Allure Cover: Monalisa Chinda-Coker: Reaching For New Heights
Screen Diva, Monalisa Chinda-Coker, is set to make a grand return with the Season 4 of her TV talk show, You & I with Monalisa.
This is in addition to the opening of her Film Academy in Port-Harcourt. The beautiful mother of one, made her debut in the film industry in 1996 as an undergraduate in the movie, Pregnant Virgin.
Since then, her career blossomed reaching from one height to the other.
In 2014, Monalisa took her talent to TV production.
The establishment of a Film Academy in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, where she tutors and mentors young aspiring actors and producers, is the latest added feather to her already decorated hat.
The elated actress, shares with Allure her inspirations, excitement, as well as challenges of successfully running a seasonal TV show in Nigeria.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen you on the big screen; tell us what you’ve been up to?
You’re correct in that. I haven’t been in as many films as before. However, I have starred in some recent cinema hits such as; Night Bus to Lagos, LovePolice and a TV series called, Entrapped. Incidentally, I also starred in the much anticipated Bling Lagosians by BAP Productions, which premiered last Sunday.
Of course, the rest of the last year has been spent preparing and shooting the Season 4 of my TV show – You & I with Monalisa, in addition to opening my Film Academy in Port-Harcourt. The first set of students are in the process of shooting their first film, which I can’t wait to see. It will be their final project followed by graduation.
As you can probably tell in my voice. I’m very proud of each and every one of them and the whole team.
Establishing a film academy is a different ball game from acting. Why did you think you needed one now, and what training experience did you bring to bear?
With over two decades as an actor, I would say my experience is rather obvious or shall we say, apparent. Wouldn’t you? However, to answer the first part of your question; Its not about me needing an academy, but more about me creating a space for aspiring actors, producers, screen-writers, directors, technicians etc, with natural talents to train and acquire the key skills for their varying professions.
As you know, the Nollywood I started in is very different from the Nollywood of today. Our films are travelling abroad, they are doing well at international festivals and also, winning awards. This means the world is looking at us. New entrants are coming into the industry, therefore, it’s beholding on those of us who are custodians of the industry, to share our experiences, and pass on the knowledge we have acquired to youth, so they can build on the legacy we leave for them.
It is in order now to add “TV Show Host” to your profile. Tell us about your show “You&1 With Monalisa” and how long has it been on TV?
Yes, please go ahead. It’s a deserving accolade considering we are now in season 5 of a show that many thought I couldn’t pull off. But God had other plans, and my wishes and prayers were aligned with His plan for me.
I have always wanted to host my own TV Show; to have a platform where I can hold conversations with everyday people, explore their journeys in life and business, and also, get to hang-out and have a good chat with my friends and colleagues from the industry. It is a dream come true! We are about to launch Season 5, and it still feels like a dream. I am inherently grateful to my sponsors for continuous belief in me, which has been both encouraging and uplifting. My talk show also gives my fans an overview of things and subject that matter to me.
The trailer of some of the episodes from the new season, has a fun and youthful vibe? What informed this new direction?
I think it’s time for my fans (both young & old) to see the fun and youthful part of Monalisa. I also wanted to add my little bit to promoting young Nigerians. There are two segments in the show that’s purely youth-centric and that’s because, 60% of our population is made up of under 30s. So, it would be foolish to ignore such a large chuck of our population, a lot of whom are also contributing to the GDP and expansion of the job market in Nigeria, especially, in the digital space.
It’s also inspiring for other young people to see what’s going on in the country, and strive to create their own legacy. I strongly believe we have a nation that’s overwhelmingly ambitious, ingenuous, tenacious and driven. It’s called the Nigerian spirit, so let’s celebrate it!
You have a segment on entrepreneurs; where you feature SME’s in the digital space. Why?
As I mentioned before, I believe we need to support the efforts of our young people in this country. The world is changing, Africa is shaping, Nigeria is a part of that newness. Our young people are the custodians of the future. Tiihey are the ones that will set the path, and water the fields for a new Nigeria; the Nigeria that I want for my daughter and all our children. So whatever I can do to support young entrepreneurs, is always my pleasure.
Luckily for me; my objective is also very much aligned with my sponsor’s (Fidelity Bank), who were awarded the No1 SME bank in Nigeria.
You also have a segment which I particularly like called TOP of THE POPs, tell me about that?
