Nollywood actress Calista Okoronkwo speaks on education and career

Nollywood actress Calista Okoronkwo speaks on education and career

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Calista Okoronkwo, an accomplished Nollywood actress, in an interview with Osei Akoto for Nollywood Voice, speaks on how she began her Nollywood career and the importance of education in the Nollywood film industry.

Nollywood actress Calista Okoronkwo

Nollywood actress Calista Okoronkwo

AV: How did your career as a Nollywood actress begin?

CO: My career as an actress began in 2005. My mum used to watch lots of Nollywood movies and sometimes, she would let us (my siblings and I) see them too. One day while I was seeing a movie with my mum in the comfort of our living room, I realized I wasn’t really paying attention to what was been said by the actors, rather I paid close attention to their expressions and gesticulations . To me, I was more interested in how the actors were reacting to events as they unfolded. After the movie ended, I waited for the end credits and I got a number of one of the producers, called him up and said I would like to be auditioned and considered for subsequent roles. He gave me a chance to meet and he gave me my first role that year in the movie, Too Late To Claim. I starred alongside major acts like Ini Edo, Benedict Johnson, Mike Ezuruonye etc. it was an exhilarating moment for me. Since then, I have never looked back. Prior to my meeting with the director, in secondary school, I was a key player in my schools’ drama society. So, let’s say I already had a bit of background knowledge of what acting was like. However, in 2006, I got admission into the University Of Nigeria, Nsukka to study Economics and the degree program ended in 2010. The period I was in Uni, I was not featuring in movies because I concentrated mainly on my school work. Then in 2012, after attending numerous auditions, castings and rehearsals, I got my first major role in the movie, COLLEGE GIRLS. It was shot in Ghana and produced by UCHENNA MBUNABO (CEO, One And Two Films), who is by the grace of God, my manager today.

AV: Who are your role models in your profession?

CO: It is hard to say who my role models are on this profession because the truth is, every actor is unique in his/her own way. However, there are some actors who I really have soft spots for. Some of these actors include, the delectable Liz Benson, Olu Jacobs and of course, his wife, Joke Silva. There’s something about the way these people interpret roles in movies they are featured in. That is what endears me to them, majorly. These actors always stand out. They are actors whose crafts speak volumes home and abroad. I loved Liz Benson after I watched her movie, True Confession as a child. Even as I was young and watched her, I could tell she was a brilliant actor. Then Olu Jacobs has this way of delivering lines and showing emotions that nobody has. He’s an amazing actor. I would totally love to work with him someday. I starting loving Joke Silva after I watched WIDOWS COT, her flawless diction wowed me. The way she carries herself with so much elegance gets to me in a good way. Her talent is raw and undiluted. She’s really a super-actor. I’m allowed to call her that.

AV: Who have you enjoyed working with the most in your career and why?

CO: I have worked with lots of actors and with every actor, there is always something new to learn. Amazingly, most actors I work with become my good friends eventually. Actors like Jackie Appiah, Kalsoume Sinare, Mercy Johnson, Frederick Leonard and a couple of other actors I have worked with are very grounded in what they do, so it is difficult to say who I have enjoyed working with most .I have been in more movies with Jackie Appiah in Ghana and Nigeria, so I would say I’m more comfortable working with her but at the end of the day, I always like it when I’m taken out of my comfort zone. Every time I work with Jackie, I learn something different from what I learnt the last time. She’s totally amazing and fun to work with.

Nollywood actress Calista Okoronkwo on set of a movie playing the role of a nurse

Nollywood actress Calista Okoronkwo on set of a movie playing the role of a nurse

AV: Which actors/directors have you always wanted to work with?

