As an actress, a director and a producer, Lilian Amah has been a successful figure in the Nigerian movie industry. In this chat, she spoke about her career and Nollywood.
Here are the EXCERPTS:
Tell us about your new production, Bridges.
It is a television series advocating for the benefits of signing on to the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), and it is produced by Buffer Zone Communications. In it, I played the role of Hadiza who became an advocate of NHIS after almost losing her life and benefiting from a health insurance scheme she signed up for just to encourage a friend. It is the sort of production I like to take part in because it adds value to society. Our government should ensure the NHIS works well because it has the potential of greatly enhancing the life and health status of Nigerians.
How did you break into Nollywood?
I attended an audition by Richard Mofe-Damijo and won a role as Alero in the movie, Out of Bounds. It has been a mixture of good and bad, rough and smooth. It is like a journey of life. For me, the good aspect of it is that I have had the opportunity to live out my dreams. It has been one of my dreams to be an actress and also, a producer. I have had the opportunity to live out these dreams. That for me is good. The bad aspect of it is having been in Nollywood almost 30 years, I thought the industry would have got to a certain level. Between the menace of piracy and lack of support from the private sector, the industry has not grown the way it is supposed to. For me, those are the sad aspect of the journey. When I was a child, I had several dreams. I wanted to be an air hostess, a doctor, a lawyer and an actress. I have accomplished some of these dreams. I was an air hostess, may be in another life, I will be a doctor. I worked with ADC Airline for two years as a hostess. When the airline commenced operation, I was one of the first hostesses the company employed. I worked with the airline for two years before I went into banking. While working in the bank, I was also pursuing my acting career, meaning that I could only do a few other things. Luckily for me, the bank I worked with then was more of a family business. Most corporate organisations would not tolerate that, but the bank allowed me to have my way until I resigned in 2005. I featured in Doctor’s Quarter while I was still working in the bank.
How many movies have you done?
I have done close to 20. I have also featured in several TV programmes.
Will you say that you prefer TV to movies?
TV and film acting are both acting. They require virtually the same techniques, unlike stage, that requires a more robust and larger-than-life acting and gesticulations. TV lasts longer, so you have more time to get into character and bond with your co-performers. I started acting professionally in 1996 and also worked full-time in different companies, including banks up until 2005. I only joined the film industry full-time in 2006. My colleagues may have acted in hundreds but I have never been one to copy anyone. I do what suits my purpose or what I am comfortable with. I act only in movies or TV productions that agree with my values. They have to say something positive and add value before I can align with them.
Why did you decide to be an actress?
I chose to become an actress because I derive fulfillment from acting. After watching The Sound of Music at a cinema in Sierra Leone when I was a kid, I fell in love with the world of make-belief. On trying my hand at stage dramas in secondary school, I discovered an immense appreciation for the positive feedback I got. I knew then that that was what I was born to do. Tell us about your most challenging role I have had a few challenging roles but none I would dub as most challenging. I believe there will be a lot more challenging roles for me in future.
Which is better, acting or producing?
Both are interesting and fulfilling for me.
Do you agree that you seem silent nowadays?
No, I do not agree. My work is supposed to speak for me and I currently have a few programmes airing on TV. I have never been loud, so I do not understand why it would be felt that I seem silent. I have never been frequent in movies. Rather, I have done a couple of TV soap series. Even right now, I have about three to four soap operas already running on different TV stations. My face has never been regular when it comes to acting in movies. In my whole career, I do not think I have featured in up to 10 movies and several reasons are responsible for this. I have always been working full-time and doing other things. Acting has been on the sideline for me. Secondly, it’s not every script that comes my way I would want to accept. This is because anything that has to do with the screen is going to outlive the person. So, I am trying to be very careful on what I put my face on.
How do you feel that people see actresses as loose people?
Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and this opinion really does not impact on me in any way.
What is your take on the present day Nollywood?
Nollywood is still growing. Association of Movie Producers (AMP), which I am Vice-President under the leadership of Zik Zulu Okafor, is planning an event tagged One Billion Eyes on Nigeria to celebrate Nollywood at 20. Nollywood will not be the same again after that event. It will take place next year, by the special grace of the Almighty, and will involve all entertainment practitioners in Nigeria. We are hopeful that it will attract moviemakers from all over the world. In the last three years, I would say there has been a lot of improvement. We now have a lot of producers who are interested in the quality of their works. We have people who are looking at better story lines, better equipment and there have been a few productions where you will have Nollywood people mixed with other people outside (Ghana and Kenya). All these are improving and I believe that in another two years, it will be totally a different sector. Tell us more about Z-Mirage International Cultural Exchange Programme you are part of. It is a programme that seeks to use arts and culture to achieve global diplomacy and restore the dignity of man. It is in its third year and involves an international essay competition, drama, dance, tours and advocacy lectures. This year, 78 students from Nigeria and the Diaspora will compete in the essay while eight American and Nigerian actors will take part in the drama. A Nigerian-born, British lawyer-dancer, Stanley Amah, will showcase a blues dance party at the London event while Peter Badejo O.B.E., a Nigerian-born veteran of theatre will also host a dance workshop. It takes place in Lagos, London, Abeokuta and Akure and it promises to be great fun. I have produced it since inception while Alhaji Teju Kareem of Z-Mirage is the executive producer.
