Nollywood forerunners…Cast of Living in Bondage deserve national honours – Nwaneto-Amarikwa, aka Caro Caro




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By CHUKS EZE ([email protected])

Do you remember those good old movies yesteryears, such as Betrayal, Taboo, Venom of justice, and Beyond the vow? Also remember the mischievous Carol Carol of Living in Bondage fame? Ngozi Nwaneto started acting right from childhood. While in secondary school, she acted the 2nd witch in Shakespear’s Macbeth before proceeding to study Theater Arts, specializing in Choreography. The Ikeduru, Imo State indigene is now Chief (Mrs) Ngozi Nwaneto-Amarikwa, married to Innocent Amarikwa. She is a double traditional titleholder – the Onu na Ekwuru oha of Umueze Ama-Imo and Ada Ikeduru. Both titles were given to her by her people in for making them proud through her talent and resources.

Today, her outfit, Zikamas Theater Production Company  trains orphans and the less privileged free-of-charge. She also runs a consultancy outfit that coaches schools in choreography, dance and drama. This takes her around the country and beyond overseas. In this interview, she talks about her Nollywood and other issues. Excerpts…

What has Carol-Carol been into of late?

Carol-Carol has been working and has never been off the screen except when she had a baby. Otherwise, I have been busy producing movies, acting and teaching dance-drama. I’ve been doing all-round theater, which is my forte.

But many Nollywood enthusiasts say that your face is scarcely seen in movies nowadays. Some even say you have left the industry. What is the real situation?

That’s not true; the fact is some marketers choose who they prefer to feature. If they do not call you, you’ll not force yourself on them. But apart from that, I can’t remember any year I didn’t work.

Why do you think some marketers don’t look the way of some of you, who are the Nollywood pioneers, to try and blend your experiences with the newer faces?

Well, maybe some of them feel that we are expensive and not desperate for roles and may demand higher charges fees when invited. Also, there are things these young people do that we cannot do. I cannot display my boobs or accept a role that involves a nude scene just to feature in a movie. So, based on that, they choose to recycle those young women who would readily  show  boobs  the  ground  that it is what the public wants. But I feel surprised when I see the same public complaining about girls who flagrantly expose their bodies in movies. What that implies, to me, is that there is a problem somewhere which has not been detected.

But such women who expose parts of their bodies would readily tell critics they are in the make-belief business and that such is allowed?

I completely disagree with that view; it is not make-belief. If you see a marketer that wants it raw – like somebody wants to kiss the other and the producer would say, “bring out your tongue: I want it raw; I want it that way”. That is not African culture; especially for the married ones. As a married woman, there are films I can’t do. I definitely cannot in the name of making money, sell my womanhood – no! The bible says that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and whosoever defiles it shall be condemned. I can’t defile my body because of any movie. There are always better ways of doing things and the story would still be intact. But you know, you don’t have to expect everybody to reason the way you do.

Many people believe that Living in Bondage, Taboo and most of the movies of that era were a lot better than what we have these days in terms of storyline, role interpretation et cetera. How did the Living in Bongage team get it so right?

I always tell people that Living in Bondage was survival of the fittest. There was no time somebody said: “Come I want to cast you or I want to corner you and give you a role”. No. It was through an audition. Then I was working at the National Council for Arts and Culture, (NCAC). When Nek Video Links held the audition at  Ijesha, a lot of people came and we were all tried. You were given a script to read and act it out. I did well and I was given  that role. I did not know anybody and I was not in Lagos. I was only a fresh graduate of theater arts who knew her onions. Moreover, we rehearsed Living in Bondage for three months and put in everything into the character. It was like we ate it, digested it and got it into us. So, when we were shooting, it flowed. But now, what do we have? It’s kpa kpa kpa (rush work). You don’t do kpa kpa kpa in theater because it is like wearing somebody’s character. If I want to play a friend or neighbor for instance, I’ll observe the way she talks and behaves and then remove myself to wear that person’s character and be able to project it. We no longer rehearse these days. And it is against the ethics of theater to move on set without rehearsals.

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How did you get the information about the audition; did someone invite you?

I was invited and the announcement was there too. And I was featuring in  Ripples, a soap opera by Zeb Ejiro at that time.  I was playing a stubborn woman, and probably, it was my performance in that soap that attracted the person. So, we went to the audition and they tried many of us. There was nothing like, come and play this role.

Are you still in touch with Paulo, your boyfriend in that movie, and the rest of the Living in Bondage cast?

Yes; I met Kanayo O. Kanayo (KOK) at a party recently. Okey Ogunjiofor (Paulo) and I still talk to each other; you know now, as my boyfriend in that film (laughter). So, we are still friends. For Kenneth Okonkwo (Andy), we see once in a while but we speak on phone. Merit and I once lived close-by before she moved. And Ngozi Nwosu is also my bosom friend.

