BN Saturday Celebrity Interview: “It’s OK to Come Back Home” From New York to Lagos, Tinsel Actress Osas Ighodaro is Spreading her Wings & Living her Dream!
Osas Ighodaro was already featuring in TV series and movies like Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns and Cadillac Records back in the USA when AfricaMagic’s popular soap opera Tinsel brought her to our local screens in November 2012. Although her stay on the show was short lived, we loved how she brought her character, Adanna, to life on screen, and how she’s remained relevant on the Nigerian entertainment and social scene.
Born and raised in New York, Osas started modeling and acting as a teenager and in 2010, won the Miss Black USA beauty pageant. She has a Bachelors’ of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism and dual minor degrees in Entrepreneurship and Theatre from Pennsylvania State University. She also holds a Masters of Fine Arts Degree in Acting from the Actor’s Studio Drama School at Pace University.
The versatile actress has appeared in theatre productions such as The Colored Museum, Revenge of the King and has performed in several films and TV shows including Cadillac Records, Restless City, The Tested & Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns.
Beautiful, smart and with an infectious laughter, it was a delight chatting with Osas as she took me through her journey on how she discovered herself and is now living her dreams.
From New York to Lagos
The first time most of the Nigerian audience got to hear about you was when you made your debut on Tinsel. Did Tinsel bring you to Nigeria for the very first time?
No. I’ve been back and forth to Nigeria since I was young. When I was about 5, I came and met my grandmother. I came back again in 2002 and stayed the whole summer in Benin, so my recollection of what Nigeria was, is Benin City. It was a big culture shock for me and I was taken aback by the unstable electricity. But in a way, it inspired me to be the best I could be so that I could come back and help my family and those that were in need. Then I came back again for a Christmas break after I made a vow to myself to come at least once a year, and not be away for so long.
As an actress living and working in the USA, how did you get on Tinsel?
One day I was talking to my Aunt who came shopping in the States and she was telling me how it was wonderful that people were knowing me there but it didn’t mean anything if people in Nigeria don’t know who I am. That hit home. Then she told me about Tinsel and that they were having some auditions. Before then, I had never heard of Tinsel. When I contacted them, they asked me to audition on tape and send it in. I did that and they called back a few weeks later and told me they would like me to come to Nigeria.
What was your initial reaction when you got here and how have you been able to meet up with your work demands back in the USA?
Wow, I love the weather. I can’t stand the cold. With the different opportunities I’ve had here and the different people I’ve been meeting, I keep asking myself, why am I going back to the States? Why can’t I do both? So I’m back and forth very frequently now, like weekly.
Were you very familiar with the Nigerian entertainment industry before you came to Nigeria for Tinsel?
No I wasn’t, that is the bad thing. I should smack myself for that. But once I got the part on Tinsel, I started doing some research. When I got here, Tinsel had me stay in a hotel for about a month. I didn’t usually go out so I stayed in my hotel room, watching the programmes out here and reading the different Tinsel scripts so I could become abreast of what the show was all about. From time to time, I would see commercials for Channel O Music Awards and they were showing the different songs that were nominated and I was in my room just dancing, going crazy off the Afrobeat. I am such a big fan of the music out here now. I love, love, love the music. It’s amazing!
Why do you think you were not really in touch with Nigerian music and the entire entertainment industry back then?
My mother had me abreast of Nigerian movies. There are tons of stores dedicated to Nollywood and Ghollywood in the States so people from the Diaspora are still in touch. So I knew about Nollywod. But with regards to the industry, I guess I was just focused on Hollywood and my own career out there. I’m glad now that I’m able to be more in touch and knowledgeable about the industry out here because I’m in the industry now and I’m loving it.
Your stay on Tinsel was quite brief but many people loved you. How would you describe your experience on the Tinsel set?
It was amazing and it still is amazing. Tinsel was my first family here and my first impression of the industry out here in Nigeria. I’ve done film and TV but I’ve never done soap opera and that is a whole league in itself. The turnaround time for the work is much quicker; you always have to be on your feet. I give props to the actors and the crew on Tinsel because they work diligently, so many hours and sometimes on the weekends and that is why people love it because of all the hard work the actors and crew put in everyday. I was so nervous at first, but the encouragement of the actors made things so much easier. I give kudos to the Tinsel cast, I love them dearly. Keep watching Tinsel. You may see some familiar faces come back.
