Meet Nollywood Stars | 2 July 2010 07:03 CET

Off the Record with Kate Henshaw-Nuttal

By Joan Iyede

Modest, pretty and friendly, Kate Henshaw-Nuttall is one actress who made a great debut into Nollywood. She became an instant celebrity when she starred as 'Omono' in a major Nollywood movie titled 'When the Sun sets'. Kate auditioned for that movie in 1993 and would have given up before getting the chance to partake in the auditions; however, fate was a step ahead of her. According to her, hungry and tired, waiting to be auditioned, she decided to go get a drink and then leave when Reginald Ebere, a popular director and producer who was also a member of the panel stopped her from leaving. Her appearance in When the Sun Sets marked a turning point in her life.

Since her first appearance in the Nigerian movie scene about 17 years ago, Kate who graduated as a Medical Microbiologist from the University of Lagos has also starred in over 40 movies, soaps and plays. In 2008, she went international when she acted alongside other Nigerian artistes including few actors from Hollywood in a movie titled 'Close Enemies'. The movie was premiered at the Pan African Film festival in Los Angeles.

Also in 2008, she won the African Movie Academy Award for Best Actress in a Lead Role for the film 'Stronger than Pain'. She is presently the Brand Ambassador for Onga seasoning and the Golden Link for the National Cervical Cancer Prevention Programme.

Kate is one talented actress every good director would want to work with and recently she added another feather to her cap when she was invited to star in the much celebrated 'The Vagina Monologues', an award winning play by Eve Ensler. In her characteristic homely and unpretentious way, Kate lets us in on how she got to the top in her chosen profession. Excerpts:

OFF THE RECORD: Can you recall your first audition and who encouraged you to go for it?

KATE: My first audition was about 17 years ago. It was late J.T Tom west who invited me for the audition. Before I met him, I started out modeling; I shot my first TV commercial for Shield Deodorant in 1990, which was on television. I have also done ushering jobs in programmes and events. I have shot musical videos; I shot some with Segun and J.T. Tom West. That was how I met J.T. and he invited me for an audition somewhere at mile-2, very close to mile-2 bus-stop. The audition had been going on for 2 days and I was there on the second day and there were a lot of people, people in soaps like Ripples and Mega Fortunes; those whose faces were already known.

And I said to myself, “Let me just try”. The audition was for a role in a film and we waited for hours, I was hungry and tired and I was going to go and have a drink and go. And just as I was about to leave, one of the people in the panel, Reginald Ebere who is also a director and producer came down and was chatting with J.T. When he saw me, he said “Who is that girl over there? Let her come up”. I said no, that I was tired and he said, “Come up! Give me 5 minutes, I'll call you in”. So that was how it happened. From there on we were cut down to 10 or 20, I think, five then two and I almost lost the job for the lead role because I was not a known face, people didn't know me. As opposed to the other lady whose face was known. But at the end of the day, the director Ifeanyi Anyafulu made the decision to use me for the lead role and that was it.

OTR: You've come a long way in the movie industry, how have you have been able to manage your success and also keep a low profile?
K: I was brought up in a very reasonable and comfortable family, my parents made us very grounded especially me, and I'm the first. I was the only girl until years later after the last boy that my sister was born. I have two brothers and a sister. So, I grew up doing all the house chores, grinding the pepper, going to the market with my mother, sweeping, ironing… I hardly watched TV because my mom would knock my head and made sure I was in the kitchen. So that kind of upbringing of, don't be lazy or if you have money, you have to be able to manage yourself. There was a word my dad always used, 'Frugal' and I had to go and check it up in the dictionary. It means being wise with money you have, no matter how much or how little, you must learn to be frugal. And even while I was making money for myself I learnt to save and plan for the future; you know that kept me well-grounded and my mum is a very strong woman, she works hard , up till toady, she washes her own pots, cleans her own things herself.

I'm very down to earth and haven been in the industry for this long, I've seen people come and go, I see people who started with all the noise, then suddenly they fizzled out, we didn't hear anything of them. Even to make a come back is very hard. So through a lot of experience, watching other people, I've learned that the best thing to do is to keep a low head and continue to maintain the standard for good things, well bad things come too. But there will come a time when you'll only be associated with those things that make you bad. And of course, God as been very instrumental in my life and I believe I will not here if he wasn't with me. I wouldn't have made it this far without him. It's is not easy. I am a very down to earth person; I don't let money or anything get into my head.

OTR: How far do you plan to go as an actress, seeing that you've already gone as far as Hollywood?

K: I just keep doing projects here and there. I am very much involved with women, women's right you know, anything that has to do with liberating the woman from whatever oppression, be it financial, physical, emotional, mental kind of oppression. I relate with as many charities as possible. Do a lot of work. I have bits and pieces of projects that are coming up, that I'm thinking of branching out into. Acting is always my first love but the roles are not that many anymore. One reason is that they cannot afford me anymore because when they see me, ambassador for this, ambassador for that, they think this one her money will be too much. Like I said, I'm working on a project with another colleague of mine. It's our own programme.

OTR: Have you ever thought of directing or producing your own movies?

