Ijeoma Grace-Agu is not your normal Nollywood actress. The mother of one landed a role in Fidelis Duker’s Eldorado series in 2007 after going for several auditions. In this interview with SAMUEL ABULUDE, the down to earth lady who’s married to a film director, speaks about her journey in the film industry and project
What have you been up to?
I’m looking for work. I want to be confirmed as an actress. However, on the post production side, I’m on the last stage of my movie ‘Zena’ an epic.
Why did you decide to do an epic?
I read the script and I liked it. The script was written by a lady called Jenifer. From the very first day she talked about it, I got hooked.
How did you come about the name “Zena”?
It’s a fictional name. It’s a fantastical group of women that lived without men, like a cult. It’s a short film though based on fantasy. I shot at Ekiti and Epe.
How challenging was it producing “Zena”?
It was very challenging, I’m still recovering financially. There were many cast. On some days, we were 70 and at times 35. Let’s say, an average of 40 to 50 people. I shot it for roughly two weeks.
Was it your first epic?
Definitely not, I’ve been involved in other epic productions. But it is the first my company, House 5, produced. I produced and acted in it. I’ve been producing and acting for films close to eight years now. It doesn’t come easy but you should just know what lies ahead.
What should people look up to in “Zena”?
Zena is a love story so people will definitely be entertained at the same time be lost in the fantasy, I hope we are able to create something. The cast include Bimbo Akintola, Iretiola Doyle, Omowunmi Dada, Juliet Ibrahim, Beverly Osu. It should hit the cinemas hopefully this year.
Was it your last production?
No. We have done one that we filmed in Jos ‘War and Peace’. It was an epic film as well by House 5 production. It was a commissioned work for IrokoTv. I was the principal character.
You have been into production since 2007, how has it been?
It’s been very difficult, rewarding, fun filled, very adventurous. So many feelings all wrapped into one. It’s something I will do over and over again.
You studied Biochemistry; did you ever think you would become a film maker?
Yes, I knew I was going to be a film maker.
Then, why did you decide to study Biochemistry?
It’s a medical course and they expected me to become one. The acting has been there right from childhood. I grew up in Benin.
At what point did you decide to go into acting?
At 14 years old. I was a very conscious child. I already knew who I was, who I wanted to be. I was very deliberate in all I did and I read a lot.
Who coached you into acting?
My mother did.
If you were not an actor, what would you have been?
I would still have been an actor.
How does an actor position himself for auditions since the industry seems so saturated?
You can imagine what the oil industry is going through in the country. If you love it and you want to succeed, keep doing your thing and be good at it. Never be discouraged. If you think you are talented, just go for it.
Before your first acting role in Eldorado drama series, how many auditions did you attend?
I attended countless auditions that I can’t even remember, almost every day. If we had auditions today in Surulere, tomorrow it’s another place. You just keep going until you get the role.
Can you give us some of your experiences?
I got to an audition venue at 5 a.m and I waited and waited and none of the organisers showed up. I was exasperated and angry. It wasn’t until 5 pm that the organisers showed up at that time. 12 hours of my time and others were wasted just like that.
And you did not quit?
No. I love acting so much to quit. Quitting wasn’t even an option.
Of all the auditions, was Eldorado the first you were cast for?
Yes it was the first. It was a series.
Did you consider that if you had a god father, you would have gotten an inroad easily?
No. I don’t believe in all that. I have so much assurance in myself.
What do think paved way for you in them casting you for “Eldorado”?
I have no idea. I don’t really know what they saw. After “Eldorado”, I did a stage play titled ’Return of the golden sword’. I had to move from the National Arts Theatre everyday to Yaba where I had to shoot another. I got the role as a result of my cheer persistence and working on my skills.
How would you describe your personality?
I am very simple but down to earth. Outside, I look simple but those who know me know that I’m very complicated. One thing you can’t take away from me is that I’m hardworking and I’m very zealous.
For young men and women that think entertainment is bye-bye to poverty, what can you say to them?
It is actually welcome to poverty. Because you are putting your money where your heart is; when you make money, you put it back there, there is no guarantee.
