She is remarkable – in appearance, grace and artistry. Over the years, she has achieved the consistency of character and performance that have eluded many in the movie industry. Flawless in delivery, gorgeous in countenance, she has remained one of Nigeria’s iconic and versatile actresses. Meet Rita Dominic. In this piece, Ferdinand Ekechukwu explores her essence and existence in Nollywood, and the trail of her beautiful life
• How A Fan Once Grabbed And Kissed Me
• Impacting Nollywood Through The Audrey Silva Company
Casually dressed in all black ensembles, she had barely walked through Oakwood Park Hotels eliciting glances and hush tones from the first contact personnel and the guests at the lobby. The simplicity, with which she carries herself like a garb of honour, befits her status. Her warmth and infectious smile, personify her enduring charm. Although with a tinge of stress on her face due to her hectic schedule, she had promptly kept to the appointment which had been fixed for noon, through her business partner and manager, Mildred Okwo.
Just within time upon her arrival at the venue, she had called, indicating her presence. She would not want to talk about her private life which she had restated politely somewhere in between the conversation. In fact, she was on her guards when the conversation steered towards marriage and the rate at which celebrity marriages crash in recent time, especially in Nollywood which has been the lot.
However, a conversation on Nigeria film industry, her career of almost two decades few months from now and impact on the upcoming ones, through The Audrey Silva Company ensued. “When Mildred and I formed the company, the idea was to shoot films that the audience can connect with. “We have to remember what it is that made Nollywood what it is and that is those simple stories that we tell. So the idea was to tell those same kinds of stories but shoot them at a much higher quality and at the same time, try and empower young actors by giving them the opportunity to showcase their talent to the world. I’m happy that even though we have not done too many movies, the few that we have done has helped bring some talents to the audience.”
‘Surulere’ and the upcoming television series, ‘Bankers NGR’, are just two of the few movies from the stable of Audrey Silva. With the latter, she makes a return to television programme years after she first featured in ‘Heaven’s Gate’ by Zik Zulu Okafor. Then she had appeared in few episodes. That was in 2000. And just recently last year, she appeared in the first season of ‘Cougars’, by Emem Isong. As she speaks, her face lightens up with marked enthusiasm.
Rita is quite excited about the project as she reveals that ‘Bankers NGR’ is such a big step for her in terms of television production. “For me, even as much as I have played on the television circuit, I think this is slightly different. Because first and foremost, we are co-producing a TV show and I’m playing a major role in it as well. It took us like two years to finally start shooting it; to do all the planning, pre-production plans and all. “It is something fresh, something new that even if it’s been done, we trying to do something different with Bankers NGR. It’s about banking and of course, all the drama and everything that comes with banking in Nigeria.”
According to her, the story follows some of the workers in the bank and some of the procedures in the banking hall that people don’t get to see. “So what we have done is just to weave drama with some element of comedy in it and make it believable and shoot it at a very high quality that the audience will watch and be happy.”
Her experience, vis-à-vis acting and movie making, she says tough and difficult. Her first experience was the comedy movie ‘The Meeting’ where she played the role ‘Clara Ikemba’. She admitted almost not playing the role that it was such a challenging role filming it. “I was producing for the first time. I didn’t know how to combine it to play with such a difficult role. But my business partner talked me into playing it, saying ‘this’ the kind of roles you said you are looking to do.’ So I thought about it and went ahead to shot it successfully.”
It till date remains her most memorable role over other innumerable films she has starred in. However, there are some that stand out a little bit more than the rest for her and these are the ones that sort of stretched her much more than other ones. But it still doesn’t mean she didn’t like the roles she has played all through in other films.
Talking further about the roles she has assumed, she said: “I have to like a role before I play it. And every role that I have played, they have all brought different things to the table. I have learned different things from the different roles I have played. They all have and come with their different challenges. So that means that I like the roles I have played in every film I have been involved in.”
With an array of roles in different characters over the years sure has somewhat affected the Rita Dominic brand in the real world. Perhaps leaving her as a superhuman to her followers, but then she reckons that she tries as much as possible to be herself regardless of the name Rita Dominic, or her being an actor, that she’s just an ordinary person. The kind of person that likes simple things even though a lot of people find it difficult to believe; liking a simple lifestyle with that maybe they can connect with her on that level.
