Ogechi shirley Igwe waltzed through like a queen. Her radiant smile lighting up her charming face. Her silky voice and mien tell much about her skills which earned her roles and her transition to movie production, writes Ferdinand Ekechukwu
There can only be one “Shirley” (Ogechi Igwe). Just like there can only be one actor to a name, pseudonym or real, hers truly bears her identity – a pretty face and enthralling personality. There she walks into the Bridge Hangout by Water Side Phase1 accompanied by a colleague – Sylvia Edem. From a vantage position, Shirley would be seen looking out for someone as few heads turned towards her direction, even with a dark shades over her eyes, her appearance had elicited some pop that mild afternoon.
In the moment, a hand gestured at her; she got the message and then walked towards the direction of the hand, waltzing through the passage like a queen. There was a handshake. On a closer look, her black sequined top on a cream-white mini skirt and dotted leather slippers would portray her fashion sense as very simple but there is more.
Arguably, ‘The Last Three Digits’ star ranks amongst the growth category of new actors cum producers in Nollywood, who are making a difference with their talents and worth at the moment. Since her return to the industry in 2015, Shirley has moved from being just a fast-rising actress to building a high profile with her game upped with roles and offers to producing her own movies – the first being ‘The Agreement’ and now the upcoming one, ‘Middle of Nowhere’ billed for premiere this year.
A four-cast movie, ‘Middle of Nowhere’ is a romantic drama, believed to be well scripted. Save for a movie titled, The Visit, released sometime last year, a four-cast movie is not a regular feature in Nollywood. How well does she think hers can favourably compete with other well-made films put in the same category when it’s finally released and probably shortlisted for any awards? Her expectation of it seems very high that only a matter of time can answer. And what should viewers expect from the movie? She simply said, “That movie will blow your mind.”
Overly self-confident, Shirley has made the enviable league of Nollywood celebrities that have at one point or the other left the industry, supposedly for greener pastures in the political arena for one appointment or the other, imitating the likes of Hilda Dokubo, Nkiru Sylvanus, Bob Manuel Udokwu, Onyeka Onwenu, RMD, Femi Adebayo, Kate Henshaw, Ini Edo, and Mercy Johnson Okogie. Like some of these actors, she’s gone out of Nollywood, and back to the industry.
Somehow, she had stepped out of Nollywood two years after her debut to take up appointment with Imo State Government in 2013, as principal protocol officer to Governor Rochas Okorocha, though the appointment had at the time raised eyebrows owing to the fact that another well-known Nollywood actress, Nkiru Sylvanus, was relieved at about the same time from the governor’s office.
For the Mass Communication graduate, transiting from modeling to acting was without a challenge having been a known face in the entertainment sector. She had barely auditioned for a role in 2011 when she got called up for a movie. Recalling her first experience in Nollywood, the actress said, “My first movie role, I was called and asked to read and after the audition, I was called back. I think that was Ikechukwu Onyeka (though not sure). And that was just my appearance and my speech doing it for me. Until today that’s how I get called for roles.”
The actress just a couple of weeks ago celebrated her birthday, reported to be a score and half. Prior to her political stint, she left the industry to train as cabin executive at Cranfield Aviation School in South Africa, after which she worked with a private airline before returning to Nollywood.
Passionate about her craft and perhaps determined to ‘learn by doing’, Shirley took a step further to attend the New York Film Academy. The King and The Maidens, Happy Anniversary, My Neighbour’s Wife, Cross of Royalty, The Sassy One and Complicity are among the movies she listed to have featured in. She revealed that from the start she has always wanted to act. Due to one reason or the other, she had to finish school before making the move but already had started modelling.
“Commercial modelling I could do while I was still in school because it’s just photography and once you are done you are off,” she said. “But acting I had to finish school and once I was done with that, acting started and my dad didn’t have much to say about it because he saw that I did well as a model and he was confident that I would excel as an actor.”
Watching the likes of Joke Silva and Liz Benson while growing up, it’s only natural that she possibly must have drawn from their fountain of rich theatrics. In cinematography, the fun of having different roles “and playing characters that you are not in real life” are exciting to her.
In addition to taking up roles “that are very challenging” and relatively connect with the outside world making the act look believable, she loves having access to the script(s) before accepting to play whatever role presented to her – to her, an actress’ ability should not be regimented. For her, there are no fixed characteristics to success and that adopting a differently peculiar approach to success lies with the individual involved.
Shirley’s setting out to produce her own movies is not an accident. “It’s just something you need to do as an actor to push yourself. I didn’t just decide. I didn’t wake up one morning to say I will produce my own film. When you have acquired knowledge you wouldn’t just wait to pour it out,” she explained.
How well equipped is she with movie production in terms of technical know-how and other prerequisites? She said, “I know what a good story is when I see one and then I engage people to work for me and I pay them.”
With Ogechi “Shirley” Igwe in the saddle, time will tell how the young actress will turn the attention of Nollywood watchers and movie lovers in her direction.