by Collins Eboru
As part of our major feature this week, reviewing the 2012 Africa Movie Academy Awards, we sat down for a conversation with Best Actress winner and continental icon Rita Dominic. You can’t help but love her!
Q. How do you feel about your recent win at the AMAAs?
A. Emmm. (smiles) I feel elated, I feel like I have been given a pat on the back for a job I worked so hard for. A job that I put in so much for and I feel really good.
Q. When your name was announced as the winner, how did you feel and what went through your mind?
A. I have been trying to recollect what I did and what was running through my mind but I can’t. I just don’t know how to explain that expression and all. It was almost a blur because everything was like surreal. Just as the nominees were mentioned and my name called, my heart was pounding so hard. The next thing I can remember is, I saw myself on stage. I can’t really describe the feeling but it’s a really great feeling.
Q. Now that the awards have come and gone, do you feel any kind of pressure from people, fans and yourself? To get better scripts and to push yourself more in playing better roles in movies?
A. Definitely, because when you look at what made you win the award, you want to do better jobs, which will touch people and also something that they can relate to. It kind of sets a standard for you with regards to quality of roles and movies you want to star in.
Q. Before your name was announced, did you know you were going to win?
A. hmm…(laughs). I wish! If it was that, my heart won’t have been pounding. The category was filled with very talented people, there was Nse, Uche jumbo, the South African Millicent and Kudzai and many other. These are very talented women and the competition was really stiff. I really wish I knew so my heart won’t have been beating the way it did.
Q. As an actress when was your “this is it” moment, when acting clicked as her passion?
I have been doing this since I was 5 or 6, I havent known any other thing apart from acting. I studied theater arts in the university and when I was in secondary school, I was the vice president of the drama club. I remember telling my class mates that I was going to study theater arts and they used to give me a funny look like I was mad. It was what I loved doing and I didn’t care whether I had jobs or not, for me it was a passion.
Q. Tell us about the movie ‘Shattered’.
A. It’s a true-life story. It’s a movie that talks about child molestation, child abuse, drug addiction and neglect in the society. It’s a story that African women and women around the world can relate to. It’s a movie that everyone can take something away from either through what the character I play is going through or from bits and pieces of the scenes from the movie. For everyone who watches the movie, there is a message in it.
Preparing for the role of Keziah Njema, I cut myself off from the social circle to get into this role properly. I did a lot of research on drug addiction like cocaine, ecstasy and how people who are addicted act. The happy and ecstatic feeling, the withdrawal etc the way they slash their wrists and all that. I had to understand all these to help me understand the character and what she went through. It was a tough time because I could feel all the hurt and the mixed feelings the person whom I was playing went through.
Q. Your role in this movie is different from any other role we have seen you in. What inspired you to pick this role since it was not your usual kind of role we are used to seeing you in?
A. I needed to step out of my comfort zone. At this point in my career, I want people to see me as an experienced actor. I want people to understand that I can do different roles. I want to do inspiring stories that will touch people’s lives. I had been thinking about this for a while and when the movie ‘Shattered’ came, it just gave me that avenue to express myself differently and it came at the right time.
Q. What was the experience like, shooting a movie in East Africa?
A. It was wonderful. The Kenyans are very hospitable and warm people and I was so surprised to see that I have a massive following over there. I call them my people because they are my fans, my family. It was fun shooting over there and I was paid very well for the job.
Q. What challenges did you face during production?
A. (laughs) learning to speak Swahili. I had to speak Swahili in some scenes in the movie and I kept trying so hard not to sound Nigerian even though I couldn’t do the strong Eastern African accent. I had to learn to speak in certain ways how the polished Kenyans speak. You can imagine concentrating on speaking in a certain way, speaking Swahili and acting the whole drug addiction and mental retardation role was quiet challenging.
Q. So when will the movie be released to the general public?
A. It’s going to be screened for journalists at the end of next month, then it goes into the cinemas.
Q. How do you develop your acting craft?
You never finish learning. The moment you start saying to yourself that you know everything, I think that is the beginning of your downfall. What I do is, I go on the internet a lot. I read a lot of articles on acting. I have done special acting tutorials and courses online. I keep learning new stuff every day.
Q. What next should we expect from you? Are you going to follow the trend of actors going into directing and producing?
A. Well, I am working on a movie, we are still shooting it. It’s a historical movie about the first military coup in Nigeria. I am a producer not a director . I just produced my first film called ‘The Meeting’ with a business partner. It’s in post production now and we are tidying things up.