You are known for perfectly interpreting mischievous roles. Are you really mischievous in real life?

I’m not ooo; that’s what makes you a good actress – the ability to interpret. You know one thing about roles? If I’m to play a mad woman, I’ll just look at the script and say, ‘Ngozi Nwaneto get out; mad woman come in’ and I play the role. That doesn’t make me mad. Ability to look at the script critically, practically and theoretically, interpret the role and bring it out with passion; that is all that is needed to be a good actor or actress.

Is it true that ‘Paulo’ would have married you but for fear of you replicating your mischievous character in the homestead?

No, nothing of such happened. Okechukwu Ogunjiofor was just a friend of mine. We never knew each other from Adam. And you know what, we were not even talking to each other during that time because something happened and I got angry. But once we hear “action,” you would hear me say, “ah Paulo, how far”. When we finish, I mind my level and you mind yours. That is it. We never moved into such relationship.

Nollywood will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary and many people are of the view that the entire Living in Bondage group should be given specially honour at the grand finale of the event as its pioneers. Is there any arrangement in that regard?

I don’t know whether they are planning anything in that regard or not. The only time I know somebody thought about Living in Bondage team was when somebody produced one book titled Moviedom. The book was a master piece. And I love the author of that book, Shuaibu for what he did. Since then, no other human being has done anything about the Living in Bondage team. Maybe they think that most of the people that did that movie are old and achaic. No, we are bouncing! But truth is we deserve that honour and respect as veteran artists. I’m a core theater person and I’ve been busy ever since. I have so many arms of theater we’ve not even touched. I’m a choreographer by profession. I teach that, too and I cut across other countries. So, with or without their recognition, God has already recognized me.

What about the view that the team deserves national honour from the federal government for spearheading Nollywood that has brought so much honour, employment and international recognition to Nigeria; do you buy that idea?

That’s right. We deserve that. But I think that our leadership, I mean our successive national presidents, such as the present one, have not been doing the right thing.

Are you talking about Ibinabo and her predicessors?

Yes. They should know that some people had fought for their right and prepared a platform through which they became whoever they are now. But if they fail to appreciate those that suffered when there was no money and think they can relegate the veterans to the background, it is not possible. You know everybody is now happy and have things smooth and easy. Then we trekked together, ate together and suffered together. So, if she wants that her tenure to look strong, well fortified and worthwhile, she should sort out those Living in Bondage people and present them to the presidency and make a case for them to be given national honours because they deserve it. There is no Nigerian that doesn’t know the role Living in Bondage played in our national life such that 20 years on, it is still fresh in people’s mind.

But why is it that some of you the veterans are not in the leadership of the AGN and seem to be shying away from it?

Well, I speak for myself. I don’t want. At times, I like being behind the screen, use mask and cover my face and do my job because there are so much in the industry today that were not there before. And one has to be very careful. My dear, you will not understand. Even this interview that I’m granting now, I have to be careful about what I say. And I want to be alive to train my children. Do you get it now? All we need is prayer and lots of it, too.

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Are you saying there is so much scheming in the industry now?

So much o! And it was not there before. During the Living in Bondage era, we ate together from the same plate. If you buy bread all of us would share it. When it was night all of us would enter the Nek’s office – Keneth Nnadi – and all of us would sleep there. No matter what it was, we all ate together. It is no longer like that now. No, you can’t be careless. Before, I could say to my neighbour, please, hold this for me or hold my bag, but it is no longer like that now because everybody is a suspect. The industry is no longer what it used to be and it is so pathetic.

As a core professional thespian, when you take a professional look at some of the hit movies you did at the inception of Nollywood, when it used to be known as home video, and what obtains now, what is your view?

The difference is so glaring. Let me tell you, in the school of theater, for you to get a script, you would be in the auditorium and you would be auditioned. If you get it they give it to you, if not, forget it. That doesn’t exist now. Apart from when we did Living in Bondage, during that era, they would audition you and check your character, your mannerism and expressions – everything – because they all go together. Now, you see people being called into the bedroom, or a hotel and then you hear, “Em em … take this role, I want to make you a star”. What that implies is, “whether you know it or not, don’t worry, I know what to do”. And they push that person in, creating problem for director he is the producer’s sister or girlfriend, mother, wife or whatever.

What effect do you think such practice is having on the industry?

