SHE is one precious and dazzling acting talent that any good producer who want an actress who acts with boundless enthusiasm would want to have in his show.
An actress, wife of the showbiz personality and arrow head of Question Mark entertainment Dejo Richards and the first of six children born to an Ikwere father and an Igbo mum, Monalisa Dejo Richards nee Chinda is one naturally endowed actress, who also studied and learnt the ropes and have today shot up to grade one status on the job.
Widely hailed as the beloved actress of the screen and current rave of the moment; appearing in about 2 of every five English speaking movies that are currently being released and believed to be principled, humble and reserved by those who know her, Mona as she is called for short has in the estimation of some critics proven in so short a time of her incursion into full time acting that she is a world class material and one who has a genuine love for the make believe profession.
The star of the television soap ‘Heavens Gate’ and movies like ‘Golden Moon’, ‘Spirit of Love’, ‘Total Control’, ‘City of Angels’, ‘The Devil in Her’, ‘Blind Obsession’, ‘Girls in the Hood’, ‘Honey Desire’, ‘Poisonous Affair’, ‘Save a Soul’, ‘Tears of Sacrifice’, ‘Desperate Ambition’, ‘Extreme Treasure’, ‘Executive Mess’, ‘Next Door Neighbour’, ‘Salt and Pepper’, ‘Broken Pieces’, ‘Games Men Play’ and countless other movie productions is roundly admired for her unique interpretation of roles and the ease with which she bumps into roles.
To say that Mona the lead actress in movies like ‘One Bullet’, ‘Return to Me’, ‘Romeo’, ‘Sound of Love’ and ‘Indecent desire’ is one of the very few actresses who have been overwhelmingly accepted especially by a movie crowd that hardly hails an act for a long time is to be stating the obvious.
Although the actress with a good sense of humour has always wanted to act, acting was not initially on her career wish list. Parental pressure almost made Mona study law. She was able to ‘somehow’ convince them to drop the idea. They did and theatre arts became her first and only choice. It wasn’t something that she gave a thought to. Even though she has done some acting in early school, the course- Theatre Arts, just flashed through as she made up her mind on what course to study in the University. She thinks it was divine. With the admission process through, Mona who is Virgo having been born in September, went full blast at it and left the University of Port Harcourt, first with a Certificate in Theatre Arts and four years later she bagged a degree in a vocation that has undoubtedly transformed her into one of the most popular acting figures in the Nigerian movie renaissance dubbed Nollywood. Today many agree that the fair complexioned actress has so far had a remarkable career as an actress and has also been enjoying supper roles on screen as well as red carpet reception wherever she goes.
From Law to Theatre Arts
I didn’t set out to be an actress from the on set. Acting wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to read law because my parents wanted me to become a lawyer. They wanted me to read law and as at that time I wasn’t sure what I wanted for a career, which made matter worse. But later I decided to read theatre arts. And it just happened like that. May be I would say it is divine. Because no one influenced me. I just don’t know now what the motivational force behind it was. I mean, I just got into the University of Port Harcourt and I went for it. Honestly I don’t know what pushed me into studying theatre arts, but I just enrolled and that was it. It has nothing to do with whether I didn’t get the cut off mark or whether there was no space for me in other departments. But now, I think it was divine. I mean my parents wanted me to read law. I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I made up my mind to study theatre. I only knew I had the interest as a kid because in school one was part of a couple of early school productions. But true, one never thought one would be so interested as to even want to go to a university to study the course and at the end of the day excel. There was no influence at all and which like you inferred makes my case different. I think it was just divine. I just found myself in it. And I must say that I benefited a lot from the training I got in the university. It moulded and shaped me for what I am doing now. I was lucky to have been trained by very respectable theatre practitioners particularly those who learnt under the late Ola Rotimi. By the time I came into the certificate course Professor Rotimi had left but then there were other lecturers that were under him that we now learnt under as well. What has helped me today is the drilling we got from those lecturers. They were more concerned about professionalism. I recall them telling us to try other professions if our studying theatre art was just as a stepping stone to something more financially rewarding. So they really drilled us at that time. I started off from the certificate stage before I now went in for a full degree course.