K: Yes. Mostly producing or co-producing my own programmes and my own shows. I don't want to give out so many details now but it is something that used to be a part of the soap 'Candlelight'

OTR: I would love you to tell us about your work with the V-Monologues.

K: The Vagina Monologue is usually done the world over by famous actresses and it is usually done in the month of March, which is the month of women and also Mothers Day. We bring to the fore issues affecting women, things that they go through, be it tradition, religion, personal experiences with their spouse or fellow woman, interactions; generally women are put down in every society all over the world not just here in Nigeria.

Four years ago I was invited by aunty Joke (Joke Jacobs) to be a part of the cast. I was really scared I won't lie when they said it was a monologue, I'd never done anything like that before where it's one person who does all the talking and asking and then gets reactions from the audience not like 2 or more people. I told aunty Joke that I couldn't do it but she said I could and it was something I could put in my resume that you've done and you go anywhere in the world and I say I've done the V-Monologues, I'll be appreciated. Two years ago it was adapted to fit the Nigerian setting, so it was now the V-Monologues Nigerian Version where we adapted issues from all over the world be from the north, south, east, west what women go through in form of tradition, religion, when you were young or getting old, your interactions with other females, males, any sort of oppression, or liberation for women. (The V-Monologues held Sundays between 7th and 28 of March, 2010 in Lagos).

OTR: How has the Vagina Monologues affected your life as a person and as an actress?

K: At the second time I had to do it, this was the first time we did the Nigerian version, that was when I came in contact with 'Project Alert for Violence against Women and Children', and after all the show and performances, I had to go and meet the woman there and asked her what her society was all about, she told me and I told her they were doing a good work. And something just prompted me to call her up one day and I asked where her office was. I told her I was coming to visit her. Funny enough, it rained that day but I still made it there and she was surprised. When I got there I saw women who had come for one problem or the other. Project Alert has been running for 10 years now, they offer legal aid, counseling, shelter and everything for anyone who has run away from a tough situation or needs help. They offer every area of support for a woman going through whatever she is going through in her home. They really opened my eyes to see what women were going through and I made sure I gave them my full support.

When I became the Brand Ambassador for Onga seasoning, I spoke with them and the M.D was very pleasant enough to support Project Alert at their 10th year anniversary. Also when they went further to say they would offer employment to the women who found themselves in a situation where they could no longer stay in an abusive relationship or stay in a place where they were not safe and they needed work, as long as they were qualified, they would give them a chance. That was a very big step which I was very happy about because you find out that most women, apart from the physical and emotional aspect, they don't have financial empowerment, they can't take care of themselves and their children when the need arises and they make do with whatever the find, there is nothing they can do about it. When you see them on the streets, you will be surprised that they come from good homes maybe they can't go back to their parents and their friends so they roam the streets with their children. It's really that bad. Vagina Monologue did that for me and my journey with Project Alert started then.

OTR: How many charities do you work with?

K: I am also the Golden Link for the National Cervical Cancer Prevention Programme (NCCPP), another thing that has to do with women. Cervical Cancer kills many women these days because women don't bother to go for checkups, especially for those who live very busy lives and it doesn't take more than ten minutes to get yourself checked and know your status

OTR: The dress you wore for AMAA 2008 was auctioned for £2,000. What was the money used for?

K: (Laughs). Part of the money went to Project Alert I gave them a check. There was a day they presented a book, a law book where they had cases that had been in court, which they presented to the police. The other half of the money went to another upcoming organization called Rave and Style… I think. It was City People who organized a party for me and asked me if I would like to auction the dress. It's a good feeling to be able to do something, especially giving back to the society; you know what will you leave behind or what would you love to be known for.

OTR: Do you think celebrities take advantage of charity for publicity and advancing their career?

K: Hmmm…Let me put it this way, like any company, you're supposed to have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and I feel for every celebrity you should be able to do something. Okay, you've done your film, you've sold your CDs, musical videos, what else are you doing? How are you affecting lives apart from entertaining them; are you touching them in a personal way apart from getting them to buy and laugh or dance to your CD? What lasting memories will they have about you?

I feel all celebrities should be involved in one charity or the other, doing something; it could be their own personal programmes touching lives, identifying with a cause, helping people. I'm not one for using your status as a celebrity to further your career; you have to be actively involved in it, adding some sort of value.

OTR: If you were a scriptwriter, what kind of stories would you write? Would you centre on any particular theme?

K: It definitely has to do with women, I know a lot of women who are out of their homes, divorced and can't take good care of their children, even young girls who are being abused by their fathers. Basically everything that has to do with women is what I want to do.

OTR: So how would you describe yourself?

K: I am a very hardworking, down to earth, faithful, very disciplined when it comes to my work and I do not condone lateness.

OTR: How often do you cook?

K: At home on weekends. But definitely when am on holidays with my husband I have to cook.

OTR: Another Honeymoon?

K: (laughs) Not really a honeymoon, because I do most of the chores myself. There are no helps when we go for holidays, so I have to wash and clean, but at least it's just the three of us.

OTR: Earlier you talked about your father using the word frugal a lot while you were growing up. What is the most expensive thing you
ever paid for?

K: I think the most expensive thing I ever bought is my car which I got last year, If anyone ever told me that I was going to get such an expensive car I wouldn't have believed but God made it possible.

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