Twenty four year-old Chelsea Eze is lucky…We’ll tell you why. Shortly after obtaining her degree in English Language from the University of Maiduguri, she began her journey into the world of acting and has had a number of lucky breaks since then. Her role in her first movie, Silent Scandals, earned her an AMAA (African Movie Awards) nomination in the same year, 2009. She went on to win the award the following year as the Most Promising Actress, AMAA 2010. She also won Best Upcoming Actress, Zaffa Awards 2010 and Revelation of the Year, Best of Nollywood Awards 2010. She has featured in hit movies Two Brides and a Baby, Twist and Timeless Passions setting herself apart as an actress to reckon with. She speaks with Adeola Adeyemo about her entry into acting and her future plans.
There are few young people who you spend time with and they leave you with the impression of being in company of an older person. Chelsea Eze is one of them. With an aura of self-confidence and maturity around her, she easily strikes one as someone ready to take on the world. A chat with Chelsea reveals someone who is easy to hang out with and is very sure of her talent.
How did you start off as an actress?
Aside the fact that I’ve always loved the arts, I had a friend who was shooting a movie at the time (Emem Isong) and she said “why don’t you come around and see what we do”. So I followed her and she happened to audition me in 2007. She liked what she saw but I really couldn’t do anything because of school. My parents are very particular about school.
Where were you schooling then?
I was at the University of Maiduguri studying English Language. I graduated in 2008.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kano, grew up in Kano, had my Primary and Secondary Education in Kano. I used to come to Lagos for short breaks but I formally moved in 2008. My parents are both Igbo but I guess they fell in love with Kano. They are still there.
Even with all the crisis going on over there?
They are planning to leave actually, hopefully before the second quarter of the year.
What were your parents’ reaction to your decision to become an actress?
Honestly, my parents were not the most excited parents when they realized that I wanted to act. My dad always wanted me to finish school and go and work in a bank because he retired a banker. When I decided to do this, it wasn’t something that was embraced but I love my parents because they like to give you the benefit of a doubt. My mum did not understand but she said if it makes you happy, let’s try, let’s see how far it gets you. I was the kid that got bored easily. My mum especially felt that I would do it for a while and come around and say maybe I wanted to go to the bank. But they gave me the benefit of a doubt. After Silent Scandals came out, and it got good reviews and my parents got to see it, they were like OK, maybe, Just maybe.
You had a lucky first break into acting with your role in Silent Scandals. How did you get that role?
Sometime in 2009, a friend of Emem, Vivian Ejike was going to do a movie Silent Scandals and my name came up because Emem remembered that she auditioned me. I pretty much matched the physical appearance of the character and I was called and I auditioned and that’s how it started.
Tell us about your character in Silent Scandals?
I played the character of Ella. Ella happened to be an only child of a single mother (Genevieve Nnaji). My dad supposedly jilted my mum for her cousin so my mum raised me all by herself. As a teenage girl, you get to a certain age where you want to explore and sometimes tend to be rebellious. Ella was a rebellious child and she did a lot of things to get attention. At some point I went out of the country and I returned to find my mother having an affair with my boyfriend (Majid Michel).
What has been your most memorable movie role so far?
My role in Two Brides and a Baby. I love that movie. I played the best friend and the maid of honour to the bride. It is a movie about everything that happens in just two days prior to a certain wedding.
How about your most challenging movie role?
The character I played in a movie called Hood Rush. I would say it was very challenging because I got to put the musical part of me to work, because it was a musical movie, just like High School Musical or Sound of Music type of movie. It hasn’t been released yet. That was very challenging for me, because I had to get my notes right, I had to act right and all that.
How were you chosen to act a musical role? Do you sing professionally?
I just sing really. I sing in Church, I sing at Karaoke, sometimes I play with gadgets and sing on top of it. I’ve gone to the studio to do professional singing when we were shooting Hood Rush, but I’ve not gone back and it’s something I might try out one day.
Are you saying we should be expecting to hear you record a song or an album soon?
Maybe, Just maybe.
What are your criteria for selecting a movie role?
I pretty much just look for good scripts because for me, it is not necessarily about just being in the film industry, I want to be relevant. I look at my senior colleagues and people that have been there before me. I look at the quality of films they’ve done and realize that these people have done some really good films and that has also helped them get to certain places that they are. I want to learn from that. It’s not about the money because I know that if you get to some certain point, the money will come. So I’m not saying I’m doing free jobs, I’m just saying that when I get a script, I don’t say how much are you paying me first. I first of all read the script, understand it, and try to relate with it. If it is a good script, then fine.
And when you’ve found a script you like, how do you interpret your character successfully?
