By Frances Ben
Frances Ben was just 16 when she ventured into modeling. At 17, she got a modeling job that earned her N350,000. It was a lot of money back then. Notwithstanding, Frances quickly switched to acting, her first love. She had her first Nollywood experience just five years ago; and she is already big in the industry. Frances, who grew up in Lagos, is from Anambra State, by blood. She shares her Nollywood experience, growing up and challenges with Ferdinand Ekechukwu
You studied Business Management and you are into entertainment. Why the switch?
Acting is my first love. I just wanted to have a degree in case I want to divert into something else like business, and I like business. So that was how I ended up studying Business Management, and then follow my passion, which is acting.
How did you start acting?
Initially when I was much younger, I usually tell my mum that I was going to be a musician. But then I didn’t really push it. So I was 15 when I finished secondary school, that was 2008/2009 I was 16 when I started modeling stuff which went well. I didn’t really know much about the industry, I was just this ‘mgbeke’ girl. But to me I was like the finest in my clique. If I look at my pictures back then, I would like ‘is this me?’ You know something like that. And then at some point, I just gave up on modeling then, I just picked interest in acting because I have always loved the entertainment industry; so I knew sometime, someday, I’m just going to go into the entertainment industry and that was how I picked interest in it. The interest just came and that was how I started. And then my parents were in full support they weren’t in any way against me acting or into showbiz at all. They will allow me go and stay days outside and I was young; even when I was modeling, they were fully in support. Then I was 17 going to be 18 that same year. Then I was like ‘okay fine let me start modeling to keep myself busy and all’. So then I started, and it went well. So, by 2012, I started acting; I normally go for audition and stuff like that for acting. Any auditions I go for, they pick me, but they end up not shooting at the end of the day for some reasons like lack of fund. That was in Ghana actually where I started from. I did quite some series that I can’t really remember the name; I didn’t even get to watch it. That was like 2014 later on. Because I just go for auditions, I didn’t really put my mind fully in it; I knew I had passion for it but because of my studies and everything. So when I started acting was in 2014 but I was off and on because of studies.
From modeling you moved to movies, do you still do modeling?
I actually don’t go for modeling again. I just stopped. But if something presents itself or if I have an offer I would go. As a model, I was into both commercial and runway and I did ushering job as well. It was actually the ushering that fetched me money. I didn’t really do much back then as a model. Because of my acting and schooling came up and took everything. Okay. But there was actually one job I did that actually fetched me a lot of money and I just gave it all to my mum. I was like ‘mum see I want to go to Ghana…take me to Ghana’. It was a lot of money, like N350,000, then at that time and I was just 17. Because I actually told my mum I did not want to school in Nigeria, she was also in support; she wanted me to school outside the country. And then I was supposed to go and school in Canada but for some reasons, the plan changed so I had to go to Ghana.
You kick-started your acting career first in Ghana. Tell us about your first Nollywood experience?
Okay. It was actually while in Ghana a friend of mine introduced me to someone (a director) while I was on holidays then in Nigeria. So they called me that I should come for this movie role; it was a series in Lagos. The person on set didn’t even have any role for me at first when I got to location, but asked that I hang on till it’s my turn he will let me know. That experience I think was in 2014 or there about and that was on a Christmas day. So I started seeing all of them with scripts and I started feeling bad and I was like ‘do I have a role in this movie?’ So I was like ‘then why did this man invite me on a Christmas day that I’m supposed to be eating chicken and rice with my family but I’m here hustling, after jumping buses all the way to Surulere and I was just young and naive’. So the owner of the movie, Kingsley Okereke just walked by and he was like ‘this girl…okay let her play this role’. And I looked at the script and was like playing the lead… how did I get this? They said the girl that was supposed to play the role didn’t come. When he gave me the role, like the other girls that were there for the audition started beefing me and were all jealous. I actually ended up playing the lead in that particular episode of the series. I did the first season and went back to school. So when I went back to Ghana, the producer’s brother that I met in Nigeria, Uchechi Okereke now introduced me to Uchenna Mbunabo of One & Two Production who now gave me the tutelage of acting in Ghana and started giving me roles. So with that, I would say I had my first movie proper which was “Jackie Goes to School”. I played alongside Jackie Appiah, and host of other Nigerian actors like Christabel Eke, Callista Okoronkwo including some other Ghanaian actors. And then I got my first lead role in 2016 in the movie “Hidden Fears” (produced by CJ Akpofure) with IK Ogbonna. But along the line I had done a couple of movies before that. More so in the movie ‘Business Partners’ which I shot with Freddie Leonard, I played the lead.
