by Wilfred Okiche
Kate Henshaw has been a screen favourite for as long as Nollywood exists. Playing a number of enduring roles, she has defied age and time, remaining on top of her game and maximising her superstar power to command the much sought after high profile endorsements that are all the rage now. She welcomes you with a wide smile and a warm shake of the hand and speaks with you like you are long time friends. It is easy to relax in her presence.
We caught up with her at a Nigeria’s Got Talent press event, a reality talent competition where she plays judge and she took us down her 20year career journey.
Enjoy excerpts from the conversation.
Congratulations on the launch of your autobiography
Thank you very much.
I heard you tell someone the price for the book is N25,000. Isn’t that a bit steep?
No, that is for those I know that can afford it, but I am talking with a distributor about stocking them somewhere and the information will soon be out. It is for my friends whom I know that can afford it. Also I am still trying to raise some funds for the 3 charities associated with the launch of the book. They are Project Alert on violence against women and children, cervical cancer initiative prevention programme and the Global initiative for peace, love and care.
You have been acting for 20 years now. When you started out, did you see yourself coming this far and remaining relevant after all these years?
Not at all. I only went into acting by chance, out of curiosity
20 years later, what is your present state of mind?
I am very happy to be part of Nollywood. I am happy to be one of the people whose names will be mentioned when the history of Nollywood is recounted by different people. I am also happy the industry has begun to settle into it’s own and we have started appreciating our own, the filmaking is getting better and the searchlight is being beamed on Africa.
When this Nollywood story is recounted as you mentioned, how considerable do you imagine your place in it it will be?
At least as one of the early pioneers. They say Nollywood is 20, I believe the film industry in Nigeria is older than that. There are varying opinions as to how old Nollywood is but I know that growing up I watched a few films by Herbert Ogunde at the national theatre. Is that part of Nollywood? Is it not? We are all in the same entertainment industry.
You are in your forties now and as such you’ve become an actress of a certain age. Is there a difference now in terms of the kinds of roles you are offered?
First and foremost I do not reckon with age as a number. I feel as young as ever. Even if I am 50, I am sure I’ll still be very active so I do not feel I or anyone else for that matter has been boxed into any corner because of age. I do not get why Nigerians insist on counting age for people meanwhile they look worse.
You are looking fabulous. For any age I must add.
I know right, thank you
You have not been doing a lot of movies of recent. What kind of film would attract you now?
Script is very important to me now. I will not just go into any set now because of the money. If the script appeals to me, then count me in. Lately I have done 2 films; Mildred Okwo’s ‘The Meeting’ and Uche Jombo’s ‘False’. There are one or 2 other projects being worked on currently. Quality not quantity.
What would it take to get Kate Henshaw on a film set?
I cannot tell you that. I have my own personal criteria.
I was reading an interview where you said something about your marriage not working…
I am not talking about that, next question.
Do you think you would want to have more children?
I wouldn’t know. Maybe when the time comes.
What is the one thing that you miss the most about marriage?
I don’t miss anything. I will not answer any personal questions. We can talk about my career, my upcoming fitness DVD, Nigeria’s Got Talent, my book etc.
Let us talk about your book. What is the big idea behind it and why a coffee table book?
A friend of mine who has a love for the arts took an interest in me and said he wanted to publish something about me in a book and I told him I am not an author. He insisted and I thought about it and said why not? I have come a long way and I have some memories I would love to share. A few people who have bought the book tell me they can identify with my beginnings; the forgotten molue buses in Lagos and stuff. So it is a journey, my journey.
Do you think that in terms of the quality and quantity of roles you have played in your career, your talents have been utilized fully?
Definitely. Starting out, it was all about the emotional roles; crying, suffering, begging then it came to a point where I decided not to do those roles anymore. I was given another chance to do ‘Stronger than pain’ where I played a character totally opposite anything I usually do and myself and Nkem Owoh won the best actress and actor trophies respectively at the AMAAs in 2008. I always try and challenge myself even on stage and I find myself attracted to strong characters you know, persons who are victors not victims.
