Star of Living in Oblivion, Ijeoma Richards, is definitely one of the hottest faces in Nollywood.
The actress cum moviemaker, who also doubles as the president of Nollywood Creative Minds Forum (NCMF), in this interview speaks on her career and the life-changing accident she had as a teenager.
Tell us about your childhood and growing up.
I grew up in Lagos and other places but Lagos was my socialisation habitat. Many wouldn’t believe that Lagos back then was a sane, humane place, and that some of the most trustworthy people I know grew up here.
Has it always been your dream to be an actress?
No. I was a science student and good with books and wanted to be a doctor and help people get well. However, I had a life-changing accident at age 15; it changed a lot of things for me. I admired actors but I was and I am still an intensely private person, so it wasn’t a first choice. Although, I got offers to come into the industry quite early, I turned them down.
What were your initial challenges?
A lot of producers are insincere. Many lie outrightly, if they think they can get away with it. At the early stages, you work and some pretend as if your job is voluntary and they are not aware they should pay. I didn’t have that happen much but only on a couple of occasions when I accepted jobs through friends who meant well. I should also mention that I am lucky. I came into the industry fairly grown and financially independent, and that helped me a lot.
Which movie gave you your first break?
I am not sure I can use the word ‘break’, but my first full movie was Living in Oblivion.
What new projects are you working on?
I have two scripts for early July. One is in Igbo and the other is English. And guess what, I have many NCMF projects that are ongoing.
Tell us about NCMF, your brainchild.
NCMF is an acronym for Nollywood Creative Minds Forum. We are a Nollywood body that I am president of and we have the Lagos and Kwara States’ chapters co-ordinated by filmmaker, Kolade Owolabi. Other chapters are in the process of being set up. Emeka Okoye, Bukky Thomas and myself founded NCMF. Our primary purpose is to ensure the industry practitioners’ potential are optimised. We support members in all spheres of growth by ensuring exposure to opportunities such as work, trainings and personal growth among others. NCMF also has short film projects produced by members who are divided into clusters. At our annual ‘In Pursuit of Better Seminar’, which held at Four Points by Sheraton, Lagos, last year, we introduced our short film screenings. And this year, the plan is to have a two-day seminar with a whole day dedicated to short film screenings. Some notable Nollywood practitioners who are NCMF members include Keppy Ekpenyong Bassey, Ngozi Nwosu, Ugezu Ugezu, Charles Inojie, Yemi Blaq, Ebere Okaro, Kalu Ikeagwu, Tunde Olaoye, Anne Njemanze, Kingsley Omoefe, Greg Ojefua, Chinyere Nwabueze, Lekan Ayinde and Tommy Oyewole,
Can you describe your ideal man?
My ideal man must be honest, resourceful and educated.
Are you in a relationship?
Yes, I am in a relationship and a happy one at that.
When are the wedding bells going to ring?
That is not for public consumption (laughter).
What has been your happiest moment?
I love my job so much I find pockets of happiness in executing different projects at different times. And I have received compliments on my delivery of roles that have suffused me with joy and encouraged me to keep getting better.
What has been your saddest moment?
That was when I lost my mother in 2013. I didn’t think I’d survive it. But one puts a foot in front of the other and keeps walking, and here I am today.
Can you marry an actor?
Actors are brilliant people. You can’t be a decent actor and be obtuse. So, absolutely yes.
Who are your role models in the industry?
I have a couple of them. They include Mo’ Abudu, Ngozi Nwosu and Taiwo Ajai-Lycette. They are simply marvelous.
What is your advice to youngsters who believe the easiest way up the Nollywood ladder is sleeping around?
You may get a few roles by trading sex, but if you don’t hone your craft, not many will work with you. Who gets what role is often not decided by one person. So, you may trade sex and still get nothing. In the end, dedication, hard work and improving your craft are what keep you in the industry.
An actress recently stated that it is wannabes that are harassing moviemakers today, what is your take on that?
Is that an excuse for anyone to be predatory? It doesn’t matter who harasses whom; what matters is for each person to know what he or she stands for so they won’t fall for everything.
Were you ever a victim of sexual harassment in Nollywood and how did you handle it?
I have had guys trying to come-on-to-me-type-of-things. And what I did was push off the men and walked away. One of them has never gotten over the rejection and consequently does not invite me to work with him again. The other one continues to work with me and let me be. But the way I see it, no one person can decide your success, and I am never going to be interested in anyone’s production that needs me to kiss a frog. If I have to kiss a frog, it will be by choice, not by coercion.
Do you have any regrets as an actress?
If I have any, it will be that Nollywood is yet to begin to accord actors the value and respect they deserve. But we are growing, so there is hope.
What are your dreams?
To be part of an industry where practitioners no more need a go-fund-me account when they are ill, and to be known simply as someone who delivers consistently on her projects.