Lanre Hassan: I Started Acting Not for Money But for Fame


• Losing Two Children Nearly Made Me Quit Acting
• Some Men Marry Actresses for Selfish Reasons
• At My Age, there are Certain Roles I Can’t Play Again

On the silver screen, she’s one of Nigeria’s best drama queens. Ebullient, fluent and independent, she commands respect and attention on and off the screen. After 52 years in the film industry, she still looks ready to act for another five decades. Lanre Hassan, the woman everyone knows as ‘Iya Awero’, is every movie viewer’s delight, home and abroad. Known for her matriarchal role in Nollywood movies, especially in the Yoruba genre, Iya Awero is gorgeous, gracious and mellifluous.  In this  chat with
Oge Ezeliora, she talks about her career, her late husband, the high and low points and how she lost her two children to the cold hands of death.

As one of Nigeria’s film industry’s pioneers, what has kept you?
I give all glory to God. He is the one behind all the successes I have achieved since I came into the industry. When I started back then, we were after fame and how to become popular. We were not after money. Then, we were eager to learn,  because I knew I would make money in future. I just focused on what I was doing and how to become an expert. If you are a carpenter you must learn how to do the job first before working for people. If you are a dancer you must learn how to dance well. If you are an actor you must learn how to act well before looking for producers to pay you.  As for those watching from the outside, there is no much money in acting .We in the system are just managing with what they pay us. Some of us have even stopped acting because they were not making enough money. For Nollywood, it is the survival of the fittest and God has been the one helping me to date.

What is the most challenging role you have played
(Laughs) All my movies are very interesting. Most times, I act the role of a mother or grandmother in my movies. It’s like acting almost the same role at the same time.  I always preach the good mother message in most of my movies and I see it as an everyday thing.  My age, as of today I can only play one role. All the movies I acted are unique in their own ways and I bless God for that.

Can you compare the movie industry then with the way it is now? What will you say has changed?
So many things have changed. In fact, everything has changed except for the old actors and actresses like us that are still in the industry. I mean, we started then with manual camera like Matics camera, VCR and the rest. Even the quality of pictures on our movies was totally different from what we have now. Thanks to technology. Now our movies are being shown on cinemas before spreading to the market. We now shoot with quality and very expensive cameras. That is to tell you how far we have gone. Nollywood has really changed from what it used to be.

So far, what is your favorite movie or soap opera?
I love the soap ‘Dear Mother’ and I know so many people also love watching it, especially the single mothers. They learn a lot of lesson from this it. It focused on the life of a single mother who takes good care of her children with the help of her aged mother. It teaches morals at home. Today, many people don’t know how to care for their children. I mean single mothers. When you say you are a mother; you should lay a good example for others to follow. Remember, anything you do your children will imitate you. Children learn easily from practical examples. We have seen different cases of single mothers leaving their children to house maids for pursuit of money. At the end of the day, the children will lack good morals because nobody cares for them. They will be misbehaving.

Does it mean you cannot act any other role apart from the role of a mother?
Well I am over 50 years of age and this is the role that most producers feel I can act perfectly. Though, if I am called upon to play another role I will because I am an actress. But presently, I am known to act the role of a mother in Nollywood.

Your husband died about 14 years ago. How have you been coping?

God has been my husband and my father. I am not the only widow in Nigeria. If others can cope why can’t I cope? I am a strong woman and very hard working, so I am not depending on any family member to assist me. Ever since my husband fell sick and died, God has really been merciful to me. There is nothing I have asked from God that he did not provide for me.

Why didn’t you remarry? I know people still remarry at old age?
Remarriage for me is a no-go area. I made a promise that I would not remarry. Besides, there was no reason for me to marry again at all. What am I looking for in life that I don’t have now?  I had five children. I lost two of them to the cold hands of death. One actually died when I was acting on stage while the other one also died. God knows the reason for this. Who am I to question God? Everything happened in the past and I have left it for God.

How did it happen?

I don’t want to talk about it. One died the other one slept he did not wake up. Now I have three children and I am contented.

How did you take the death of your children?
I took them in good faith hoping it never happens again. It almost affected my work because I almost quit. But with the help of God and the advice of people, I decided not to quit. I put everything in the hands of Almighty Allah and I continued my work.

