BY ANTHONY ADA ABRAHAM
Lulu Okonkwo, who studied Social Work at the University of Brunel, London, and began to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress in 2015, joined The Unseen School of Acting where she was trained within Film, TV and Theater. She also received training from Hollywood renowned actors and directors, such as the likes of; Natalie Dormer, best known for her roles in Game of Thrones and Hunger games, Robert Sheehan (Misfits), Ed Skrein (Deadpool and The Transporter), Jake Nava and others. In her first ever major interview in Nigeria, she speaks with ANTHONY ADA ABRAHAM on why she left the UK to break into Nollywood before Hollywood.What inspired your decision to come back to Nigeria to start from Nollywood before breaking into Hollywood?
My name is Lulu; it’s not something that I can say. From the moment I was born, I knew I was born to be an actress but that wasn’t the case for me. Everyone can agree with me that when you come from an African household, there is mandated career for you, pre-birth , which is usually doctor, lawyer, engineer etc.
But the fact of the matter is that, although they looked for that, I also had parents that were supportive. It was a case of me actually saying, this is what I want to do in order for them to support me. So, the fear factor was to be trained culturally from my parents. But it was a cultural thing that I was trying to fulfill and the want of others. When I was studying Social Work, my mind was never there; like I would be doing my work last minute. Take for instance, an assignment on10,000 word essay, I would be doing it the night before submission.
Sp, you can imagine how ridiculous that was. Anybody that respects his or her gross profit wouldn’t attempt anything like that. I just knew that it wasn’t for me and I thought to myself, do you know what, there is no point in me living a lie. I might as well live a life that God prepared and ordained and predestined for me so it’s not God I am going to blame but to achieve the greatness He has put in me alone.
The acting industry is a beautiful craft. It’s amazing because it lets people relax. It lets people know that they are not the only ones going through these things. There are a lot of people that don’t talk about what they are going through and their issues and I believe that films is a way that people can understand that they are not alone on this even though it is a film.
Surely, they must have got that idea from somewhere. Surely, they must have gotten that perspective from real life circumstance and it can really help people in terms of their mental being.
It gives them the feeling that they can talk to people and feeling like; I thought I was going through a lot. It is a craft basically. Acting represents people’s real life to the depths of the core. It involves you giving so much spiritually. Its like you have to become that person because the whole craft of acting is, people should not know that you are acting, because if people know that you are acting, then you are a terrible actor.
You are supposed to become that character. I understand a lot of actors and actresses don’t talk to people when they are about going on set because few days before they go on set, they try to become someone else.
If you are trying to talk to them, you are going to have to take them out of there but you are not going to get what you are looking for and it’s definitely something that is very deep. It’s very driven and they become another kind of person. I am someone that cares a lot about what people go through. I care a lot about how people feel and what they think of themselves. So, acting is a natural craft that helps you to reach out to people because more people will see and hear about you than you will get the opportunity to talk to.
How has the Hollywood celebrities who groomed you inspired your crave for the industry.
It has inspired me heavily. It was also a very big eye opener into the industry world because people feel that you can meet someone and all of a sudden, you may just have an opportunity where they can put you on.
But then, you come to realise what they went through before they got to the position they are, that they have to sacrifice for the position that they are right now. People think that a lot of people are over unsuccessful but it is not.
It took a lot of being homeless, it took a lot of making decision, of moving countries, locations with no finances to back you up and that’s where they go and with acting, it needs a lot of finances. You need your training, you need all of that. You can’t have a socially respectable job when you are an actress because you can be needed at any given time for an audition and you could be needed for a scene. You can’t be working an office job where you want people to see you doing well in life, wearing a suit and also be a full time actor. It’s impossible.
You need a job that will allow you flexibility. That is why you find a lot of these people working as cleaners or as waiters or in cinemas because we need it to be able to have that flexibility to be able to achieve the fullness of our craft. Acting comes with humility. You can’t always be looking for energy in this industry. You are not going to go far. You need to be able to be humble and accept where you are in life. Don’t just look at where you are in life, you have to look at where you are going and that’s what they told me. As well as teaching me the craft of becoming a character, there is a big difference between acting and acting and also, they said rehearsals is not about you learning your own lines. It is about you learning the other person’s lines because when you are acting, you are not acting for yourself. You are all working with a team and there may come a time where they may forget their lines. It’s your place to get involved because all these shows that you watch, you can’t think that they all went perfectly? it is intense training. There is a lot of intense training in covering up mistakes. It is not just intense training in knowing your lines. If you spend all your time learning your lines you’re doomed. It is important that you know the lines of the people you are working with and the same as them knowing your lines because there would come a time that you will mess up and they will cover you. All these performances even with Beyoncé, Kelly had to cover up for her sometimes. They all have to cover up for each other when they forget their own lyrics. It’s about working as a team, humility, accepting people, embracing people and being wise and knowing your lane because people like to push themselves and it is not nice.
