Nigerian actress, director and producer Joke Silva stands proud as one of the icons in the entertainment industry for her remarkable contributions, especially in acting. Born in 1961, she started acting in 1981 on stage and television series. She obtained a Diploma in Performing Arts from the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and later on a degree in English from the University of Lagos.
With over 50 movies to her credit, Joke has acted in far more stage plays. She has received several awards and nominations for her work as an actress including the awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the African Movie Academy Awards in 2006, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the African Movie Academy Awards in 2008. Some of her recent movies include “White Waters”, “Phone Swap” and “The Amazing Grace”. In this exclusive interview, she chats with BellaNaija’s Adeola Adeyemo about her career, family, marriage and more.
As one of the most loved actresses in Nigeria with an impressive reputation in her over three decade-long career, I was so pleased to make contact with Joke Silva a few weeks ago and she happily obliged to an interview. “She travels to Ilorin every week,” her Personal Assistant later told me when we were trying to fix a date, but despite her busy schedule, she found time for a chat. My interview with her is one that left me feeling like I had gone through some kind of life school in just one hour. She shared from her wealth of knowledge, experiences and advice. I learnt a lot from her and I hope you do too.
It’s such a pleasure to meet with you. Let’s start off from what you’ve been doing this year. What takes you to Ilorin every week?
I’ve been formally appointed by the Kwara State University to head a business that was set up by the University known as the Malete Film Village. I would be building a movie studio from scratch and making it viable. More importantly, it is supposed to be an underpinning for Nollywood where the skills that are necessary to sustain Nollywood will be taught. It is to train those who have decided to take a profession in the film industry and the various skills that are involved in the industry. I am the pioneer MD.
That’s interesting, congratulations. This is not the first time you’re heading a training institution. I understand you run a training school with your husband.
Probably one of the reasons why I was chosen to head the Film Village is because I run something on a smaller scale in Lagos, the LUFODO Academy of Performing Arts. It’s one of the companies under the LUFODO Group of Companies set up by myself and my husband, Olu Jacobs. We’ve been training people in various aspects of the Performing Arts, concentrating on Acting; but other skills like directing, script writing and producing are taught as well. We also train corporate organizations using Acting skills.
You have an interesting passion for training. Your biography on Wikipedia says you studied Performing Arts in the UK after obtaining your degree in English from the University.
Actually it’s wrong. That was before I went to the University.
Yes. I had always wanted to be an actress so once I had decided, I went for my acting training at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts in London where I did a Diploma in Performing Arts, majoring in Acting. I was working with that for years until I got married, had two children and in 1988 I thought I might as well try and get a degree. And I did.
Why did you study English and not Theatre Arts?
Mass Communication was an alternative but I’ve always loved English, especially Literature. I went to University for the passion, to extend my knowledge of Literature.
The acting profession now comes with glitz and glam which has attracted a lot of young people, some of whom don’t really have the talent or necessary training in acting. How does this affect the industry?
Those of us who have had an opportunity of working with Yoruba filmmakers would always say that their discipline is second to none because they have a history of apprenticeship so everybody is schooled. It may not be formal acting training, but they have gone through apprenticeship. But in English movies, if a Director likes your face and you get into the scene, you have a part. Overnight you become a star. There are so many skills needed in our industry, it’s not an industry of fly by night. Like a friend used to say, the life of every actor is cyclical. You would always get the time when you’re the flavour of the month and everybody wants you. But when you’re not flavour of the month, what happens to you? If you do not have the skills or training, you will disappear.
Her Acting Journey
When exactly did you start acting?
In 1981. I started with stage and television.
How many movies have you featured in so far?
In all those years, I doubt if I’ve done more than 50.
50? Compared to some other Nigerian actors who have been acting for a much shorter period, that figure seems a bit small.
If you notice the way our films are being done, they are almost like TV series. They are just being churned out almost on a weekly basis. But I also do quite a lot of Theatre so even if I’m not acting in a stage play or a film, I’m producing. Until recently my new appointment came up so I’m going to take a break for a while.
I remember seeing you in recent movies like “Phone Swap” and “White Waters” which are the kind of movies in the new generation of Nollywood. How do you remain relevant in the industry even after all these years?
I think for everyone, you have to reinvent yourself to stay relevant in any industry. For a lot of people, at a time when a lot of these new movies were coming in, people looked at them as sub standard and expected the change to come from outside. But my husband and I were from the school of thought that if any change was going to happen, we had to be involved in that change. It meant getting our hands dirty, getting castigated but it’s something I’m very used to. I came into the profession when people had virtually no respect for it. So even when some of my colleagues at the time felt we were doing sub standard work and would not be involved in it, I didn’t agree and I felt we could do constant critiquing of what we were doing and I guess that’s why I’m still relevant.
Having spent over 30 years in the industry, tell me about some of the new generation of actors whose work you’re impressed with.
It would be interesting to know what you mean by new generation because for me, someone like Kate Henshaw is several generations after me. I like her work. Recently Rita Dominic produced and starred in “The Meeting” and her work in it was super. And so was Kate. Even though it was a cameo part, you could see the growth of Kate as an actress. I was like “wow, very nice”. Ramsey Nouah played my son in “Silent Night” and he is a really amazing actor. When you’re looking at people younger than them, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde and Genevieve Nnaji have put themselves into that super stardom niche and it’s brilliant because that helps to bring more focus to the industry. Much younger people like Kemi ‘Lala’ Akindoju have concentrated more on stage and her work has been amazing. I can’t mention all the names because there are so many people but you’ve noticed that all the ones I’ve mentioned are very serious about their work and have grown.Growth in Nollywood
Nollywood has grown from the time when movies were being recorded on Cassettes to being shown in Cinemas across the world. How do you feel about this growth?
