Clarion Chukwurah is a household name among Nollywood stars. She has a large following, having been plying her trade on stage, on TV and in home movies for more than three decades. For some time, she took a temporary break from the movie scene so as to lay a strong foundation for her pet project.
However, since her return, the mother of two has received some awards and featured in a number of movies. In this no-holds- barred interview with DUPE AYINLA-OLASUNKANMI, the respected thespian talks about her acting career, NGO and love life, among other riveting issues.
PART from the movie, Apaye, which was premiered recently, what other projects do you have at hand?
I just finished Femi Lasode’s Stolen Treasure. Right now, I am on the set of A Mother’s Call. It is a soap opera produced for Mnet and directed by Aquila Njama. It is a production of St. Matthew. I am playing the role of a doctor, who is the lead character. It is about a woman who loses her husband and the challenges she faces in raising three kids all by herself, in addition to a major hospital she owns.
Apaye is seen as your comeback movie after your brief absence from the movie scene. What attracted you to the script?
Apaye is not my first comeback movie after leaving the scene. That Apaye got this massive publicity does not mean it is my comeback movie. In January, Hustler was released and there was the Last Supper, which is yet to be released. There is also Canaan Land, which is yet to be released. But you can see the trailers on YouTube. So, Apaye was not the first movie I did since I came back last year.
Why did you accept to do the movie?
I was drawn to do the movie after reading the script. I had this feeling that I was reading about myself. I could identify with that woman, the mistakes she made as a young woman, the challenges she faced as a result of the mistakes and the determination to surmount those challenges. I could also identify with the struggle to rise above her situation and her conviction in the fact that education would make everything alright for her children.
I could identify with her belief in education, hard work and that her salvation does not lie in the hands of human beings but in what she is able to make of it. I was amazed and felt it was a privilege to play Yepayeye to give it everything because I felt I was the best person to play that role. I had so much to bring into that role and do justice to that character. I appreciate the impact she made on her children and her community by getting them educated. And it’s all I have been doing in my life; so, I had so much to bring to that role. Therefore, I said to myself, ‘This is worth doing.’
Was the script specially written for you because of your background?
Don’t forget that it is a true life story. It’s not about me; it’s about a woman called Yepayeye. She is an aunt to President Goodluck Jonathan who died about a year ago. Everything you see in the movie is the life story of the woman called Yepayeye. By the time we were shooting the movie in September last year, the woman had only been dead for five months. When I left the set, after shooting, it was exactly six months she died.
What challenge did you face playing that role?
Actually, the greatest challenge of playing the role was that the movie was shot in her house, from when she was born and every place she had lived through her struggle to Port-Harcourt. The greatest challenge was that I was acting the movie in the midst of people who knew her. From the day I got to the set, everyone had his or her eyes on me, expecting me to be Yepayeye.
They knew her, loved her and were mourning her. They wanted to see that I talked like her, including her mannerism, gestures and expression. I put in everything that God has given me: my talents, my training, my experience and skill. Before we were halfway through, everyone was calling me ‘Mama’. At the first premiere in Bayelsa, the daughter in-law came to me and said, “I don’t understand it. You have never met her, so how did you do it? Each time we watch the preview, my husband and I have goose pimples. It was like we were looking at her”. And I said, “Well, as Yepayeye would say, it was hard work and God’s blessing.”
How easy was it for you to get into that character?
It was not easy for me. First and foremost, as I always do, I prayed. Secondly, I studied my script. Thirdly, when we got to Yenegoa, I did my research. I spoke to Yepayeye’s last child, Faith, in my hotel room for about three hours. I grilled him about his mother, his fondest and most painful experiences, how she interacted and how she was as a young and an old person. So, I was able to see Yepayeye and key in into her mannerism.
For me, as an actress, when I got to her home, I looked at her picture for a long time and I could feel her around me. It’s spiritual to play someone else. It’s about how much you want to give and I wanted to give all. I was so intensely into it that I felt sick five days into the shoot. But falling ill did not stop me from working until it was finished. It was about how deeply I felt about that woman. For me, it was about what she represented. Without exaggerating, she represents 50% of the women all over Africa that have or still have passed through what she went through. It’s either their husbands died early or they are actually in polygamous marriages.
It could also be that they are in monogamous marriages, where they get to do all the work. I was not just going to do justice to Yepayeye, but I was going to throw her up for millions of African women to see themselves in her, to see that there is hope in what they are going through and for them to double their efforts. This is because, at the end of the day, there is light at the tunnel.
You were recently in Kenya. What was your mission there?
It is about my NGO, the Clarion Chukwura Initiative International. We have offices in Nairobi, Kenya. We have a project in a community slum in Soweto, Nairobi. It is called Shiloh Community Centre, where we assist in daily feeding programmes in the course of primary and secondary education. We also help orphans and those who have mothers, but who cannot take care of them. We assist them with uniforms and health aid for environmental education and sanitation.
We collaborated with the Rotary Club of Nairobi of which I am a member in February, which is the love month. I had to leave at the end of January. There is a team in Canada that partners the Rotary Club of Nairobi in giving out 5,000 bed kits to 5,000 less privileged children. For them to benefit from that, I had to be in Nairobi in the distribution and our feeding programme for the first quarter of the year.