Would you be willing to do an action film and perform live stunts?
Oh! Why not? Me I am an action girl oh. I like flying in the sky and jumping high rise buildings.
I saw a film once where you spoke a bit of Yoruba. Are you interested in doing films in other languages apart from yours?
Yes it was ‘Eti keta’. Of course I would. Saheed Balogun is a friend of mine who approached me and told me he wanted to put me in a Yoruba film and I was hesitant at first. He then told me not to worry that I would speak English but I would also have to speak a little Yoruba. Everyone on the set was quite helpful. Even on ‘Stronger than pain’ I spoke small Igbo there now plus I did a Hausa film ‘Halima’ many many years ago.
How far would you go for art? Is there a limit to the things you can do for a role you have been cast in?
I will not stand naked on the streets for any movie.
Even for an Academy Award baiting flick?
You see those people over in Hollywood, they know how to do these things well. They will not show me naked, they will get a body double so if they call me and they do it tastefully I would consider. But in this country, no way. I know where I am coming from and it is a good home.
How about the financial factor, would you do a delicious role for less money?
Why not? There are certain people that will approach me and I know that by the time they are done with the work, it will be good then I will.
From ‘When the sun sets’, through ‘Candle light’ to ‘Stronger than pain’, you have played a number of enduring characters. Which of them has stayed with you the longest?
All of them have. People still call me ‘Omonor’ from ‘When the sun sets’ or Emem from Candle light. It depends on how the roles affect certain people.
A lot of people who started out with you are no longer acting, 20 years is a long time. How do you do it?
I have no idea. It is God. I don’t know my brother.
But there has to be something you are doing right…
I don’t know what they are not doing. Some of them have married and gone to be with their husbands, I don’t know but I just try to be me, professional at all times. I don’t know why people hire me. Then I have things I do on the side like my book, the fitness DVD because I have come to appreciate the benefits of exercise.
Is exercise all that is responsible for your youthful looks?
Totally. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.
I find that hard to believe
Maybe you should come on my exercise challenge with me and see for yourself.
I read somewhere that if your call time is 8:00am, you are on set 7:50am waiting for everyone else. Do you think punctuality has played a role in your longevity?
I think it is absolutely rude for you to arrive late deliberately for a call time or any occasion for that matter because it shows you have little regards for that person. Why should you show up at 9 for a 7’o clock event? Is the person who fixed the time stupid? If you have to go to the embassy, nobody has ever gone late for their interview. If I tell you come to my house for a cheque of 1million at 6am tomorrow, someone will be sleeping at my gate. It is a matter of priority. After ‘When the sun sets’ years ago, Opa Williams called myself and Uche Jombo for a role and asked us to get there at 8:00am, I got there 8:10am and Uche Jombo was there before me. She got the role, I did not so I told myself never again will I be late for anything else, I don’t care what it is. I have come to meet like-minded people who appreciate professionalism so it is not like I am the only person. Showing up on time is very important.
Even now that you are Kate Henshaw?
Wilfred there is nothing special about Kate. It is just God’s grace so why should I, because God has put me as Kate, I will now stand and say oh! Now I have arrived. What if I drop dead today won’t my name fade? Won’t there be someone else to take my place? I would rather leave a legacy like ‘’Men if Kate was on this job, we would have gone farther by now’’ than ‘’Let’s wait oh! Maybe in 3 hours time she will be here’’. I do not want my name associated with that at all.
So all these young girls that want to be Kate, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that I am very strict on myself even till now. I am still looking for something that will make me totally different. They should work hard, be consistent, be disciplined and do not settle for less because when you stick to all these things, the reward is not going to be immediate. It is a long term process so basically they are sowing into their future. Do not look for fame, it will look for you. Sometimes I just want to go into a place and eat Amala somewhere with my hand but I cannot do it. I try but before you know it, someone snaps a picture and it is on the blogs. So I want to be at the back now. Anyone who is the best at what they do, the light will surely find you.