Nigeria has always had big screen and I guess that is one of my quarrels with Nollywood because it tends to make out as if it came from nothing. Kunle Afolayan’s father was a junior colleague to filmmakers like Ogunde in the West and Halilu in the North who were making films on celluloids and showing these films in Cinemas. We have blacked out that history that is why someone who is young like you would not know of that era.
Pardon me, I’d rephrase my question. What do you think about the return of our movies into the Cinemas?
Now, there is a resurgence because the market is there, there is a need for our films in cinemas. There are several people building cinemas around the country. The more cinemas we have, the better for the film producers.
Project Fame & UN Ambassadorial Position
You play a prominent role as the Principal of the Project Fame Academy which you do so well. Why is this mentorship important to the contestants of the show?
You’re taking young people out of their comfort zone, keeping them in an enclosed area where they cannot go out without being chaperoned for almost 3 months. These are people who are used to their freedom. It’s almost like being on a desert Island, but after being on this Island, you’re going back into the real world. There must be a connection, there must be a way of making you realize that what you’re in there for is training. The other aspect is to help them focus on the profession. Just as they are getting the skills from their tutors, there are also life skills to being an entertainer. Entertainment in anywhere in the world is hard, so what are the skills that you need to survive in it? That is where my role comes in. And also to give them a shoulder to lean on.
You were recently appointed as a UN ODC Goodwill Ambassador for Trafficking in Persons. What are some of the new discoveries you’ve made about Human Trafficking since you assumed this role?
Trafficking in persons has become an enormous challenge for the entire world. It’s modern day slavery. It is a billion dollar business done under false pretenses A lot of times people lie to parents of young people in the rural areas saying they are bringing them to the city to do domestic work but rather, they send them to brothels. People tend to think it’s just young women, no, it’s both women and men. Sometimes, they are killed and harvested for their organs. In some parts of the world, people are trafficked because of their hair especially in Spain and South America. People are screaming that they are being trafficked for their hair and it is packaged and sold all around the world as human hair. Ever since I learnt about it, I’ve gone back to using only synthetic hair.
What steps are being taken to curb this sad practice?
Our campaign is to let everybody know, especially the vulnerable ones, that they need to imbibe the slogan “I Am Priceless”. We are hoping that the more people think of themselves as priceless, there is nothing anyone can offer you that will make you do certain things that are demeaning because that sense of self esteem would be there.Love & Marriage
At BellaNaija, we love to celebrate marriages that have stood the test of time and yours is an inspiration to us. How long have you been married?
I’ve been married for 28 years.
Wow, that’s amazing! How has the journey been?
It’s been very interesting. It’s good to go for marriage counseling, but no amount of counseling prepares you for the journey you’re going to face. It’s a journey in which life will throw all kinds of curves at you and as two individuals from two different families and views, you would have to react as a team to these curves. Sometimes a couple survives these curves and sometimes they don’t. We’ve been very blessed to have survived the various curves that life has thrown at us. It’s been God’s wonderful grace.
How have you both handled the challenges of marriage even when as actors, you’re in the limelight almost all the time?
We both learned how to be private even though we are in the public. People see us in public all the time but there is a lot about us that they don’t know and we try to keep it that way. We have our privacy even within the public sphere and that has been very helpful.
In the spirit of Valentine, do take us back to the beginning of your relationship. What attracted you to your husband?
Oh, so many things. He had an incredible sense of fun which he lost at some point in the marriage but he’s gotten it back (laughs). He has this amazing laugh that is so rich and an amazing body with incredible shoulders which my sons have inherited. He can also be very proper about a lot of things and of course, the fact that we were both in the same industry was an attraction.
You both renewed your marriage vows during your 50th birthday which was very sweet. What prompted it and how has your marriage been since then?
It’s been amazing since then and I think it was something that the Lord engineered himself. It wasn’t something that we both planned. There was a committee planning my 50th birthday and the idea came up. Another thing that prompted it was that there were rumours circulating around that time that we had separated. I will not say the marriage hasn’t experienced its challenges. There were serious ones; challenges that for most marriages would have led to the end but God in His usual faithful way, no matter how broken you bring it to Him, He will bring it out as brand new. My husband liked the idea and they wanted it to be a surprise but my Pastor did not agree to keeping it away from me. I’m glad I was let into it.
What has been the most challenging period of your marriage and how were you able to pass through that period?
We lost our first child in 1996. She had what was known as Blount’s disease in which her bones did not absorb calcium. She had an operation when she was three years to straighten her leg but by the time she was ten, it had started bending again. We were advised to take her for another operation so that she wouldn’t have difficulty with child birth later in life. She had the operation and came out of anesthesia but then went into a coma and she never came out of it. It was tough, really tough. There are just some fields that carelessness should not be allowed, but hey, it happened. It can be really tough for the family that has to endure such an experience but God so good, three years later, we had another child who looks exactly like our late daughter but he came as a boy. One of the amazing things about God is that you go through some things and realize that He is the only one who has the power to heal and He helps you live with it. He turns my mourning into dancing again.
I’m sorry you had to recall that difficult period but thank you for sharing it with us and encouraging us. On a closing note, do you have any advice for young married couples just starting out their journey together?
You must understand that neither party is perfect and you have to forgive each other, always. Life just throws some curves which you never expect but in spite of that, I have to say that marriage is fun and so if it’s not, you need to find out why and do something about it. My advice to young couples is to enjoy their marriage. It is important to understand that your husband or wife is your focus now. The best for him or her is all you need to think about before you think of others, but you two first and foremost.
It was great chatting with Joke Silva and from BellaNaija, we wish her the very best!
Joke Silva in ‘Phone Swap’
Joke Silva in ‘White Waters’