Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Her dreams span the screen, the canvas

When actress/visual artist, Vanessa Nzediegwu tells you she’s busy, better believe her. The truth is that the Delta State native has her hands filled with engagements ranging from acting to modeling, art and business. I mean, real business!
On several occasion, I’d tried hooking up with the pretty actress for a chat, but somehow, we never got to meet –– no thanks to busy schedule! So, when Vanessa finally called to confirm her availability, it was both a surprise and a relief.
Walking elegantly into the Surulere, Lagos joint where we had scheduled to meet in a pair of three quarter pant and a yellow sleeveless, Vanessa fixed her eyeball to the left side of he hall.
“Hi,” she said stretching out her hand. At that point, some item dropped off her hand. I wanted to be a gentleman, but the artist was a bit faster.
How long have you been in Lagos, I asked?
“I came to Lagos in 2003. Initially, I was in Kano State, then moved to Enugu. My parents are in Delta State, so, I’ve been moving from here to there.”
That means you speak Hausa?
“A little bit of it,” she smiled.

AFTER her secondary education, Vanessa went straight into acting. Initially she was into stage production in Kano, before she was sought out by the likes of actor Sam Loco Efe, who invited her over to Enugu.
“I moved to Enugu, got registered with the Actor Guild and started acting. But along the line, I felt I needed more because there was nothing challenging in the East. That was why I came down to Lagos; I wanted to be somewhere I could compete with other people to test my skills,” she said.
How’s the competition going?
“Just there,” she quipped, “but the thing is that getting the jobs…by the time you get the job, there’s one or two reasons for you not to be in that production. Probably because of the money or… whatever.”
What do you mean whatever?
She bursts into laughter. “You know, after my last interview, people still call me for that; I think it was with Vanguard. The headline read, ‘I seduce men with my eyes’; and I was like, ‘when did I say that? So, you guys have a way of…”
Now, you are talking to The Guardian!
“All right, okay.”
But your eyes, you have a contact lens?
“Yes, it’s medicated.”
Maybe that’s what the guy perceived as being seductive?
“Wow,” she creamed. “I’m just trying to correct my eyes, but I’m doing it the proper way because I can’t wear glasses for a very long time.”
Are you saying it has nothing to do with trying to seduce anybody or being fashionable?

“NO, but you know, in as much as it is medicated, if you like it, why not; they come in different colours, so, you can actually decide to pick any you feel so in.”
Apart from the money, what else could make you reject an offer?
“You look at the script and technical aspect of the production. As an up-coming artiste, you may probably not look at those areas,” she noted. “But when you begin to do more jobs, you tend to repackage yourself, so, you don’t get overused. When people see much of your face and you are doing the same thing repeatedly, they get tired of you. So, try not to pick up jobs just like that; I look at the script, the technicality of the production and the money,” she said giggling.
But there’s this aspect I guess you are not talking about?
“I don’t know what you are talking about, you said it yourself, I want to hear it from you,” she quizzed amid prolonged laughter.
All right. Could you recall some of the movies you’ve done?
She paused as if browsing her memory, then she came on. “I’ve done Touching Love with Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, where I played her younger sister in the movie. I was also in Working for Love, where I played her rival; I actually snatched her boyfriend in the movie,” she chuckled. “I’ve done Message… quite a number of them.”
If you want to get the best of Vanessa in movies, then give her an emotional role.
“I’m very emotional, so, I will always go for the emotional role, because I don’t have to build myself into the character –– it’s me. But I’m a versatile actress, so, I can fit into other roles as well.”
“For instance,” she continued, “the last job I did with BBC in Abuja, Waiting Day (a TV series) I played the role of a timid, local fishmonger –– that’s different from being emotional. So, I could fit into any role.”

