Omotola Jalade Ekeinde is a whirlwind of sass, sexiness, and sunshiny personality. It's easy to fall captive to the charm of the Nigerian superstar actress, and as she did when we made her acquaintance at a London dinner date earlier this month, we're still quite taken with her laid-back cool when she stops by to visit us at The Observer on her first trip to The Rock. With videocamera man in tow filming shots for the Ekeinde's soon-to-launched reality series, the woman who is Nigeria's highest paid actress slinks into a chair to sip tea and talk about her native Nollywood, the moral mess Hollywood can be, and her only celeb encounter that left her feeling like 'jelly'. (Photos: Naphtali Junior)
How's the trip to Jamaica been so far?
It's been very nice. I've not gone out much, my visit here is actually my first time out since I checked into the Spanish Court Hotel. The staff there was super-nice when I arrived they were waiting for me. It was a warm welcome when I got in but I was exhausted and just shut down and went to bed, after tweeting of course.
What's on your to-do list while here?
I am going to start with work before pleasure as I have meetings scheduled. I am meeting with the Jamaican Film Commission and I believe a number of producers in the local film industry. There's also a meeting with Kingsley Cooper of Pulse, who I am starting a clothing line with. I also have an entertainment-related meeting with the directors of Café Africa and should also meet some musicians there.
The Nollywood scene is quite huge here, have you ran into any fans?
Actually yes, at the Spanish Court. The woman who came to do my nails this morning had to run back to spa like three times because she kept on forgetting things and kept on apologising, saying: "I'm so excited, I forgot this". The hairstylist who came to do my hair recognised me as well.
At what point did you decide acting was what you wanted to do?
Actually, I never planned on being an actress; it was just fate. Initially, I wanted to be a singer; unfortunately, that's the career I'm still struggling with... ah, the irony! I was a model and went on an audition with another model and while we were waiting for the casting to begin, she said she was going on an audition for a movie and asked if I would mind accompanying her and I agreed to go with her. She went in and did her thing and came out and wasn't picked and was so sad. She asked if I wanted to go in so I decided if doesn't hurt to try and went in. I didn't even think they were going to pick me, I was 15 or 16 at the time and I got one of the lead roles. But my mom, who was very superstitious, wouldn't let me do it because it was a supernatural movie and I was supposed to play a mermaid. But the directors of the movie saw what I could do and then I just started getting scripts after that.
So, when did your breakthrough moment come?
It came in a 1995 film called Mortal Inheritance but those days in Nollywood you had to be a star in the mix before the public would know you. It's an industry now. But back then, you had to be inside the family, people had to know you, you had to be the 'it' girl to get the roles. So for me when I came in, I was the 'it' girl. I had someone like a godfather who is probably still one of the biggest producers in Nigeria, Zeb Ejiro so he spotted me and told every director and producer 'you need to look for that girl'. He really propelled me as every movie that was coming out, I would be the first to get an offer.
You started as a 16 year old in the industry and basically grew up in the business. What's the highlight for you?
Watching Nollywood grow because when we started it was a struggle. As I said, I stumbled into it, it's not like I planned this path so I didn't have any fanciful answers for anything so everything was raw. When I began, I had recently lost my dad and my mom was very protective because in Nigeria when girls lose their fathers, they tend to go wayward. Mom was very strict with me; so the minute I said I wanted to be an actress, she was like 'Oooo' as the impression of actresses were high school dropouts and prostitutes.
How does your mom feel about you now?
Unfortunately, I lost her in 2001 but she was very proud of me. The industry changed... I don't want to take credit for it but a few of us changed the industry. Before you wouldn't say I'm an actress, it was taboo... you would say I'm a student. But now you have children in school saying I want to be an actor or actress.
Outside of Nollywood, which actor would you most like to work with on-screen?
Leonardo Dicaprio. He's a true method actor. Everytime you see a DiCaprio movie, you never see him, you see the character he is embodying. For me, he's my ultimate actor.
Are you interested in making a leap from Nollywood to Hollywood?
They need to make the leap to me. What am I supposed to do in Hollywood, they've done it all. I mean, did you see The Hunger Games? I thought it was the worst movie on Earth. It's ridiculous, I mean when you've explored everything and you start to kill children, then I think you've lost it. It's the most pathetic, saddest thing I've ever seen on motion picture. I can't believe anyone allowed that film to come out... it's as sad as the movie itself. The movie is about people watching children killing each other in gory ways, using axes, arrows and knives. It's one of the things the American Government and Hollywood need to sit down and discuss because sometimes there are some freedoms of expression that can be too much. Freedom is good but it has to controlled.
So as an artist yourself, are you against the freedom of artistic expression?
I am, but I think there should be limits because art is crazy and anything can be defined as art. It's liberty but there has to some kind of constraints. That's why we are human beings and not animals.
Do you have issues with the films Hollywood is making?