That much, with her strong social media presence, has helped grown and maintain her fan base by direct conversation with her fans, so many of who go overboard sometimes to appreciate her craft whenever they see her. “Like fans screaming on the streets outside Nigeria even here, in Liberia, Sierra Leone…in some other parts. Just people crying and screaming when they meet you; it’s amazing that people scream and cry when they meet you. Sometimes I ask myself what I’m doing right?! They scream and jump at me, different things.”
Asked what the craziest or worst form of appreciation she has ever experienced, her response was shocking as much as it was to her. “Some guy many years ago, I was trying to pass and I tapped him, just trying to say ‘excuse me’ and the next thing, he does a double take when he turned his back seeing it’s me and grabs me and just plant a kiss up my lips and then he screams my name ‘Rita Dominic!’ I was in shock…’what was that?’ Then my friend just took me away from there.”
What could have happened should it be that her friend was not at the scene and had not pulled her away? It could have been either way bad or good. “I’m human, I wouldn’t know, she responded laughing. “The thing is, first and foremost I’m quite a polite person. It takes me a while to be pushed. It’s possible that I would have just ignored and smiled since it’s a fan and it was a reflex action. He was just excited to see me. I could have ignored it I’m sure. I found it unexpected and was in shock. I wasn’t angry. It just happened in a split of seconds and I was just out of that place. But when I think about it I actually laugh.”
On her star power and being quite on top of her game and more so relevant in the industry, she attributes to herself being her biggest competition, and not anybody else. By that, she tries to reinvent herself in terms of her craft. “What I do is I try to be better than I was last year, I try to be better than I was two years ago, I try to be better than I was at the start of my career in terms of my acting. I look at my work from way back and I say ‘okay maybe these are the things I’m going to do.’ I just constantly look for ways of immersing myself in a role. I feel like over the years when people have seen that this person has constantly been growing, automatically your relevance is there because people believe in your ability to bring a character to light. So because they believe in that your ability, they constantly want to work with you.”
For the accolades and recognitions in appreciation of her acting prowess, she has won the major film awards there is in the continent. Recall she was the Best Actress Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA); also Best Actress at the 2017 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCAs), for her role in ‘76’, a military epic. Prior to that also in 2015, she had won the Best Actress in a Comedy at the same awards. ‘76’ provided her the longest stay on location in Ibadan where she stayed for six months. There the cast rehearsed for two months and then four months to film which had never happened before in her entire career in Nollywood.
Yet with the commendations and honours she doesn’t rest on her laurels. “At the end of the day, you have done works and when you get a commendation for the ones you have done, or for a job well done or even on any work at all, it sort of encourages you to do more. But I don’t rest on my laurels. I don’t let it get to my head because I have won the award. I work like I’m just starting my journey.”
Flashed back to her journey, the proud indigene of Mbaise in Imo-state, says that though Nollywood is still growing, it still has a long way to go as much as it is commendable. “People are seeing the need to go do courses in different film departments like cinematography, directing, editing, sound design and mix and all that and bring the knowledge to impact on the industry. We are growing in leaps and bounds. When I came into Nollywood me and some of my peers at the time, we were just doing this because we love to do it there was no money in it but we just enjoyed acting. I studied Theatre Arts and I remember saying that all I wanted to do was to work in the film industry. It wasn’t even called Nollywood at the time. So to still be here and see the growth is a thing of joy.”
Having graced our screens over the years to become a household name in the industry, following her first movie role in 1998 till date she has ever remained relevant to Nollywood’s growth, earning for herself goodwill of positive and outstanding image. Assuming it was a blue chip corporate organization with all such reputation, what would be her monetary value on giving out the Rita Dominic brand for sale?
To her, it would not be for sale because it would be priceless. “I mean you can’t equate the work and everything we have done to my brand with money,” she said, reclining on the couch by a wing of the inn. “Obviously being in the industry for more than nineteen years it means you are doing something good. I feel blessed to still be here, to still be getting roles and still doing what I love to do. It’s been a long, but exciting journey. Have had its ups and downs, but I’m grateful for the journey so far. I’m grateful for the obstacles because it has made me a stronger person. It helped build this Rita Dominic brand we are talking about.”