Why have you not produced your own soap opera yet?
I have not done that yet, but I have produced my own films. As the Vice-President of Association of Movie Producers (AMP), I should be producing films. I have produced a couple of films, including Jungle Ride, Strict Revenge and many others. I am currently working on my latest movie.
Any regrets being in the industry?
Life is full of ups and downs. I am in Nollywood because I choose to be in the industry. I am a master’s degree holder. So, good or bad, I am here for keeps; I will slug it out for the rest of my life.
What keeps Lillian busy when not acting?
I read and I write. I am a published author. I have a novel in the market, and my second novel is underway. My writing is a part of me just as my acting. Different things inspire me to write. My two books are totally different stories. My published work is Echoes of a Heartbeat, and yet to be published novel is Dramas of Yesterday. The novel is a tribal relationship during the Nigeria Civil War.
Your late father in-law was an accomplished writer; did you pick anything from him?
I think Pa Aluko liked the fact that I was writing my first book before I married his son. The novel was launched while I was married to my husband, and he was very proud of me. He encouraged me a lot.
Does it cross your mind to write about him?
Writing about him involves my writing about myself. That kind of book will not be written myself. Some of his children are writers too. May be, I think, writing about their father will be the only way to immortalise him. They might consider writing about their relationship with their late father in future.
Writing novels and writing scripts are very different things, have you written any movie script?
I have tried my hands on it. But I prefer to let other people write my story. When I have a story, let those who have a craft on script writing do it for me. Script writing is a specialised field.
You said you resigned from your banking job; do you have any regrets on that today?
I did not walk out of the job for acting. Rather, I was not getting self-fulfillment working in the bank. I spent 10 years of my life in the banking hall. Money is not everything. It has never been so important to me. Yes, money is necessary to get on with life. But it is never been the reason I take decisions. I needed to be fulfilled. I needed to wake up in the morning and feel happy that I am going to work. I was not feeling that anymore while working in the bank. So I had to take my destiny into my hands.
Does your background, as a banker, influence your career?
The banking world is totally different from acting. There is no way it can help me, but may be as a producer, yes. The contact I have made, if I am trying to raise fund or look for brands to work with me, yes. People who I knew as a banker then could be of help but as an actress, I do not see what they can do for me. Some people would say soaps are better than movies financially.
So, why do you do soaps?
No. I will not say that, but movies are easier. You go on location and between two and three weeks, you are done. This project, for instance, is about four or five years now, here we are and still working on the same project. So, soaps take a longer time. Over time, you earn more money but for me, that is really not the attraction. It depends on the story line and the character I am asked to play. It also depends on who is behind the job. That is what I consider before deciding whether to take the job or not.
For sometime now, there is this insinuation that the Ghana movie industry has improved more than Nollywood. Do you subscribe to this view?
No. I have a lot of respect for our Ghanaian counterparts but anybody saying they are more improved certainly does not know what he is saying. Nollywood, when you talk about it in West Africa, still has the top spot. Other people are trying to come along.
What about equipment wise?
In every aspect, I have seen a couple of Ghanaian movies, I am not saying they are not doing well. They are trying, they are doing well, but I repeat, they are not better than Nollywood. We taught them how to make movies. At a time, they were giving some conditions to Nigerian actors who wanted to go into Ghana to act and Nollywood reacted and tried to bar some of them too. You see, all of these are politics. My personal opinion is that the Ghanaians felt threatened. A lot of them were spending more time working in Nollywood because they were getting jobs and being paid a whole lot of money. I know a lot of them were asking for between $5,000 and $7,000 and they were getting it, but they can’t get that much in their country. What their producers tried to do with Nollywood actors was just to cause disaffection but I think that has been taken care of.
Is it true that Ghanaians get paid better than their Nigerian counterparts even when they are working on a film here in Nigeria?
I have not employed any Ghanaian actor on my set, so whatever I am going to say is not first hand. But if you look at every other industry, expatriates get better pay. So, if Ghanaians are getting better pay here, I will say it is because they are expatriates in that situation. When Nigerian actors too go to Ghana or Kenya to work, they get paid better than the local actors. It is not because they are better; it is due to the expatriate factor.