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OMONI OBOLI: On Being Mrs. Ellio

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In 14 years of marriage and 18 years  of acting, few things compare to the excitement of being a pathfinder. Even though famous Nollywood actress, Omoni Oboli, does not regard her having a foothold in The Presidency as a personal advantage, she would rather see it as a collective advancement for the industry she is so passionate about.

With the recent screening of her directorial debut, ‘Being Mrs. Elliot’ in the Banquet Hall of The Presidential Villa in Abuja, Omoni scored an enviable feat for being able to have President Goodluck Jonathan and his top aides watch the movie. The idea of showing the movie at the State House was a random thought that became real. At the point they sent a letter to The Presidency, they were still doubtful that their request would be considered, but they went ahead, anyway. To their greatest surprise, the President approved the request.

Omoni reported that the President said he agreed to see the movie because Nollywood is doing so much for the image and economy of the country. According to him, whenever he is in an African country, as his car passes by, people shout, ‘igwe’!! That could only have come from Nollywood. The President said Nollywood is a big part of the country and he wanted to commend the practitioners by seeing Omoni’s movie. He said that the movie was very well done and that if it could turn out so well on a projector purposely built for showing movies, it means that the quality of the movie must be fantastic.

As many continue to criticise some Nigerian actors for their unabashed support for Jonathan, Omoni defended herself and colleagues thatr are flying the Jonathan flag. She argued that it is only logical to support an ally. The President, she insists, supports Nollywood, and therefore, deserves commensurate  support from the industry.

However, the Presidential viewing of Being Mrs. Elliot also hugged the attention of the public for a different reason.  Omoni had a generous mention in the media, not just being the first professional in Nollywood to have her film shown in the presidential villa, but also for the dress she wore on that day. The critics thought it was unbecoming for Omoni who had managed to stay out of scandal of any sort and is seen as enviable example for her stable marriage, to wear a dress which revealed part of her body in public.  Defending her choice of dress which she claimed was bought in America but reused to mention the designer, Omoni said she does not think she revealed her vital assets. She wondered why it is alright for other persons to wear more revealing clothes and receive public approval for being sexy and nice. She, however, agreed that the dress was ‘a bit open but I was not revealing anything that I was not supposed to reveal. ‘

She hinted that the fuss over her dress at the Presidential premiere of Being Mrs. Elliot may not unconnected with jealousy and people who never see anything good in others. ‘There are a lot of people who would not be happy about it, may be because they would have wanted something like that to happen to them and it did not happen to them so they would definitely look for something negative to say, even about a positive thing.” Waving the criticism over her dress aside, she said she would have been worried if such concerns came from people who are intimate with her.

Convinced that she put in everything to make a first class movie, Omoni said she did not mind blowing her trumpet concerning Being Mrs. Elliot. Incidentally, Omoni was on duty as script writer, producer and director. Of these three roles, it is the first time she is working as a director. In the past, she had given a couple of her scripts away to other producers. And how the script is treated is always a concern to her. A few times, she had to turn down roles because she thought the script insulted peopIe’s intelligence. She went looking for and engaged the services of some of the best actors in the land who are able to deliver what the script says. She hired the services of the American cinematographer who shot ‘Phat Girls’, the movie that had music by Tuface and Danfo Drivers as part of the soundtrack. She thinks the lighting and the editing are great.

Being Mrs. Elliot is apparently the most ambitious ever embarked on by Omoni. She would only say that the budget was huge considering the logistics of moving a big cast and crew to the three locations - the movie was shot in Ekiti, Asaba and Lagos. More than that, it was a tasking project as she not only directed the movie but also played a lead role. In fact she played two roles.  “I wrote the script, which is ok because you  write script  before you come to production there is no clash in it. I produced , I directed and I acted. When I finished doing that movie, I wrote in the newspapers that Tyler Perry is my hero because that is what he does. It was the first time that I was going to understand what he goes through. It is the most difficult job in the world - you are directing, you are producing, you are acting. You get back every day and you are tired. You are drained from the whole work. I get back and I just can’t  sleep like everyone else in the cast and crew. I have to sit down and plot the shoot for the next day.”

