Morris, Meg and Linda: Rising Stars of Nollywood
By Pamela Echemunor
Linda Osifo, Meg Otanwa and Morris Kay Sesay; these three phenomenally gifted artistes – all well read and all entrenched with a passion for the arts retreated from their comfort zones to pursue a career in acting and film making. With hope in their hearts and a longing spirit to succeed, these three are finally getting the acclaim hard work and determination brings.
In this interview, they talk about the challenges of transition and their visions.
MEG OTANWA – From Banking To Acting
Idoma born actress, Meg Otanwa left a career in the banking industry for acting. She considers herself the proverbial “Girl next door” despite having a BA in English from the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management from TIME Universite in Tunisia and a Business degree from Universite Jean Moulin, Lyon France. She is fluent in six languages including English, French, Spanish, Yoruba, Hausa and her native language Idoma. She has featured in various blockbusters including October One, Being Single and Before 30. In this interview, she sheds light on her transition from banking to acting and her plans for the future.
What was growing up like for you?
Growing up was a lot of fun. I come from a large family so there was never a dull moment. It was always great watching my siblings play and do things together, that’s the beauty of family.
Why did you decide to swap banking for a career in entertainment?
I need to clarify here that I was never in commercial banking. I used to work at the African Development Bank in Tunis, Tunisia; it is a multilateral development finance institution.
I moved back home because at that point in my life, I was ready to give acting a shot. I was content and grateful with the level of exposure and experience I got over time and felt like it was time to move on to another phase of my life. Acting has always been a passion and I knew that passion was not going to get anywhere if I didn’t leave the banking sector.
How has the transition been for you?
I honestly didn’t know what to expect moving back home to be a part of the industry. But I must say it’s been very interesting. Above all, I am very grateful to God for how far I’ve come and where he is taking me. The journey has only just begun.
You are very well read, with both a BA and Masters Degree in English and Human Resources respectively, do you plan to fall back on those at any point in time in your life?
No knowledge is ever wasted. I use the knowledge from my life’s journey in my day to day activities. So I won’t exactly say ‘’fall back on’’. As an actor, one constantly needs to pull from one’s pool of knowledge. So my degrees and experiences are very much in use and will always be because they definitely add value to my craft.
What was your experience like studying abroad?
It was eye opening, I was exposed to different cultures, different languages and I learnt to be independent.
You were part of a stage production on the Chibok Girls. Could you tell us about it?
The Chibok Girls- Our Story is a testimonial theatre piece based on the curious circumstances preceding the kidnapping of the girls from the secondary school in Chibok, the event itself and the aftermath. It was directed by renowned stage director, Wole Oguntokun. It starred myself and a few other actors alongside three of the real victims of the unfortunate incident.
It was a very difficult period for me personally because I not only got to hear their stories first hand, I also got to see them, eat with them, touch them and work with them. What was astonishing was their bravery.
These young girls are brave, strong and intelligent. Like you and I, they have dreams and are resolved to making something out of themselves as they continue to pray for the safe return of their friends and school mates. It shows that no matter who we are or where we are from, our dreams are valid.
You have worked with producers like Desmond Elliot and Emem Isong, What was that like?
It was a lot of fun really. I worked with Desmond Elliot on the movie titled, I’ll Take My Chances. It was my first movie and it was a very interesting one. The movie was produced by Emem Isong and I acted alongside Ini Edo and Bryan Okwara.
Tell us about your role in HUSH and what it’s like working with RMD ?
HUSH is an MNET Telenovela, it tells the story of Bem Tsenogu played by Richard Mofe Damijo, his antics and the dynamics of his relationships with his sons, workers and the people in his social circle. I played the role of Koko who is the head designer in the House of Tsenogu Fashion House owned by RMD’s character. It’s such a blessing and an honour to be a part of such a project. I do not take it for granted at all.
Working with RMD gives me joy, he is one of the most genuine and down to earth people I’ve ever met. Very high spirited and charged with positive energy.
What makes you stand out?
There is only one Meg Otanwa in the entire universe with my face and life journey.
What do you think the industry needs to improve on in order to grow?
The industry needs a viable structure where movie makers can have a distribution network, and recuperate their investment on return when they make movies.
Do you plan to produce and direct someday and what kind of films should we expect from you?
Naturally, that will be the next step. But it is a lot of work as I do not intend to give up one for another. It’s something that will happen over time. As a story teller, my job is to tell stories that impact the world around me.
When you get a script, what do you look out for first and what kind of character will you say no to?
I read in pictures, so I’m attracted to pictures that I see myself in. I find that I’m more drawn to characters that are far removed from who I am as a person. I guess that’s the actor in me, wanting really challenging work.
Do you have any regrets so far?
Not at all, I am the sum total of my journey and ‘’mistakes”. I’m grateful to God for that.
Linda Osifo – Fulfilling Her Dreams
Linda Osifo, Meg Otanwa and Morris Kay Sesay, are gifted artists, well read and with passion for the arts, retreated from their comfort zones to pursue a career in acting and film making. With hope in their hearts and a longing to succeed, these three are finally getting the acclaim hard work and determination bring. In this interview, they talk about the challenges of transition and their visions.
What inspired you to return home after 15 years in Canada?
What inspired me to return home after 15 years in Canada was that I wanted to pursue my career in acting. As an individual, I am focused and want to build an outstanding career in the movie industry. Nigeria’s Nollywood, ranks 3rd in the world behind Hollywood and Bollywood. I felt that starting off in the movie industry here in my home country, would offer me the opportunity to achieve most of my goals.
You have contested in several pageants in Canada. How was the experience for you?