CO: I have always wanted to work with Pascal Amanfo, Paul Igwe, and Vincent D’anointed etc. Nollywood has lots of good directors from Obi Emelonye, Tchidi Tchikere, Lancelot Imaseun, Sobe Charles and a host of others but I haven’t had the opportunity of working with all of them. In future, however, by the grace of God, I will. As artistes, most times we sit and talk about some very good directors and how we would want to work with them someday. Pascal Amanfo is one of those directors. His creativity is out of this world. I got the chance to work with him in the movie, GOD OF SHILOH, with actors like Ngozi Ezeonu, Eucharia Anunobi, Clems Ohameze, my humble self, Solomon Akiyesi and a host of others. He did a good job with the script and it was a great movie. Another amazing director I have worked with is Paul Igwe, the producer/director of the popular television series, Clinic Matter. He gave me a shot in his series after he wanted a replacement for one of the female lead characters, ‘Nurse Titi’. He knows how to bring out the best in people, that’s what he did with me and that really helped me sink into my ‘nurse Titi’ character.  Recently, I worked with another very good director, Vincent D’anointed and as his name suggests, his directing skill is ‘anointed ‘. He’s a bag of knowledge and he is good at what he does. Then, the actors I have always wanted to work with are Jackie Appiah, Mercy Johnson, Ini Edo, Osita Iheme, Kalsoume Sinare, Yvonne Nelson, Eucharia Anunobi, and Martha Ankomah. I have done lots of movies with Jackie, where we either play as sisters or friends. My first and only movie with Ini Edo was in 2005 and till date, we haven’t worked together. I did the TV/online series, Bloodlines with Mercy Johnson, last year. It was my first time working with her and I learnt a lot. Kalsoume Sinare, I have worked with her as many times as I have worked with Jackie. Her energy at work is admirable. The movie, Paw -Paw My Love, was with Osita Iheme (Paw-Paw), where I played the lead female character. It was an amazing experience for me because I have always wanted to play alongside him. The movie, Born Again Sisters was with Martha Ankomah, where we were featured as sisters. I played the role of a notorious village school girl. That was another exciting shoot for me .I have worked with Eucharia Anunobi twice, in the movies GOD OF SHILOH and SECONDARY SCHOOL GIRLS. Both movies, I played her daughter. Finally, I did a movie in Ghana (ONLY YOU) with Yvonne Nelson, I played the role of her friend. With each one of these actors, there was something new to learn.  I have featured in over Forty movies to the grace of God and they include CAREER WOMAN, ANOTHER MAN’S WIFE, COLLEGE GIRLS, TOO LATE TO CLAIM, JACKIE GOES TO SCHOOL, AZONTO BABES, HELPLESS SISTERS, SCHOOL PARTY, PAWPAW MY LOVE, BARRISTER ANITA, SUPER MODELS, DEAR LINDA, FIVE WIVES, COMFORT ZONE, COULD THIS BE LOVE, WAR AGAINST MEN, SS3 STUDENTS, VALENTINE MADNESS, ONLY YOU, FAITHFUL SIN, BORN AGAIN SISTERS, BLOODLINE, THE BENJAMINS and a host of others.

AV: What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

CO: In my upcoming projects, you would be seeing a different Calista. I have done some international jobs coming out soon. There’s a South African movie production coming up soon, in it I would be playing the female lead, negotiations are ongoing. It’s also something to look out for. You won’t be seeing the ‘Calista’ you are used to because in most of these projects, I played roles that I’m not used to playing. So, it is entirely something different from the norm. I played roles that took me away from my comfort zone and stretched me way beyond my imagination. In the TV series, Clinic Matters, where I play the role of Nurse Titi, something new is coming from it too. We did a special edition of the series in Los Angeles, USA, which would be showing soon. It’s another one to look out for. I don’t want to say a lot about these projects. I would leave you guessing till they get out there. I can’t wait for you all to see what I have been up to. Then away from acting, I run an ushering company that provides ushers for events in Lagos, Abuja and Imo. The company is called Ushers Afrique. We have over fifty (50) models/ushers under us. Ushers Afrique is a year old and God has been good to us. In a short while, we have done some major events with some big names and the reviews are very good. I have Cordinators, who in my absence, take care of the management. My little sister is one of the Coordinators. My late dad gave me the idea. Plans are in the offing to branch out the company in London.

AV: How did going to university help/hinder your career as an actress?

