The many face-offs I had with my father —Alex Okoroji
by MERCY MICHAEL
Nollywood actress and television darling, Alex Okoriji, is an interesting character on and off the screen. The daughter of Chief Tony Okoroji, one-time president of Practitioners of Music Association of Nigeria (PMAN) and the current Chairman of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), is looking forward to her debut on the big screen later in the year. In this interview with MERCY MICHAEL, the mother of one reveals what marriage and motherhood has changed about her. She also talks about the pressure of being the daughter of Tony Okoriji and other things.Excerpts:
WHAT have you been doing with your acting career?
Basically, what have I been doing? Raising myself; I’ve been working. I’ve been doing a lot more television soap operas and writing. Yes, I’ve been writing.
It appears movie is secondary for you, right?
Well, the whole of last year I think I did two or three movies that are yet to come out. And so I’m looking forward to them coming out because they are going to be big. And I’m still on television; I’m still doing Spider. I’m still doing Tales of Eve, which are all running. But again, we are also working on something. I’m working with my colleagues on a radio show. People are watching, I don’t want to give too many info, but that’s going to be premiering, it’s going to be launched soon. It’s going to be very big.
And what’s the show about?
The little I can say, it’s called The Nollywood Play House.
Is it a play on radio?
It’s not a play on radio. It’s a live interactive pop radio. It’s going to be about the goings on in our industry and the entertainment industry in general. It’s a lot of reviews and it’s going to be fun and very chatty.
How many of you are working on this project?
There are three of us, consisting of myself, Femi Brainard and Kalu Ikeagwu.
It seems you have a preference for soaps?
Really, to be honest with you, a lot of our movie stars started their career from television. And television can be very draining, especially because I did Tinsel for about two seasons. And it’s an everyday job.
You find it very difficult to run away and do movies. And then, you have the same character all over, and no matter what happens to you, even if you put to bed, you still have to get back there. So it’s very draining. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to do movies. I’ve decided that if I’m going to do movies, I’m going to do big screen movies, cinema movies, and not the home video. I already have a certain taste and standard that I want to meet up with at all times.
So, when are you going to do your first cinema?
As I said, I shot some movies that will be coming out this year. We are waiting for the producers to release them so that people can see what we’ve been working on. I have a movie entitled Hero’s Pride, people are going to be wowed by the time it is released. It’s going to come out soon. And after that, I’m still hoping I’m going to do more stuff. I’m hoping to concentrate on doing movies because I’ve done a lot of television.
What movie or soap, as the case maybe, would you say has helped to announce your arrival on the scene?
The thing about television is that people see you regularly. They see you all the time. And sometimes, they even see you on the street and call you by your character. I work on the street sometimes and hear people call me Tessy. And for a second, I wonder who Tessy is, and suddenly I realise that they actually got it from Spider.
Also, there is Tale of Eve. Now, Tinsel is showing on terrestrial TV and even though I’m not on season five, they can still watch and say, oh Alex was on Tinsel. There was Wives and Concubine; it was on Africa Magic for so long. So I can’t really say which in particular announced me. I can’t really say which one, but it’s probably Tinsel.
What made it stand out for you and what character did you play?
I played Susan, a lawyer. She’s Amaka’s best friend. Susan travelled mostly because I had some issues. I got pregnant. I was having a baby, so we couldn’t shoot with my pregnancy and all.
Are you likely to come back on Tinsel?
I do not know. I don’t know that for now because the thing about television is sometime, when you think something is happening to someone, they can bring the person back. I mean it’s up to the writer. They keep scripting every day. They had to give me time to have and take care of my baby because Tinsel is very draining. We never know. Something may happen.
You don’t look like you’ve had one…
Cuts in…But you know the funny thing, those who don’t know me always go like, ‘oh you don’t look like you’ve had one.’ But those who know me always tease me about my fat. My mother doesn’t let me drink water because she thinks I’m too fat. Even my father doesn’t let me drink water. But I’m trying. I’m hoping that I can lose some weight because with television, your body is your tool. I like food a lot, but I have to sometimes remember, ‘oh that’s my tool’.
And I’m not going to get any job because the cameras kind of add 10 pounds to your weight. So it makes you look bigger.
You’ve played several characters. Which would you say you find most fascinating?
I played a character in a yet to be released movie. The movie is called Hero’s Bride. I played a singer. So I had to sing in the musical and I played alongside Yemi Blaq and Femi Brainard. I was the lead road character, and it was challenging because I had to sing. We had to do a lot of live recordings.
We recorded a lot of soulful songs and it was very emotional. It’s a simple story about a singer whose husband was a military man who went to war, while the wife missed him. Struggling to have to build her career and the home was a big challenge. And then of course, in Tales of Eve, I had to play the role of a Muslim. Prior to that time, I didn’t know what it was to be a Muslim.
It almost didn’t look like me. If you watch it, you almost wouldn’t recognise me because I had to wear the Jalabia and all the covering. And that’s the kind of stuffs I like. And I had to add some hausa inflections, something I had to learn. I couldn’t wear the kinds of clothes Alex would like to wear on set. I had to cover up a lot, cover my face. Even the makeup was boring. But yes, watching it, I can’t even recognise myself and that’s good when you can’t see yourself and you are seeing the character.
What’s your dream role?
Bond Girl (laughs). Hmmm, my dream role? I can’t think of a dream role. I would just say that I want something very challenging. I’m looking forward to more challenging roles, something that’s going to challenge me, both physically and mentally. Even as a writer, I would like to do something really catchy.
