The name Patience Ozokwor, aka MAMA G, is a household name in the Nigerian movie industry. She is a well known name and face in Nollywood movies and has become a character, which many, both home and abroad, love to watch. She is a veteran in the industry and a multiple award winner. She spoke to Onyinye Okonkwo on her views on a wide range of topics. Excerpts:
How did you get into acting?
I have been acting all my life. I acted in primary school, secondary school and was even going to study Theatre Arts in the university, but the year I got admission was the year the Theatre Art department in my school was disqualified for not having a standard theatre hall and stage. I believe God put that talent in me and I have been giving it free expression. I had always acted. I acted during my teacher training; I also acted on stage, radio and television; and they all come with their own distinct features.
Do you have any movie you are currently working on?
Yes, I am currently working on a new movie; the title is OJANOMA, which is a big production with a big cast. I play the role of Ojanoma’s wicked aunt, who dealt with her (laughs). I took on the role because of the standard of the script. I could see it was well written and would be a quality production. Also, I saw it as an opportunity to work with actors from other African countries, to learn from them and also impact what I can on the younger ones.
How do you feel often seeing yourself play the roles of wicked, harsh woman in movies?
I don’t mind being cast in the same roles, because, I have come to know that no two stories are the same. Mannerism maybe the same but interpretation will never be the same. There is no big deal in that. I am not pinned down to the same role, because, every story has its own unique line that must be followed. People would often tell me that when acting, there is a way I would get up and they would know that I am about to take action and, I honestly didn’t know I did that. If I am given certain roles, it is because the director feels I portray such character very well and I don’t mind doing it as I improve at it with every opportunity.
Sometimes, I hear younger actors say things like, I am tired of playing this or that role, and I always advice them that every character has a different new way which he can play it. Let’s say an actor is always given the role of policeman to play. There are different characters in police force and he can choose to portray one each time he is given the role of a police man to play.
Also, our fans, sometimes, complain about the roles we play; for instance, one could be given a role that is different from what he is used to and our fans would complain bitterly and say this is not the Mama G they know. For instance, when I did the movie, ‘Fire on the mountain’, I played the role of this calm peaceful woman, who lost her husband and the children were fighting amongst themselves over their late father’s property and I was trying to make peace; but people were saying this is not Mama G; until something happened when I took action and they said, yes, this is the Mama G we know.
So, the truth is that there are things that people have come to expect of me. If it’s not there, then, it is no longer me. Another person maybe trying to do the same thing, but they are only a copy, not the original. I believe that God has deposited in us unique gifts; and all we need to do is to discover our gifts and showcase it to the world. So, there is no need trying to be anybody else. When I was coming up, people were calling me Liz Benson of Enugu, and I told them no, I am not. Although, I admired her so much. I know I can never be like her. I want to do it as she does but I don’t have to answer her name. So, I don’t mind being given the roles that seem the same, because, it’s something I have become known with; and I do it well.
What is the secret of your longevity in Nollywood?
Its grace and grace is a gift from God. You can also call it unmerited favour, because, I don’t think there is anything special that I do; but the little that I do, people appreciate it. I won’t deny the fact that I have found favor before God and before man; that is what has been carrying me on. Another thing that brings longevity is doing what God wants you to do. If it is God’s will for you to be in the movie industry or medical profession, even though there are other people in that field, everything you do will be accepted. You will always be sought after and even when people are trying to pull you down, their conscience will be telling them the truth. So, it’s this grace that has been keeping me and if you don’t have that grace, you may be in the limelight for a few years and fall out.
Also, I have acted on stage, radio, television, soap operas and have amassed a wealth of knowledge and firsthand experience, which sets me apart from the rest as every medium has its own unique skill that it teaches. So, you can’t compare this level of exposure in acting to that of someone, who just come from nowhere and believes he can act. Even if you studied theatre arts in school, you can’t compare it to real acting experience. These things contribute to the longevity. Grace is number one; but I worked hard, learnt and grew through the ranks, which is hard to find in the industry these days.
There is this news making the rounds that you are now born again? How true is this?
The truth is that I have always been born again. In fact, I came into this industry as a born again Christian. When I joined the industry, I wasn’t even wearing trousers; I wasn’t making up; but the job led me into it and I started doing it. But, in 2016, my son had a vision where God told him He would prefer me still dressing like a scripture union person.
My son had this dream three times and that was when I realised that God was calling for my attention and I had to listen. I have this tradition of going on annual retreat every beginning of the year. So, when the time was approaching, my son reminded me of his dream and told me to ask God what he was trying to say to me. So, when I eventually left for my retreat and started praying, that was the first thing God dealt with.
He spoke to my spirit; and by the time I came out, I was something else. It got so bad that I wasn’t even wearing wristwatches; over zealousness even made me cut my hair (dreads). It got to a point my mind started telling me all sorts of things. I was not even sure what to do, but pastors started calling me that God didn’t tell me to quit my job but he told me about using make up and my mode of dressing; and I didn’t know how I would combine what God was talking to me about with my job.
But God explained to me that acting is different from my real life; and that acting is not a sin. He told me I should do what is needed for my job, and to do whatever the director or who was paying me asks me to do for the success of the movie; but once I am done, I shouldn’t leave the door with all that make up and costume.
God told me to go and preach his word and he even created an opportunity for me to preach because, all of a sudden, I started getting invitations from many churches to come and share Gods word with them and I told them what He told me; that we must all come back to him, because, we have gone far from Him.