The Journey here
I am a very full Nigerian. Am not an half cast at all. My mum is Ibo and my dad is Rivers. I am a full blown daughter of the soil. My growing up was beautiful. I had everything money could possibly buy. My parents were fantastic. I am the eldest and first of six children. I attended Army Children School in the Government Reservation Area of Port Harcourt. My secondary school was at Carver Memorial Girl’s School in Port Harcourt. It’s more like a convent school. That’s for my secondary school before I went to the University and all my education was in Port Harcourt. My first major outing was in 1993. That was when we did a little soap opera for the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Aba. It was then Channel 6. I was about to go in for a certificate course. Me, Francis Duru, Ejike Asiegbu were all together in a production outfit called Cat Walk Productions then in Aba. It was from there that I took part in my first home video ‘Pregnant Woman’ which was shot in 1996. The truth about it is that even after that, I didn’t think I was going to do much of acting. When I finished school and I did a couple of others like ‘Above the Law’ and a few others by Chico Ejiro and some other producers, I just stopped because I became too shy and was not prepared for the fame that I saw coming with my participation in movie productions then. So I stopped and went into other things. It was not until recently that I bounced back so to speak.
I think I would have done over 60 works and I have found all of them challenging. I particularly my role in ‘Girls in the Hood’ which was my first big comeback. Then of course my role as ‘Adaora’ in the television soap (sponsored by the Redeemed Christian Church of God and produced by Zulu Films) ‘Heavens Gate’ and then ‘Wrong Woman’. Those three are just inescapable. And then there is ‘Golden Moon’ which was something else and earned me so many fans. I like to see those works again and again. But in terms of which work shot me out, I think I will say the television soap ‘Heavens Gate’ did. It got the audience to accept me as an actress. And one thing about it is that the audience followed me from television to home video. So it’s first ‘Heavens Gate’ that shot me out and that I still find very challenging and then when I started doing home movies, ‘Girls in the Hood’ and ‘Golden Moon’. And I have heard a lot of people say that I bumped easily into the role of Adaora in ‘Heavens Gate’. Some even say it’s my life story. All I would say is that it was just more of a coincidence. Again I am a born again child of God which made me easily fit into the role. It’s a normal story for every young girl who used to live a rough life and automatically turns to Christ. So I think that’s basically what the role represents for me. Just that. Not necessarily so rough but not knowing where you belong in Christ. That itself is a big problem. So I think I just fit in and then the Holy Ghost too has been helpful. I consider it my challenging even though as someone who is trained every role I play has its own challenges. Having to act like a mad woman and having to act like someone in depression. I think it is just a gift from God and talent too. It doesn’t come easy.
It is better now. I didn’t think we were going to get to this level. As at the time I started I was biased. That’s one of the things I didn’t really take it as a career. We were treated like a piece of rubbish and all that. But it is better now. Nollywood is going places. The next five years will be better. Things have really improved. If you watch the movies now, you will observe that the locations and costumes and other production elements have greatly improved. The money is okay and could be better. It is what I call weekly cash. My brother, where do you want to get it. I mean, every week you are being paid. It’s okay. I am comfortable with it. It will get better. We just need the government to complement the efforts of the independent producers and marketers who I believe are doing so much to keep the industry alive. We need more funding and investments so that the quality of our productions would improve greatly. But generally, we are not doing badly and I see us breaking new grounds.