I love music. In particular, I love Nigerian music and I love dancing. I adore the Nigerian classics such as Hi-life (Rex Lawson, Bobby Benson, Osondi Owendi etc) and of course, the jazz-funk-Afrobeat of Fela etc. But there’s a compulsive energy to the new Afro-pop or Afro-beats genre that’s engaging and addictive. You can’t ignore it, even if you don’t agree with the lyrics. As a Nigerian, there is no way you won’t dance. So as a creative, I know how hard it is to get that all important breakthrough. Every showcase, platform or stage is critical, since you don’t know who might see your performance. My TV show is watched by millions, my fans as well as colleagues in the creative industry. Hence, we came up with the TOTP segment to showcase up and coming &unsigned music artists in Nigeria. We took the name from the old British music show; Top of the Pops, which back then was the No 1 music and dance show for young people.
How long will this new season of “You & I” be on our screens?
12 weeks starting from July this year.
You are a graduate of Theatre Arts from the University of PHC, what was your first job out of university and what advice would you have for new graduates who are navigating the job market try to get their career started?
I remember that time well. I remember it like yesterday. Unknown to many, my first job was in a bank. I was a junior marketer for a certain bank that was on Broad Street then. I worked hard at it to ensure I met my monthly target. I wanted to be good and impress my superior. I did this till Nollywood came calling.
My advice to new graduates is: your first job is not your last job. It doesn’t define who you are or what you become or even your future path, but the discipline certainly prepares you for future careers and opportunities. So do it to the best of your ability, and focus and learn as much as you can while you are there. I promise that you won’t regret it.
What are the challenges of putting up and sustaining a TV show in Nigeria?
I’ll be frank with you, like all projects in the country, it’s tough. Raising the funds, creating content, location, schedule, and finding the right people who believe in your vision.
All of those are the key ingredients that’s made my show a complete delight every time we shoot a new season. Yes, of course, we have our creative differences, but we iron them out, because at the end of the day, we are all about the same target – success!
Actually, I have to say, I have been blessed with a brilliant team, some of whom have worked with me from season one, and others who came in this last season. Together, we’ve been able to create an enchanting and magical season 4! Also, I know I’ve said it before; I could not have done any of these without the enduring partnership with my sponsors.
What do you do to relax?
I like reading, so when I can, I like to bury my head in a book, sit quietly at home and enjoy the peace. I was just reminiscing with my girlfriend the other day about how my mother would buy thick novels for us to read. I guess that’s where my reading habit came from. When I’m not reading, I enjoy dinner dates with my husband, family time with my husband and daughter or girl –time with my girlfriends. I also enjoy going home to the East to spend some mother / daughter time with my mom who is also my best friend.
Where is your favourite holiday location?
I would say the UK! Yes it may sound cliche but when you talk about an escape route from Nigeria, for some weird reasons my thoughts strays to the UK! I love the UK. There are other fine cities to also visit ; Leeds, Glasgow, the spirit of the people!
I also love Greece because of its great theatrical and ancient history. Greek Art, Drama, Culture, traditions etc, so being a practitioner, I always like to get to the root of anything I get involved in even if it takes me travelling zillion miles to get answers to my quests.
What is your quick 5minutes beauty routine?
Cleanse. Tone. Face-wash. It’s that simple for me. Nothing major, I don’t have the time or patience for ceremonious beauty routines.
Who are your three favourite Nigerian fashion designers?
Moofa Designes because she knows my body and my curves. There is Lady Maker, simply put ; she knows the outfit that can make me win the multimillion naira contract. I don’t joke with that designer.
I also love Larrie O “ made to measure” ; he makes just pants for ladies. I am not a fan of trousers, in fact, I detest them! But when this young chap and I had a conversation on how he’d transform me if I d give him as chance, I gave him a terse look, obviously having my doubts about his ideas. At the end, I decided to give a not-too-sure nod to his request and boy, he did surprise me!
How would you define your style?
Simple. Feminine. Elegant.
What motivates you every morning?
The gift of a new dawn, and a desire for continuous growth, and a relentless desire to continue to add value to the lives of others, and contribute to a better Nigeria.
When was the last time you had a belly laugh?
Last week Sunday morning, on the phone with my girlfriend, who was telling me about something she saw on social media. Let’s just say she has a way with language that just cracks me up.