The truth is that, as a new convert, zeal made me do the wrong things, but I needed more understanding which I eventually got. Now, all the makeup artistes in the industry know that once I am done, you must wash everything off my face and that’s how I have been managing since then. I don’t have as much stress now. I am free as the Holy Spirit is daily guiding me on what to do and what not to do.
There is this perception by some of your fans that your new “born again” status has limited your acting?
This is not true! I have even made a broadcast stating that I still act because people have been carrying rumors that I have stopped acting, which is a lie! They even said that I should no longer be called Mama G, and I asked them if they do not call me Mama G, should they start calling me Papa G? The name is not a bad name. It’s just a stage name from a character I once played. This perception is totally false and I have no plans to stop acting. The only thing is that I began to have challenges in the industry with things like human hair, because, I learnt the hair is gotten from Indian temples, where they dedicate their hair to their idols; but eventually, I learnt to do what is necessary for a role; even though I actually prefer going by my natural dreadlocks. I once shot a commercial and the owner insisted that we must reshoot it because I wasn’t fully made up and I had to do it, even though that was before I gained understanding of how to combine my new lifestyle and my job.
What do you have to say about sexual harassment in Nollywood industry as alleged by some actresses?
I don’t think that Nollywood is worse than other places because, what is happening here is happening in the UK and even America. But personally, I think it is the work of demons sent to fight against the church by the enemy. I also think that women are no longer doing what they are supposed to be and it is bad because, whatever we do, our children are watching us and doing the same thing we do.
These days, every woman wants her child to become a star and is willing to do anything to make that happen. They begin to teach their children heavy things from childhood. Today, you see pregnant women wearing bum shorts and nobody is telling them the truth that this is wrong. I know that some people are mad and they can rape anybody, regardless of how you are dressed, but it is more on the side of the mode of dressing of women these days. The truth is that men are moved by what they see and when a man sees a seductively dressed woman, they begin to imagine things and dressing in a certain way like wearing trousers, makes men begin to imagine inside what they can’t see.
Some women are teaching their children harlotry from a young age by teaching them to wear bump shorts; meanwhile, they are supposed to teach them the decency in dressing modestly.
Some directors are very responsible and I know of one that would say if you give me, I would take; but that does not guarantee you would get the role, because, if you can’t act or play the role well, you are killing my movie and my boss won’t give me a job to shoot next time. But there are also the foolish directors that will cause you so much stress because they are trying to project their girlfriends.
But this thing is everywhere in every industry, and, I want to say now that some people also come into the movie industry with the sole aim of sleeping around so that they will be given roles they cannot even play. They don’t want to know anything, meanwhile, there are some, who can do the job but are not given roles, because, they refuse to succumb and the ones, who do this eventually come out with stupid movies. But when they realise that this affects the quality of their movies, they change. This thing exists in every industry and profession and ours isn’t different.
What is your general assessment of the Nollywood presently?
The industry today is improving on one side and having problems on one side down. There was a time we rose and were doing well. Government and individuals were very supportive of the industry and the state governments were sending people abroad for training to study film making and other industry-related skills and our pictures improved. We got grants and were able to buy high tech equipment that could only be handled by specially trained people, which really improved things in the industry. But a big challenge is lack of funding and a poor distribution channel. But we are thankful for the internet TVs that help people showcase their works. In the past, people borrowed money from banks and individuals and at the end of the day, they won’t make anything and some commit suicide; while some die of heartbreak.
We are still struggling; we are going through a process and I know that very soon, things will be good again. We are looking for sponsors and recently, corporate entities had began to sponsor movies; and some wealthy individuals have also started coming in to do movies, and it is really helping. The only issue on my side is that I may not always see the level of movie I can act, so, I have to wait for the one that is of my level. Our people have a saying that “Oke mmanwu gbakalia n’Ogbo, umuazi aboo ya aja (If big masquerade displays too much in a village square, children will humiliate it) So, it is better to wait for your level and leave some roles for the upcoming actors.
Do you think the government is supporting Nollywood?
I don’t think this present government is doing enough to support the industry and entertainment world generally. I think they are more focused on other sectors. The former administration was very supportive of us, but you know the problem we have in Nigeria is continuity. Once one leaves, his successor often abandons all the projects started, and starts something else. Since this government came, all the support packages we used to get ceased. And it’s not like they don’t know we exist, they do, but they don’t just see it as a priority.
Do you have plans to retire?
Have you ever heard that an actor retirs? We don’t retire. People retire from their jobs and join us as elders and the older you get, the less make up you need to act the role of an old person. So, no retirement for us in this industry. It is either sickness of death that separates us from this job.
Outside acting, what else do you do?
I am a baker and I own an eatery where I employ lots of young people, instead of always having them beg you for money for soap and all that. I employ them to allow them earn money for themselves. I also plan to start my movie academy in Enugu and it will be called Mount Olives Academy, where we will be teaching those who really want to learn the rudiments of acting. It will run for months after which, we will help them get roles in the movie industry and be integrated and groomed with our guidance.
As a veteran in the industry, what is your advice to the upcoming artists out there?
I would encourage them to take it easy. Some of them would only register with the AGN, act in a few movies, and when you ask them what they do, they will say I am a movie star. Take it easy; if your face ever makes it to the poster, even if it’s a little picture, you celebrate, because, it means that you have gotten to a certain level, and when it gets bigger, more celebrations. But these days, you find people buying their way into movies and even appearing on posters; but not having any major role in the movie. They should take it easy; there are some roles you shouldn’t take as a starter, because, it will kill your career; rather, go for the ones that will push you and help your career, because, it must be step by step and you will eventually get to the top.