Beauty & Brains
You won the Miss Black USA title in 2010, but I understand you were modeling and acting before then. How did you start off as a model and actress and how did that lead to the pageant?
I started in pageants when I was about 15. My parents put me through modeling school when I was younger because I had low self esteem. I was outgoing but only in the house and my parents knew that wasn’t going to be good for me. At modeling school, I definitely found my self esteem. I loved being on the runway and expressing myself in different forms. Through my experience in modeling, I got offered a scholarship in their acting courses and that is what opened my mind to the world of acting. Since then I’ve been acting but I also didn’t want to leave the platform of competition and pageantry.
When exactly did you decide to enter for the pageant and what were your reasons?
When I was getting my Masters Degree, I noticed that there was a slew of actors that looked like me. I asked myself, “What is different about me? What can I do to bring myself out of the box?” I love the spirit of healthy competition so I decided to go for the Miss Black USA. Because I’m in God’s favour, I won the pageant and was the first Nigerian American to be crowned. Not only was I having a great time but I was also making history too.
Your projects as Miss Black USA were focused on Heart Disease and Malaria. Why did you choose those two diseases?
The Miss Black USA pageant is sponsored by the Heart Truth campaign. Heart disease is the highest killer of black women in the USA so it was my priority to emphasize about that campaign. But I also had a personal campaign on Malaria awareness. The reason why it was Malaria was because my sister passed away from Malaria in 2006 in Benin City. She was pregnant at the time and it hit very close to home. She was my older and only sister and I didn’t want her death to be in vain. Even after my title was over, I put together a foundation called the Joyful Joy Foundation named after her. People don’t have to die from the disease. It is preventable.
I’m so sorry about your loss. But still on the topic of your family, I had assumed you were all in the USA.
Yes, we were all in America but my sister got married and moved back to Nigeria to be with her husband before the unfortunate thing happened. But now my Dad is here, my Mum is back and forth and my two younger brothers are still in New York.
From Broadcast Journalsim, to Entrepreneurship, to Acting… Tell me about your educational journey.
My Intermediate and High School was in New York but when I wanted to go to the University, I didn’t want to be at home. I wanted to experience a new type of environment. I wanted to go to UCLA in Carlifornia but my parents didn’t want to hear that because it was too far. The next best thing was Pennsylvania so I attended Pennsylvania State University where I studied Broadcast Journalism and minored in Entrepreneurship and Theater. I knew I wanted to be a host, I knew I wanted to be an actor and to do business. To be able to look back and see that I’m actually doing all those things is definitely a blessing.
Why did you decide to go back to school and obtain a Masters Degree?
I decided to go back for my Masters after I booked this job in a movie called ‘Cadillac Records’ featuring Beyonce, Mos Def, Jeffrey Wright. I liked it and I wanted to continue working on my craft and being better at what I did especially since it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life. So I decided to take 3 years off from working to go back to school. It was an intense program.
Spreading Her Wings
Back to Nigeria now, has Tinsel opened the doors to other acting roles here and are you seriously considering any?
Most certainly. Because Tinsel is the number one soap opera in Africa, my audience was broadened very quickly. Right now, I’m reading three different scripts and getting a lot of offers. Different people are coming to me to act in Series but my heart is still set on Tinsel so I can’t do other Television jobs. With regards to film, I am very picky so we’d just have to wait and see how it comes together. I’ve been getting a lot of hosting work and I’m very excited about the coming months, you guys would soon hear about it.
I couldn’t help but notice the part of your profile on your website which says you can speak in different dialects including African, Spanish, Southern and British. How did that come about?
While I was preparing for the pageant, I was doing a short film and the director had me go and do some research on the Afrocentric gear, Erica Badu type of clothes. Then I came across this video of a little girl doing a monologue called ‘What if I am a black woman?’ I just got goose bumps when watching it and I knew it was what I was going to perform at the pageant for my talent. But I had to ask myself what I could do to make it different. I wanted my talent to represent what a black woman is and I felt that I could capture that by doing different accents. I wanted to embody all those different cultures, all those different races. I feel so proud every time I watch the video of my performance and that is probably what helped me win the pageant.