Isn’t it obvious? People are complaining. Even when we travel outside the shores of this country, people complain. I met somebody aboard an aircraft abroad and she said to me, “Why can’t you people yourselves together?” And when I asked how she said there was so much repetition of story lines, and we constantly portrayed Nigeria as a diabolic country where somebody would just visit a babalawo for spiritual solution and he would instantly get the solution. You know things do not work out like that. At times you wouldn’t know what to say. We carry green horns and flood the industry. Who is going to correct you when you would talk to someone who has made a silly mistake and he tells you, “Come on walk away”. And they would never ever give you a job again. They forget that it is give and take thing –you bring your money, I bring my ideas and we work together. There has to be team work. That’s why whenever Ngozi Nwosu and I are on set together we create our own slangs and expressions. We do not adopt all the inscriptions in the script because, for professionals, the script is nothing but a guideline. While acting, I get more concerned about my fans, who are the target audience. So, I must drop something that would make sense to them. Like in Ego Mbute, which I did with sister Patience, most of the songs and other expressions I used there were not in the script. Movies should ferform dual functions of teaching and entertaining.

Do you sometimes remind your husband that you are still the old Carol of yesterday?

(Hearty laughter) My husband understands me from childhood. So, whether Carol, Ngozi or anything I’m called, he knows. He knows that it flows in me and I don’t need to remind him.

In other words, some flames were on before you got married?

Flames like what?

I meant romantic flames between both of you?

We didn’t… my husband’s sister was my girl friend. We were like sisters because we were usually together whenever they visited and we would exchange pleasantries. My father was the Catechist in our church. So, as Catechist’s daughter, I had this Catholicism in me and we were not brought up to behave in a wild manner. My husband’s father was an assistant commissioner of police, then. So, it was 10 years after we left school they now saw me and said they had been looking for me at the village. Then, my husband, who had just returned from Europe, said to me that I would be the mother of his children. That was after Living in bondage.

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How did you say yes to him?

I screamed yes! Yes! Yes! (General laughter). But seriously, it didn’t feel like saying ‘yes’ because we were old friends and it was like continuation of the old friendship. And it is still like that between us including his sister, mother and everybody. The friendship runs in both families – both ours and theirs.

How would you describe your husband in one sentence?

He is a perfect gentleman – somebody that appreciates me, appreciates what I do and supports me fully. I thank God for my family for the wonderful bond that we share.

Your new movie, Power of the Cross; what inspired you to collaborate with Fr Obadinor to package it?

It is Fr Obadinor’s job. I’m only a parishioner who desires to give back to God in appreciation for the talent he has given me. The movie is the extension of the success we recorded through the Catholic Artists Entertainers Association of Nigeria (CAEAN), Holy Family, FESTAC, Lagos branch. So, together with the priest, we thought of starting something on skill acquisition to carter for the orphans, the less privileged and those who are unable to pursue university education do to certain constraints. So, at the Lagdrafest two years ago, our group came first both at the denary level and the archdiocese. We proceeded to Abuja to represent Lagos and also came first. It was after that that the priest brought the idea of the movie, the script writer prepared the script and here we are now.

What role would Carol not take in movie?

Carol doesn’t do romantic roles.

Are you talking about raw or extreme romance …?

Once there is roma there, it is roma. But if it is mba (quarrel and making trouble), I’ll give it to them hot. If it is going to native doctor and such stuff, I go do am pass, even though I’ve never visited one in real life.

Is it right for you, as a professional, reject roles?

I don’t reject roles. As an artist, you can play roles but in a more subtle and refined manner. But Nigerians have bastardized everything and you see people doing things such an extreme in the way that does not reflect our culture.

So it is not even because you are married?

No, no. From time immemorial, I never did because I don’t want anything that will affect my child in school or those looking up to me. You know when that stigma is on that child, it would be like a stubborn stain, difficult to remove.

Okay, what kind of dress would people not see on you?

I don’t open my body; I love native wears and I love dressing like real African woman. You know I’m a double traditional title holder. I would not wear anything to expose or showcase my body.

How do you take the eyes of men off you, as a married woman?

You know, you men, una sabi pester around women. A certain book that I once read says that men melt like candle wart at the sight of a woman’s hip. But I can’t forget my root because I’m a celebrity. That God has favoured one to be popular should not be an excuse for one to start messing around with men. Even with the ring, they will look for you. But it is left for you to comport yourself well.

So, how do you usually wade them off?

I don’t have any formula to talk to you in a more mannered way than telling you, “Sorry brother, I’m a married woman and I love my family”. But when you try to pester me, Oh, I’ll shout at you.

Has there ever been such incidence where you had to report a die-hard to him?

There was a day one man pursued me to our gate and I called him and said, “Nna, come and see who is toasting your wife o. And the guy took to his heels. Incidentally, my husband was about driving out. We women see a lot of things. That is why I always tell my fellow women to ensure they comport themselves and not bring out those boobs that attract them to you. When you dress modestly and behave respectively, men would respect you. I have not had any sexual harassment in my 28 years in the industry. There is so much complains about harassment because some people want to become stars by force and at all cost. When you pester a guy and you don’t know your onions, what do you expect?

 







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