With a name as long as that of the typical Spaniard, Lotachukwu Amelia Obianuju Jacinta Ugwu a.k.a Lota Chukwu is already a familiar face to the thousands of Nigerians who tune in to the comedy TV series, Jenifa’s Diary. Actress, Model, Yoga buff, and self-described mother of four (relax, she’s talking about her four dogs), she epitomizes the promise and audaciousness of young Nollywood. She made her formal debut as the lead character in the movie Fine Girls, released in April and made by acclaimed producer Uduak Isong. Her other movie credits include Iyore, The Perfect Plan and The Wind Chasers.
Click042 was able to request an exclusive interview with Ms. Chukwu via social media and phone calls. To staff writer Ijeoma Ossi, her voice was the first surprise; clear, friendly and bubblier than sparkling wine. Over the course of a few hours we talked about Lota Chukwu’s multi-faceted life, and she does not disappoint. Indeed she comes across as smart, unusually perceptive and unafraid of experimentation; her ventures into blogging, cooking and yoga are proof of these traits. A native of Nsukka L.G.A, Enugu State, her early years were spent in Benin. She equally studied Agricultural Economics and Extension at the University of Benin, but obviously her destiny was to be in another field.
When did you decide that Agric. wasn’t going to be your career?
I always knew. But I grew up in a conventional home where you are expected to go to school, study something ‘sensible’ and graduate, marry, have kids and continue the cycle. So acting for me was a wish. When I was in SS3, we were shooting our final school album and the photographer brought up the idea of modeling, so I started from there. I did it for a couple of years but stopped when I got into the university. In my third year, I decided to go for the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) 2011, and that changed everything for me. I haven’t looked back since.
You mentioned a conventional home. How many are you in your family? Are they supportive of your acting and modeling?
I am the last child, with three older siblings. See? Very conventional.
They are now. In the beginning they were very skeptical because I am everyone’s baby, but they’ve seen that I can take care of myself. Plus it’s what makes me truly happy so they are very supportive now.
So when was your first big break? How did it feel?
That was in December 2014, when I got the role for Jenifa’s Diary. It felt surreal. Still does.
What did you think of Funke Akindele when you met her?
I have been a fan since her I Need To Know days, and the first day I saw her was during the audition for Jenifa’s Diary. I was so nervous because I was being auditioned by her, but I knew I had to impress so I did that.
How has the acting journey been since then?
It has been interesting, to say the least. I’m an adventurous person so for me, it’s all a brand new adventure.
Have you experienced any injustices in the industry, any negative stereotypes of actresses etc.?
Well, we are all tied – actors, producers, directors, gaffers, costumiers – so it’s pretty redundant for any of them to have a negative opinion or stereotype about someone who reflects on you directly or indirectly.
Outside the industry, of course there are the negative stereotypes about actors being undisciplined and unserious. But I’m quite lucky, I’m not popular yet so when people meet me, I’m judged as Lota first before they know what I do. In a few months or years that might change, but for now I’m still under that cloak.
So, how do you see the older generation of Nollywood; RMD, Omotola, Genevieve?
They are superheroes. I think they performed superhuman feats, making movies out of resources that were barely available in that environment. Those were very unhealthy climates they had to work with. I’ve read stories of how there were sometimes no scripts and they still made good movies. Then they were looked at with very unpleasant stares because people believed that the roles they played indicated their personal character. The atmosphere was quite unpleasant, but they still made a lot of great evergreen movies.
I agree. Especially after Stella Damascus blasted Leila Djansi for comparing Nollywood to Hitler. But the industry has certainly come a long way. What positive changes have you noticed?
It really has. We are getting more structured by the day. People are starting to understand that acting is a real job. It’s not just something you play with. It’s as serious and important as medicine and law. We have scripts now, costumiers are provided, make-up artists are brought on set. Going by the accounts of our forerunners, these are things that weren’t always there. We have taken the jokes thrown at us seriously and used them to right our errors. For instance, you won’t find someone wearing the same wig in a scene thirty years later (LOL!)
But the best part of it all, we are getting better with each passing story that we tell.
That’s really encouraging. Which of the older generation do you look up to?
All of them (grinning). There’s something to learn from everyone.
An all-round student, I see. What do you think of the nickname Nollywood? Should it be scrapped in favour of something more original or is it just right?
I think the older generation deemed it wise so yeah, it’s just right. At the end of the day it’s a name. What we produce under that name is what’s important.
True. Now, about your new movie Fine Girl. What was it to be the lead role?
It was great! I felt one step closer to my goals. Suddenly it all seemed realistic. It will always be one of my favourites because it was my first sole lead. Nothing beats your first.
Congratulations. Fine Girls has a solid theme about prostitution, plus I have a tiny crush on Ozzy Agu. Did you enjoy working with him?
(lots of laughter) Thank you. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. He’s a great actor.
He plays your love interest in the movie. Tell us; is he a good kisser??
(more laughing) Yes, he was.
Thank God. We his female fans would hate to have our illusions shattered. So…what’s in the future for you, career-wise? Would you consider the theatre?
Yes I will. I love theatre. I’ve done stage plays before and it’s addictive. I miss that addiction, so very soon I just might answer that call again. There is this freedom and the fear of making mistakes. You have just one chance. No-one is going to say ‘take two,’ so there’s that tension to do it right and when you do, the cheer from the crowd is everything.
Now tell us about yoga. How did you discover it?
In a bid to lose weight really. It was serendipity. My trainer got me hooked.
Would you recommend it for everyone?
Oh yes. It’s spiritually and physically healthy so yes. It’s not hard; there are beginners’ poses you could do for starters.
From your blog posts, one can sense your amazing self-confidence. How did you acquire it?
Well, I’ve been at a low place before with zero self-confidence and I told myself I wasn’t going back there. I saw myself for the amazing human being I truly am and not what anyone else thinks. If people have made you feel worthless, always remember you are good enough. Find the good in you, protect it and let it grow.
Very inspiring. On a lighter note, what’s your idea of the perfect date?
Hmmm, for a first date it has to be something that involves us getting to know each other. Somewhere we can talk and concentrate on asking questions about each other. Maybe a quiet beach or an art gallery or a casual lunch. I think a date is perfect because of who you are out with, not simply because of where you are.
So who would be your ideal date?
Physically, I want a tall man for the basic reason that I’m tall myself. In terms of character, I want someone who is like me. Not a mirror image, but it’s easier than saying I want someone smart, funny, adventurous, loyal and all that. It sounds impossible when I say it out loud, and I get the feeling people think I’m naively expecting too much.
The very last question. Nigerian jollof or Ghanaian jollof?
I’m not going to commit treason. Nigerian jollof all the way!