At the start of 2020, news broke that Charles Okpaleke had acquired the rights to remake Zeb Ejiro’s 1992 femme fatale supernatural horror Nneka the Pretty Serpent, ostensibly the crown jewel of his remake/reboot attempts after the acclaimed sequel to Living in Bondage. The ambitious producer along with his production outfit, Play Network Studios, would later open auditions in Lagos, Abuja and Owerri in search for a new face to play the titular Nneka in the Tosin Igho-directed feature.
They found the film’s lead in Idia Aisien, who possessed no acting experience in Nollywood but was already a media darling as a news anchor (Fox News) and television host (Spice TV and Arise TV). But Idia’s television persona is only slice of the creative pie. Born in Lagos to a Nigerian father and Cameroonian mother in 1991, Idia spent her post-secondary school life in the US, studying journalism in the American University, Washington DC, then started modelling professionally in New York, where she also studied International Public Relations at New York University for her Masters.
Modelling for local and international brands, including working on campaigns and commercials for BMW, Black Opal, Nivea and so on, Idia’s Instagram evolved into glam-chic finesse, an avatar of the fashionable millennial Nigerian woman. This shines through in her custom gold, cobra-looping bustier dress she wore to the premiere of Nneka the Pretty Serpent, designed by womenswear label Oge by Oge and functional artist Moon Visual Studios.
Idia’s creative gamut aside, she has worked for the United Nations and very big on philanthropy, rendering help and support to those in need. YNaija’s Bernard Dayo speaks to the budding Nollywood actress about her journey in the film industry, and plans for the future.
Can you say that acting was going to be an inevitable path for you since you already have a presence in the media?
I wouldn’t say “inevitable” because my love for movies over the years never really translated to “wanting to be an actress.” But I can definitely say that it’s a very beautiful craft; and acting is something I would like to be good at.
Of all the films you could have potentially starred in, why did you decide to go for the Nneka the Pretty Serpent auditions?
I trusted the Play network brand, because I had seen and loved the “Living in Bondage” sequel, and I knew I would be in good hands. I also liked the idea of trying out for a classic role, because we grew up watching those films. I studied journalism and have been a TV presenter for years, so I wanted to do something different; something life-changing.
How did you get the news that you’ve been picked to play the iconic role of Nneka and how did you prepare for the role?
I got a phone call from Tosin Igho saying I had been chosen and I honestly didn’t believe it. I kept thinking “Idia, don’t get excited cause anything can change!” And then three days later, I got a call from Charles of Play, and I knew it was really happening. I had a coach for my acting, Igbo, dancing and fight scenes, it was an amazing experience.
Did you hold any view or perception about Nollywood before your movie debut and are those views/perceptions still intact now that you are in the industry?
There are many misconceptions about Nollywood, but I think the major one is that people believe it’s easy to make movies here in Nigeria. After my experience in the last few months, I can definitely say that I have an increased level of respect for actors, directors, producers, writers and people behind the scenes— because filmmaking is far from easy!
If you could go back in time to the shooting of Nneka the Pretty Serpent and change something for the better, what would it be?
If I could change anything, I think I would’ve worked even harder. I pushed myself, but there was a day or two that I fell really ill; I wish I could do it all! I wish I had more strength. I also wish I formed a closer bond with the cast, but everyone’s schedule was so tight and it was a really fast-paced shoot.
How has the reception been for you since the movie premiered?
I think a lot of people are impressed, shocked, and happy for me. I’ve gotten calls from people who have told me that my journey into acting has been inspiring for them. I’ve chosen to focus on the love, the kindness and the constructive feedback.
Are there Nollywood directors/producers you would love to work with in the future and why?
In Nollywood, I would definitely love to work with Kunle Afolayan, Mo Abudu (because she sets the bar really high and stays breaking the ceilings in the industry, especially for women). Also, AY would be really exciting to shoot with. And I’ve also always wanted to work with Kemi Adetiba.
Would you ever direct/make a film of yours in the future?
I will definitely produce and direct one day, but I would like to earn my stripes as an actor before jumping into anything.
In your opinion, do you like the state of Nollywood?
I really admire the leaps that the industry has made over the years. Everything is better in terms of production and technology. I also like the fact that there is more of a global focus on Nigeria.
What do you love most about being an actor?
I love how challenging it is to get into a different character and headspace—the art of living someone else’s life and trying to tell their story. I also like the appreciation that Nigerians feel for actors who are flying the flag. A lot has changed for me work wise and I’m excited for the future.
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies and reading comics and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.