Q. What are your thoughts about The AMAAs?
A. To be honest, this is the 8th year and it keeps getting better and better, this is our Oscars on this side of the world. This is the major platform on the continent that rewards film makers and actors. It has all the structures like the jury, the screeners and the members of the jury are from all over the world. I am proud of the awards and the fact that it shows that we are getting it right.
Q. Based on the concluded awards do you think it will make Nigerian movie producers, actors and directors up their game?
A. I am hoping that will happen, to help us sit up and produce better movies and put in more effort into the role scripting and directing of movies.
Q. How have you been able to remain at the top in Nollywood and being relevant in the movie industry?
A. You tell me…(laughs). I have no Idea! I have done good work in my own way in the past even before the emergence of the new Nigerian and African cinema. Also my management have also done a lot too. My fans have been great and God!
Q. What are your thoughts on the Nollywood? Looking at how fast the musical scene has exploded and we are having international collabos etc.
A. What I see happening soon or rather happening already because we have some people from the US here already in Nigeria filming .I am happy with what is going on now in Africa cinema. It’s growing and we are getting to a point where we are attracting the international market and level of growth in production and acting in Nigeria has greatly improved. Like I told you we have a few guys from Hollywood shooting a movie in Nigeria as we speak also the movie, ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is coming soon which will be staring some of the top Hollywood and Nollywood stars.
The movie I am working on, though there are no Americans in it, it’s going to be explosive because it is a historical movie and it tells the Nigerian story. We are shooting on film and the planning of the movie has taken over 3 years and so far we have been on set for two months now. The international film world is also watching and checking out the developments in Nigeria cinema.
Q. how are you faring with competition from the old-timers and new guys in the industry?
A. For me, that’s why I did my movie, ‘The Meeting’. I didn’t play the lead role because it’s my way of giving back to the industry that has done so much for me. Encouraging upcoming talents; that is why my company was formed; to support and build new talents and to do quality films. It’s not about competition. Just do your work and be the best you can and people will appreciate you.
Q. Is romance difficult for someone in your position?
A. (Laughs) I don’t know what you are talking about…(more laughter). No comment.
Q. How hard is it to connect and make friends with people who are outside the industry?
A. Initially it wasn’t but the way the industry is changing, I find myself connecting more with people who are in the industry because we share the understanding of what we do and share some experiences.
Q. Were you in Paris for Stephanie Okereke’s wedding?
A. No, unfortunately. I was away in Ibadan. She was aware I couldn’t make it. We have been talking.
Q. Do actors—justifiably or no—have trust issues?
A. Let me speak for myself. I know with this job I do, the bigger you get as an actor, the more you are out there. You become more paranoid and try to avoid drama and all sorts. Let’s just leave it there without going too deep.
Q. What is your favourite destination spot and why?
A. Yes, anywhere the water is blue, the skies clear and the sands are white. That is just me. I love Hawai’i and the Canary Islands. I am trying to make out time to go to Nice in France.
Q. How do you relax?
A. I love pampering myself at the resort alone or with friends. Spending time in exotic places and having exotic food.
Q. What daily routine do you have that keeps you looking this good?
A. When I am not working, I wake up, do a lot of Tae Bo [aerobic workout], relax and watch some TV, go through my work and just chill out.
Q. Outside acting, what else do you do?
A. I am planning on working with the paraplegic society in Nigeria. They do not have a proper association in Nigeria. I was fortunate to work with the paraplegic society organization in Kenya and it opened my eyes to a lot of things. You find out that they do not really have spokespeople for them in the society. When you go to hospitals and you see people who can’t walk again due to accidents, it’s very sad.
Q. What’s your musical playlist like?
A. My play list is very wide because I like to listen to various kinds of music. Right now, I do a lot of African music. Habib Koite, Eastern African music, Lady Smith Black Mambazo.
Q. What TV shows do you love?
A. Greys Anatomy, Modern Family and Desperate house wives.
Q. What was the last book you read and what are you reading presently?
A. It’s been a while I read a book for fun. I’d say john Grisham’s Pelican Brief and I am presently reading a book on acting by Michael Caine.
Q. Are we going to be seeing you in more serious roles like in ‘Shattered’?
A. Hopefully, let’s just says some cinema movies I have done will be out and my fans will get to see more of me.