you I probably can’t because I love both of them and they complement each other. You know, now I’m being offered scripts to play as singer in a movie and I’m telling them the highest bidder will take it. If people are planning to use me as a professional singer… I have something that I perceive as being an edge over a lot of other because I can do – and I’m a dancer as well. So I combine all of these things to try and make me a perfect actress, you know… At least the best I can be.
S.O.: You sing, you dance and you act?
S.O.: Interesting. So how did you sharpen all these skills Stella? At the professional level, did you have any special training or did you just start doing it? How did you get into it formally?
S.D.A.: I’m a theatre arts graduate. I’ve been doing theatre arts for (long distance gabble). I’m doing a part-time course. And in these five years, I think I know a lot. As a theatre student, you must have (more long distance gabble). The acting, to be a theatre arts student, you have to go through different acting techniques, acting styles and people that have propounded a lot of theories about expression, movement, bodywork and things like that. So I guess I try to put a lot of that into practice whenever I do a movie or anything else because I try to translate what I have read into practicals – into motion. I read a lot of books. I love to read, so I try to educate myself… Each character I play, I try to talk slightly different from what I have done. I try to change my style of acting, my style of walking, things like that… I think its basically my education that really helped me. And then my husband used to do movies as well. He used to be an actor as well, and since he is more experienced than I am, he helped me out a lot when I was starting. I guess I do try to improve in everything that I do by reading more. I’m studying other foreign actors as well cos I have this artist that I like a lot – Cicely Tyson. I think she’s fantastic so I learn a lot from her.
S.O.: Aside of Cicely, is there any other person you would call a role model?
S.D.A.: Jack Nicholson. I love him as well. And I think they’re fantastic because I’ve seen them do these same roles and they’re so convincing. I mean Cicely Tyson played a role…She played the role when she was a very young girl and she grew up into a great grandmother and she was so fantastic because her voice changed, her style of acting changed, everything changed, so for someone to do that, it takes a lot of work and I respect it…
S.O.: Are there roles for instance that you would not play?
S.D.A.: I don’t think so. I think I can play every role because it’s my profession and if I play a very bad role or a loud role, it means I am doing it to correct something. The script has to be right. If I’m just going to play (for instance) a prostitute just for the sake of being a prostitute and it doesn’t make sense and the story is not centered around that particular person so she’s able to change at the end of the day and make people realize how bad it is, then I don’t think there’s any point in doing it. But if I’m playing roles like that where I have to really loud but at the end of the day there’s a message, a positive message, that’s going to be passed across, that people need for the ills of the society. Then I probably would do it. You have to learn different acting styles and techniques to be able to play things and make them convincing without being extremely vulgar or do things that are very extreme that people will frown at. There are ways of doing different things that I try to learn every day, so I don’t think I will shy away from any role. It just depends on the director I’m working with and how we can work together to bring it out without having to irritate people or be vulgar about it.
S.O.: Let me ask you a vague question. What’s the most challenging thing that has ever happened to you?
S.D.A.: Oh my God, what do I say? I think that it’s being a young wife. Because of who I am and what I do, its not easy, because in this part of the world, its not easy to keep your home intact because when you in-laws, you have families and then there are some things that you would probably not accept or take and because of the negative publicity we get and things like that… I think that’s my greatest challenge because sometimes they hit on us the females who are married and it takes a lot of work to try and repair the damage and also a lot of work to try and make sure that your spouse trusts you enough to stand by you and believe you… And also to be that wife that your in-laws expect you to be, no matter what, even if it breaking your back or killing yourself. I think its more challenging than any job or anything I have to do outside because if you regard something as the most important thing in your life, I think that is the think you fight hardest to keep intact. Its more difficult for an entertainer – an actress – to keep her home, especially when herself and her husband are very young and are going through a lot of things and trying to be adults and trying to be mature and trying to be role models and parents and all that. I think that’s basically my greatest challenge in life and I am determined to succeed. Really really determined.