For more than a decade, Princess Nnenna Orji thrilled the nation as a kid actor. With fame and fortune in her kitty, she almost lost herself in the razzmatazz of it all. Today, she’s grateful to her parents for being her guiding lights.
In this interview, the graduate of Nnamdi Azikwe University narrates her experiences as a child actor and reveals her plans to climb back to the top of the industry’s ladder. Enjoy it.
How did you come into acting?
I have always had acting in mind, even while I was young. Most times when I am in the house, I just look at myself in the mirror and start talking to myself. I do a lot of stuff in the house and people think that I am crazy. They didn’t know that I was trying to discover myself. I was trying to discover my talent.
I have watched so many people act and I have always dreamed of going into acting. Then one day, I accompanied my sister to the theatre for an audition because she was also into acting. I just decided to follow her. There and then, I started demonstrating and talking to her about something that I saw, not knowing that I was in the middle of an audition, and a producer shouted at me that, why was I not in school. What was I doing there at that particular time and all that, and I was like, ‘I don’t know this man, why is he shouting at me?’ All of a sudden everybody was clapping and I was like ‘why are they clapping’ because I was already crying and angry like ‘I don’t know this man and he’s shouting at me’ and the next thing I heard was ‘congratulations, this is the best person for this work’. I didn’t even know that it was an audition. I just got there and they gave me a script to read. I read it and I passed and that was how I started acting.
What was your first experience facing the camera?
The first time I wasn’t nervous because my mirror has always been my camera. I have always used my mirror as a camera. I was not nervous at all; it was just like the normal thing I do in my house. It’s a different thing entirely on the stage; it’s just you, your camera and few people around you. I was confident. Although, I had a little correction from the director because it was my first time, and I took the correction immediately and that was how I started.
What was your first movie?
My first movie was ‘Unfaithful’.
How old were you at that time?
I was 10-years-old.
How did it happen? What was your selling point as a child actor?
My selling point as a child (actor) was my boldness. I had favour from God and I think I am beautiful. The most important thing is favour from God.
At that point in time, how did it make you feel? I mean the fame and so on.
It was amazing. At times, when I walk on the road, I see so many children hugging me, including adults. I was loved and I was humbled. I just want to have that feeling again because that feeling was amazing. When I go to places, I get gifts, and I don’t pay for things at times. A lot people bring gifts to the house. A lot of people want to associate with me. It’s just amazing. The feeling was amazing
Did your parents try to discourage you from acting?
Not at all, my dad and mum have always supported me. In fact, they were the ones that gave me confidence. They always pray for me because they believe that’s what I have always wanted to do. Although, at the earlier stage, they thought I was mad looking in the mirror and doing my things. But with time, they understood that it’s something I love, it’s my passion. So, they supported me from the beginning.
How did you feel acting alongside big names in those days?
I felt amazed because these were big names that I’ve always seen on TV and felt like I wanted to be on stage with them. People like Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Rita Dominic, Ramsey Nouah, Desmond Elliot, Olu Jacobs, Bimbo Akintola, and Joke Silva. I think I’ve done movies with all the stars.
At what point did you decide to go back to school, what prompted you to leave the industry despite the fame you had?
It was when I was in SS3. Prior to then, I missed my Junior WAEC exams because I was shooting and my dad wasn’t happy about it. I almost missed my senior WAEC and it was at that point my dad had to sit me down and told me education was important. At first, I thought he was killing my career, but I had a rethink about it. So, he called a family meeting and talked to me and everybody agreed that I had to go to school. They said if I came back with flying colours, I was free to pursue my acting career. It was at that time I decided to stop acting. My dad was actually scared I would turn a dropout, because I was no longer going to school, I was always on set.
Were you sad when your dad told you to stop acting?
Yes, I felt very bad. I felt negative because I felt he wanted to kill my career. But while in 200 level, I was happy that I went to school, and my happiest day was when I graduated. I was glad that I listened to my dad to go back to school. I was very happy. And I stopped thinking negatively that he wanted to destroy my career. That was the best advice my dad ever gave to me.
What did people say when you suddenly stopped acting?
Yes, so many people called me. They were looking for me. They were wondering where I had gone. I didn’t school in Lagos, I schooled outside Lagos but people kept on calling me. I almost left school to go back to acting. I had to talk to myself that I have to finish school. Even they knew me as an actor in school and wanted to involve me in theatre activities but I backed out totally. I promised my dad that I would finish my studies in flying colours. I just wanted to fulfill my promise.
What was the first move that discovered you again?
It was Virgin’s Curse. I love the character; it was a lovely character where I grew up to be Regina Daniel’s mom. Yes, it was an amazing character. I did another one, Mr. Lecturer with the same producer, because it was a back-to-back movie. And in that one I acted as a good (church) girl in the university, a girl who’s always not reading but depends on the Holy Spirit to give her answers to exams.
What are your plans now that you are back to the industry?
I have so many plans. So many plans that I have to start shuffling them right now.
Aside acting what other things do you do?
I model, I present (programmes), and I am also an entrepreneur.
Who do you look up to in the industry?
I have always loved Genevieve (Nnaji). I also love Geguina Onuoha; she mentored me from while I was young. She was always talking to me. She was like a mother to me. But I look up to Genevieve; her kind of lifestyle has always been my lifestyle. Genevieve’s kind of reserved lifestyle has always been my kind of lifestyle.
Tell us about your growing up, were you born with a silver spoon?
My growing up was fun. Yes, I was because I’ve never lacked anything while I was a child. So, I wouldn’t say I suffered; I was comfortable. I was okay. We had three square meals and it was always fine.
As a kid actor, were you sexually harassed?
No, I wasn’t sexually harassed by anybody. I never had such experience. I think I was just favoured by God and loved by everyone, and everybody wanted the best for me.
As a kid actor, did you have marriage proposals from fans?
Yes, a lot. I had a lot of marriage proposals from fans. My dad was like ‘she’s still a child, why will they want to marry her?’ Actually, I was a child and didn’t know what marriage was. Right now, I am also having a lot of marriage proposals. But it’s not bothering me because I know what I want right now.
How old were you at that time?
I was like 15, 16 or 17 at that time. Even when I was 14, so many people were knocking at my dad’s door, asking to marry me. And I was like, ‘wow, are you serious?’
Right now, will you leave acting because of marriage?
I don’t think so because definitely the person that I will want to marry would also support me. He has to support my acting career because it’s my passion. It’s something I love. I wouldn’t kill my career because of marriage. I don’t think I will leave acting for marriage. I already did that for education.
Now that you are back, what should your fans expect from you?
They should expect positive things from me because I have always been a positive person. For the fact that I am a positive person, they should expect positive things from me. I won’t disappoint my fans; I will make them proud.