Though she came to limelight in 2014 after participating in the Big Brother Africa, Lillian Afegbai is known for her works in the Nigerian movie industry. The Edo State-born graduate of Accounting at Benson Idahosa University was first featured in the movie, Road to Yesterday in 2015 and has since maintained a steady rise in the industry. In 2018, her directorial debut, Bound, earned her an AMVCA for the Best Indigenous Movie of the Year. The actress is, however, without controversies. In this interview by Newton-Ray Ukwuoma, she speaks about her career, experience with depression, and her first movie among other things. Excerpts:
When did you discover that you are born for the entertainment industry?
I have always seen myself as a star girl. When I was four years old, I went for Maltina Dance hall. I came out third. I used to act in the church. I used to act in my secondary school and in the university. We had a drama group in our university back then. Blossom Chukwujiekwu was part of it but he was our senior then. So, my entertainment life has been from when I was small. It’s passion for me. But sometimes, your passion might not give you money.
That is where the business side of you should come in so that you can balance until your passion starts paying the bills. You cannot stay broke until your passion starts paying. I am proud to be part of Nollywood. For the business side, I like money. I am into construction. I am into real estate. I sell chandeliers. I do other things that give me money that was why I could produce a film that would cost me a lot and I was able to star Rita Dominic. If you look at my acting, I cannot be rated as one that has gotten there. So, how do I balance it? I use my business to feed my passion. Now I am doing what I love.
Were you one of the hottest girls in school?
To be honest, I have always thought that I am the hottest girl in the world. My self-esteem is high. Nobody can make me feel less than I am.
Your outfit at the 2018 African Magic Viewers Choice Awards wasn’t well-received, especially on social media. You, however, won an award that day. How did you handle the mixed reactions after AMVCA?
I didn’t care. I am very good with dealing with negativity. I am too obsessed with my page. I spend 89.9 per cent of my time on my Instagram page. I don’t pry so much on other people’s page. I am that selfish. I am about myself. For me I looked very good. I looked very sexy and I won an AMVCA award and nothing else at that time mattered to me. I was too excited to care. The next day, my friends called and were telling me the different things blogs were posting about me, all I could ask was ‘did they put the AMVCA win?’ ‘Tell them to add it’ because for me that was more important. I mean if they don’t talk about it, then you are not doing anything. I don’t hate blogs that write stuff about me because I believe it does not change who I am.
After that AMVCA win, how has it been in your social circle and career?
To be honest, the AMVCA win gave me hope. It made me push for a long-term dream of owning a lingerie line, Lily’s Secret. It showed me that people are watching. The movie I won the AMVCA movie with is a challenging movie. It led me into depression. I was depressed for months. People wouldn’t understand what I went through. It was hard. Winning the AMVCA made me realise that you don’t need to give up. No matter how hard it gets, keep pushing. Aside the fact that I never expected that award, I know what I went through.
I called my friend Azuka and cried many times. I told her I was tired and done. I locked myself in my house for days without coming out. My friend Layole Oyatofe said she called and I wasn’t picking up. She came to knock on my door. She saw me and I had not eaten. She had to rush me to the hospital. People don’t see these phases that you go through. That movie was my first. People looked down on me. They asked ‘what do you think you are producing?’ So, when I won, it made me realised that God is God. You cannot cheat him. If you work hard, it will happen.
Considering what you went through, are you going to produce more movies?
I just finished my second production in December 2018. I just finished shooting my second movie ‘Double strings’ starring Annie Idibia, Osas Ighodaro and a host of others.
How do you access men that come to you for marriage?
I am one person that does not believe in looks. I don’t believe in handsome men. I can date an ugly man. In fact, I don’t know what is ugly, I feel that everyone is beautiful in their own way. So, the first I look out for is a God-fearing man.
But that is what every woman says?
Well, the reason I say it even though it is cliché is that there are things a God-fearing man will not do to you not because he loves you so much but because of the fear of God. A man that fears God will not want to hurt you because of what God will do to him. I always look for the fear of God in a man. If the person is scared of God, he is a start for me.
Are you God-fearing?
I fear God. He has done too much for me. I love Him. I am not even ashamed to say I am a Christian. But that is what I look out for in the men that come to me. Another thing is, is he hardworking? You know that being rich and hard working are two different things. People get rich by mistake. If that money goes and you are not hard working you’ll be going to the village. And me I don’t want to go to the village.
I look for hard working and comfortable men. As long as you are comfortable, you have the basic things of life, even if we have to plan for it, I am all right. I feel like people get relationship and marriage mixed up, but they are two different things. Relationship and marriage are nothing alike. That is why people complain that their partner changed when they get married. But the truth is they didn’t change. Marriage happened. They got more responsibilities. Now, they have to plan for kids and bills. But we women we like this fairytale world, but marriage is not a fairytale world.