AFTER years of pursuing a career in acting, it was only last year that the model discovered the other side of her talent –– painting.
“Right from time, I had been doing some creative things like drawing, sketching and the rest, but then, it was for fun. So, last year, I decided to start painting commercially and professionally.”
According to Vanessa, also a one time TV presenter, her decision to embrace the visual art is borne out of her desire to showcase her abilities.
“ I will say, it’s a rare gift, because you hardly see female artists; most of them hardly practice it. They just tell you I studied Fine Art. So, I think it’s an opportunity for me to really be me, to show what I can do; a lot of people are craving to have this talent and I have it, why waste it.”
Having succeeded in breaking into the art scene, the self-taught painter is now bent on helping others to achieve the same feat. She recently staged an exhibition at Didi Museum, Lagos, with her work and those of other artists on display.
“I actually wanted to create a platform where talented artists can showcase their work to the world. I will say I’m lucky, because I found it easy. Even without going to get a degree in Art, I was able to break into the market. But I’ve found out that there are a whole lot of other people, who don’t know how to go about it. These are people, who hadn’t the formal training, or are limited by finance. So, I’ve decided to take it up myself.”
You target self-taught artistes?
“Yes, self-taught in the sense that you have the raw talent. There are some people who actually went to school and because there’s nothing else to do, they fall back to Fine Art. So, it’s necessarily not for those who didn’t go to school, but people who are naturally talented.”
Already, Vanessa has instituted the Informally Trained Artists Foundation (ITAF), with which she intends to make a bold statement in the visual art scene.
“We are still doing underground work because we just started. But I’m hoping to do greater things before the end of the year.”
According to the Vanessa, parents should allow their children to choose a career of their choice.
“My parents believe so much in me and I try not to let them down. When I started acting, my dad was a bit skeptical about it. He was like ‘no, you have to go to school.’ It didn’t take too long for him to understand, because he knows me very well.”
She continued: “For instance, I have this artists in the foundation, who is a manager in Globacom, but paints. She has the talent, but never studied Art in school, because her parents weren’t comfortable with their daughter being an artist. For them, there’s no money in Art, so, she had to study something else. But today, she paints; she’s coming back to it. Imagine if she doesn’t have someone encouraging her to paint once in a while, she would have been dying in silence,” she frowned.

FOR Vanessa, her acting career is not without it’s challenges.
“As you can see I’m not six feet tall,” she observed, “so, most of the time you are called to do a job and they see you, they are like, ‘oh, you are very good, fantastic, but we need someone this tall or this big and the rest.’ That’s always the criteria for them, so, it’s really challenging because I have to go extra mile to prove that it’s not just about the height, but that I’ve got other qualities to substitute for that.”
At a point, you struggled to break into the movie industry?
“Yes,” she agreed.
Has someone ever asked you for sex to get a role in a movie?
“Oh,” she screamed, “now you’ve rephrased the question you wanted to ask me before,” she laughed. “Well, the thing is that we are all individuals from different backgrounds. So, it’s not about the industry now, but individuals. You might be unlucky to meet someone who thinks, ‘Oh, I have this and to get this girl, she has to give me what she has, to get what I have.’ So, it happens.”
To you?
Again, she paused, then she recalled “I had a headline from The Sun Newspapers: Harassment in Nollywood is normal and a lot of directors were like ‘have I ever harassed you?’ The truth is that sometimes, you get people who are not even directors or producers coming to act as one. They come with fake scripts and they are like, ‘I’m the owner of this movie, I’m going to give you a lead role, but you have to date me.’ And if you are not smart enough, you will fall for that, at the end of the day, you will find out that the person is just a production assistant –– you will feel bad.”

MEANWHILE, Vanessa plans to enroll in one of the film schools abroad in no distant time, with the aim of honing her skills.
“My dream is to take my profession to international level. To be able to rub shoulders with top movie stars and to be recorgnised all over the world,” she enthused.
Later that day, Vanessa sent me a text message, which reads thus: “Hi, guess your day is fine. I forgot to appreciate the media houses for a job well done at my exhibition. And my uncle, Chief Newton Jibunoh (Didi Museum) for his support… I’m working on a feature length movie project with two US based directors this year. Working towards going to a film school outside the shores of Nigeria some time soon, Take care, later.”

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