Having been in the industry for a decade, what is your take on the progression of Nollywood?
Nollywood was a child that was born out of necessity. Having given birth to that child, you groom it, nourish it and expect it to grow. So I think at this point having attained the second largest industry status, we need to get some things right. These include: structures, training and also developing on our niche which is selling our culture to the outside. We will only give our very best when all things are put in place- infrastructure and capacity building. Film making is not a one man thing. it is a group of twenty to fifty people coming together with different inputs to make a product and we better be careful that the input we are getting is from the right people if not we would make a display of wrong product.
In the next four years, why do you hope to achieve?
Actually, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing, making film. I want to be a working actor not just being celebrated for celebrating sake. I want to love what I do. A working actor is an actor who is constantly working and working and only takes break because he/she wants to take break.
Who are your role models?
My mother is my role model
When your husband wooed you, was it love at first sight?
No, it wasn’t love at first sight because I had worked with him before in 2010 in the movie ‘First Valentine’. He saw that I was too confident and I didn’t really care much about him.
It seems you have always been this confident?
Yes, I’ve always been like this, I’m always self-assured. My environment influenced me. I grew up in a very loving home where I was allowed to unleash my talent, all I had within me, I was allowed to have a voice, I was given the right education, the right books to read to show case the other world inside of me. Just having that love and support from my nuclear family, prepared me for the world like now, I don’t care to know what anyone thinks about me because I know who I am and that’s what counts for me.
Talking about your husband when did you meet again after 2010?
We met in 2013. He was about to do this feature film and he wanted me to help him cast for it and when we finished filming, he just started talking. I was very receptive.
What made you receptive?
Not receptive really because I remember saying “I love you, you and I come from different worlds”. I’m a very principled person. I have values that you can’t meet up with a lady and start talking about love right then. I think he wanted to break my defences and he broke it well.
How has marriage been?
Marriage has been pretty tough. I had said I didn’t want to marry but here I am. My mother was the first person I told that I’ve found my husband. We will be five this year. I married my husband after three months of courtship.
Stage play acting and acting in movies, which do you prefer?
I actually prefer acting in movies for TV because some could be overtly loud. There is intimacy, I like the intimacy. I like the fact that the camera can sense and display what you feel and capture it for you.
Would you say ‘Taxidriver’ movie brought you into lime light?
I won’t say that. I would say ‘Hoodrush’ did it for me. I played a supporting character and an interesting one that made people to notice my acting skills.
How was the experience?
It was beautiful. I enjoyed filming because people trusted me. And when you trust me as an actress, you have given me wings to fly
What do you think made ‘Taxi Driver’ movie tick?
It was a great collaboration. Film making is teamwork so everybody’s involvement in “Taxi Driver” made it what it was today. From the director, the actors to the audience, if not for them, it won’t be what it is today. It was a bit difficult but the crew pulled it through. We shot most of the scenes at night. The director was trying to get a typical Lagos night on the mainland.
Was it that the film demanded they shoot at that time?
Yes. It’s the story of a taxi driver who drives at night picking up different passengers. And if you live in Lagos, you start seeing them from around 7pm, so we had to wait till that time to shoot.
Would you say ‘Hoodrush’ and ‘Taxidriver’ paved way for you because people started reckoning with you especially for the role you played?
Not really because that wasn’t the first time I was playing the role. I had played the role of a call girl in other movies before this.
You are a mother, a wife, a film maker and an actress, how do you combine all?
Very difficult but I have an amazing daughter, very independent. In her early years, she went with me for productions. I took her everywhere with me. But these days, she’s happy wherever I put her.
Does she watch your movies?
Yes she does.
Do you watch your own movies?
Yes. I’m always part of the editorial team especially when I produce.
What is your advice to young ladies?
I will advise them not to get married because, marriage is not for kids, it is filled with the hardest work you can think of. So it’s better they marry someone who will do that hard work for them, not love that has money and beauty. Get married because you love the person, you respect the family.
How much work do you think is required to build your brand?
I’m already building a brand with someone who is trust worthy, who will deliver at any time. I’m not there yet but we will get there.
Describe yourself in three words?
Hard worker, tenacious and passionate.
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