For a long time after her divorce, screen siren, Monalisa Chinda, has refused to grant press interviews. But in a rare chance, the beautiful mother of one, who has been at the centre of various speculations, spoke extensively on her latest movie, foundation, cosmetic business and her private life.
You recently had a successful premiere of your latest movie, Weekend Gateaway. Could you tell us what the movie is all about?
First of all, the premiere was good. It went very well. I thank God for that and a lot of people came out to show their support and the movie was produced by Ini Edo and Emen Isong and I. It was directed by Desmond Elliot. It parades A-listers, both young and old in the industry. We had to bring some young and up and coming actors to act alongside seasoned actors which made it more unique. The whole package was first class. It is already selling out in cinemas. As at the time we got the review, we had made substantial amount for just cinema opening. I really thank God for this project. Aside producing, I also acted in the movie.
Is this your second movie as a producer?
No, this is my third. The first one I ventured in was Kiss and Tell, which was done in 2010 and was premiered in 2011. The second was Catwalk. It was also recorded in 2010 and was launched in 2012 and then this one.
What prompted your decision to go into movie productions?
Producing has always been at the back of my mind as an actress and artiste. I think I should speak the mind of a lot of people who are in the arts. They want to diversify. They want to try new areas and to also show various capabilities on what they can do. Naturally, we all want to try other aspects as long as it is within the genre of what we do: entertainment. I wanted to do something different. Right now, I am even going into theatre, live performances, which are already dying in this country. So, people like me and a few others are trying to resuscitate the already dying theatre culture.
Talking about theatre, late last year, you featured in a highly promoted dance drama called, Dance for Life. How soon are we going to see you do that stuff again?
It was a benefit concert. Because the first one was actually done from my own pocket, I am also trying to see how I can get corporate bodies to partner me to bring the second season into life by the grace of God. I am looking at that date for us to do something bigger than the first one.
Aside dancing for theatre, do you also dance for leisure?
It is not really about dancing; it’s a fusion of dance, proper play on stage with all that stage works and not just necessarily going to dance for dancing sake.
How often do you wriggle your waist?
As a theatre artiste, we all do the three arms of theatre. That’s, dance, music and acting. So, you must do each of the three and then specialise in one or more. That show was my first time of dancing in public. I have never done so in my life. Except in the past when I used to dance in the theatre, way back in school as a theatre artiste. It is like 20 years after performing on stage in school; I came back and did a grand performance late last year.
How did you feel that day?
It was a mixed feeling actually. Because of the massive turn-out and because of the fact that a lot of people enjoyed themselves and didn’t want to go. I was in between rolling on the floor with tears of joy and also praying that this will continue. It was a divine feeling.
So, in essence you want to revive the theatre with dance?
Yes. I have always wanted to have an opportunity to revive the theatre, which is dwindling already in the country. I’d always wanted to do that through dance and thank God it has started. People look at dance as a non-productive art, but I don’t think so. Dance is even more rigorous than acting. When you dance, you tell a story through your body movement and all of that. You are able to send out message; but if you are not intelligent enough, you cannot understand and comprehend what message that is being passed. You have to love the art; you have to love theatre; you have to love singing, opera, and all of that before you will have a grasp of the message the performer on stage is trying to send through dance. It was not the regular shows you attend. It was completely different, it was more intense.
Back to movies, ever since you started producing movies, how has the experience been?
It’s being tough. It is so challenging to think that half the time you are thinking of how you are going to make back your money. Distribution is one of the things killing the industry and driving most filmmakers crazy. People want to continue to be relevant, but you are not going to throw away your talent because people out there are not ready to support you. So, we try to keep the movie industry alive by producing quality movies.
It’s been a good experience and also knowing that I am getting older, I need to just step aside for the new ones to come and explore. Even at that, it’s still difficult for them now because there is really no artiste out there. I think we are all coming for different reasons. We are not coming for the love of the job. I don’t know; they just have this silly idea that oh, if I come out they’ll see me and people will like me. No, it is not all about that. You call an audition, for instance. Four thousand people will come for the audition and you can only get five people. That five people would have gone through rigorous screening before they are able to deliver their lines. That is why we keep recycling the same faces, even when we are getting older and tired. We still try to look slim and young, while competing with the younger ones, it’s really not easy but we are going to get there.
Your current movie was a joint effort. If you were to do any other movie, is it still going to be tailored towards that direction, joint effort, or you want to go solo this time round?
I would like to go solo to see what it’s like. I will still get a seasoned director to direct my movie, but I want to do it on my own basically, financing it on my own. Once I can have an additional producer who can assess things and make sure artistes are on set when they are meant to be on set. I am looking at this year, by the grace of God.
Why would you want to finance it yourself when there are grants from government?
I don’t want to go there. You have to do what you have to do. You cannot wait for approval that would take years.
Is it that difficult to access?
It is not our fault. I think it’s from the top. We make our applications and all that. We have to go through a lot of due processes before a N10 million grant would be approved. I Monalisa Chinda will not wait for that. I will see how I can struggle to put funds together to do my movie. If I wait, I might lose it.
