The silky, delicate gown flows from the couch caressing the carpet. Its queenly wearer in graceful glow is an enthralling beauty. With comely tresses and glistening eyeballs, arguably Nollywood’s biggest superstar and Nigeria’s best movie export, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde dazzles more in person than on the silver screen. With her latest exploits clinching the AMCVA’s Best Actress award and invitation to be part of America’s Oscar Awards panel of judges, Funke Olaode, after an interview with the superstar, writes about her episodic moments and momentums
The shimmering gown, the luxuriant tresses, the supple lips, the glassy visage and enchanting figure are an introduction to the enthralling persona that lies beneath. Her polished nails, delicate fingers and glowing skin punctuated by her gently heaving heart remind you she is not a caryatid that took decades to sculpture. The klieg light understates her beauty, her person. The screen goddess, perhaps the best and most beautiful that has ever graced Nollywood, is a fusion of class and camaraderie. With more than 300 movies in 23-year whirling acting career and a trailer-load of awards and recognitions to her name, Omotola – if you wish, say Omosexy – Jalade-Ekeinde is a living legend in Nigeria’s movie industry.
Nobody seems to be in doubt of her pedigree – not even American Hollywood. In June this year, she became perhaps the first Nigerian actress – if not African – to be so honoured as a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science, otherwise known as the Oscars, the world’s pre-eminent movie organisation.
“It feels amazing to be invited to become a member of the academy and becoming a voting member. To get the privilege of screening all movies entered for the Oscars is huge for me as an artist, and will be useful for Nollywood in the long run,” the ecstatic Omotola says about the invitation to join the Oscars voting academy.
Her recognition is not unconnected with the role she reprised in the 2010 romantic drama, A Private Storm, and the 2012 thriller, Last Flight to Abuja. In 2013, Omotola made her debut on American TV in the series, Hit the Floor.
As the accolades gathered momentum and wanting not to be outdone by the international recognitions she has received abroad, the Nigerian government decided to honour its own ‘prophet’ at home. By 2014, the federal government of Nigeria awarded Omotola Member of the Order of the Federal Republic, MFR, for her contributions to the entertainment industry. As if priming for the Oscars, the movie queen shone like a billion stars in the effervescent sky of Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award scooping the best actress in drama/movie award. Omotola has won many local and international awards. The AMVCA feels different. She has been away from Nigeria’s movie scene for three years. When she returned to the silver screen, Omotola starred in the movie, ‘Alter Ego’.
“This is my come-back movie and winning an award was very satisfying and encouraging,” she enthuses.
To Omotola’s glorious and glitzy present and momentous future, there is a past that borders on oblivion and opportunity to excel. She chose the latter. She recalls a time, as a rough gem, in search of a destiny; a teenager struggling with a thousand and one ‘hustlers’ to board a ‘danfo’ bus to Ijesha – a movie location one Tuesday morning. Omotola recollects with a distant gaze as if walking backwards into her past how she took a leap of faith from that moment on to plunge herself into then-nebulous Nigeria’s film industry. By the time she featured in the movie, Venom of Justice, directed by Reginald Ebere, Omotola was already waiting to excel.
Barely two years after, she beckoned the world to genuflect at her feet winning the best actress award in an English-speaking movie and the best actress overall in 1997 at The Movie Awards, THEMA; the youngest Nigerian actress to achieve that feat.
Nigerians – especially movie lovers – consider ‘home video’ back then as being synonymous with Omotola. No movie star was bigger than her. Her enthralling beauty and mesmerizing interpretation of roles made her appear like an eternal star fixed in the expansive sky. Yet, for some years, the superstar slipped into a seeming oblivion. Her fans had thought they had seen the last of her. A serial winner, it does not appear she is ready to quit.
“Well, I just got to a place in my career that I decided to stay back and decided what I wanted to do next. The industry wasn’t growing at the pace I was hoping it would grow then. Even the newly resurrected cinema angle wasn’t growing and not doing well until two years ago. So I decided to chart a new path by contributing my own quota in capacity building in the industry. I decided to plan towards my dream project which is building a film village. I got involved in philanthropy and was happy doing it. Right now, we have bought a few properties though still at developmental stage. Funds are the major setback that hasn’t allowed us to go very far the way we would have thought. Nevertheless, it is a lot of investment and I am happy toeing this part,” Omotola says.
In the last 23 years, the Nollywood megastar has shown a rare consistency as an actress – her career characterised by devolution and sometimes revolution. Every role is like a walk in the park for her. Yet, Omotola never set out to become an actress. “I never set out to be an actress. I thought it would be music but God has his plans and here I am,” she tells THISDAY.
Being a celebrity comes at a great cost – usually consuming the family and marriage. Omotola as a wife, mother, wife, global superstar has excelled where others flounder. Yet she knows that finding fame, fortune and family and keeping them together is more than juggling a dozen balls.
