By Jemi Ekunkunbor
Before her foray into Nollywood, Shirley Igwe was already a known face in the entertainment circle having been in popular commercials such as Delta Soap.
A Mass Communication graduate of the Imo State University, Shirley also went to Cranfield Aviation School, South Africa to do a course in Cabin Executive Abinitio and flew for a short time with a private airline before returning to Nollywood.
Somehow, she was in and out of Nollywood as she also took up appointment with the Imo State government as Principal Protocol officer with governor Rochas Okorocha; a position she held for about two years.
She also attended the New York Film Academy were she horned her skill in movie production.
Born Ogechi Igwe, she took on the name Shirley when she got into Nollywood as she considers it a more suitable name for the entertainment industry.
Shirley has not only established herself as an actress, she has also gone on to produce two films to her credit, The Agreement and Middle of Nowhere billed for premier in May.
In this encounter, the pretty, soft-spoken actress, talks about her work, her experience in government, the recently held AMVCA and her plans for the years ahead.
When did you get into Nollywood?
I got into Nollywood in 2011 and stepped out to work. Then I stepped in again, did some movies and stepped out again when I got my appointment with Imo State. I was there for about two years.
Why were you going in and out of Nollywood, didn’t you know what you wanted?
No, that was not why. Nollywood has a way of not making you rely on their income. And I am someone who likes to be financially independent. I like to be in charge of my income. When I looked at what was going on around me, I told myself then that this can’t feed me. So I stepped out to do other things. But I came back again because this is a passion that won’t just go away. It was after my assignment with the Imo State government that I decided I was now ready for Nollywood full time.
How did you meet the industry when you got back?
I must say it wasn’t the same way I left it. I met a bit of fresh air and I felt, yes, I could do something around here. There were lots of improvement; the quality of movies had improved. The environment was more welcoming and financially fruitful. I saw that young talents were being given opportunities. I was very happy and that was how I took the decision to start producing my own films under my company, Push Entertainment.
Apart from producing your own film what else have you done with Push Entertainment?
Push Entertainment is only for entertainment. For other things that I do, I have other companies. I have Shirley’s Mega Concept which I use for interior designs. And my beauty products. I also have Daughters’s Love Foundation for old people, 60 years and above leaving with diabetes.
So what have you been doing since you got back?
Since I got back, I’ve been shooting back to back, I’ve been getting jobs, I don’t know how it happened but, I’ve been going from set to set and also producing my own film. I have produced The Agreement which has sold nation wide. So it’s been financially fruitful which is why I am staying back. If it’s not fruitful, I will leave again.
You sound as if being in Nollywood is all about what you make. Is it all about the money?
Not really. The truth of the matter is, if it is not financially rewarding, you won’t be able do anything about your creativity. Lack of finance can kill creativity. That is why I can produce my own films. I earn well as an actress, and then I can produce my own movie. I just don’t want to feed from being an actress. The industry is evolving, that’s why I took it upon myself to do something for myself by producing my own movies.
How challenging is producing?
It’s very challenging. It’s been God helping me. The first thing I did was to go register myself as a producer with the Association of Producers of Nollywood. When I got there, they were very good to me and encouraged me to get back when I have problems either with directors or actresses. After the registration, I went on to do my first movie, The Agreement. The second one is Middle of Nowhere. If you read the script, nothing will stop you from shooting it. I sent it to the US for sound score so the premiere will be in May. I really cannot wait for the world to see this movie.
Considering all the changes, taking place in Nollywood and all the movies we are churning out, how well would you say we are telling our stories?
When you see a movie like 76, 93 Days and of course, Oloibiri, then you’d know that we are truly telling our stories. As a film maker, your passion for film making will grow. Things are getting really deep. The cinema is getting really serious and we are going global. The stories are well told. If you watched a movie like 76, it is history well told. That’s why it won several wards at the AMVCAs.
How challenged are you as a producer?
After last weekend, every producer will have to sit up. What story are you telling? If you are telling a romantic story, how well are you telling it? If it is history, how well are you telling it? When October 1 was released, it was a well-told story which we all loved; here we are again this year with 76. The stories are getting better and I am glad that there are people standing up to that challenge.
What is your impression of the AMVCAs?
First, it was fun. Let’s not forget that. It was also inspiring. It was an event that challenged you, seeing all the movies that won awards. As an actor, it will challenge you. You’ve been acting for a while now so, what is stopping you from winning awards? As a producer too, movies are winning Best movies, what are you doing to better your work? Those are some of the thoughts we came away with. So in all, it was very inspiring.
