Dedication. You have to be dedicated to learning all the time. Everybody around you, both the new and the old, you have to be willing to learn all the time. You have to believe that you are not perfect, learn from the new ones and the old ones, you have to listen a lot to the director, you have to watch a lot of movies that will inspire you, you have to learn to build on your charisma and your interpretation, delivery. Some of the movies that you do, you need to watch them; by so doing, you have to be your best critic. You must never believe that your best is good enough, you have to have that thing in mind that you are learning everyday and that’s what makes you to grow. You have to also pray for challenging roles, roles that you usually don’t do, that can take you out of your normal shell and put you in another realm and make something good out of you. And be dedicated to God.
What don’t you like about acting?
There is nothing I don’t like about acting because if there is any clause you have in acting that you don’t like, then you are not supposed to be there. Because as an actress, you have to love it to be able to deliver. But you might have your own rules. Your rules guide you. It might be based on your personal rules, it can be based on your environment, your society, but as an actress, you must love everything about what you do because that’s what gives you the drive to do it better and stand out among the crowd. So, there is nothing about my job as an actress that I don’t like.
So, what has being an actress done for you?
It has given me fame, it has given me connections and it has given me a lot of respect and acceptance in my society. I have also had a lot of bad side from the press, where certain things are being said about me. But give and take, the longer you stay in this industry, the more you begin to have an enduring spirit, the more you begin to take things very light, you begin to see it as okay, they want to make their money out of my name. Usually, in the past, I used to take it personal when things were written about me negatively in the media. But now, sometimes it might get to me, but after a while, I just overlook it. Sometimes it doesn’t even get to me at all because that’s the price you pay for stardom, because your private life is never yours. In those days, they used to say that around every rumour, there is truth or something. I can’t even remember that quote very well. But now, there are so many stories said that don’t have any element of truth or basis at all. People just wake up and feel let me write a story. Why they do that, I don’t know. But as an actress, you have to accept it that it’s the price you pay. But when you weigh it, you find out that the good is more than the bad. So, it’s all good. There is no profession that doesn’t have its challenges, but we are in the limelight. In the showbiz world, obviously, we are out there. It doesn’t mean that lawyers, bankers, doctors don’t go through crisis, challenge in their places of work. Everybody faces one or two challenges. We are trying to deal with ours.
Talking about having bad press, what is the worst you’ve ever heard about you?
I am not talking about that. If I keep repeating it and keep doing that, it doesn’t go away. It keeps recurring. So, whatever bad you said, I don’t remember and I don’t even want to remember. I want to move forward.
You are one of the few successful actresses in this industry. Tell us your success story.
It’s God. I give God all the glory because without God nothing is possible. We just try as human beings. I am a very hard working person, I love to work hard because I have a lot of responsibilities. If you are someone who has so many people who look up to you, you don’t even have a choice, you just need to work. And I’ve put all my efforts into acting. I’ve ben acting since 1998. Putting all my efforts into producing. I love doing business, I do a lot of businesses that come my way. So, I just work. I’m not someone who is stagnant. I don’t settle for one thing. I believe that as long as I have the strength and ability and wisdom to move, I can do so many things as long as it’s legal and it’s good business for me. And I’ve tried my best to get to where I am today.
Is it true that there is lesbianism in Nollywood?
I think that lesbianism is everywhere, but I cannot say whether it’s in Nollywood because I am not a lesbian. I don’t practice it, I cannot preach it and I have not had any of my colleagues walk up to me and say Iyabo, I’m a lesbian. I have not seen it. I hear it , I read about it , I go to clubs, I see ladies dress like men and they tell me they are lesbians; I don’t condemn them. Everybody has the right to live their life the way they want it, as long as it doesn’t affect my life. But I cannot say if truly there is lesbianism in my industry, because I’ve not had any encounter with them before. So, in that situation, it’s difficult for me to say yes, there is or no, there is not. You understand? Until that happens, I cannot say yes, there are lesbians in my industry.
What do you think is responsible for broken homes in the industry?
Broken home is everywhere. If you read cases of marriages that are breaking down everywhere, you will be so shocked. In the industry, we are so small; it’s just one percent. If you go to court today and they bring out all the divorce files, you may not even find one celebrity there. So, you are talking about nothing out of so many. You are talking about the industry alone, but if you are talking divorce in the country, it’s a national anthem, not only in Nigeria, but all over. In our industry, I don’t know, I’ve not even heard of anyone recently. I’m not too sure, but it’s bound to happen. It’s the society that we are in, which we live in. It’s not everybody that will like to be in an unhappy relationship. I’m one. I cannot compromise my happiness for anything in the world. Everyone has a reason, a story to tell. So, whatever causes it, I don’t know. I have said many things in the past about celebrities getting in and out of marriages and each time we keep hearing different stories. Not even the celebrities alone. Even people out there. I hear a lot of stories. Sometimes it’s the man, woman, family; sometimes it’s both of them, etc. I can’t really say. I can only talk about my own, but what I tell people; what I have learnt from my own experience is that before you marry any man, take your time to study the man. Same goes to the woman. Don’t marry because of physical appearance or material things. Let there be something you cannot explain. Marry your friend, someone you can tolerate, because both of you come from different backgrounds and everybody has one or two things that might irritate the other. So, you have to learn to tolerate all this and you can only know all this by courting that person. Take your time to court. A woman, your husband met you slim, I don’t know why you will give birth and you become fat. He met you the way he pictured his future wife; remain that way. If you are a woman, make an effort to look s*xy. I’m an actress, I don’t think I will ever want to leave my job forever. If your man is cool with it, he will marry you. Don’t say because I’m getting old or because people are harassing you, get married and the man says once we are married, you will no longer act, you accept when you know that you will still want to go back to acting. So, I think that this calls for dialogue. Let your partner into your world. It will help you to make a decision. I’m not saying that this is the only reason why marriages fail, but it’s one of the reasons. My own case was that I married a man that I didn’t court. I was not even acting then. I married a man that his way of life is totally different from mine. What he wanted was not what I wanted. I was young, I was 21, and I think he was 30. I was picturing a man that will go to work and come back, and he was picturing a woman that will understand. So, I asked myself if I wanted this; it’s a yes or no. It’s a choice I had to make, because no one will be there to mourn with me. But that’s a mistake that I made. If we had taken time to study each other, we would have known that there are things about him that I won’t tolerate. We wouldn’t have gotten married at all; maybe have baby or not. I don’t blame myself now because I have two wonderful kids that I thank God for everyday. I know of my friends who are looking for kids. I am not mocking them, but it’s a blessing for me to even have them and out of a disappointment came a blessing. Don’t try to change anybody.
