Maureen Ihua. The image of a beautiful and brilliant woman is already formed in your head. Her gracious gait mesmerises you. As you pause to take a deep breath, her glittering, sexy eyeballs are fixated on you. You stop for a moment that seems like eternity – as your heart skips a beat. As she smiles at you, you groan like someone enraptured. With her gentle, soft touch on your shoulder, your knees grow weak and you close your eyes imagining being in her bosom. It’s either you’re in a dream or watching a Nollywood movie starring the magnificent Maureen Ihua, one of Nigeria’s pioneer actors. She started out with the likes of Liz Benson and Regina Askia. Blistering back in the movie industry with blockbuster films to her credit, Maureen tells Oge Ezeliora about her time off the silver screen, where her passion lies, her love for her children, just as she flaunts her handsome hubby – and dares young seductresses to “snatch her husband if they can”
• I Was 18 Years Old When I Got Married
• I Have Acted in More Than 100 Movies in Nigeria
• Young Ladies Can’t Seduce or Lure My Husband Away from Me
You’re among pioneers of the movie industry in Nigeria. Why did you choose acting as a career?
We started the industry and we are still in the industry. My concentration was not the financial aspect; it was all about the fame. I have passion for acting; I keep rehearsing from time to time. Sometimes, I spent weeks – even months – on location just to shoot one movie. I was eager to learn more and it was fun. I started with Nollywood actresses like Liz Benson, Regina Askia, Ngozi Ezeonu, and Doris Young. I chose acting as a career because I am a good actress. Nobody forced me into it. I just found out that I am good. I can act very well with little or no supervision.
Today, we have many Nollywood actresses as good as you are in the industry and due to lack of funds, they act in all movies so that they will remain popular in the industry. Do you accept all scripts?
Never; I do not accept every script that comes my way. It depends on the storyline of the movie. I choose the movie I want to act in. That is the reason why I am not in every movie. There are some storylines that will ruin one’s career all in the name of money. I don’t need to accept such scripts because of the money that the producer will pay. It’s not the money that matters; it is what will boost my career and reputation in and outside the industry. I know my worth. I am not in competition with anybody.
Do you see any change in the industry?
Nollywood is growing. I am happy because we are already in competition with Hollywood, Bollywood and Gollyhood. Today, I see Hollywood stars coming to Nigeria, collaborating with us to make movies. It gives me so much joy. We have improved in terms of equipment and movie ratings. But we still need government’s intervention in Nollywood. Many of our actresses are not professional. If you watch some of our movies on Africa Magic, you will wonder if some of these actresses are trained. Nollywood is not what it used to be then. We have a lot of upcoming actresses that are not talented but due to one thing or the other they are given movie roles and at the end of the day, the movie turns out to be of low standard. We have actresses and actors that are not professional; they are fortunate to find themselves in the industry – they just believe they can act. In terms of acting, I still believe Nollywood needs a training ground. Most actors and actresses we have these days cannot be compared to the actors we had back then. During our days, we rehearsed and rehearsed until we were perfect for the movie. You would see the passion in us. Sometimes we could be on a movie location for up to one month shooting because the producer wanted the best from us.
These days the reverse is the case. Nobody goes for training before acting. Everybody is interested in the amount they will be paid. When love and passion are introduced into a project, then nothing awaits you but success. This is one thing I want upcoming actresses to know. I think it will still get back to what it used to be by God’s grace. With people like us in the industry, people will know that Nollywood still have professionals. The government also needs to intervene or support Nollywood because acting will generate a lot of money for the government. There is need for corporate bodies to support the industry.
Precisely when did you start acting?
I started when I was in school; when I was in secondary school – Mariam Girls Secondary School, Rivers State. I was in a drama group and we acted from time to time. Yes, I was young but I was a good actor. In fact, it has been my passion to act and that is what brought me to Nollywood. The first movie I did, I actually escorted a friend to an audition for a movie in Lagos – Ajao Estate, precisely. Then, the producer saw me and offered me a script for another audition. I did very well at the audition and I was giving a role by merit. I played a supportive lead in the movie. That was how I started; to date I have not stopped acting.
But you went off the screen at a time, what happened?
I was busy taking care of my family. In addition, due to childbirth I kept going on and off the screen. I needed to take good care of my kids because I love children and I do not feel relaxed leaving my children in the hands of housemaids or nannies. Though my family members were there to care for my kids if I was working, I always want to be with them – take good care of them and also take good care of my handsome husband.
You talked about your husband being handsome. How handsome is he and are you not worried young ladies will seduce him?
He is very handsome. I am equally beautiful. I have natural ‘cat eyes’ that look as if I wear contact lens that everybody admires in me. I was born with that. I inherited the eye colour from my mother. For my husband, we have been married for many years. I got married when I was 18. I was very young and to date we are happily married. He loves me so much; he supports my career in every way and he is a loving husband. No young lady can seduce him and lure him away from me.
What is the name of the movie that brought you limelight?
‘Naughty Jeff’ is the name of the movie and I was the mother of Naughty Jeff then.
How many movies have you acted in?
They are countless. They are over 100.