How would you assess the selection of the films nominated and those that eventually won?
An award like the AMVCA has to be on merit. I have seen movies like 76 and 93 Days and they are fantastic movies. And when you consider that it was a matter of voting, then you’d understand that the viewers must have loved it so well to vote. So they have allowed the better one to win.
What do you think this will do for actors and producers not just in Nollywood but across the continent?
You are going to see a lot of competition after now from both actors and producers. There is no doubt that everybody wants to do well. You’d also find now that producers will scramble for good actors to be in their films. Trust me, this competition will be healthy and as a result more good films will be produced. It’s a healthy competition and it’s good for Nollywood.
Do you see producers collaborating with actors from other countries for their films?
Yes. There was this togetherness and live between East Africans, South Africans and West Africans. I see Africans as a whole coming together to create master pieces, exporting African films to the globe. So, African cinema is going global.
What is your slant in story telling?
Well, the movie, Middle of Nowhere was a romantic comedy. If you read the script, and watched the movie, you’d agree that these are the problems we have in most Nigerian homes. The workaholic husband, the wife who feels neglected and depressed. These are the difficulties most marriages face.
I chose to tell that story because I’ve heard a lot about marriages, the crashes etc. Some marriages don’t even last up to three months before they start having issues. Then, you have women who struggle to ensure and stay on because they are afraid the world would laugh at them and she has no where to go. I chose to tell that story and trust me, it was well told.
What are your plans for the future?
With God on my side, I am going to be telling stories and telling them well. As an actor, if I get a script, I am going to make sure I interpret my character very well and bring it to life.
Who would you like to be on set with?
I would love to be on set with Rita Dominic. She is doing so well right now. She has come a long way and winning awards.
Who gave you your first break in Nollywood?
My first break into Nollywood came with Andy Best in 2011. I did the movie with Yvonne Nelson, Yvonne Okoro and Mike Ezuronye etc. That opened many other doors for me even while I was still in school.
You already had a face known before you went into Nollywood. Did that help?
Yes, it did. I was a model before Nollywood. I was doing commercials. My face was on billboards. I didn’t do runway because of my height. Many of the people who know me today met me through modeling. It’s been a transition.
You just generally circles through the entertainment industry. How have you fared?
It’s been good so far, it can only get better. I am a work in progress.
How is life like as a celebrity?
When I walk into a place I get attended to quickly. There was a day I was in a queue in a bank. Somebody came and called me out of the line and took me in to help me. The manager was very nice and I was treated very specially. In fact, the manager told me that next time I come there, I should walk straight to his office. That was nice.
Image is very important to many celebrities. Does it put pressure on you?
Sure it does. But I was very lucky getting something to wear last week to the AMVCA. I didn’t plan to go. It was at the dying minute that I decided I would go. So I had to quickly get a dress to wear. All the accessories I already had. So this time, it was quite easy getting something to wear and it was a dress that got people’s attention.
When you are not working what do you like to do?
When I’m not working, I like to relate and be with my family because sometimes, this job takes all of your time. You don’t get to see family and they are wondering if you are still part of them. So when I’m not working, I try to be with them.
Where is your travel destination?
That will be USA, New York particularly because I have friends and family there. But if there are places I’d love to go, it will be Miami and Egypt.
How would you describe your style?
I like to wear something outstanding and glamorous and to wear it right. I don’t like too much exposure of body parts.
If you were shopping, what brands would you go for?
I shop every where. I am a shopperholic. I love Luxury by Feyi.
What don’t you like about fashion?
I think it will be the aspect of wearing high heel shoes. That’s why I always keep my flats close by somewhere. If it’s just me, I would probably wear only sneakers but I need to raise my height.
What can’t you do without?
I don’t usually wear make up all the time but I can’t do without a lip balm. I like my lips properly moisturised.
Moving from entertainment into politics what was it like for you?
It was work, work, work. I was so busy, I aged overnight by five years. Everything mattered at that time for me. I was so serious. I was so mature too because I carried a lot of responsibilities on my shoulder because nothing must go wrong. I had to show myself able to the tasks. But that experience has helped me a lot. Today, I can handle anything that comes my way especially pressures, because, I have seen different types of pressures. Having that experience was something I loved at that time. It helped me get mature in life.