Were you battered?
No, mine wasn’t a case of battering. I’ve never been battered by my man before. It was just a situation where my man wanted to be a bachelor even when we were married and it didn’t go down well with me. I can’t carry the load all alone with you there. I felt like if I’m going to sacrifice so much into this marriage, you have to do same. If I had taken my time, I would have known all these because it didn’t take me long to start noticing all that. People need to date. Even people who date still divorce. Sometimes you see a marriage of 30, 40 or even more years fall apart. So, it is just God. You just need to pray about it, you can’t really pinpoint the real reason why marriages fail. Nobody is perfect.
Is there any pressure or advice from your parents or kids to remarry?
I’m not one who can be pressurized, but if you give me such advice, I take it in good faith.
Do you think about it sometimes?
I don’t think about it. If it comes, fine; if not, fine. I don’t wake up thinking about it. I’m not saying that I’ve shut the door, but it’s only when you people (press) talk about it that I remember and talk about it. Honestly, I’m so happy. Maybe it’s because I have two kids and four others that stay with me. So, when I wake up and see those six kids, I feel so blessed. My work is doing well, so is my business. My mum is living with me and she is healthy, I’m healthy, everything is fine, I’m comfortable. I have a man in my life that I love very much. If tomorrow, the wedding bells come, and I feel that it’s okay, then we will dialogue. It’s an agreement. If it’s the person I’m dating now or someone else, we will still sit down and talk. It’s not the wedding that matters, but the home. I’m okay. Maybe it’s because of my children, but I’m comfortable and I’m not pressurized at all.
Why do they always make reference to Musiliu Obanikoro whenever they write about the man in your life?
I don’t know why they do that and I don’t have any comment for that.
What do you think of female up and coming actresses complaining about being harassed s*xually for movie roles in the industry?
I will say that they are not serious, because almost all the actresses in the industry are producers. We have Funke Akindele, Foluke Daramola, Mercy Aigbe, Funke Ojo, Fathia Balogun, Laide Bakare, Doris Simeon, Bukky Wright, name them. Hello! Where is that coming from? We are like 20 or 30 female producers. It didn’t even happen in my own time; how can you tell me you are being pressurized for s*x for movie roles when the female produce more than the male in the industry now? Most of them don’t want to go through the process. If you want to join First Priest Academy, you get the form as a student, you come to rehearsals, and most of them are the ones taking themselves to the producers for s*x. When they come to you and you tell them to come for rehearsals, you won’t see them. Then, the next time you see them with the male producers and they will say they pressurized them for s*x. How many of them have walked up to me and said that they want to act? I produce two to three movies a year and so are many of my colleagues. Gone are those days when we listen to such stories. It’s a choice. Don’t mind them.
There is a report that you want to drop Ojo from your name, why is that?
Many people got it twisted then. When I decided to name this place First Priest World, I put all my businesses under First Priest. Before, I used Iyabo Ojo Film Production. Ojo is not my real surname, it is my husband’s name. It has become a brand name for me and I didn’t want to use Iyabo Ogunro Film Production Company, because I already have a registered film production company, so I decided to use First Priest to register the company. So, we have First Priest Production, First Priest Academy, First Priest Outfit, First Priest World. Everything comes under First Priest. I’m still bearing Ojo because my divorce is going through a process, so I just decided to start building the First Priest Name so that when I’m done with the divorce, I won’t start changing my company’s name. People will keep calling Iyabo Ojo because it’s like a stage now, but my business name is First Priest. I’ve been separated from my husband for about 11 years. He has moved on and I have to move on too. But we are doing it gradually.
Since 11 years, what took you so long to start the divorce?
When we separated, we decided to give each other space and see if we could come back together, but it never happened. Maybe I didn’t even take it serious. It was just separation, not divorce. We took our time, living our lives. But now, we have started the process, we are taking our time doing it step by step. He is not in Nigeria. That is why it’s taking time, but he has remarried. So, he needs to move on and so do I. We are very good friends when it comes to the kids. He is close to his children. I needed to change the company’s name, especially now that I want to be doing more of English movies, so I need a name that will identify with that market, as well as my other businesses.