Nollywood thespian, Collette Orji, may be perceived as new to the industry but she says she has a lot up her sleeves. Recently nominated as Vanguard’s sexiest woman, the stunning actress, screenwriter, model and entrepreneur speaks to OVWE MEDEME on issues surrounding her career, romance, family and a host of other issues.
WHAT has Collette been up to? I have been very busy with a lot of things, shuttling from one location to another. Apart from that, my mum was ill and I had to travel out of the country with her for treatment. That was December last year. She had Arthritis which developed to a serious condition so I gave my mum the whole of my December and January; I was busy taking care of her. My family is my ultimate. I took her to India for a surgery. Even when we returned to Nigeria, I still had to be with her; I was like her doctor within that period, a reason I couldn’t do any other thing.
How is she faring now?
By the God’s grace, she has bounced back to life. She is great now; she walks around now and even wants to continue with her business. I’m the one begging her to take her time.
You are known to feature more in epic movies, why is that?
Apart from being skilful in role interpretation, I think I also have this African woman look. I guess that is why they call me a lot for epic movies.
What do you mean by African woman look?
I’m an African girl, I’m a curvy girl. I’m not a tiny or skinny girl (Laughs).
How did you venture into Nollywood?
I grew up in Cameroon but came to Nigeria in 2003. I once visited my aunt and met her having dinner with Stella Ukwuegbu, a well known Nollywood actress. Right there, I indicated interest in acting and she promised bringing me into the industry. Not long after, I followed her to the Actors Guild of Nigeria’s office in Enugu. There I was told to register. I got a job that very day. At the end of my registration, I found out there was an audition going on which Stella immediately asked me to participate. I went for the audition and I got the job which happened to be my first.
What was the title of the movie?
It was titled Two Outside. It had stars like Jim Iyke, Patience Ozorkwor, late Pete Eneh, and so many others. I played the role of a girl who was raped by Jim Iyke. Imagine, in my very first movie, Jim Iyke was raping me. I was excited going for auditions and seeing myself in movies. Even at that, I never really knew then that I could take acting as a career.
Since then, have you taken a break?
I went back to school after about three or four movies. I attended the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu. I got admission to read Chemical in Engineering in 2004. I’m this serious person when it comes to my academics. I’m a bookworm. So I had to focus on my studies. In 2008 when I came out of school, I decided to give myself to the industry; I chose to settle down with acting as a career.
I travelled in November 18, 2008, to Asaba and got myself a one room apartment. I bought a small mattress of five thousand naira, and a small gas cooker. In fact the house was empty, but from that day, I started shuttling from one movie location to another. In fact, I was everywhere. For two years, from that time till 2010, I was just everywhere; people got to know Collette Orji and what she was capable of.
Your diction is quite sound. Where did you pick it from?
I was born and raised in Cameroun. I think I have the Camerounians diction. I pronounce things the way I learned them in my own English school in Cameroon. At times when I go for an audition I see Directors correcting some people on how to pronounce certain words. And these are words I grew up knowing how to pronounce. I didn’t struggle to learn them, I don’t fake them. I think it is just in me.
How have you been coping with sexual harassment from producers?
Fortunately for me, I already had a breakthrough movie before I relocated to Asaba. It was titled Hidden Treasure, staring Ramsey Noah, Olu Jacobs, among other known names. The success was massive so everybody already knew me. They started giving me jobs based on merit because they had seen the stuff I was made of. They harassed me with jobs, not sex. I never found myself in a situation of sleeping with a producer or director before being given a role.
Besides, I don’t call it harassment. I’ve dated a producer but it wasn’t a sex for role thing; everybody knew about it. No producer would like to put his money in the wrong way. If a girl warms a producer’s bed for one month, she might still end up not getting the job if she is not good at what she does. I’ve seen some movies that are not too cool, and I can tell you why is not cool. When you see the crew on that job it would tell you what has transpired.
So far, in your journey through life, what have you learnt?
I’ve learnt that life is difficult and that money doesn’t come easily. Because of this, I don’t lavish money. I’m not this extravagant person. I don’t do hyping. I don’t join the crazy celebrities to attend all the events around the world. I don’t live fake life. I’ve always had money because I like working hard. I’m an only daughter. I have five brothers who are all very wealthy, but I don’t depend on them. They always assist me but I don’t depend on them. A lot of people are suffering and I like extending a hand of help. That is why I opened an NGO. Generally, life has taught me to always remember those who don’t have; to always give!
What is your NGO into?
It is a health related organisation called Collette Orji’s Foundation. We are partnering with an Indian based hospital. The hospital has about eight branches in India. The arrangement is for them to carry out certain health services for indigent Nigerians through the NGO. There are lots of people who are sick and unable to take care of themselves.
We would meet them and ascertain how much they can afford for their treatment. Whatever they have, my foundation in partnership with the hospital would take care of what is left. There are some wealthy people who are going to come in also to lend a hand of support. Whatever kind of illness, the hospital will treat the person; if it’s what they can’t treat, they will link the person up to another hospital.
If acting had failed you, what else would you have been doing?
I probably would have ended up as a TV presenter. I was this kind of a pretty girl in science class and everybody was wondering if I could succeed. But when they saw me dissecting an animal, doing it better than my male counterparts, they are always surprised. So I could have as well practiced what I read.
What was growing as an only daughter like?
Growing up in the midst of five boys was something else. When they wore their trousers, I wore mine; when they put on their cap I put mine on, when they go, out I join them. When they do their Tupac stuff, I do same (Laughs). In fact, I was a boy for a very long time (Laughs).
How do you cope with male admirers?
I love them. They are tempting at times but the bottom line is that I’m a Christian. I work with my conscience. I try to do the right things. And the fact that I don’t lack makes me able to resist all the temptations.
Have you ever been heartbroken?
I’ve never been heartbroken. I think I’m a good girl; people love me. I meet very nice people all the time.
How soon should we expect you to walk down the aisle?
God Knows I’m not desperate to get married. I’m still enjoying spinsterhood. It is so sweet being a spinster. I have lots of married friends. They are not inspiring me at all to get married. They are always telling me that marriage is not easy. I will get married one day, but right now I’m more interested in having a baby than in getting married.
Does that mean you have not met a man that sweeps off your feet?
I want Christiano Ronaldo. My friends would say I’m always saying that every day. I don’t know why. I don’t know whether it’s because I love Real Madrid. I don’t know why but I’m crazy about him.
How many times have you gone nude on a movie?
I can’t go nude in a movie. Nudity is not sexy. It’s cool wearing a bikini or being in a mini, exposing little things.
If you were to insure any part of your body, what part would that be?
My guy said he would insure my boobs, and I was laughing. I don’t have big boobs but they are lovely.
Aside acting, what else are you into?
I recently launched my clothing and cosmetic business. It’s called Coco House and is situated in Enugu state. I felt I should start up whatever I want to start from home. I’m from Anambra State but Enugu is my home. I’ve always been a business oriented person. I was even doing business when I was in school.
Congratulations on your recent vanguard nomination as ‘sexiest woman’ (actress). Why do you think you deserve it?
Thank you. I think I’m a real African woman. I’m not skinny and I think I’m pretty and sexy.