You have been on our BN style radar since you stepped into the scene and we couldn’t help but put you on our best dressed list when you attended the AMVCA few months ago. Tell me about your style and what influences it?
I am all over the place with my fashion. Back home, I’m usually dressed down in my jeans and T-shirt, but I also love playing dress up. My sense of style is dictated by my mood and how I feel that day. It was really a big surprise for me to go back to New York after the event and see that I was on the BellaNaija best dressed list. That really brought a smile to my face because I just wanted to represent for girls with curves. And I don’t even need to represent because in Nigeria, in Africa, the women are curvaceous! In the states I’m called a very curvaceous girl, here I’m considered skinny. But I love the fact that they appreciate the curves out here. You don’t have to be stick thin, you can be you and I love that.
What has changed about your style since you started staying in Nigeria more often?
I must say my style has evolved since I’ve been out here because I’m usually in jeans and I just dress up for events. But now, I’ve seen that I have to be on my A game just to step outside. I can’t just keep walking outside in flip flops and jeans. I’ve found a love for fashion out here just because it’s a way of life of people here.
What else do you love about Nigeria apart from the fashion and the weather which you mentioned earlier on?
I love the culture, I love that people can dress in their African attire one day and in westernized attire the next. I love the food; the fish, dodo and jollof rice. I really am surprised at the entertainment industry and how far it has come. I am thankful to be a part of it now and it shows people in America that it’s okay to come back home, that it’s a great thing to show your art anywhere in the world and the States is not the only answer. I’m loving life out here right now.
How about the guys? Are you feeling Nigerian guys too?
The guys out here are just like guys everywhere. They see something they like and they go after it. But they are a little bit more persistent and forward. Back in the States, a guy would say “Hey, what’s up? How are you doing? I want to take you out.” Out here they are like “What is your number? I want to call you. I want to make you my wife!”
Yeah, that’s a Naija guy for you. You mentioned earlier that it brought a smile to your face when you found out you were on the BellaNaija best dressed list. Did you know about BellaNaija long before now?
When my Aunt was telling me about working here and showing my talent in Nigeria, she mentioned two things – Tinsel and BellaNaija. And I was like “OK, what is BellaNaija?” Then I looked online and went “Oh my gosh, this is very impressive”. It’s not just showcasing the work of actors and actresses but you show events, give advice and are sophisticated with the approach of giving the stories. That is where people in the Diaspora visit to see what is happening in Africa. Some of my friends in the States tell me “Oh I see you’re becoming a nice big star in Nigeria, I see the stuff that you’re doing on BellaNaija” and I’m like “Y’all know about BellaNaija too?” and they’re like “Oh yeah!” I commend you guys, I love BellaNaija.
And we love you too. So where can one find you on a work free day? Where do you love to hang out here in Lagos?
I love to rest and sleep in my bed. I don’t have any particular place I go to because I don’t have a car yet. But I love attending events, mingling and meeting new people especially in the industry. I love the fact that I can be able to have fun in my work.
You must have made some friends in the industry by now. Who are your closest friends?
I love my Tinsel cast, we call each other besties. Gbenro Ajibade, Chris Attoh, Tomi Odunsi and Damilola Adegbite are my good friends. In the music industry, Lynxxx and Banky W are good pals. Yvonne Nelson is also a good friend.
With you being so busy in Nigeria, don’t you worry that you might lose touch with your career in America.
Oh no. Even now, people are messaging me asking if I’m in New York because I’m now on Blackberry. Before, I was team iPhone but when I got to Nigeria, everybody kept asking “What is your BB Pin?” So I’m able to keep in touch both in Nigeria and in the States. I’d soon start working on a film in the States. They are in pre-production. I’m thankful to say that I am in the industry both in the States and in Nigeria. It is possible.
We loved chatting with Osas and from BellaNaija, we wish her the very best!
Osas Ighodaro’s Monologue at the Miss Black USA Pageant
Osas Ighodaro’s Acting Reel