LILLIAN Okoli’s foray into Nollywood is as interesting as her permanent smiles; a regular feature on her smooth face. Unlike stories of woes that you hear actors talk about when they join the film industry, Okoli’s case is the direct opposite. She had a smooth ride from her first movie in 2011and has continued in such pattern.
Lillian, the most popular of the Okoli sisters in both English and Igbo movies tells SAM ANOKAM in this chat how she had wanted to become a professional footballer until fate had another plan for her also spoke about other interesting issues.
WHAT has been happening to you?
Covid-19. Though we are on set now but I had wanted to produce my movie before the coronavirus pandemic. I was planning to shoot a movie in Germany and Nigeria. The actors in Germany are set to shoot their part and now I am hearing that they want to have their own lockdown. This covid is really affecting our job. I am hoping that this second lockdown will not be like the first. This movie is going to be my second Igbo movie I have produced. I am trying to project the Igbo culture. The story is better interpreted in Igbo. The cast would include Vitalis Ndubuisi, Vincent Opurum, Chinyere Nwabueze, Christy Okonkwo, Kachy Onuoha, Vivian Okoli among others. I assure you that the story is what many movie buffs would love.
What were your early influences while growing up?
Growing up I wanted to be a medical doctor. First of all, I would have loved to be a footballer. I had to stop when I was in JSS 3 because my father didn’t like it. My father wasn’t pleased with my playing football with boys. I got admitted to study Cell Biology and Genetics in Unilag unfortunately I didn’t meet up with the cut-off mark for Medicine. I never had intention of acting. It was something I never saw myself doing because I am a shy person. Though I was doing drama in secondary school and church, I never wanted to be an actress.
So, what changed?
The change came when I had my baby and it dawned on me that my relationship isn’t going to work out as in marriage that Genevieve Nnaji came into my head. I got encouraged by her experience as a single mother who against all odds made something wonderful for herself.
I am an independent-minded person who wanted to be somebody in life. I started off when I took the place of somebody who wasn’t available to play a particular role. I was recommended though from somebody in my drama group in church. Before now, I have been approached by top producer Simone to act , I refused. He was surprised when I met him and started acting.
What do you think of feminism?
Whether you like it or not, God has made man head of the family. Feminism is like fighting for a right to be treated equally based on nasty experiences some women go through but in the process some women are abusing that right. They left what they are supposed to be fighting for and are fighting something that doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, I see them as sadists. They are not happy. Experiences differ. What I went through may not be what you went through. Sometimes some people give advice based on their own experience which may not be favourable to you but it might be ok for some others.
So far, how many movies have you produced?
When I started producing movies I wasn’t producing with my name. At that time when I started, you might not be getting jobs if it is known that you are producer. So, you use another person’s name to produce though you are the one funding it. The person will also market it with his name.
For now, I have produced six movies.
Can you share any memorable experience in Nollywood?
I didn’t suffer. You know the stress people go through when you come into the industry. I wasn’t stressed. I came in and I was welcomed. I was welcomed from my first job which was ‘Blackberry Season 2 Babes’ till date. Nollywood was like another world entirely different compared from where I was coming from. I was used to a quiet family life. When I joined Nollywood, I met a lot of people from different backgrounds, character etc. at first it was difficult to adapt, later, I got used to the Nollywood life. Honestly, I have sweet memories.
From when you joined the industry and now, how has it been?
I earn more money now than then but I work more now than when I started. What makes you more popular is continuity. If you don’t see me in Igbo, you would see me in English movies.
What are your thoughts about women going into filmmaking, directing, other aspects of moviemaking?
I see it like the way you go to a hair salon and see a guy making hair. Sometimes they make hair better than women. When I see a female DOP or director, it excites me. Some women are tomboys. They like to do some of those things’ guys do. It is a welcome development. I love it.
Apart from acting, what is your other passion?
I still love football. I love dancing.
My late dad who was a die-hard Chelsea fan made me love football. I watched football with him and he used to take me to the national stadium to watch live matches.
What can you make of the ‘Stingy Men Association?’
Stinginess is satanic. Even God is a giver. How can a normal human being be stingy? Stingy people are selfish. When you go out with a bae, there is a limit of money that you can spend. When you present yourself as a big boy and she makes a demand which he cannot meet up with, she concludes that you are stingy. But if you date your level, it will ok. How can you have money and you cannot help people? I can’t even stand them. It irritates me. When you see a stingy guy you will know. If you are stingy and you encounter me your stinginess will go. Anything you see that is trending, there is something attached to it.
You love tattoo why?
Tatoo for me is fashion. If I am attracted with any design, drawings, quotes etc, I still have space to add more tatoo. For now, I do not have intention of adding more.
What influenced the big one on your back?
That is very precious to me. I have the names of members of my family there. I have to make it look sexy. I have a star and an angel wing protecting my destiny. All my tattoos have meanings.
How do you get your stuff as popular as you are?
I buy stuff online. Things are easier now. I don’t like going out.
What do you think is the future of Nollywood?
We are getting better. We are getting stronger. There is improvement. We are more organized now than before. Our AGN president is doing a good job. He is reaching out to people. Helping the sick and doing a whole lot of positive things. Before now, people do things on their own. Now we produce better movies.
What is this thing with rituals as theme in many movies?
People write scripts according to what they see around them. If ritual kind of movie is selling, everybody wants to shoot it. That is what is trending. It is just the way bone hair is trending, every lady wants to buy it. When it is gun or love movies, the same thing happens.
People should know that it is just movie just like what we watch on zeeworld, it doesn’t mean that is the way love happens. Even as I agree that the picture you give is what people will see but I cannot be telling them not to produce what is giving them money.
Could you tell us about your love life?
I am in a relationship. I am in love. It is obviously going to lead to the altar but I am not ready for that now. Before I was emotionally unavailable, now I am emotionally available. I don’t want to get married and jump out. I don’t want a failed marriage.
I saw in my guy a friend. A good man. He is not stingy. He knows the real me. Most people don’t know the real me, they only know the lady they see on television.
Honestly, you will fall in love with the real me. Lillian is a happy and lively lady. She is everything you want in a woman.
Any advice to up and coming ones?
I advise them to be humble because I am a humble person. Not that I am trying to praise myself, I have a good heart and I relate well with everybody. There was a secondary school movie I did in the east where I weaved my hair all back. A woman that has been a fan was on that set and she couldn’t believe the way I related with her and others to the extent that she went home telling her family of a supposed different Lillian as against the ‘big chick’ on screen. I was brought up with love. My favourite make-up is smile.
Who is that actor that you have been wanting to act with but have not up to now?
I used to crush on Richard Mofe – Damijo, Ramsey Noah. I would love most to work with Hilda Dokubo. People tell me that I look like her. I grew up having that Hildah tag. I have once spoken to her on phone through the late chico Ejiro but I have not met her. I would love to play Ramsey Nouah’s girlfriend.
What are your future plans?
I pray that God should somehow remove this covid for us. I want to focus on producing my movies and travel.