Yes, I was 1st runner-up Miss Nigeria Entertainment Canada in 2011 and 2nd runner-up Miss Africanada pageant 2011. The experience for me was very meaningful. I would say it has helped my self confidence and self awareness. It also provided me a platform to start my career, and other benefits that I use in my daily life today.
What was growing up like for you?
I had a decent childhood experience. I am the first daughter of my family. I’ve been blessed enough to have both of my mother and father around me while growing up, which of course, made life a bit easier. However, much was expected of me being the first daughter. So that made me grow up faster than I would have done.
As an upcoming actress in Nollywood what challenges have you faced?
Nollywood is a very big industry. There are a lot of talented individuals both A-listers and upcoming acts. The challenges I have faced mostly was trying to convince producers and directors to give me a chance in their projects. Also, it’s generally never easy when you are a new kid on the block; there is a lot of competition out there.
How has the transition back home been for you after being out of the country for so long?
It’s been quite a journey. I left Nigeria when I was about nine years old. Unfortunately, I never got to experience some great things and skills that I would have loved to acquire in my country. The transition sure wasn’t easy in the beginning, trying to cope with things such as unsteady electricity, different work ethics, heavy traffic, etc. the list goes on. But so far, it’s been a great journey because the grace of God has truly been keeping me strong and steady through it all.
Tell us about your current character in the “Desperate Housewives Africa TV series”.
In the TV series, Desperate Housewives Africa, I played the bold, daring and sassy character called, Rhetta Moore who is Edie Brit in the American version. She’s a very interesting and fun character for anyone to act as. She’s the sultry and yet the troublemaker amongst the housewives. She’s a divorcee of four different marriages and loves to compete in everything, especially when it comes to men. The character allows me to be bold and creative.
Did you always want to be an actress?
Not to sound cliché but yes, I have always wanted to be an actress ever since I was young. I loved the presence of being on a stage and performing in front of an audience. I partook in my first stage play at the age of 12 in my elementary school. I got involved in church drama, minor modeling, fashion shows, and all sorts at a very young age and I guess the rest has been history.
What do you think the Nollywood industry needs to grow?
The Nollywood industry has grown. There has been a dramatic growth in Nollywood in the past 20 years since its inception. Newer and fresh talents are being showcased more; it has expanded its market internationally through cinemas and online platforms. I believe what the Nollywood industry needs more is a concrete support system from the government, to push producers to produce more films which will enable more jobs for directors, actors and crew members.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I’ve been doing more of movies lately; I have completed five movies that are likely to be out this year. I’ve also been working on another major TV sitcom, Uncomplicated that should be hitting the TV screen very soon. Apart from entertainment, my team and I are working on creating a platform for young children with speech disorder, something that is very passionate to me apart from acting.
What should we expect from you for the future?
There’s a lot that is yet to take place. But overall, you should expect one thing from me, which is ‘Greatness’.
Morris K. Sesay – The Producer’s Burden
Sierra Leonean born Nollywood producer, Morris K. Sesay, left his home country with big dreams and, after many years in Nigeria, the vibrant actor and producer is finally getting much acclaim. With over 15 movies to his credit, Sesay is just getting warmed up. He has starred in most of his productions including “Birthday Bash”, “Paradox” and “Kamara’s Tree”. He plans to do more.
In this interview, he talks about the challenges and vision for his film career.
How long have you been a movie producer?
I have been producing movies for about seven years now. It has been an eye opening experience but its success with a few hiccups along the line.
What challenges have you encountered so far?
So many challenges. I mean, one invests so much time and energy into a project only to be swindled and have your spirit broken. I have lost money and made some bad decisions but, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t exchange it for anything in the world.
How do you cope with actors or crew members who act unprofessionally during production?
That happens quite often but, in this trade, one must learn to exercise patience as much as possible. Most times, if an actor or crew member is messing up, I just try to go on with the production and if it doesn’t work, I let everyone go and move on.
Tell us about your most recent movie?
My most recent movie is “16th Anniversary” and it’s directed by Frank Raja. The film is a love story that tells about the value of family and bringing a family together.
What was growing up like for you?
Growing up was fun. I grew up in Sierra Leone. I was the second child out of four kids and my parents got divorced when I was still very young. It didn’t really affect me much because my mom never made us feel like we were missing out on anything.
Did you always want to produce films and act?
Oh yes, very much so. I always had a flair for acting since I was young. I always wanted to produce and act. And I’m glad I accomplished my dreams. I hope to appeal to a wide audience.
Was it difficult breaking into Nollywood as a foreigner?
Not at all. I count myself as one of the lucky few. I always knew the right people in the industry and had the right connections to break into it which made it easy for me and I am thankful everyday for it.
What do you think the industry needs to improve on?
There are a lot of things the industry needs to improve on and we are gradually getting there. In terms of production, we’re not a 100% yet, especially since we are lacking basic necessities; like electricity not being always available and the cost of production is on the high side.
Would you say you are getting a good amount of appeal from your target audience?
Yes, definitely. My movies have been doing quite well, thankfully, and I try to improve on each project I work on. Hopefully, in time to come, they will get even more appeal.
What project are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on my “16th Anniversary” project. I can’t say so much about it but expect something exceptional.
Are you single?
(Laughs) Yes, I am single.
You have a son. How do you handle your job and juggle it with him?
Well, currently, I’m co-parenting. It’s hard being away from my son but I need to work in order to provide for him and, fortunately, his mother is around to help out most of the time.
Do you have a particular movie genre you shoot or do you work on all genres?
I work on all genres; I try not to restrict myself. I am a creative person and I research a lot so I try to go beyond the norm and push boundaries.