By Ikenna Obioha
Popularly known as Laila, Edo State-born Jemima Osunde defies all odds as an undergraduate of Physiotherapy to successfully carve out a place for herself as an actor, with the love and support of her endearing parents.
She recently sat down with Entertainer to talk about her relationship, impact on society, feminist perspective, career trajectory, goals and future plans. Enjoy it.
When did you start acting?
I started acting about three and a half years ago.
What was your first film project?
My first project was ‘Jungle Jewel’, a movie produced by Ufuoma McDermott. The movie is about human trafficking. That was the first thing I ever did, after that, I went to audition for Tinsel.
You always had a knack for acting?
I won’t say acting; I just knew that, apart from being science-inclined, there was another side to me. And I was doing a lot of things to figure out what it was, and so going for that audition (Tinsel) was one of it. I got on set, we shot the movie (Jungle Jewel), and even after shooting it, I still didn’t think I was going to pass as an actor, and then it got an AMVCA nomination and that was it for me. Ufuoma called me and said, ‘our movie got nominated at the AMVCA; they watched it and they liked it. Even I liked it’. She liked it and then she said, ‘you should actually think of doing this big time’. My uncle who was a presenter also mentioned it to me, he was like ‘why not try something in entertainment, maybe acting, you talk a lot, maybe you can be a presenter. Just try something’.
You uncle is also into entertainment, is this something that runs in the family?
I don’t know if it runs in the family because he is the only other person in my family who is into entertainment. But yes, he was one of the big motivations for me to go into entertainment full-time.
What were your feelings on set for the first time?
Even after shooting the movie, while on set I didn’t think I could pass for an actor. I kept having self-doubt. I was like, ‘let me do this thing and get out of here and see what happens’. I was nervous, I was confused, I wasn’t very sure of myself; I kept questioning what I was doing. Well, to the glory of God, I didn’t mess up.
Playing the role of Laila on MTV Shuga, does it have any relatable instances to you in real life especially considering the fact that you had just left secondary school not quite long at the time?
Yes, Laila was suppose to be in her final year in secondary school and I was just finishing first year in the university, so we were pretty still close; and it was easy for me to go back into my zone of a 16-year-old. It was quite easy; I pretty look like a 16-year-old up till now. So, it was pretty easy for me to bring out the 16-year-old in myself and play the girl who is in love. That was also relatable because of the conditions I was in when we shot that, so that was kind of relatable.
Which would you say was more tasking between the role you played in ‘Jungle Jewel’ and ‘Shuga’?
The role I played in my first movie, ‘Jungle Jewel’. I was a character living in abject poverty with her mother, and then her mom got frustrated to a point where she got an offer from a random woman she didn’t know to send her child abroad. She did all these because she thought she was going to get an education. Meanwhile, this person was sending her there for child trafficking, sexual slavery.
Your past and current works revolve around society and social problems, is it a thing of choice or mere chance?
I always try to select movie roles that are not only entertaining to people but also have a message to pass across. And I try so much as possible to select roles whereby someone watching it would gain from it or someone who’s watching has been there or is going through that, and in one way or the other, finds a relief from it.
So, basically you are saying that when it comes to acting you take the moral roles?
Well, not always, but I try as much as possible to be selective with the roles I take.
If it so happens that you have to go nude in a scene, will you take the role?
I will never go completely nude in a scene. Never, ever, ever go completely nude in a scene. Not because of anything but because of my personal… I’m not trying to be holy, or my church would not like it. My church would definitely not like it and my parents would not like it, but because of Jemima. I’m not even thinking of anybody else, just me. It’s against who I am, it’s not what I would like or want to be known as – the actor who was completely naked on TV.
Would you say you are a religious person?
I’m a Christian.
Being a Christian is quite different?
Oh, I’m a good Christian.
Getting called back for Shuga, what was the feeling like?
It was amazing because they had the fifth season in South Africa, first two seasons in Kenya, two in Nigeria, so I missed the opportunity to go to South Africa with them, then they called me back for Shuga season six, and I’m like, ‘yeah! It’s not over. I still get to go back on set and be Laila’. So, it was pretty amazing, I was very happy.
Shuga to your career has been…?
So far, Shuga is still my number one job that I would say has put me on the map; that has put me all over the world. Shuga has done more for me in my career than any other job I have done.
Your role as Laila, how do you think it has influenced younger generation of girls?
I have girls who send me messages every day; I receive emails from all over the world. I didn’t know people in Thailand, Australia, even of recent, someone sent me a message from Canada that they love Laila, that she is amazing, they can relate to her. I have teenage girls who tell me about their relationships, messaging me because I try to keep my social media as open as possible. I also get people telling me about their personal lives; I try not to tell them what to do but at the same time try to lead them in the direction I think would be beneficial to them. So yes, a lot of people can relate to Laila and a lot are reaching out.
Do you think women in Nigeria are empowered?
I think empowerment is about individualization; it is about you as an individual. No one can come tell me that I’m not empowered because I’m a Nigerian woman. Come, try and find out if I’m empowered or not. I feel you are only limited to what you limit yourself to. You are only as big or as small as you think you are. I try not to create any boundaries for myself. I empower myself to the best of my ability and I really don’t think that there is anything that I’d want to do that anybody can stop me from doing as long as I want to do it.
You sound so confident, do you consider yourself a feminist?
Well, not really. I won’t say that I am because there are things that I see the feminist army talk about that I don’t agree with. You know what? I won’t say I subscribe to any group of people, feminist or whatever. I’m just on my own.
What feminist message do you not subscribe to?
There is no particular message. These are just something I see on Twitter. You know how people are extreme with everything, the same thing about religion; some people go the extra mile; that is not necessary. There are people like that in every group of people; with mine, I try not to be an extremist at anything. Of course, there are some things that I am feminist about – the whole thing of gender role in the workplace. Why should a man earn more than a woman because he is a man? If she has the same qualification, you better be paying them the same thing.
So, partly you are a feminist?
Yes, to some extent, to some things. I’m just not an extremist with it. I won’t say a man and a woman for example, a married couple; I won’t ask my husband to be doing some things that society sees as female role. Maybe that’s the way I was raised, that sometimes, some things are for some genders.
You are having the career anyone could dream to have, is your family part of that success story?
I’m a very family-oriented person. If you go to my social media platform, especially Snapchat, you would know that I am a little obsessed with my dad and mum – especially my dad – because they are the center of my world. They make everything happen for me. I’m just really blessed to have them as parents, and I’m really, absolutely in love with them. That’s the strongest love in my life – my mum and dad.
So that means you don’t have a boyfriend?
I do not. I’m not in a relationship. I am very single.
Which would you go for, acting or physiotherapy?
To be very honest, before I used to say that I would find a way to do both. I used to say I would find a way to make both work out, but at this point I’ve gotten to and literally about to graduate, it’s looking more like I will stick to acting for a while, and then maybe in a couple of years try to do one or two things in my medical practice.