I am happy with positive developments in Nollywood —Actress Vivian Anani

Nollywood actress, Vivian Anani, is one thespian whose career has told the Nigerian story from one TV screen to another. She has endured the TV screen over three decades, starting from the days of NTA TV soaps. Born in Cross River State, but with cultural influence from Hausa and Igbo, the Queen of TV series as she is fondly called, is currently branching out to the movie sector of the industry to hone her skills. The Super Story screen goddess, however, told Newton-Ray Ukwuoma in this interview, how the digitalisation of television has rubbed off on home made TV series. She also goes further to examine the opportunities for growth, among other things. Excerpts:

As one who has been there for a long time, would you say you are a happy actress?

As one who has been in the industry from its early days I would say, yes and yes.  I have enjoyed every bit of the journey. I thank God for where we are as an industry. I thank God for myself. I remember back in the days when we used to shoot with big cameras, you had to eat well to be able to handle a camera.  But things have changed; every section of the production has changed, even for make-up. The kind of equipment we use for make-up has improved, stories are changing and a lot of things have changed. I think we have only moved forward. Even though we have not gotten to where we are supposed to be, but judging from where we are coming from, I think we have made progress. Whether you say old Nollywood or new Nollywood, one thing holds true, it is no longer business as usual.


What roles are available for you at this time? What roles can you play?

Coincidentally, from when I started I have always played the role of a mother. I have never played a young girl except in a production where I am playing a different part of me. But 99.9 per cent of the movies I have done have always been mother roles.  I enjoy it and it has come to stay.


Do you aspire to play other roles, to surprise viewers?

I love where I am. Playing a mother is dynamic in itself: you can play a stubborn one, a Christian one, diabolic one, etc. I have played different kinds of mothers. Like this production I am doing with Zeeworld is totally different from the mother I played in Love Me.


You mentioned that you are doing a production with Zee World?

Yes, we have done 52 episodes already.  We did the private screening for the first season. We started last year and we are resuming this month.


What is the nature of the collaboration with Zee World?

The job I am doing with Zee world is one of a kind. It has given me the opportunity to act with other actors from another part of Africa. We had actors from Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, among others in Nigeria. We are basically telling an Indian story in the African way. The Indian company wanted to tell a story with an African context.


At what point in your career was the pay rewarding for you?

I think now. I am happier now than before. With the Love Me and Zee world jobs I am doing, things are shaping up well financially. Zee world is my first international production. I cannot compare their fee with what is paid in Nigeria. Every character in that production was well paid. The work was quite stressful, but the pay is worth the pain.


How much were you paid for Zee world work?

I cannot tell you.


Was it in millions?

For Zee world production, it was in millions. And that is the highest I have been paid. Like I said, it is an international project.


You started with NTA TV series before Nollywood came along. Was it clear cut for you that you were going to be an actess?

Although I actually wanted to study Law, as a young person I loved the TV. I dreamed of being a newscaster. I stood in front of my mother’s mirror so many times to mimic newscasters. Somehow I found that I started acting for TV and then the movies came along.


What were the challenges that came along the way?

Location was it for me. Everything was happening in Lagos, while I was in Calabar. It wasn’t easy getting movie roles, because producers had to consider the people that were in Lagos before thinking of flying me out of Calabar (Cross River). Not many people knew me at the time. It was a major challenge. But somewhere along the line, I started working with Charlie Boy. So I had to relocate to Lagos. From there I started getting regular movie roles. I used to do the Charlie Boy show.


Which of your works has given you the most recognition and acceptance?

I am known more as a TV series actress than movies. Up until last year, I have majored in TV series. I think that was how I got the title, Queen of TV series. I have received a lot of recognition for my works on TV series than I have received on movies. I will mention two series that I think made a lot of impression in the minds of viewers: One Love and Super Story. I did One Love for over 10 years. I got a lot of recognitions and awards for the character I played. So also is my role in Super Story series, “Enough is Enough”, where I played Iya Amaka. I had a daughter who went mad, also my husband died and my hair was shaved, it was a pathetic story. It also gave me a lot of recognition. Walking on the street during the time the story was running was a problem. Everywhere I went people gave me gifts. I also have one that is running right now on AIT  produced by Akin Akindele. It has been running for about 10 years. I have been a series person. It was a year ago that I decided to take on the movies. I have starred in some of the movies that are coming out.


After the initialisation of TV, do you still regard TV series as a prominent section of Nollywood bearing in mind that traditional TV series like Super Story have lost so much viewership?

Yes. I believe we still have some good series.  In as much as we are addicted to Indian and Mexican stories, there are some nice Nollywood series that are still running on TV that people are addicted to. I don’t need to mention names. Just have a good story, it will stand out.

You were involved in some traditional stories that were prominent. What do you think is the challenge that TV series in Nigeria are facing, one over which they must surmount?

Indians and Mexicans have taken over our homes. Between you and we know that this is true. But we know they are not better actors than we are, sometimes their acting is not very good. But the glamour, the stories, the colour and the quality of the production are ingredients that have arrested our attention. So, this is the challenge of TV series in Nigeria.


Being the Queen of TV Series, do you think you have some tips as to how to emerge strong again?

I believe our producers know what to do and they are working. If you go to any TV production setting and see the kind of equipment our people are using now, you will agree that our people are ready to give them a run for their money. Some people are investing so much money in the production, there is so much improvement in all sections of filming.


Do you think a series with the Game of Thrones acceptance is possible in Nigeria?

Nothing is impossible anymore. We can achieve it. We are not joking anymore. If you see the kind of producers that are coming out of Nigeria now, they are coming out prepared. I don’t want to underrate anybody. We can achieve anything. What might be a constraint is funding. Do we have the kind of money that was plunged into these great TV series? We are looking for investors who can support the industry, we are looking for government support as well.


You have aged gracefully. How do you maintain your body?

First, I want to thank God for the grace to age well. It is not by my power. However, there are certain things when you are aging you must cut down on, and there are certain things to pay close attention to. Sometimes people learn to watch their weights and forget to watch their health. If you can watch your health the same way you watch your weight, you will age gracefully.


I learnt that you speak multiple Nigerian languages fluently?

Yes, I speak Hausa, Efik, my dialect and Igbo very fluently. I spent some years in Kaduna, that’s why I speak Hausa and for my Igbo, I come from a village in Cross River State that share boundaries with Abia State.In my family, we speak Igbo. I can not only speak Igbo fluently, but I also write Igbo very well. My native name is Igbo – Nonyelum. So, I am Vivian Nonyelum Anani.


What is the one principle that guides your conduct?

I used to trust people a lot. But almost everyone I trusted has betrayed me. Before my father died — in fact, five minutes before he gave up the ghost — he told me that I owe myself some happiness. He told me to do whatever makes me happy and shun things that don’t – no matter what people say. I take care of those around me, I love them, but I put my happiness on the fore. Because I know that if I am not happy I will not make other people happy.