“You Can’t Survive Without Competition” – Lota Chukwu

Winning the hearts of many is no easy task, but that is one thing Lota Chukwu does effortlessly. Delve into the world of the girl who plays Kiki in Jenifa’s Diary. Enjoy!

TM: Let’s meet you.

LOTA: My name is Lota Chukwu. I grew up in Benin, but I am from Enugu state, and I just recently moved down to Lagos. I am an actress, and I studied Agricultural Economics and Extension at the University of Benin. I am the last child, and I have 3 siblings.

TM: Switching from Agricultural Economics to Acting, how did your parents take it?

LOTA: I don’t think they would have allowed any of my other siblings, plus I am the last born and you know the last born benefits. Also, I didn’t tell them immediately, I waited to do something first and then, I took my first pay home and said, “See what they gave me for doing this” and my father said “Is this what you want to do with your life?” and I said “Yes”. And then he turned to my mother and said “Do you have anything to say?” and she says, “Is she not your daughter?”

TM: How did you start acting?

LOTA: Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen did a talent show in Benin, back in 2011 and I passed; it kind of gave me an assurance that I could actually do this. Especially because I did it on a whim, like let’s just do it. That was my first job, Studio 113. So I went from that to a couple of jobs here and there, basically to pass time and then after a while, I decided to take it serious and do this for real. I attended Royal Arts Academy and then I heard about Jenifa, I went for the auditions. Jenifa was my first major gig.

TM: When you first landed your role in Jenifa’s Diaries, how did you feel?

LOTA: It felt surreal and took some getting used to. I went there that day, but I actually did not want to audition. I went there to cheer my friends up. My friends and I were just about to finish Royal Arts. I saw one of my teachers there and he was like, “go and write your name” and I said “No, I just came to cheer my friends up” and then my teacher said that if I didn’t go to write my name, I shouldn’t say hi to him. My friends were like on number 20, 21, etc. and I was among the 80s. I ended up getting auditioned at about 4pm when almost everybody had left and as luck would have it, when it was my turn, Funke was already there to watch the auditions. And then I did it, and she gave me a call back and gave me the role I was to be playing.

TM: The publicity that has come with acting as Kiki in Jenifa’s diary, how do you cope with it?

LOTA: I remember one day I was in church, it was a Sunday service at House on the Rock. So the pastor said, “Turn to your neighbor and say Jesus is my advocate” and then the lady beside me just turned and said “Jesus is my ….ahn Kiki, how is you” and everybody just turned. Sometimes it is great. There was a time I went to the cinemas with a friend and I checked my mentions after the movie and saw a tweet that read “Ahn, Kiki is that our boo?” and I showed my friend and we all laughed about it. They think it is funny actually. Sometimes, I feel honored when it happens, that someone watches my show, someone feels the need to walk up to me and say “hi”.

TM: That means you answer anybody who walks up to you?

LOTA: I try to answer anybody who walks up to me and says hi, because the hardest thing about any job is not the job itself, but the things that come with the job. It really doesn’t matter what you are going through in your personal life and if you are rude to someone because you are having a bad day, nobody would make excuses for you. All they would say is you are rude. I have been lucky enough to work with Funke Akindele and I see how she responds to people, so that is an influence.

TM: What should we be expecting from you this year?

LOTA: Basically, to do a lot of movies. I was in Dognapped, a movie which is going to be released by Easter break and it is about a dog that talks. The cast was really amazing, and I had never done comedy movie, Jenifa is a series yeah, but this is a movie. Then there is Que Sera Sera a short film that is going to be on YouTube.

TM: How were you able to connect with the character Kiki in Jenifa’s diary?

LOTA: I think to an extent, for you to play a role, there is like a bit of that character in you. There is a point where your character in real life, and the character of the role you are playing meet. So, there is like a balance or middle point. I think for Kiki there are a lot of middle points for us, I didn’t have to fake the voice, I am pretty calm, so I think there are a lot of similarities between us. Also, the thing about series is that overtime, you just become that character because you keep playing that character over and over again, so, over time, you just become that character and it gets easier.

TM: Most of the times, on social media, twitter especially, you put up motivational tweets etc, why exactly?

LOTA: I like to think that I have a true passion for everybody to be better. I want everybody to always do better, so even if my tweet is that little ray of sunshine in your day even for just a minute, it would make my day. So, it is both for them and for me. Sometimes, when I tweet motivational stuff like that, it is not just for people, it is also like a reminder to myself.

TM: Away from the camera, who are you?

LOTA: I would just say Lota is a “filler of vacuums”. That is a title I picked up for myself recently.

TM: Do you still have to audition for roles, or is it easier now to land roles?

LOTA: I hope I haven’t gotten to the point where I don’t have to audition for roles. There is this false air of success when you become popular when they are actually two different things. Just because you are popular doesn’t mean you have arrived. I am an actor. I would almost always audition.

TM: Don’t you think there is a lot of competition in the movie industry?

LOTA: If there was no competition, it would be no fun. You cannot survive without competition, because then, there would be no challenge.

TM: Do you think the Nigerian movie industry has gotten anywhere close to what we see on the international scene?

LOTA: I think for an industry that in the early years, when you go to the cinema to sell tickets you hear “sorry, I don’t watch Nigerian movies”, I think we are making giant strides. It is totally difficult convincing people to give Nollywood a second try. And every day, producers, directors, actors, work hard to make something that people can enjoy. So, for a movie to earn even ten million naira, in this recession, I think we are doing great. To now gross over a hundred million, like we saw in Wedding Party, I think we are dong fantastic. We can do better yeah, but sometimes, it is about clapping for yourself and I think we should do that more. To have a movie where tickets still keep getting sold out after weeks of release, trust me, that movie should be put in a museum.

TM: Who are your role models?

LOTA: Internationally, Meryl Streep, and Viola Davies. Voila Davies makes me feel like it doesn’t matter when you start, just be good. It doesn’t matter how long it takes for the world to notice you, just be good. Meryl Streep is the definition of “being”. In acting you are either being a role or just acting out a role. In Nigeria, I love Genevieve. Also, meeting Funke is one of the best things that have happened to me. I have been able to pick behind the curtain and it is not wash. It is just as great behind the curtains as you thought it would be. It is great when you meet people who can push you. There is nothing as bad as feeling comfortable. Every day, you should be around people make you ask yourself how can I be better? What can I do to be more? And being with someone like that is just amazing.

Culled from Issue 15

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