CO: I won’t say going to the university hindered my career as an actress because it didn’t. Rather, it helped me solidify my ground in the industry. Unarguably, my career was slowed down when I was in university but it was my personal decision to put it on hold while I went to uni. I knew I had to do the first things, first. When I took the decision to leave acting and concentrate on my studies, I was setting my priorities and school was important and had to be done. As you can see, I am back to my acting after university and I don’t feel like I have lost anything within the years I wasn’t acting. Most actors are lawyers, doctors, Engineers, Economists etc., these days. Everyone wants to have some form of proper formal education, which I think is a step in the right direction. The way people relate with you when they know you have a BSc.BA, MA or even a MSc. is totally different from the way they would, if they knew you don’t have any.

AV: Do you have any interests of doing anything else in the industry such as directing or producing?

CO: I might have interest in directing and producing in the future but for now, I think I want to stick to acting. Acting is really vast and I feel like there’s still more to learn. If the opportunity to diversify comes in the future, I would take it but at the moment, I would pass. Till date, I watch movies I have featured in and I do lots of critiquing on myself. As an actor, even when people call me up or wrote me to say “I saw this movie of you and I think you were exceptional”. I would look for that movie, sit and see what I did in it. How I delivered my lines, reacted to situations in it and then I say I can do better. So to me, acting is no longer a profession, it has become my craft and a huge part of me. That’s why I said I don’t think I’m done with acting yet, maybe when I feel I have gotten enough of it, then I can branch out. For now, I hate to be ‘Jack-Of-All-Trades'( laughs).I got a City People Entertainment Awards for Best Promising Upcoming Actress,2014  after being nominated twice without clinching the award in the past. I have also gotten nominated twice  for Most Promising Actress, ZAFAA AWARDS U.K. and  two-times nominations for Most Promising Actress, BEFTA AWARDS UK. I still have a lot of growing to do as an actor and I’m not willing to give that up now.

AV: If you were not an actress, what would you be doing?

CO: If I was not an actress, I would be in the banking sector, in-line with what I read in school. I would probably be a banker and get a masters in Petroleum Economics. Although plans are in the pipeline for my masters while I continue with my acting. Still, I’m happy I’m exploring my acting talent because I love being my own boss. The regular 8am-4pm type of job won’t not have gone down well with me at all. If I wasn’t acting, I would have still started up something on my own, within or outside my field of study. I am really about harnessing my entrepreneurial skills because I’m really enterprising.

AV: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

CO: In my spare time, I listen to some good music. I love anything from Cold Play, Owl City, Hillsong, Casting Crowns, Songsmasta (My kid brother) and Sonnie Badu. Also, I sit around my mum a lot and do rehearsals In front of my mirror. There’s almost nothing she doesn’t know about me because of how much we talk. I used to sit around her and my dad a lot and he knew a lot about me as much as my mum, till he passed in December, 27 2015. I have this big mirror I use as my camera. Subconsciously, I would stand In front of it and take lines, then I would watch myself react to different situations. I hardly party except on special cases. I like my quiet time too because it helps me think straight and get my act together. I also work out a lot. Hardly a day passes without me doing my workout. A day without it makes me feel like I had an incomplete day. I like staying in shape.

AV: What is your favourite food?

CO: My favourite food is Yam and Vegetable stew. I cook a lot too. My favourite indigenous food is Ofe Owerri (Owerri Soup). As a matter of fact, as long as the food tastes good, it becomes my favourite.

AV: Do you have any advice for the young, aspiring, Nollywood actresses out there?

CO: My advice to the young, aspiring actresses out there is that they should go to school first. Formal education is very important, it empowers you and gives you a voice. Being an actress is not enough, having the passion is. Passion is the driving force you need to become that big actress. The ride to the top, I must confess is not smooth, it really is bumpy but with God on your side and focus, everything will gradually fall into place. Don’t be tired of attending countless auditions because that’s what builds you up and frames you for the task ahead. Don’t rush into it, grow into it like I grew into it. A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a step, don’t ever forget that. Thank you so much for having me.






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