With a knowing smile, she admits: “It is not the easiest thing to do. But I believe as women we are born to be multitasking in doing things. God has deposited the ability in us. We just have to unlock it that we can do so many things at the same time if we apply ourselves properly. I just try to do whatever I am passionate about. Again, because of my nature I focus on what I want to do and be passionate about it and won’t relent until I achieve it.”
She is perhaps is one of the most documented movie superstars alive – from her personal life, marriage, children to stardom. Not a few celebrities crave for stardom. You may wonder if it is different with Omotola.
“In our home, we maintain decorum. And because I am an actress a lot of people think I like to be out there. But the truth of the matter is that we are very private at home and have to be out there because of my job. If I have my way you will only see me when I act. These are the kinds of traits that we share as a family. So I am grateful to God for the kind of family that I have. My husband is amazing. He’s been supportive; irrespective of what people say he doesn’t care and just allow me to do my things. My family is strong-minded and at the same time cool-headed,” she explains with a taint of pride.
Gorgeous, famous and gifted with a doting husband and beautiful children, it is all too easy for people to look at the screen goddess and conclude that her life is one of blitz and bliss. “It has not really affected me much. But as you know that fame has its own good and bad side but more than anything I try to be myself. I come to realize that people don’t like to be real always – want to fake or live in a certain way. When you try to live an opposite life it doesn’t present the image you are expected to project. But I remain true to myself and have never allowed fame to get into my head. I just maintain (high) standards,” the movie superstar states.
For Omotola, glitz, glory and grace are commonplace. In 2012, CNN Travel noted her accent on their list of the world’s 12 sexiest accents, ranking fifth on the list. The following year, she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine for their annual TIME 100 list, appearing in the icons category alongside Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and Kate Middleton.
Again, in 2015, she was listed by Yahoo! among the highest-grossing movie stars including Shah Rukh Khan, Frank Welker, Bob Bergen, Jack Angel, Mickie McGowan, Michael Papajohn, Martin Klebba, Clint Howard and Chris Ellis. All that may just mean she has conquered the world while excelling in her little space.
Her philosophy on that is: “I guess what it means is that sometimes when you are in your own little space and forget that the whole world is bigger than where you are and sometimes you don’t have an understanding of what is going on as well. When things like this come along the way, it reminds you that you are actually in a carrier that is global and not only that, that you are making a lot of impact not only in your domain but globally. This makes you to re-adjust your focus and you want to do more. Yahoo! did their research and they rated you. It is important to note that hey, the whole world is watching and it puts you on your toes!”
When she thinks about how much she has achieved in life, the thought of slowing down is a distant, fading echo. “I am very hungry to do more. There are some things that I want to achieve and I haven’t. I am hungry; every day, I wake up to do more. I feel like there are so many things to achieve that I haven’t. So these are part of the things that drive me. I want to see Nigeria through me as a representative and do something extraordinary that will put Nigeria on the positive global map. I hope truly we will get there when Nigeria and Nollywood will be number one,” she says with a glint in her eyes.
As a successful actress, Omotola is also a philanthropist of note. She became a United Nations WFP (World Food Programme) Ambassador in 2005, going to missions in Sierra Leone and Liberia. She has been active in the Walk the World project and participated in the Walk the World campaign in Liberia with President Ellen Sir Leaf-Johnson. Omotola lent her voice in 2010 to the Rewrite The Future Campaign of Save The Children UK.
“I was involved in the campaign of Save the Children UK a while ago. I approached them and said I would like to help. They said they would check my profile and get back to me. They did and they said they would like to add me into the future campaign they were doing at that time. I did the campaign for them in my early days of getting to activism. Not long after that I was approached by the United Nations to be an Ambassador of World Food Programmed. I am still a UN Ambassador. I worked with former Liberian President, Johnson, to try and campaign for children to go back to school,” Omotola adds with a smile on her face.
‘Omosexy’ is endowed with breathtaking physical beauty that makes not a few women and men swoon. If she writes a book on ‘How to be beautiful like Omosexy,’ it is likely it will be a bestseller. The superstar, however, lets the secret of her ecstatic beauty out for free, saying: “I don’t have any beauty routine for looking good. The secret is about maintaining your health. So far, I try to sleep well and also understand that peace of mind helps.”
Apart from that her millions of fans and admirers will like to see her fine figure, face and voice grace a talk show following in the footsteps of the legendary Oprah Winfrey. Does she have any plans in that direction? “Oh yes! There have been many talks about me doing that. I think I will sometimes in my life (do that) but not now. I am not sure when. Everybody has said it and I believe they can’t be wrong. But I can’t say when,” she enthuses.
You may be wrong if you think Omotola lives for herself alone. Beyond her glamorous face on camera, if there is anything that keeps her awake at night it is her concern for Nigeria. “I want Nigeria to be respected and I do want Nollywood to be recognized globally. I see the amount of human capital that we have. I see how intelligent and hard-working Nigerians are. Unfortunately, politics and bad governance have held us down and we have not been able to realise our full potential. But I know that we can rise. We can achieve so much at the end of the day if we get it right,” she hopes.