Born about 56 years ago, Nollywood actress Rachael Oniga is a household name. The Delta-born thespian in this interview talked about her marital life and her career.
How do you react to negative stories written about you?
I ignore it, sorry! I ignore it. And do you know why? I’m not as bad as people think.
Which of your past roles always put a smile on your face?
(Laughing) – I’m thinking really hard. Let’s see which film. Several! Not one! I think Freedom in Chains, which we shot for a UNPA. That’s a branch of the United Nations and it was on female child, female education and to stop early marriages, rape, child abuse, so many things. That’s one of the movies I can readily remember. Out of Bonds, The Gardner, Widows, The mourning after. Yeah, those are some of the others.
What has acting done for you?
Hmmm! That’s a good question. I don’t think anybody has asked me that before. It’s the fulfilment of all my dreams. I think that’s the greatest thing that acting has done for me. It’s been a fulfilment of my professional dreams.
…And what has it undone?
Hmmm! What has acting not done for me? It’s not made me a proper business person (Laughs), because you know, in Nigeria, we don’t have structures in place to safeguard actors.
Have you ever considered marriage?
Of course, I do. Like every other human being, I do. Marriage is such a huge step, it’s deep. Marriage is the relationship that is the most difficult of all relationships. If I can’t see someone and say oh, yeah, I wanna be with this person for the rest of my life or even think it, I won’t do it. I say that all the time and people say, oh my God, she said she would never marry, I can’t believe it. That’s not what I’m saying (voice rising). I’m simply saying if I don’t see someone that I believe I can look at for the rest of my life, I won’t do it.
What are your preferences in a man?
He must be someone that has principle, integrity, someone that is kind, funny, and clean (chuckles). Very clean! Someone that is compassionate. You see, it’s not about being tall, dark and handsome, it’s not about money. We would work for it together or whatever. My mum didn’t marry my father as a rich man. So, I don’t put much emphasis on money. It’s not about money or looks; it’s about your heart and your head. So, for me, I have to be in the person’s heart and head, intellect and feelings.
What comes with being a star?
I hate the word, star. There’s no such thing as star…
Okay, what comes with being a known face?
You do get recognition anywhere you go, people are sometimes happy to see you; it’s unbelievable, the warmth that people extend to you on the road and sometimes, people just say the most innocent things that make you so happy or makes your day and you are like oh, whaaooh! I mean, somebody walks up to you and says I bought a film that you were in, like when I did Widows, The mourning after. A woman saw me and said I went through that and watching the film got me to a point of self realisation that I didn’t have to do all the things that they asked of me. And for me that was perfect. So, those are the things that make me happy about being an actor.
How about the disadvantages?
The fact that everybody asks me for money (raises voice). I don’t understand that. I buy your film, give me money. Why? Do they realise that’s my job? It’s a profession, it’s a job. Unfortunately, our medium is television, so we are seen everywhere. But it’s a job like being a banker, being a doctor. Do you see bankers and say give me money; I go to your bank, I have an account in GTB, so give me money or you tell a doctor, come, I use your hospital, give me money. But they do that to us. Everywhere you go, filling stations, people on the streets, supermarkets, they all ask us for money.
How do you see acting?
I see it as becoming somebody else for the purpose of telling a story.
So, what makes a good actor?
Your ability to get into character, identify a character, understand the character and be the character.
What inspired you into acting?
I think my sense of drama. I’ve always been a dramatic person, I love being the centre of attraction. For a long time, I didn’t really think about acting as a profession, even though it was something I did on a regular basis. I put up performances at home, I sang, danced, and disturbed everybody. It was when I was in the secondary school I realised that really this is what I would love to do with my life.
Given your long stay on the screen, what has been sustaining your career?
It is the love for acting. If I don’t have passion for acting, I would have quit since.
What don’t you like about being an actress?
Everybody seems to think they have a right to talk about you at any point in time. I mean, we are Nigerians, we have a culture, we have traditions, we are a certain type of people, and we are not oyinbo, at the end of the day. We are more concerned about other people’s feelings usually. But I notice that it’s like we’ve lost that or we don’t have it when it comes to our
actors. We figure that because we watch them on TV all the time, we own them. People don’t care if you have a bad day or a good day. When people come up to me and they say hi, I always smile and say hi back, because these are fans, these are people who have contributed immensely to my growth. Without them, where are you? No where! But you know, when you see pictures on the internet and the sort of comments people make, you start to wonder – is there a personal fight between them and this actor, because some of the comments are unnecessary.
What do you like most about being an actress?
Being able to become somebody else for a short period and send a message across through the story.
Where do most actresses miss it?
I think they never really know who their characters are; they don’t understand who they are playing, because sometimes you get a script that doesn’t give you the background story of the character that you are playing. It is your duty as an actor to do the background story, where’s the person from? You can tell these things pretty easy. By the way the person speaks, you would know if they were educated. For the family background, you would know the kind of schools they went – primary schools; this gives you an idea of the sort of circles that they moved in and the sort of person that they should be. But most people don’t think about it – the character. They don’t want to understand the character; they do not totally become the character.