You didn’t suspect any fetish activities in the death of your two children and your husband?
God knows best. I almost quit my job because of the death of my children. But my husband was still alive then so he consoled me and I accepted everything in good faith. So when my husband died, I was bitter. Frustration was all over me but God took control of everything. It took me a long while to recover from the pains of losing my husband. I thank God for some of my family members who encouraged me to move forward and today everything has become history. But I can  never forget. It was not easy for me at all. But I thank God.

There was a time rumour were making the rounds that you have retired from acting. How true is this?
Well people have the right to say whatever they like. I am not the first person they have spread rumour about; so I’m not scared. Yes. I stopped for sometime after the death of my children and my husband but I continued because this is the only business I know how best to do. Let me say I only restrict myself to acting in A-class movies or soap operas. You know when you retire from acting low class movies; you have left the platform for the younger ones to grow. Because if you continue rushing like upcoming actresses, then you have stifled the industry for the younger ones. I am an old woman and I will be glad if we have more females in the industry who can act well.

Was there a time in your career that you actually felt like giving up in acting?
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like giving up. I don’t know if giving up acting ever really came to my mind. But I’ve felt discouraged and disappointed and I’ve gone over that just falling back on the passion that drives me on the job; which pretty much happens to everybody. One gets to a point where one just gets tired.  Then one thinks about the fact that this is what one really loves. This is why one wakes up in the morning and one can act for free sometimes. I think about the passion and I just dust myself up and move on. I love what I am doing.

What is your view about frequent failed marriages in Nollywood?

Marriage is a difficult institution. You must be fully mature before getting married. It’s not for children. As a mother with experience,  I always advise couples to understand themselves before rushing to the altar. It is not by force. You must be prepared. Why most people have issues in their marriages is because they are not patient. Not every woman can cope with the bad character of men of these days. Many of them are not sincere. Some of them also rush after our actresses for selfish reasons. Our job is highly strenuous. We also keep late nights anytime we are shooting night scenes. Not every man will permit their wives to keep late nights all in the name of acting movies.  I will advise men who want to marry an actress to be ready to accommodate a lot of things. Same to ladies who are rushing to marry actors. People should marry their best friends to avoid problems in their marriage. Marry that woman or man that understands your character, your profession and do things just to make you happy.  In marriage, you must seek God’s face first. Allow God to take control of your marriage. If you marry a God fearing man, he will respect you and will not suspect you in any way.

Sometimes, you hear actors and actresses complain about the burden of fame. Do you feel such burden?

I always say the whole fame comes with its good and its bad sides. Unfortunately, one can‘t take the good and leave the bad. If one is in the limelight, everything that one does or even the ones that one doesn’t do go public. So you don’t have a private life as an actress. Everybody wants to be your friend and you must be ready to accept them.

Do you have any advice for upcoming artistes?

My advice for them is that they have to be contended. You shouldn’t be desperate to be there; you have to be watchful and you have to be loyal to other people you come across, especially the producers, directors and production managers. If you are coming in through someone, you have to be vigilant and be wise and don’t be too fast and desperate; Just know the necessary things you need to know. Another thing is you shouldn’t think about the money first. Some people would just come and say there is money in the movie industry; they would say Mercy Johnson is collecting so and so amount of money; people are making money. If you have the passion for it, come and work on yourself but make sure you are good; don’t just come and say you want to become a superstar. It doesn’t work that way. Make sure you are good at acting and if you are coming in as a crew member; maybe cameraman or as a production manager or script writer, just make sure you are good.
A lot of people have made that mistake in the past. Some came as artistes and at the end of the day they ended up in the crew line but some people came in with the mentality that ‘Let me see where I belong’ and at the end of the day, they would find out that they are good at acting while some are really good but the opportunity is not there for them to showcase what they have.
So it has to do with knowing what you are doing and knowing why you are here. Like I said earlier, be wise because if you are not wise enough, you won’t make it in the industry. If you are wise enough, you would know if you are making progress or not.

In the next five years where do you see yourself?

By then, I would be a lot older but I will still continue acting. I pray to God that I would be more successful as an actress and I will also be given more awards.