Gains of the Profession
I guess it has been rewarding. Honestly I guess so. I mean, I am recognised. I go into a place, a bank and I get preferential treatment. I walk into an office and I am treated like a queen. And talking about stardom, I don’t think I am one of those who have allowed stardom to affect their private life. I mean, I don’t even go out and so they won’t see me to write or talk about. It is only when they see you that they talk about you. But I am not particularly an outdoor person. I am not. And you see if you are in the public eye you really have to comport yourself. You cannot afford to misbehave. So I am indifferent about what people say about actresses even though I know that like in other sectors we have those you can call the bad fingers. Some of them are irresponsible. Let me not lie. But there are those you can count on and I am glad that the number is in the majority. And really like you suggested, it could be that my being a Christian could be the reason why the entertainment press like you said have never been on my case. It could be part of it but again, truth is constant. If you claim to be a Christian you live a Christian life. You don’t just hop around because you want to show that you are popular or a celebrity. I mean you must not be every where. It’s your wanting to be everywhere that leads to insinuations and people getting on your case. I have little time. Half the time I am on location. The only time I have, I spend it at home with my husband. I really don’t have the time to hang out and because I hardly have the time, people don’t even bother about me.
My parents did. They objected completely. They didn’t find it funny but they later got used to it. My father didn’t understand why I should now be an entertainer for the rest of my life. He didn’t really come to terms with the profession as at then. But not now anymore. Parents think highly of entertainment now than before. Right now they have accepted the profession.
Mr. Dejo Richards
I met my husband sometimes in 2002. A friend of mine introduced me to him. I think I was just coming from church or something and we exchanged pleasantries and that was all about it. And then in 2004 we met again in England and that was how we started seriously. And it was not even because of acting that we got together. I have not even started acting full time before I said the ‘I do’ to my husband. He was the one who asked me what I wanted to do because he didn’t believe I should be one madam answering sir sir to some man when you have a lot of talents. I was already married then. So he said go back to acting. He was the one who encouraged me to go back to acting. Luckily he is an entertainment person. So we are in the business together.
Sassy roles in movies
Yeah, my husband does o! He doesn’t like to see me playing so much of those deep romantic movies. But the truth about it is that I create the intimacy without being close. I try to play out the romantic role in such a way that I strike a balance. I try to appear convincing and my training has helped a lot. I mean you could actually play such roles without necessarily getting too close. And you see one has to be careful because you have a life outside the set. I am married to a Nigerian. A Yoruba man for that matter. So I cannot afford to mess myself up all in the name of acting. So it wouldn’t look like see the acting I encouraged my wife to do is now becoming a curse. So I understand that. But my husband has been wonderful. He is been fantastic and very supportive. For me, he is the best husband in the world.
Favourite past time, music and food
Well when I am not busy on set, I just stay at home and be with my husband. We don’t have any kid yet. This is the time to make babies. So I shouldn’t be all over the place. I just stay at home and cuddle and cook and do all the things I normally don’t do when I am on set. And like you asked, when our kids come, we would encourage them to do whatever they have a talent for. Whatever my kids want to do I will encourage them and give them all the support any mother would. And in terms of food and music, I like beans. I can eat beans and plantain all day. I love beans and vegetable and plantain and fish. And for music I like soul and gospel. I don’t like rock music. Simply soul but more of gospel music. At this time people should listen to what will edify their souls.
Likes, Dislikes and role models
I don’t like dishonest people. I don’t like pretenders and I don’t like anything that speaks negativity. I like positive people. People who can be trusted and people who don’t pretend. For role models, my list has not changed. Joke Silva is number one. There is also Auntie Taiwo Ajai Lycet and then the inimitable Liz Benson
A lot of people have reasons why they want to act. But they should come in for the right reasons. You will tire out once you are in it, for the wrong reasons. They should be sure that this is what they want to do. They should seek guidance from God and even from people around. You will be surprised that you have a talent for producing and not necessarily acting. So they must first be sure of what they want to do and if it is not working for them, they should try something else. Those who are fit must get trained.
I will like to try my hands on something else. You want to know what? Like television presentation and singing-my husband is a song composer and he has been talking me into branching out into music and I think I will look into that aspect as well. And really this has nothing to do with whether I am not fulfilled as an actress or not. It’s just that I am too pregnant with a lot of ideas right now, outside acting. So I don’t want to just limit myself. I want to do other things. May be I just do another degree in International Relations but that would be much later. Acting will still be there but I want to get into presentation and certainly do some charity work. It will be nice to give something back to the society.