What movie do you hold so dear?
Hmmm… It’s the movie ‘Royal banquet’ which I did last year and ‘Evil-doers.’ ‘Evil-doers’ was a little bit challenging and interesting. I love that movie so much because the storyline actually fits the profile of some family I know. So when I was given the script and I read it, I was so excited to act in the movie because I know of a particular family that something like that actually happened to. I really took interest in the movie; I gave it my best and the movie spread like naked flame. It sold massively; everybody was rushing to watch the movie because of its storyline and how terrific the movie was. It was a great movie.
Since you started acting movies, have you ever been embarrassed by a fan?
Yes; the period I finished shooting the movie ‘Evil Doers.’ You know some Nigerians’ mentality; they feel when you act, you are like that. They do not know it is make-believe. I went to the market one day and some children saw me and they were scared and started running. You know the movie had voodoo scenes – so much diabolic and scary scenes that astound viewers; that explained why the kids were scared of me. They started running away while some people asked me to show them my evil hands – in the movie, I would stretch out my fingers glittering with smokes to kill people. I started explaining to them I am not like that. So, I felt really embarrassed.
How did you feel the first time you faced the camera?
I have always been into showbiz; I was not shocked and ashamed. I was very bold. Based on the fact that I was a model before I went into movies, I was used to facing the camera. Not everything was new to me the first time I faced the camera for a movie production. I concentrated on what my director asked me to do. At the end of the day, the movie was a success and I acted so well.
So which of your movies did you find very challenging?
They are uncountable; ‘Women World’ was very tough for me because I was on location for almost three weeks. It is one of the most stressful productions I have done. The movie was so stressful that I was so weak after shooting it. It was fun and tough. When you are doing what you have passion for, the stress does not really count. I believe because the movie was focused on women and all tricks women play on men I gave my best. That was part of the reasons we stayed long on location for the production of the movie.
You talked about being a model; can you name some of the endorsement deals and companies you modelled for?
I worked for so companies. I modelled for the company that manufactured ‘Breeze Soap’ then, and I was the face on Breeze soap. The advert was everywhere because ‘Breeze’ was a popular soap then. I also modelled for the company that produced Santex Paint. I was on their calendar and everybody was calling me Santex Paint girl and the advert was on billboards, television and everywhere. I was also the face of Abuja, when Abuja was made the Federal Capital Territory. I did many billboard adverts and TV commercials for many companies. I have lost count of some of the companies I worked for as a model.
What has acting done for you?
I thank God for what I am today because acting has given me fame. It opens doors to many of us. There are places you will not be allowed to go into but because you are an actress you will be permitted. Today, there is no place I cannot enter because I am a known face in the country. Acting has really opened doors for me. It has given me connection and fame – to God be the glory. It has brought so much good into my life. It has made a lot of difficult things easy for me. It also provides me an opportunity to meet a lot people. Generally, acting has elevated me.
What are some of your achievements?
I have achieved a whole lot. I am who I am today because I am in the movie industry.
Tell us about your family life.
I am married to a wonderful husband with five children. I have a daughter and four boys and they are all doing great.
How do you cope with your career and five children?
I love children. I wanted five kids or even more but we decided to stop at five. I thank God for my husband. He is very understanding. He wants the best for me. My sisters and other family members are there to assist. They know I am an actress so my children are well cared for. When I am working, they know mummy is on location. Then, when I am not working, I give them my best; the maximum attention and affection they need. I make up for the time I am not there for them. Everything is balanced.
How do your children react when they watch your movies?
They are happy watching me on screen but when they were young, I didn’t allow them to watch Nigerian movies because they were still very young. But now that they are mature, I allow them to watch my films and when they see an actor physically close to me in a movie, they will scream, ‘Don’t touch our mummy.’ I will explain to them that it is only acting.
How was growing up like?
I grow up in a military home. My father (now late) was a police officer; we didn’t have the freedom to go out as we would love to. He was very strict and being the first child of the family, I had little or no liberty. I was well-trained and I carried my younger ones along. We were six girls; later my mum had two boys. My parents were particularly strict with me. But when I grew up and started having children, I realised all that my parents taught me and was happy the way I was brought up though it was a bit tough.
How did you convince them about going into acting?
My parents knew in school I loved showbiz and I am a very good actress. They encouraged me and I made them proud. My mum was proud of me. Anytime she went out she would tell people, ‘I am the mother of Maureen you watch on TV.’ The first day, I told my parents I wanted to go into acting, they accepted me. I had parents who were very understanding. Too bad, they are late now. I miss them so much, may their soul rest in peace.
Which one of them do you hold so close?
(Laughs…) My mummy; my mum was a wonderful woman and very peaceful. She took good care of us. You can imagine a woman taking care of six girls. You know what it takes to control girls. She gave us the best training any mother could give her children. We never lacked anything. I missed her so much. I also lost one of my sisters (to death) due to an illness. My sister’s death was a shock to me. It was painful and it really affected me even in my career. I was unable to act for a while I refused many jobs just to mourn my sister because we were so close. She was my favourite sibling. I thank God that I have moved on but I will never forget her.