I see the character as a person. I don’t see it in abstract. For me, every character that I’ve played, I have related with the character as a human being. The character breathes, the character hears, the character talks, so I sort of take my soul and put it in that character.
You’ve had quite a quick rise to stardom, probably because you’ve acted in some top quality movies since you started. What would you say is responsible for this?
Honestly, it’s just God, really. I thank God because I’m not the best actress out there but somehow He just finds me worthy to be part of certain projects and when these projects come to life, they go all the way up. It’s pretty much God. And my mum.
Who are the people you would say gave you a good push at the start of your career?
Two people – Vivian Ejike, producer of Silent Scandals and Genevieve Nnaji. Vivian did not treat me with kids gloves. She pushed me. She made me go beyond my limit and that is awesome when somebody knows you can do better and doesn’t accept less. Genevieve, because she took her time to pretty much give me a crash course about things I’m supposed to do, helping me interpret my roles. What they imbibed in me, I carried it on.
What do you want to be remembered for in the movie industry?
Honestly, I can’t explain it, because this is what I love so much. I want to get to a point where you talk of the movie industry and you talk of Chelsea Eze. Not just even the movie industry, but in Nigeria. The movie industry, as big as it can get, whether Nollywood, Hollywood. I want to be a point of reference to a lot of young and upcoming actresses at the time.
What should we expect from you in the near future?
The future holds a lot. Expect more excellent work from Chelsea. I have a good team and we are doing a lot together and all that would be made known very soon. It could be movies, music, fashion, anything. I want to be dynamic, I don’t want to restrict myself. Movie is my baby, but the other thing I love is music.
How do you socialize, have fun, relax?
The kind of things I would like, a normal 24 year old might not like them. For me, chilling is just having fun and being in my house with good music and maybe a couple of friends, movies, and we’d just chill, and play games and I will be so satisfied. Once in a while, I go out, but it’s not something I do so often. I like to travel and I like to read.
Who are your favourite designers?
I love Ituen Basi. I think her style is just unique and very chic as well. My favourite designer of all times is Taiwo Okunuga. She does a lot of stuff for me. As for international designers, I love Valentino, his style is simple, you don’t see so much drama. I like a lot of Italian designers too.
Tell us about your personal style?
I am simple and chic. I’m the kind of girl that you’d give a jeans and a tank top and I would rock it like it’s not a jeans and a tank top.
What do you say to your male admirers that surely flock around you?
I’m grateful, I smile, I say thank you. It’s a good thing when somebody appreciates you- whether it is your work, whether it’s your face, whatever. It’s a good feeling so I enjoy the moment and I say thank you.
What has been the most embarrassing thing someone has ever said to you?
I was at an event and I was being called up. So as I was standing up, some guy I had already spoken to who said he was a fan and all of that now tapped me and said the tag of my dress was showing. I was so embarrassed. And I couldn’t reach it so he had to help me tuck it in. I felt like I had borrowed a new dress to wear.
Are you dating anyone presently?
Nigerian movie fans often fuse the characters actors play with their real personalities. Tell the real you, not what we see in the movies?
I’m not a loud person. I like my own space. I don’t necessarily like to hear the sound of my own voice every time. Sometimes people tell me I act older than my age.
Who are your role models in the movie industry?
I love Genevieve Nnaji, Bimbo Akintola, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Kate Henshaw, Omotola Jalade-Ekehinde. These are people I grew up watching and I said to myself it would be nice to actually do this thing. Internationally, I love Natalie Portman, actually she is my favourite actress of all time. I love other ones but I don’t think there is any Natalie Portman movie that I haven’t seen. I love Angelina Jolie as well, Julia Roberts and I think Al Pacino is awesome.
Among all the actors and actresses you’ve worked with, who are the people that stand out to you?
I’ve done a movie with Stella Damasus and oh my gosh, I love Stella. Also Uche Jumbo, Bimbo Akintola, Patience Ozokwor, Ebele Okaro, Eucharia Anunobi, Majid, Chidi Mokeme, Jim Iyke, OC Ukeje.
What would you say to people who like and appreciate your movies?
Please keep liking and appreciating what I do, that is one of the ways I’m going to be here for a long time. I want to say a big thank you to all of them and I really appreciate them. Sometimes, I get some kind of messages and I feel like I want to cry. It gets so personal sometimes. Maybe it’s like that for me because I look at where I’m coming from and I look at where I am now and it’s like this movie where they just pressed fast forward.
Tell me something really weird about you, something a lot of people don’t know.
I can use my teeth to open a can of peak milk.
Photo Credit: Andrew Osamuyi Bourdillon of Osadrew Studios
Make-up: Joy Adenuga