Interviews | 18 February 2011 01:13 CET

Hunger Got Me My First Role –Kate Henshaw-Nuttal

By Bola Dauda
Kate Henshaw-Nuttal

Kate Henshaw-Nuttal

You came into acting when actresses had a negative image and not many people were that particular about the industry. How did you convince your family that this was the career path you wanted to follow?

In my final year in school I was a bit lackadaisical with my studies. Not that I failed or any such thing; I actually did very well. But I didn't give it the 100 per cent attention I needed to give it. I was always doing something outside school work, like being an usher at some show or event, or at the Lagos Motor Show and similar things like that.

Then one day, I said to my father that I did not want to be a medical doctor. I wanted to be a musician. He tried hard to discourage me, saying musicians did not make money and went ahead to threaten that he would not pay my fees any more. It didn't bother me because I had enough money to take care of myself. My mother just kept telling me to be careful.

I really didn't think much about how actresses were perceived. I was just excited and curious about it. It was quite intimidating for me though but for people like Bob-Manuel Udokwu who helped me feel comfortable. That was how Sandra Achums and I became very close friends, as well as Kanayo O.Kanayo, the late Funmi Martins, Franca Brown, uncle Emma Edokpaye and so many people who were willing to help me grow.

Tell us about your first acting experience, you must have been nervous?

I have been doing this for 17 years now. My first experience was actually on the soap opera, Checkmate, where I played a very small role. Next, late JT Tom West took me to my first audition for the role of 'Omono' for the movie 'When the Sun Sets.' There were so many people when I got there. As you know in Nigeria, the man know man syndrome came into play with those who were popular being called in first. After waiting for hours and with hunger pangs setting in, I decided to leave.

It was actually more out of curiousity than anything; so I told JT that I wanted to leave because I was hungry. He took me down to get some snacks when we stumbled on a producer and writer, Reginald. He inquired after me and persuaded me to stay, promising me that I would get an audition in good time. True to his word, he did. In the audition I was told, ''Your sister is a prostitute and she just came to tell you, react.'' I was surprised because I was expecting to see a script, but I had to do what they asked and I did the best I could. Afterwards they told me they would get back to me, but I just concluded that I had made a mess of it and nobody would call me. Two weeks later, I got a message saying we had been narrowed down to two for the lead role. The other person was already experienced.

The executive producer thought that my face would not sell the film if they used me as lead, so they asked me to take the second lead. I was very happy being given that opportunity and willingly accepted the offer. However, the director, Ifeanyi Anyafulu insisted on having a fresh face and that was how I got my first chance at acting.

Would you say you made the right choice?

Yes, I did. I have no regrets at all and I believe this is really what I was destined to do. Medical knowledge helps because there are scenes in the movies where we need a specialist's advice and I would come in. I believe that no knowledge is lost.

Having been in Nollywood all these years, what can you say is the problem with the industry?

The industry started running on its own without any standards being set. There was no structure or guidance. If years ago we had set down rules and guidelines to be followed and maintained, it would not be like this. People's refusal to change and upgrade to make things better in Nollywood is our bane. People are not ready to spend money to do the right thing. They always want to cut corners. I think that is the Nigerian way – they want the fastest and easiest route without thinking about the bigger picture.

What have you contributed towards correcting that?

I can only correct and improve on a project that I am personally involved in. Mine is to insist on things being done the right way. The script has to be good with the right costumes, make-up and accessories that go with the production. Tenses and grammar are also very important for me. I can only do the little I can in my own little space.

When you have a standard and people want to involve you they know they have to operate at your own level.

What was your most challenging movie?

That was the one that got me the award for the best actress at the African Movie Academy Awards. I had never done that kind of movie before; it was what we would call in Nollywood as an epic movie, shot in the village. I really had to dig deep to bring out the character, and I had never played such a character before. It was new and a bit hard to take myself from always being the victim and always crying, to this character that was really strong from the beginning to the end. It was a challenge that I took up and I guess that's why I won the award.

There are certain roles that are given to particular actors, while others just have to accept any role they are given. Do you agree with this idea?

Well, basically if you are an upcoming actor and want to show your face, then you have no choice. When I say no choice, I don't mean that you should go naked, but it is your own personal choice to want to be part of something that you are sure will bring you out. But if you know it is not right for you, just keep moving on, and when you are established you can choose whether or not to be part of it.

Women are always portrayed as prostitutes, man snatchers, home breakers, always on the receiving end. There was a symposium or workshop organised by Joke Silva with the African Women Development Fund months ago. It was basically about the role of women in films and how we are being portrayed. There are many strong women in our society and all over the world, so we shouldn't sell ourselves short.

How come some costumes used in Nollywood movies do not go with the character of the movie, like a village king or 'Igwe' wearing an Egyptian crown?

To a lot of movie producers and directors, make-up and costume are not that important, just act and go. I sort out my own clothes and get my hair and make-up done because I decide on how I want to come across. If you leave it to the people assigned to do that, you end up looking like a scarecrow.

What about the annoying background music taking over the whole dialogue. Can't anything be done to control this?

Oh, I am speechless! I have no idea, that's left to the editor. I mean I believe background music should be underneath the dialogue and not overshadowing it. The problem is that there is no body microphone. All they use is a boom that catches any sound and by the time you add music you can hardly hear the dialogue.

Your programme Onga Time Out. The question on viewer's lips is; 'Is Kate really a good cook?'

I once met an elderly man who said to me that his wife loved me and she was also from Calabar. He said to me, “Listen, I know you are a good actress, but are you a great cook?' I believe every woman should know how to cook. I do, but because of time I don't get to do it that often. But when I am holidaying with my family I cook a lot. I love it and I am great at it.

How do you cope with the responsibilities of your family and work?

I don't think I would have been able to continue this long without my husband. He has been very supportive.

Do you ever take your daughter on set with you to spend more time with her?

No, never.

What are the valuable lessons you have learnt in life?

Be yourself, always stand for what you believe in because at the end of the day, you can be swayed by the crowd. I have learnt to be confident and sure; I am a very strong woman and I always believe in any action I take, right or wrong; I take any consequence that comes with it.

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