Claret Onukogu talks about her debut in Nollywood in this exclusive interview with ADUNAGOW Magazine.
AM: Thank you Claret for taking the time to chat with ADUNAGOW Magazine and its worldwide readers. This is your second time to appear in our Magazine.
Claret: Yes. Thanks for the opportunity.
AM: How have you been since the last time we met you (MNIA 2009)?
Claret: I have been doing wonderful and blessed with the favor of God.
AM: Tell us what you have been working on lately?
Claret: I have been working on my PhD in Epidemiology; I have also been taking some classes for film production and screenplay writing. I will like to venture into the production aspect of entertainment, particularly filmmaking. Humanitarian work is still a priority in my life regardless of how busy my schedule might be; I create time to do charity work. I am currently shooting a program in the U.S that will be shown on Nigerian television networks.
AM: Awesome. We hear that you are now an actress in Nollywood? is that true?
Claret: Yes, that is correct.
AM: So, do you live in Nigeria now? Or are you still in the States?
Claret: I still reside in the United States, but I visit Nigeria occasionally.
AM: Tell us about your first time acting in Nollywood? How was it?
Claret: My first acting experience in Nollywood was exciting and intriguing. I did not know what to expect but the producers, directors and my colleagues were very supportive and nice. It was a rewarding and wonderful experience. It was swift and almost unbelievable how I was able to accomplish so much as a newcomer in the industry in a year. I had the opportunity to work with veteran producers, directors and actors who I used to watch on television and in movies as a child. I was elated. My acting experience was vast in areas such as soap opera, cinema (big screen), home videos, and even co-hosting a music show on television. My dreams came alive.
Claret: I like being able to portray different characters that are from various backgrounds and age groups. Assuming the role of a character and bringing it to life is a great feeling especially when it is done well and people appreciate my work; having the privilege to work with veterans as well as very talented new actors, actresses, directors and producers in Nollywood was wonderful and now that I am back in the United States, I miss the industry and my colleagues.
AM: So, what do you like least?
I did not like dismissing work late at night especially considering the security issues in some parts of Nigeria.
AM: How has becoming an actress changed your life? How have you changed?
Claret: I had mainly theatrical experiences before venturing into the mainstream media in Nollywood. Now, I am able to add professional acting experiences beyond theatre on my resume. Acting fulfills the urge in me to exercise my talent in the most useful way. It has always been a part of me since childhood but I wanted to extend my education to at least the graduate level before I professionally pursue an acting career. Acting is “Destiny Fulfilled” for me. When I get on set, I feel like I am having fun and getting paid. It is an amazing feeling when I wake up in the morning and actually look forward to heading to locations to work. When I am not working, I miss being on set.
AM: How much do you draw on your own experience when you act?
Claret: Many times I do because acting comes from a place of truth so it becomes easier to display certain emotions while portraying a character.
AM: What are you watching as far as movies lately?
Claret: I have been watching lots of Meryl Streep’s movies lately. I admire her ability to gracefully and effortlessly portray her characters.
AM: What was your first impression when you went back to Nigeria?
Claret: I was very excited to be home especially considering the fact that I received so much love, support and attention from individuals inside and outside Nollywood who really admired my courage to make an impact in the lives of the less fortunate and appreciated my talents and the work that I do. I had people, including queens from other countries, writing and encouraging me to continue the good work and despite my zeal to pursue an acting career and engage in humanitarian work, their support really boosted my energy level. I was particularly amazed at how Nollywood welcomed and believed in me because initially, before I became a part of the industry, there was a feeling of uncertainty in terms of acceptability, but everything worked out better than I ever expected. Thank God.
AM: How is Nollywood now compared to Nollywood 5 years ago?
Claret: The industry is changing. Nollywood is now in cinemas and I happen to be one of the faces appearing on the big screen. Many producers are taking the risk to redefine and create new faces of Nollywood. There are young and talented actors and actresses on the rise. Some of the actors and actresses who have been in the industry for a while have ventured into filmmaking and most of them attend renowned schools to study the art and perfect their skills. I was very impressed at the work ethics and professionalism, talent, enthusiasm and educational backgrounds of some of the rising producers and directors that I was fortunate to work with; they were simply amazing and continue to search for ways to introduce new materials and reinvent the ones that are already in existence. I am definitely impressed at the frequency of growth of the industry.
THE MIC IS YOURS
AM: Tell us something about you that people will never guess?
Claret: I am family-oriental, spiritual, charismatic, focused, and very humble. Also, people are usually amazed that I am incredibly down to earth and have strong interpersonal skills.
AM: When you’re not working, what are your favorite things to do?
Claret: Considering the fact that I am usually busy, I like to spend time with my friends and family during my leisure time.
AM: Are you in any relationship at the moment? If not, why not?
Claret: Unfortunately, I cannot answer any question pertaining to my personal life at this time. I will rather keep it private.
AM: Fair enough. If you could star in a re-make of a classic film, who would you want to play?
Claret: The classic film will be “Cleopatra.” I would like to play Cleopatra because I think that it will be interesting to portray a woman who was an actual queen and made decisions that mattered in her country although she was in the midst of men.
AM: What work are you most proud of?
Claret: In terms of humanitarian work, I am proud of the work that I did in Nigeria during and after my reign as Miss Nigeria in America. I got involved with well-known charity organizations around the country such as motherless babies’ homes, homeless shelters for the destitute, and was actively involved with the World’s Aids Day 2010 event held in Benue State, Nigeria that was supported by the UNICEF. As an actress, I played a role as an “Abuja High Class Lady,” in her thirties named Cordelia in a Nigerian soap opera called “Secrets and Scandals.” She was a rich, single business lady and had much affluence in her community. She was also the leader of a high class women group and had the ability to manipulate people into doing what she wanted. They called her “Standard Mama.” The character was strong with so much power. There was a big contrast between “Standard Mama” and Claret. It was a supporting role that I played alongside an actor and actress that had been in Nollywood for more than a decade. It surprised me how much the director/producer of that particular production believed so much in my abilities that he gave me such a strong role. At the end of the day, I portrayed “Standard Mama” well and my efforts was recognized and appreciated.
AM: What was your most challenging role? Why?
Claret: I don’t really have a most challenging role. Although I have been able to portray different characters well, most of the roles that I played so far have been challenging because they are all out of my character, but the first time I shot an intimate scene was a bit awkward for me because there were so many people in the room and it was my first time meeting that particular co-star who played my boyfriend/ husband in the movie and we had to shoot the bedroom scene immediately, but we played the scene very well.
AM: What will you say to your younger self if you could go back in time?
Claret: I would tell younger Claret “well done girl for carefully and strategically planning your future. Continue to put God first.”
AM: Any words of wisdom for our aspiring actresses out there?
Claret: Please ensure that you put God first because I held on to him tight and he did not disappoint me. Believe in yourself and your abilities because if you do not, it will show whether you are on stage or in front of the camera and welcome criticism. Always maintain a good and positive attitude toward the challenges that might come your way and to everyone even the individual with the least position on set because it will take you a long way. Talent and beauty are not enough in the entertainment world. Be principled, humble, respectful and pliable and maintain a good work ethic. Do not sacrifice your body for an acting role because chances are, it might become a cycle that you cannot break. Remember that people are always watching you on and off set.
AM: Thank you Claret for taking the time to chat with us. We wish you plenty of success and wisdom in your career.