You write scripts?
Yes, I write screens plays and editorials. And I’m signing up for blog too. It’s really just my thought; Alexandra and her naked thoughts. It’s just my thought that I’m going to be baring open, not sugarcoating it, not hiding it, just the thing that I’m thinking, very silly things, but things that can inspire people.
Some people will think it’s very naughty, but it’s not the naughtiness, it’s the message under the naughtiness that counts. Because when you say to someone ‘Oh, don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself’, they won’t accept the message that way. But if you coin it in a sexual way, they will be like ‘oh what did she just say?’ They will want to listen to your message.
A lot of people actually think you are naughty…
Hmm, I can be mischievous, but you know sometimes it is very easy to be easily misunderstood. And again, some people who know me very well will say I’m too serious. And people who don’t know me will say I’m not serious. The thing is, I have moments when I’m like, let’s not be too serious.
I also have moments when I need to wear the hat of seriousness. You know you have to wear several hats. I cannot be a daughter when I need to be a mother. Things like that.
What’s the naughtiest thing you have ever done?
I can’t think of anything really. Do you know the funniest thing; I’m very, very careful, something that is strange. I’m not as carefree as people assume. I think I have the exterior of looking like I’m carefree, but I’m very careful. Usually, when people ask me those kinds of questions, I can’t think of something that I’ve done that is so naughty. The only thing I can say is that in my thought, usually in conversations, I can be naughty, depending on how comfortable I am with the person who wants to see that part of me. Most times, I’m very calm.
Does being the daughter of Tony Okoriji put pressure on you?
A whole lot of times, yes. Sometimes, I really don’t want people to know. He has great expectations of you. He puts that pressure on you. You can’t make mistake. You are not allowed to make mistakes because he’s a perfectionist and he expects that whatever thing you are going to do, especially creative wise, it has to be…and even in your personal life, you are worried that you may sometimes make mistakes as a human being, and you are worried about his opinion and what he’s going to think, because, again, it will rub off on his own personality.
Then people just assume your life is perfect because you are his child. So with that, I’ve been very careful. To this point, I think I’ve earned my place. Because at first, it used to be ‘you are Tony Okoroji’s daughter’, but now they say that’s Alex Okoroji’s father. Yes, it’s not very easy, but you know, I’m trying to keep a level head.
You two must have had several face-offs. Tell us about them.
Oh, always. Okay, maybe not always, but we have. I think the first time I wanted to act was a major one because I think he felt like he knew a lot of things that went down in the industry and he was concerned about whether I have the backbone to deal with those things, and whether I was prepared and ready.
It was a major fight. And just other several personal decisions, like when I wanted to have my baby. I think that was a concern too because he felt, you career is picking up, now you are on every television station, in fact you are confused, you have like three jobs and they are all clashing at the same time.
So why do you choose now to want to go ahead and have a baby? He said: ‘I’m not against you getting pregnant, but you can do this later. Why do you want to do this now?’ And I’m like, ‘look, it’s happening now. I want to do this now. I think I can combine work and family.’ So a lot of that happened. But he’s happy now.
What is it like to be married and what was the attraction about him?
I really don’t like to talk about personal stuffs. It’s so funny; I’m such a home girl. I have some friends who call me home girl because every time they call me, and I’m not working, then I must be at home. So they call me home girl and I will be like ‘people wey go hear you now no go believe say na true’. By my nature, I like confinement; I like to keep to myself. I don’t so much love attention.
I wanted to have kids even much earlier. I wish I had like a ten-year child now. I will be so much happy. So it wasn’t really a big deal because I’m the first child. I have five younger ones and it was my responsibility to take care of them. So it’s never an area that I feel it’s a problem or is going to be a problem. But I guess dad thought I had ambition and he wanted me to achieve those ambitions without any distraction. I’m still learning. I’m still trying to find myself.
I’m still work in progress. But it’s happening, especially with the radio programme coming on board, and I’m thinking where am I going to put other things? I can barely find time for myself.
But what attracted you to him?
I don’t know (laughs). I think it was more of somebody wanting what you wanted at a time. It’s not perfect. I don’t want to give anybody the impression that it’s perfect, anything can happen tomorrow. But just the fact that at the time you wanted to go through this journey, that person wanted to go through that same journey with you.
What has motherhood changed about you?
To put other people first. You know that you are responsible for someone else. You also know that someone else is dependent on you for practically everything, including living. You also know that you need to put their welfare before your own. And then you are running a household you know you can’t just walk away from.
You have to make sure that everybody is fine and take care of everybody. Even when you are at work, you have to call in many times to make sure everybody is fine. Yes, it kind of makes you a whole lot more selfless and not selfish. Yes, that’s what has changed.
One would have expected you to go into music like your dad.
Hmm, everyone has that expectation of me. It’s funny because I used to have a girl band when I was in high school. There is still music in the future. I just don’t want to rush it. I don’t want to confuse people.
I just want to make sure it’s one step at a time. You don’t want to appear like people who don’t know what they want to do in terms of career. But music is part of my foundation because I grew up listening to music. But you see, I’m mixing it up. I just did a movie and I sang in it, that’s it.
Name one screen play you’ve written?
I’ve written a lot. One was nominated at the AMAA’s 2009. State of the Heart. It was produced by RMD
How would you describe yourself?
Animated, passionate, that’s all.