Why did you come home, with all the opportunities to break through in the UK?
When God created this world, He ordained that I would be a Nigerian and I cannot change that, whether I like it or not.
And for the fact that God wanted my root to come from Nigeria, it means that He wanted me to invest in Nigeria and I believe in making a better nation of where I am from.
If everybody gave back to their nation and invested in their nation, a lot of these African nations will be at greater heights than they are right now. The problem is that we learn, we dwell and we invest in a foreign land. I was developing my craft in the UK and my plan was to go straight to the US to develop a bit further because when you look at Nollywood sometimes, it frustrates somebody.
It’s not everything that involves screaming. Sometimes, I feel that a lot of movies in Nollywood are completely in-pro and there is no script setting, there is no storyline, there is no knowing your lines, no time to look at the script to understand the character, like what would this character be like, how would this character think in this situation?
I found out that a lot of Nollywood actors and actresses are being themselves and in acting, you are not being yourself, you are becoming someone else.
For example, if someone should insult my mother, I would be the first one to raise my folded fist but my character may not be like that. But I can’t come and be raising my fist and a lot of people don’t grab that. God wants me to do a new thing because the enemy doesn’t want Nigeria to be great because they know how great Nigeria is going to be if we join our hands together.
I know for a fact that God has sent me to be a root and a part of this because Nigeria is going to be known for its positivity.
Right now, it’s known for a lot of negativity and I believe its for the people to turn that around. I am here for them because I know that I am definitely going to cross the borders of Nollywood to Hollywood and I want a circumstance for Nigeria where Hollywood would come looking for us and not Nollywood going to beg Hollywood because everybody looks up to Hollywood and everybody looks up to the music industry in the United States of America. Let people start looking up to Nigerian music industry, let people start looking up to Nollywood, not trying to be at the foot stone. We are going to be on the throne and that’s my purpose here.
You studied Social Work at the University of Brunel, London. Are you going to weave that in also?
As of now, I am focusing on my acting and I am developing that to its fullest because right now, what I know is that when you put a lot of things in your hands, you should be able to put 100 per cent into it. That’s why it is important for people to understand how to manage and organise their time in life. But right now, I am focusing on acting but social work would definitely be something that would be implemented in Nigeria in the future.
What’s your Instagram page all about?
It is called chronicles of God and it focuses on inspirational quotes and videos just for the everyday people. I come across a lot of pages that are inspirational like, “keep your hope, things will turn around,” there is always so much that can do for you because you hear that every day. So I opened this page because it was a page with a difference. It’s a page that will talk to you with things that are reality. It will tell you,listen because a lot of these pages are of prosperity, stay faithful to God. Tell them why the devil is coming against them so hard. Let them understand. Don’t just give them the surface of the information, give them the depth of the information and then give it to them in different ways that they would understand, that they never saw it like in the times of why God wants you to forgive people.
I remember once, God laid in my heart the reason why forgiveness was so important. A lot of people say you forgive people not for them but for you. Okay, but why? And the story of Joseph was what made me understand why forgiveness is important for you because if Joseph was not able to forgive, if Joseph did not have a forgiving heart, he would not have been the prime minister of Egypt.
The reason God chose Joseph was because he had a forgiving heart. He knew that God knew he needed to use Joseph’s brothers to betray him in order to get him to Egypt and God knew that He could trust Joseph to forgive them after what God had used them to do because God can control the unbelievers and the believers’ life to work together for the good of His child.
And because He knew Joseph had a forgiving heart, God knew that He could bless Joseph to any extent. Your blessing is to the level of what you can stand and that is why I never say to God, I can’t take it anymore. That is why I never say to God, I can’t handle it anymore. I just say, God help me to handle it. God would never give you more than you can handle. That is one of the biggest lies I have ever heard. That is the depth of lie because if God always gave you what you can handle, then there would be no need for God because God gives you things and helps you to handle it and that’s why a lot of people are suicidal because they think that , okay, this one is more than me. That’s a lie from the pit of hell. You got it and you got God, when you have Christ living in you?
You are more powerful than any circumstance that can come to you but it is up to you to recognise that if you don’t, there is nobody that can recognise that for you. They can tell you but you have to accept.
What is your advice to young talents like yourself who aspire to break through in the industry?
My first advice is, never ever compromise your value. It is so important because as an actress, you should know something called type casting. Type casting is when they put you to a specific genre. You notice that all of a sudden, you are always playing the role of a prostitute in every single movie because of how you have decided to portray yourself, and the roles you accept.