Would you say your many accomplishments will scare men away?
No. A confident man will never be intimidated by the accomplishments of his woman. Instead, he will try to make you better. A confident man will push you to actualise your dreams. And then again, I don’t deal with low self-esteemed men. I respect men. Some women, when they get accomplished feel, that they don’t want a man. I love men. I want a man in my life so we could share our future together. I have a man already and he is not scared.
Have you ever been heartbroken?
I was young. I was in the university. It was my first major relationship. I was devastated. I thought I was going to die. I almost took my life because of the guy. I felt I would marry my first. But I didn’t know that people break up and move on. Then I was with him when he didn’t have anything, even though I was from a comfortable home. I didn’t care if he didn’t have anything. But when things started coming together for him he left.
Were there times you felt you needed to add to or remove some things from your body?
Yes. Back in the days that I was naïve, I had thoughts of getting a surgery done. But one day, I looked at myself in the mirror, seeing how beautiful God made me; I decided not to do it. I love my body just the way I am. I am so hot.
Tell us about the new business, the lingerie Line, Lily’s Secret?
It is an under wear line. I believe every woman is beautiful and should feel beautiful, sexy and clean from inside. Aside bras and pants, I am making waist trainers, silky night wears, everything that makes a woman sexy and confident. I also want to cater for all sizes because people mostly cater for slim women and forget the plus size. For the photo shoot of the lingerie I had a plus size model that slay more than the slim models. I loved her more than the slim girls.
Many women are ditching their pants because of the ritual rumours, do you think it will affect the lingerie business?
I will always say that the circle you surround yourself matters a lot. With the kind of circle I surround myself with I don’t see myself falling a victim of someone taking my pant. I know it happens, but I don’t believe in that. They know the kind of pant they use for that. I don’t think if the pant is sexy and pretty, they would use it for rituals. I believe the pants they use for that are dirty and ugly ones.
Tell us about the fabric you chose for you lingerie line?
I have all kinds of texture. Some people like silky under wears while other like lacy bras, some like push up bras. So if you want lacy, I got you; if you want silk, I have it. I am not restricting myself to any kind of fabric.
Is the line made by you or you buy and sell?
The lingerie line is mine. It’s made in Turkey but I am looking at ways to do my production here in Nigeria. But I am putting into consideration the lack of power and so many other challenges but in terms of getting quality production, we have industrious and talented people here in Nigeria.
How long did you nurse this dream of having a lingerie line?
I started nursing the dream right from when I started developing breasts into my adulthood. I knew I was going to do this but I didn’t know it is going to happen so soon. I was thinking it will happen when I get married. I thought of it as something I would not be able to do. The dream looked larger than me. Last year March, I started telling myself, Yes I can do this. I started making enquires but I still had doubts. A friend told me about a free store to rent and I thought about it. I told myself that even if I have only N1million I will start if not I would just keep nursing the dream. I paid for the store before putting something in it. So I nursed the dream for few years, but to make this production come to life, like five to six months.
You said something about nursing the dream from way back as a teenager; does it mean that back in those days, as little as you were, you cared a lot about your underwear?
Back then, my mum already knew that I love to wear to match for my underwear. When I was in the primary that I didn’t have breast at all, I would wear a pink singlet and a pink pant. I have always loved matching my underwear.
What do you do to relax?
I watch movies. I love movies. I watch all movies, Nigerian, American and everything in-between. I go to the cinema and pay to watch Nigerian movies. The reason my movie did so well was because I had watched other people’s movies in the cinema. Support other people’s business. I learnt a lot. And think that is how works. A lot of people supported me.
There has been a lot of talk but no action about the issue of depression and the increasing number of suicide in Nigeria. What do you think should be done to tackle this new challenge in the society?
I think people need to start paying attention to this depression. Some of us take it for granted. We need to look out for one another. Last year, when I said I was depressed, I had a lot of money. Money is not the cure of depression. You can be very rich and still depressed. People need to pay attention to people around them. We need to start from you and I. Check up on your siblings, your neighbours.
When you see someone behaving in a certain way, ask questions. It might seem that that person has her live put together but it might shock you that they don’t. You see them slaying on Instagram, it will shock you to know that that might be one way they are fighting it. We need to pay attention to our colleagues and our friends. Let’s help each other. I want to check up a platform where people who are depressed can come and we can share our problems together. Because if you hear another person’s story you will realize that your own problem is nothing. We also need to pay attention to rehab. Depression is real and we need to tackle it so that we can stop losing people.