Nse Ikpe-Etim

Nse Ikpe-Etim: ‘The Superwoman’ Redefining Nollywood

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A wife, a true thespian and a professional by all standards, Nse Ikpe Etim is one who oozes confidence on and off screen. Often described as ‘Nigeria’s Sweetheart’, her diction also endears her to movie lovers all over the continent and the world. 

In the movie Phone Swap, you had to speak Igbo (the Owerri dialect). It is obvious that you had to learn that. How was the experience for you?

I am not exactly a rookie when it comes to the Igbo Language, but until Phone Swap I never needed to speak Igbo as a native would. I will admit that it was quite challenging, because I had to learn a specific dialect. I am very glad for the experience, though Igbo is a very interesting language and I enjoyed myself immensely in the process [of learning it].

The movie, Journey to Self, was quite unique with many actresses as part of the cast. How did you feel working with so many women?

There’s a saying that women are their own worst enemies. Sometimes, this happens but on the set of Journey to Self, I found the opposite to hold true. Besides being a very talented cast of actresses, my co-stars were warm and welcoming. The atmosphere on set was fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed making that particular movie.

Your performance as Bolarinwa, boss’ mistress (in The Meeting), was stellar. Can you recount your experiences while playing that role?

Saying “Mistress” is a nice way to put it. Others might say Bolarinwa was a “runs’ girl” and the minister, her “aristo”. It is not in every movie that Nse is asked to play a mistress, so I found this change very refreshing. I had fun with that character and it was nice going on set to make an absolute fool of myself. She is a character who made and continues to make me laugh.

What is your opinion about domestic abuse, as depicted in Mr & Mrs?

I have very strong feelings about abuse of any kind. My character was mentally abused, as opposed to the physical which seems more commonplace in Nigeria and in our movies. I like [the fact] that my character was able to get her due without resorting to abusing her ‘oppressor’. More violence is never the solution to violence, so I hope the message behind Mr & Mrs hits home well enough. If you’re being abused, please seek help. Tell someone and keep telling, until you get the help you need. The culture of shame helps no one and we need to speak up, especially if we want to stand a fighting chance of battling domestic abuse.

How do you feel when people criticise the Nigerian movie industry and what do you think should be done to improve Nollywood in general?

When people criticise Nollywood, it means that they are watching. So that, in itself, is a win for Nollywood. Movies are made for public consumption, so it is expected that the said public forms an opinion after watching our movies. Everyone gets criticised; the only problem is that sometimes this criticism might not be constructive. Nollywood is evolving and developing and more people are now open to the idea of getting professional training, before venturing into film-making or pursuing an acting career. This means that movies can only get better. As for improving Nollywood, increased funding and proper training will fix most of the issues. More importantly, a proper standardised distribution network for our movies will go a long way in helping matters.

What is your ultimate goal as an actress?

It would be to better my previous performance. You’re only as good as your last work. I also hope that when all is done and dusted, a few people will stand up and say “there once lived an actor and her name was Nse”.

Sometimes, actors have to go to extreme lengths to prepare for certain roles. Some have to shave their hair, while others have to lose or gain weight to suit a particular role. To what extent would you be willing to go for a role, and what type of roles will you turn down?

When I accept to play any character, it is with a focus to give my all to the role. Whatever I need to do, whoever I need to become, I’ll do and be. I know I’ve done a decent job, even if people cannot see Nse but the character I’m playing. I believe everyone has certain principles that shape their decision-making process. I have personal and professional principles which I abide by. Anything which may cause me to derail from the things I hold dear will be a no-go area.

As an admired actress, how do you handle fame, especially in public with fans who want to chat and take photos? Does this affect your private life?

If you want a picture or a quick chat, I’ll always oblige you – after all, we could argue that Nse would be nowhere if people didn’t watch her movies. However, we are all humans and, sometimes, actors have ‘off’ days. We may be feeling a touch vulnerable and anti-social, but these moments are few and far in-between. A lot of my fans, thankfully, are very considerate of my personal space. I rarely get accosted by intrusive fans. My private life is private.

What is your most challenging role to date?

Every role is different and just when I say to myself “Nse that was difficult”, another script comes on and proves more [to be more] challenging than the last. So, I’ll say my most challenging role to date will be the next character I play.

Who is your favourite movie director (the one you’ve worked with and will like to work with)?

Jumoke, you’re trying to put me on the spot (laughs), but I will be careful here. I have had the pleasure of working with a number of directors. Those who left a strong imprint on my life are very aware, because I let them know. I look forward to adding more names to that list.

Which actor/actress would you like to work with (both internationally and locally)?

Off the top of my head, internationally, I’d say Meryl Streep and Don Cheadle. I think I may have worked with almost everyone in present-day Nollywood and if I haven’t, it will happen soon enough.

Have you any interest in another career or, perhaps, other aspects of entertainment or the film industry?

I told my husband that I’d like to work with Pharrell and he had a good laugh. I can sing well enough for the bathroom; outside of it is another story. As for producing and directing, I will never say never.

How would you define your style?

My style is me. I always wear what I’m ‘feeling’. Basically, if I look in the mirror and I love what I see, I’ll wear it. Of course, there are some fashion items I’d never wear and my outfit choices must also be in sync with the event I’m attending.

What is your biggest fear?

If I didn’t find love, that would have been my biggest fear. Fear is a lot more powerful when you have to face the world alone. Right now I concentrate on living my life to the fullest; there is no room for fear.

Can you recall the most memorable award you won?

Awards and nominations are always welcome. However, that must never be the basis for doing the things we do. An award does not make you the best at what you do; it is the work you put in that does that. I enjoy knowing that people appreciate the work I put in. As for my most memorable award, it comes every time someone walks up to me, beaming with joy, because they enjoyed a movie I starred in.

You describe yourself as a food-lover; what meal can you whip up in the kitchen with your eyes closed?

I am a superwoman, but even Superwoman needs to cook with her eyes open (laughs). I love to discover food and I am constantly trying out new recipes. Perhaps, one day, I’ll author a cook book with recipes you can cook with your eyes closed! Till then, I will cook the conventional way.

Human hair or Afro?

Definitely, Afro! I can style my hair in 50 different ways. A weave is so limiting.

Besides acting, what else do you enjoy?

I really love to cook, travel and read good books.

What is your secret career wish?

Hmm (pondering), is it really possible to have a secret career wish in a career that is so public?

What essential items do you need on set?

My script, well that goes without saying. Imagine if a doctor showed up to examine a patient without a stethoscope.

Who is Nse Ikpe Etim?

She is the person you’re interviewing (laughs). Nse is also an actor, a wife, a daughter and a sister.

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