Being Mrs. Elliot is not a real life story, but it is one that many may identify with because it talks about finding love in unusual places and under unusual circumstances. It is over one year since the movie was shot. The post-production stage took a while. From its scripting to a finished product, the movie took four years. Luckily, Omoni managed to stay away from incurring debt  to make the movie. Pooling resources from her purse and sponsors like Verve and Quikteller, Maltina and Fayrouz, House of Tara, AD Consulting, Lagos Monopoly and Aso Savings and Loans. Support from these companies made it possible for the cast and crew of the movie to move from one place to another. I am not sure I would have gone to the bank to borrow to shoot the movie. Looking back, she is happy that she did not approach a bank for loan. For one, it would pile a lot of interest on her and definitely  lead to a rushed release of the movie. It took about one month for the actual shoot  of the two movies. Omoni denied knowledge of the widely held opinion that a Nollywood movie can be shot in three days. “I would be shocked if there really is. I don’t know how that person pulled it through, except it is a short film. It cannot be a feature film. That person has to be a genius. The average shoot in Nollywood is 10 days and it depends if the story is straight forward, there is a limited cast and everything is in one location.”

Being Mrs. Elliot has taught her a few other things. Although she shot two other movies back-to-back, she learnt to keep the budget low. Now she keeps her production in one place. These new films shot mostly in one part of Lagos. The challenge was to squeeze it into a certain time frame. One of the ways to go about it is to have a tight pre-production that leaves nothing to chance.  When you really have problems on set is if your pre-production was not very well done. Even when your pre-production is very well done you will still get issues because nothing is ever fool-proof, but it would be limited.”

Justifying her foray into directing,  Omoni said she has evolved over the years. At the beginning of her career in 1996, all she wanted to do was act because she loves acting.  “That is my day job and I am not going to stop because I am directing. Acting is still my first love. Being on many set with many directors I began to feel I can actually do it. I write scripts. I have given away one or two of my scripts, I wasn’t very satisfied with how they were treated. I thought to myself what if I treated this script myself, it would have my DNA in it. It would be what I want. I did not just want to do it because I want to do it. I needed to get some kind of formal education which I did not get to be able to act. In my opinion, actors are born they are not made. When you are born then you can now go and learn more, but you have got to have it in you. If you don’t have it in you, there is nothing anybody can teach you that will bring it out. I know that I am naturally talented actress. It is a gift that God has given to me, but I am not a naturally talented director. It is a more technical job. I decided to go the New York Film Academy to take a short course in Digital Film Making which qualifies me to be a director. I did that and it gave me the confidence. I could have done it without going to the New York Film Academy but I would not know in-depth technical stuff. After that, it took three years to do Being Mrs. Elliot.”

Explaining why she picked holes in some of the industry appreciation awards promoted out of Nigeria or Africa, Omoni said she cherishes a foreign award bestowed on her for her role in ‘Anchor Baby’ because  the producers of the award do not know her. They simply watched the films that were presented to them and decided she was deserving of the award. Her quarrel with many national and continental awards is the tendency to promote popularity. “Sometimes people who are voting have not even seen the movie; so what are they voting? They are voting someone they like. They are voting because they are the person’s biggest fan. Sometimes the movie has not been released into the mainstream yet. The award organisers have the movie. The jury has seen it but the public has not. They  are just voting for whoever they  like. In that case, it is a popularity contest. But the ideal thing is that it is supposed to be an award for achievement in a particular work.”

Omoni has the rare distinction of having some of her children acting. In fact, hers is a family of an award winning mother and son. Among her three children who have played roles in movies, she can place a bet on one of them. She is convinced that he will go far and she is willing to support him. Her immediate plan is to take him for summer film school for children.

As simple as the question is, Omoni finds it difficult to say when she started   acting professionally. What can be verified is that she came into the industry in 1996. “ I was there for over one year. I was in university and it wasn’t working. Sometimes, I would be doing a movie and school has resumed and I can’t go to school. I decided to put it on hold till when I  am done with school . I finished school and I got married right after. My husband and I left the country for a while. It took 10 years for me to eventually find my way back into the industry. Coming back was not easy. Ten years is a long time. Nobody is going to remember you from 10 years. The first time I was there I played the lead in three major movies. I had not gotten to that point that I was so popular and people would remember me. Only the producers remembered me. It was like starting all over again.”

Although it is not exactly a foolproof measure to stay out of scandal, Omoni and her Optometrist husband make their home a favourite hangout. Her bedroom is her haven and there is nothing like she is curled up in bed with a good book, writing or watching movies. “I know a lot of people think I have this squeaky clean image. I think it is a lot of pressure to put on anybody. Nobody is a saint. Nobody is squeaky clean.. I am not going to start saying which bad things I do. I want people to see me as a  regular person, who fortunately or unfortunately is in the limelight so every little thing you do is magnified out of proportion. I am not complaining. It is the life I have chosen. I have got to take the good and the bad.’ 

Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 5 Years ago

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