Every fresher in the industry came across a challenge. What was your challenge as a female coming into the industry?
Yes I did. Basically the challenge I had I wasn’t really getting jobs like I wanted. And then the ones you meet, (you know it’s a normal thing you hear in the industry) they want to sleep with you and all that. And if you don’t sleep with them, you don’t get roles. I think partly, although, but wouldn’t say that was the main reason why I didn’t quite get roles (laughing). And then I didn’t really pay attention to them at all because I’m a really principled person; I feel if I want to get a job I should worth it; and not me going the other way to get it.
From when you started acting till date, can you put a figure to the number of movies you have featured?
I really can’t put a figure to the number of movies featured in. Well let’s say between the range of 20 movies.
Are you subjective to any roles?
No. But I don’t really like exposing myself in movies; that’s nude movies. I cannot show my boobs because I’m acting, no. That was actually one thing I promised my dad, too bad he’s late now. Because he told me he doesn’t want me doing those rubbish that he sees people doing. So, I was like ‘no I’m not going to do that’. That’s the only thing I think. Maybe when I get to Hollywood I would do that because there they don’t criticise the way Nigerians do due to the cultural differences (laughing).
Growing up and aspiring to be an actress, who was your role models?
Genevieve! I think she was like my number one. I like Omotola too but Genevieve was the number one… even from the guys I still pick something from them like RMD, Ramsey Nouah, and Desmond Elliot. But Genevieve was topmost among them.
Are you on any set now?
Yeah I just finished on one like yesterday (Saturday, 10, 2019) in Lagos for AZ Production and Van Digital Productions Ltd; Tissy Nnachi and Van Production for Amara Nnachi. I did two actually I was going back to back on two sets.
When you are not on set what are you doing?
When I’m not on set what I’m I doing?! I’m sleeping or I’m surfing the internet looking for something and being creative looking for something to do to keep me up. Most times when I’m not acting, I’m indoors.
In the industry there’s this notion of if acting actually pays the bills? But looking at your appearance it doesn’t seem so. . .
Hmmmn! Okay you know its stages. When you are at the lower stage, it doesn’t really pay well; when you get to the middle stage you start seeing money; then when you get to the top, ahan!….that’s when the money starts coming, you start negotiating. It’s everywhere. Because when you’re starting, at the point, it’s as if you are paying your dues so they don’t really want to pay you much. But it’s annoying. Come on! We need money to pay bills. But some people still do pay well; they don’t care if you are an up comer.
What do you actually look out for in a script you are given to play a role?
I like a script that has like a good ending; a good beginning. I like a script that is challenging; I like a script that is actually educative. I just like a script that when I see it, I know that ‘okay this is good’ when the viewers see it they will learn and pick something from it. So I just look for scripts like that.
As a creative person, what inspires you and what is that thing you often want to do or do before you get on set that you say okay I have done this and with it I’m good to go?
I pray; I talk to my God about the script that God ‘please put me in character; let me understand this character. I put God first. And then I want to do better. So when I get a script, I want to do better than the script I did the previous time, so that’s actually what inspires me.
Any thought of diversifying into other areas?
I don’t know what the future holds until then maybe I would later go back and sing one song (laughing). Because then I was actually among the choristers. But I have actually produced two movies. I started producing last year September 2018. I have always wanted to be a producer as well as an actress. And also I’m actually having interest in directing because sometimes I work with some directors and I’m like I can do better than this person. It’s not about taking the script and telling me sit down then action, no! You are a director, your work is to direct me; don’t let me get comfortable doing what I want to do. Push me! I want to see what I’m capable of doing not to remain in my comfort zone. I want a director that will bring out something that is actually hidden in me. Sometimes I just get so comfortable. And sometimes I just watch and I’m like there’s something hidden, there’s something missing. I know I have a lot to offer. I just need somebody to bring it out. I’m still looking for that director that will really push me. The first one, the title was disbanded; the second production, I just finished it like in April, titled ‘Freedom’. I sold the first one to Africa Magic Showcase. The second one too, I have submitted it to them but I’m yet to get feedback.