I think they need to come back home. Hollywood needs to find Africa. We can teach them a few things. We can learn from them because obviously they are superior when it comes to equipment and technique, so of course, we have to give that to them and we are willing to learn from them. But when it comes to stories and acting, they need to come to us.
What's in your handbag?
My MAC make-up bag, hair clip, purse, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, gum and a fan.
Flats or stilettos?
OMG! There's nothing called flats for me...what does that mean?
Jeans or LBD?
I love them both. When I'm in jeans I feel like a rock chick and can be gritty. When I'm in a dress I feel I have to cross my legs, act like a lady, be Omosexy.
What are your fashion must-have?
I spend all my money on handbags and shoes. I have hundreds of pairs and shoes, they are falling over. I have a walk-in closet, my husband was gracious enough to do that for me.
Who's your style icon?
Kim Kardashian. She has my body type so it's easy for me to relate to her. It has nothing to do with her person as I don't particularly like her but I love the way she carries herself. She understands her body and knows what works for her body. The clothes never wear her, she wears them.
Who's your favourite designer?
I am leaning a lot towards Roberto Cavalli. I am a very loud person and I like a lot of animal prints and colours, he's very va-va-voom and designs for curvy women. When it comes to shoes, every girl loves Louboutins and red is my best colour, so what's not to love? I also love Steve Madden because I'm a rock chick.
What fashion trend do you think should die?
Truly, I don't think any trend should die because I think there is fashion for everybody. What would not look good on you would look good on somebody else because of their body type. I've made mistakes in the past because I wasn't dressing for my body, I was focused on the labels. I think there is a dress for everybody because some dress that you think is awful, some other girl might wear it and you're like 'Damn! That's not bad after all".
Who does your hair?
In Nigeria, two guys style my tresses. I have a guy, Ola, who is my hop-up guy so wherever I am in some part of Nigeria, he can hop on the plane and come do it. But when it comes to the salon and the big boy, there's Ugo, who operates the Make Me Beauty salon in Lagos, which is the first Hollywood-type salon.
Who does your nails?
Everybody does them. I'm always on the move so it's hard to have just one person. I have three girls who come to me in Nigeria. I don't go to salons... they come around.
Music, you say, is your first love. What's happening there?
Oh, my cross! Music is where my heart is and it's the irony I'm having to struggle with. I have a second album that I completed. I haven't released it yet though that's how finicky I am. My first album was really big even though the pundits and haters don't want to accept it. There was a song that was so popular called Ba. My first album was pop, but the second is going towards what I originally wanted to do which is rock.
Who are your rock inspirations?
I love the whole works...classic rock, Tina Turner, Bon Jovi, Phil Collins. I don't do heavy metal .
Which musician would you like most to record with?
I met him recently actually. I don't go to concerts because I don't like crowds. The only two persons I would go to see in a concert are Bolton and Beyonce. I saw Bolton in Los Angeles, I was so busy but I said lock my schedule, I don't care if I get fired, I am going to go and because I was so interested they moved mountains. The PR people told him and he said he wanted to meet me before the concert. I couldn't believe myself, I was a mess, I was like giggly and trust me, I am not someone who gets starstruck and I became a jelly and he kept hugging me and I was like 'Omotola, get it togeteher'. That's how much I like him. I like Phil Collins too but I wouldn't act that way because he's not sexy.
What's the perfect date for you and your pilot hubby?
I come across as a loud, outgoing person and people think I like to go to clubs and actually I don't. I'm a homerat. My best times ever are when I'm in-doors. When we can get someone to take the kids away and we lie to them and say we want to go somewhere, and we spend time together at home in our familiar territory.
Is it hard juggling motherhood and a career when you travel so much?
My four children range in ages from 10 to 15, and three of them are actually taller than me or my height now. They are wonderful kids and never had any issues with them, maybe because I am a strict mom as I was raised by a very strict mom. Because I am younger I am able to balance it out and not be as strict as my mother was but I have raised them to understand what I do and develop self-confidence and be outspoken. I have rasied them to realise I am not always going to be around so they accept and understand. But my husband and I have a good relationship so that when I'm not around, he's there and vice versa so we make sure at least one parent is always with the kids. We are a close-knit family, the kids don't really go out much so we make the house extremely comfortable so nobody feels bored.
Do you spoil them?
I have to tell the truth, I do spoil them with gifts because we don't really allow them to mix much. We believe your family should be your core group so when they want to go out, there is either me or my husband with them.
What else is in the cards for Omotola?
I am going to writing a column, Omotola's Diary for OK magazine in Nigeria. I also have a reality series that should be starting soon. I am filming here while in Jamaica. I was talking to my husband last night and he was like, "Please don't call me and tell there is something new on the table". I don't what else really. I don't push things away. I believe opportunities come because God wants them to so when it comes I think it would be ungrateful to push them away. When opportunities come, if I feel I have the passion for it, it moves in me. I don't care about failures, I am not afraid to fail, I am afraid not to try. I am moving with the flow and living life.
Where do see yourself 10 years from now?
I don't know for sure but I know I will be more successful. That much I know.