What is binding you with Emem Isong, Desmond Elliot and Ini Edo?
I think it is because you have to work with like minds and people who will not really give you too much issue. These are people who understand. That doesn’t mean we can’t try other of our colleagues who may want to join us, but I just like that comfort zone. Sometimes, a lot of us don’t want to explore and then get disappointed. So, we rather stay with people we are used to, but by the grace of God, we would try others. If other of our colleagues like to work with us, we would accept them.
Many see your friendship with them like a cult thing?
No. We are not getting funds in the industry from the public; we don’t need the stress. We are using our own money. When money is involved, there is a lot of sensitivity and we really need to have that basic understanding. The love of money is the root of all evil. So, when you are working with people who understand that this is what you have to bring, you have to have patience because movie is not about seeing your money in two months’ time. It takes time. We are looking at a year. How many people want to understand that you have to wait for a year to see your investments in a movie or even more than that?
You recently veered into beauty products, which you kick-started with a perfume line last year. How far have you gone with the project?
Yes, I’m currently making plans for the launch, which is the proper thing to do. It is called Monalisa Mcode beauty product. That is the name we are using for now.
Are you partnering anybody?
No, it’s my initiative. I have always wanted to do this. I went to the London School of Beauty and Consultancy years back. I didn’t finish because my country wanted me to serve. So, with the experience I got from there, I decided to start my own thing here in Nigeria and would soon go international.
Who is producing for you?
We have a factory in Lagos and outside Lagos. We are doing it in a proper way and not just getting kerosene and mixing it with something else. We will unveil the products soon at our launch.
Is it fragrances alone?
No. We are doing body cream; we are doing hand cream. What is available now are hand cream and body spray for men and women. Soap is alo available. It is going to be affordable and also meant for everybody.
Is it part of your retirement plan?
Yes, if you want to look at it that way, yes. I am getting there. It is part of it.
Lets talk about your Arise Monalisa Foundation. What’s it about?
From the world go, in fact, when I hit my teens, I have always wanted to give. I would have no shoes, my cousins would come and take the only shoes I had and I would be walking barefooted and I wouldn’t feel any inhibition. I wouldn’t even feel anyhow. My mother would ask me why I was walking without shoes and I would say, ‘Sisi came and took my shoes.’ And my mother would ask about the other shoes. I will reply that those ones were old. Basically, I just want to always share things with people. Even when I started, I didn’t do it for the public to know. When I was in Port Harcourt, I used to go to the motherless babies home quietly, give whatever I had to give without waiting for Christmas or Easter or any special day. It has been a way of life for me.
How old is your foundation?
It’s not up to a year, but my giving to the society has always been like forever.
What is the next step for the foundation?
I want to concentrate basically on women and the girl-child. A lot of women are relegated to the background and hence it is affecting the girl-child. Whether we like it or not, the world is ruled by men. So, some of us are not necessarily trying to be in any competition whatsoever, we want to see how we can protect the women from a lot of mishaps happening at the moment. There is no week that gets by and you don’t hear that a girl is being raped. Those are issues I personally want to address, hence my Arise Monalisa Foundation.
Also, my TV talk show comes under the Arise Monalisa Foundation, because I will be dealing with real life issues. It is not politically based. It is not religion, but it is going to be dealing with life issues like domestic violence and children being raped. I am not going to exonerate myself as one of those who did not go through all of that, hence the passion. I want to see if I can talk to the women. Sometimes, it’s not the man’s fault. Women also put themselves in that position where they are always being molested. You need wisdom to be with your man, whether you like it or not. In any relationship, love is never ever enough. I don’t like this I love you so much, I cannot do without you stuff, who wants to hear that?
In essence, you don’t believe in love?
I believe in love. Love is the main reason we are even sitting down here. But sometimes, it is really not enough. You want to get things done. You have to take that emotion out and be real and address situation as it is.
When is the talk show coming up?
I don’t know yet. There are so many things lined up this year already for me. Honestly, I don’t know, but it will come on air very soon. There is no name for now, but I have a working title, which I am not going to divulge here.
You are always on the road. How much time do you have for yourself and daughter?
I have to create time for myself and for my child by managing the spare time I have judiciously.
If you are not working, what do you normally do?
If I am not working, I am out of the country. I am next door here, Ghana or Togo. Or I’ll just sleep for one week; that’s all.
What are the things that give you joy?
I like being in the company of people who are not judgmental, who are real. I like to be just happy irrespective of what is happening in the country. Even if everywhere is burning, I just want my space. As long as I am being protected, I’m fine. I also like to travel to some exotic beaches and being alone with God.
Not a man by your side?
If the man is available, yes, but I just want to be with God.
How religious is Monalisa?
I am from a religious background – Anglican. I still remember all the moral teachings from when I was five or six years old, including my mother’s first Bible story as I sit here with you. I used to be in the choir way back when I was seven. I go for choir practices. I went to an Anglican school, Archdeacon Crowther Memorial Girls School. It’s a convent school. I am quite religious.
Your father was murdered. Do you still miss him?