While you were away, how did you manage the project outside home?
I have a representative who does that and I am assisted by my friend, the past president of Rotary Club of Nairobi, Anne Vanlanwe, and others.
How many teens have you been able to help so far and how frustrating can it be?
Helping them does not discourage me; rather I feel angry. In my experience with teenagers, I don’t get frustrated. But I get frustrated when you are in your 20s and I have been with you for like eight years. That’s when I get angry because that tells me that you don’t have the drive, you don’t feel sorry for yourself and you don’t want to move forward with your life. I get angry because I have seen that their problem is the weakness under peer pressure, the influence of the American society and culture that has a negative influence on our young people.
It’s only when you work with them that you know. It is introducing drugs like codeine to them from the high school that leads them to the wrong direction. Also, there is a high level of corruption in the leadership of this country. People who do wrong are not being punished for it. It has had a very negative effect on them such that when you are teaching them about loyalty, they see people doing the opposite. They just listen to you and you see on their faces that they don’t believe you.
Given the chance, what would you love to correct about your past?
You know what? It is not because Clarence is successful today. Clarence knows the truth and those who are close to me know the truth. I didn’t have Clarence because I was too helpless to get rid of his pregnancy. I had three sets of friends: there was Dr. Ojikutu( pauses)… when I was in the University of Ife( now Obafemi Awolowo University), he was ready to do it, free of charge. There was St. Lawrence in Ibadan and St. Jude here in Lagos.
But each time, I said no. I lost my father when I was 11 and he left a message that he was going to come back to me through my first kid. So, when I got pregnant, it kept ringing in my head that my father was coming back to me. Even my ex- husband knew how much my father meant to me. It was on his 30th anniversary that I was able to let go of the hurt of his death. Having Clarence was deliberate. I just had the conviction that my father was coming back. And from when he was born, everyone calls him daddy, including my mum.
Does that mean there will be a competition between you and your daughter in-law?
No, there is no competition. I had a daughter and lost her at seven weeks. The wives that Clarence or Brian will have are going to be the daughters that I never had. They are going to be like Ladele, whom I lost. Even my nieces know how much I love them. So, Clarence, not being married yet, though his mind is set about it, is something that I have to accept. There is this independence that I allow my children to have. I have always had this understanding because of what happened between my mum and me. That is, the fact that you are an individual, you have your own life to live.
Resentment comes into it when I tell you how to live your life or who you should be. I had this running battle for a while with my mum, until she came to accept the fact that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I had the gift to be a lawyer, a brilliant one for that matter, but that’s a secondary thing. So, I don’t leave room for resentment between my children and me. If we have a problem, we talk about it; we must always be able to talk about it.
My first project, when I started my initiative, was parenting; that is to talk about relating, because we had a lot of children who could relate to me, but not with their parents. When I was leaving for the set of Stolen Treasures, I said to Brian, “Daddy, you are now 17. When I come back, we have to talk about sex, so you know about condoms, about diseases and getting a girl pregnant, so you don’t make any mistake. Next year, when you turn 18, you are expected to have your first girlfriend.” That is the way I relate to my children.
Is that not giving room to laxity?
You see, it’s the commitment. When you start early, you are a very loving mum. But in a split second, you can change to being very fierce. They see those two sides of you, so they don’t want to see the other side. They only want to be seeing the loving side because they know the other side is brutal. I don’t care if you are as tall as the ceiling, I will beat the living daylight out of you. I will put you on lock down- that means nobody comes to visit; you don’t leave your room and you don’t go anywhere. I will cease your phone and you can’t watch the TV let alone play the video game. That can last for a month.
Is it because of your children that you decided to cut out marriage?
Yes. I made a choice. I had Clarence, but I didn’t get married to his father. I got married to Brian’s father, but it didn’t work out. I made a choice and if I had to be married, my focus will have to be divided and somehow there will be some psychological upheaval in my children. This could be because of the fact that my father died while I was a child and my growing up was about my mum. I grew up in an environment, where the woman was focused on raising her children, so I made a choice. My mum would have gotten married again, but she made a choice.
What is your opinion on burning out fat while aging?
With me, it’s about looking at myself in the mirror and seeing what I like. If I don’t see what I like, then, I have to work at it to see what I like when I look in the mirror. First and foremost, you have to love yourself.
You still look beautiful. So, what is the secret?
I will say I am one of the luckiest African women. But then, I take very good care of myself. I am disciplined about what I eat. I’m a food person; I’m a liquid person; I’m a fish person and I take a lot of the Chinese tea and vegetables. I am someone who believes that cleanness is next to godliness. It is very personal to me. I am a spa person; I take care of my skin and I use the spa every month, no matter how busy I am. And naturally, I’m an elegant and graceful person; I carry myself well.
How do you manage marriage proposals coming your way, knowing that you cannot be considering a relationship?
(Laughs) Why does it have to be marriage? Why can’t it be a relationship? No, no, no! I think a relationship makes it easier for both of us, you know. We each have our different and established lives. There are certain things you don’t start expecting the person to give up. This is because marriage means you have to give up one or two things. When you start expecting somebody to give up something for you, then, you start expecting cramping that person’s style. I think it is more convenient to love each another and each other’s best friend. Just be in a relationship and it will happen.