Every other day that goes by, I think of that man and God bless his soul; he was the reason I am doing what I am doing at the moment. My late dad would give his last kobo to those who do not have. So, I took after my dad. My mum was a career woman; my dad was the one that always saw that we were well taken care of in all ramifications. My dad was a good cook. He studied in Germany and most of his life was in Germany. In fact, he is a German as far as I am concerned. He was always making sure that the children were well taken care of. My mum was a career person before she retired.
You were once married and the marriage crashed. Is Monalisa having plans of remarrying? In fact, recently a marriage rumour trailed you, but you denied. Let’s hear from you. Do you have plans of settling down in the nearest future?
I would love to. I am designed to be under a man. I am not going to lie that I like the single mother thing going on, but whereby there is no one at the moment; it is not like a do-or-die affair for me though. I have been there before and anything I am going to do now has to be done right. I won’t say because this one happened and the second one happened okay, I’ll just move on, no. If I take any bold step to settle down, it has to be right, by the grace of God. I am not ready to make another mistake, otherwise I will remain the way I am.
Do you believe in marriage?
I believe in marriage. Whether you like it or not, it is the best option.
How soon will the bells toll?
I honestly do not know about that and I honestly can’t tell.
But you will remarry.
I just told you that I am designed to be under a man.
Have you found love again?
Why are you asking me that question? Love is neither here nor there. I am a lover. I mean, I love to love. When I say that I love to love, what does that tell you?
There is this rumour that you are in love again?
Is there anything wrong with that?
Is there any man in your life as we speak?
Yes, there is.
And they say he is Lanre Nzeribe. Is he?
When are you walking down the aisle?
I am not going to be roped into this controversial question.
People are also alleging that you are pregnant. Is that true?
You can see me. I am not pregnant.
What would you say you regret most about your past?
I don’t think I regret anything really but the only thing I regret is the fact that I am divorced. I am from a royal family. Where I come from, I am the first person to be divorced. There has never been on record that the first daughter will leave her matrimonial home, though it has to do with life and death, otherwise I would have stayed put to make it work. I tried to make it work but this sort of thing is not left for one person alone. Two people would have to come together and agree. That is the only thing I regret, having to raise my child without her father. It is painful, but it is better that way than having a little child growing to see all sorts of violence. She would be dysfunctional. Apart from that, God has a reason for that.
Between when you left your former husband and now, what would you say life has taught you?
I am stronger and wiser now. I have known how not to get involved in anything emotional. If you are too emotional even in a relationship, you don’t get to think. You don’t let emotions overrule your sense of reasoning. I have understood what it means to be very patient and to persevere and also be careful with people around me. When you think somebody is your very good friend, you end up finding out that the person is actually the enemy within. I have learnt all of that because I have been alone and exposed to all of that. While I was in my marriage, I didn’t really go out. I just do my work and go back home.
In the midst of all these crisis and challenges, you have appeared so strong, bold and courageous. What has kept you going?
I am a very strong-willed person and also an open-minded person at the same time. I know who I am. It is only when you do not know who you are especially in Christ that you will succumb to all sorts of pressures. Whether we like it or not some will say, she is a hypocrite or he is a hypocrite. That is not the case. I am a godly person. I am not a perfect person either. If I have done something wrong, I quickly run to see how to make amends or look for solutions to the problem and repent from whatever sins I may have committed. I am highly determined and focused. I do not go by what people say. If for instance, you are my partner, manager or whatever, I don’t see the negative things going around me, I see the person that I know. I see the truth in the person, I see sincerity in the person and as long as it is not affecting me adversely, I am fine with it.
If your ex-husband comes back sober, will you accept him?
No. I have moved on. He has moved on. He is married with kids, how is that?
Could you comment on Nollywood at 20?
Nollywood at 20 is something a lot of us are looking forward to. We have come a long way. We are the second biggest movie industry in the world. That is a good commendation although we have our many challenges. We have gone through a lot bringing Nollywood to where it is today. It is about time for us to be celebrated at 20 years of movie making.
Do you have a political ambition in the nearest future as a famous actress and a brand?
That shouldn’t be overruled. I don’t have any for now, but if it comes, I will accept it.
How has it been working with Glo as an ambassador?
It has been rewarding with lots of activities here and there. We are going about promoting and talking about the brand and all of that and they have made a long lasting mark. The man on top, Chief Mike Adenuga, has done a great work for this country. He has made it in such a way that a lot of people can afford to make calls wherever they are in any part of the country and beyond.
Does your little daughter miss her father?
She doesn’t know her father. She was barely a year when I divorced. She is just five now.
How would you describe yourself?
I am just the girl next door with no airs around her. Because I know who I am, I try to be as humble as I can. I am not a difficult person. I try to reach out to people always.
What will make you cry?
I’m moved to tears when I see people who are really struggling in life. There is so much money in this country, yet millions are suffering daily in the midst of plenty. I also get moved to tears when I see innocent people who are being accused and convicted wrongly. Those are the things that move me to tears, not gifts.
Has love been fair to Monalisa Chinda?
I don’t know.
How did you spend the Easter celebrations?
Weekend Gateaway was my Easter fun. After that, I did a lot of sleeping and took my daughter out.
Any plans of becoming a musician?