New toast of movie enthusiasts, Kiki Omeili, is a medical doctor turned actor with a rising profile to show for her few years’ labour in the industry. She spoke to LANRE ODUKOYA about her early life, career and romance.
Could you provide insights into your early life?
I was born and bred in Lagos, the second of four children. I attended Federal Government Girls College, Benin City and then went on to study Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos.
You had initially gone down a different road (Medicine). What did you find on that path that turned you towards entertainment, or was the plan always to be in entertainment?
It wasn’t anything I found on the medical path that turned me towards entertainment. I had always been entertainment inclined, but when I got into medical school, I was too young to know any better about what path to toe. Coupled with a lack of guidance counselling and the then Nigerian craze for doing a professional course, I studied medicine.
Unlike many around this clime, you opted to leave what many would believe is a guaranteed career success for acting. Did you face any form of criticism from the people around you and your family?
My family was very supportive and yes, I was criticised by quite a few people who felt I was being naive. But that’s okay. I always say that the only person who knows how badly you really want something is you. Besides, acting is a career. Who is to say that one cannot achieve career success as an actor? There are failed doctors just as there are failed actors. In the same vein, there are successful doctors just as there are successful actors. It’s all about what you decide to give your all to.
Do you have any regrets?
None whatsoever. I can’t tell you that it has been easy, but then nothing ever is. I am passionate about what I do. I work very hard at it and in the morning, I look forward to getting out of bed to do it. I can’t complain.
What were your expectations when you came into the industry?
To be honest, I just wanted to build a successful career doing what I loved. I wanted to be one of the best at it. Life is too short to be mediocre.
How did you break into the industry, what was the process like?
It was a very grueling process of auditions, auditions and more auditions. Eventually people started to see and appreciate my work and I started getting offers based on recommendations and the rest is history.
What was the most challenging role you were ever offered?
I try not to stereotype myself and most of the time, I take on diverse roles that are so far removed from who I really am that it is usually a challenge to become the character very convincingly. That said, my roles in the movies Sting, Omoye, Gbomo Gbomo Express, The Happyness Limited, Stolen and Kamsi stand out as quite the challenge for me.
You perform both on stage and on screen, and you seem to excel at both. How do you move seemingly effortlessly between the two worlds and which is your forte?
Any actor who has a retentive memory, an ability to improvise, great facial expressions and who listens to his/her co-actors and reacts appropriately can seamlessly transition from stage to screen and vice versa. The difference is that one has to be subtle on screen and a lot more animated on stage. But screen is my major forte.
Many think that there is no space at the top and might resent your success in Nollywood since you were originally in the medical field. Have you ever had to defend your right to success in the industry?
No. I have never had to defend my success because I would never be caught in the middle of such a conversation anyway. The truth is that nothing good comes easy. There’s enough space at the top for everyone if you are willing to work hard for it. I have worked very, very hard and I am still working hard and striving to be bigger and better, so I wouldn’t even have the time to engage anyone who feels that way about me.
You recently appeared in Kelvinmary Ndukwe’s stage play, ‘Panty Liners’, which was one of the curated shows for the British Council’s Lagos Theatre Festival. Do stage play producers approach you often or was that a one-off thing?
Over the years, I have been approached many times to feature in stage productions, but stage is something that I don’t do often because it takes a lot of time especially because of rehearsals. In the course of doing Panty Liners, I had to turn down all the screen work that came because I wanted to focus. So it was not a oneoff thing, but doing stage isn’t a regular thing for me. It’s all about striking a balance, really.
You have won quite a number of awards, which of them means the most to you and why?
My first award in the industry, the 2012 African film award for Best Supporting Actress means the most to me because it was my very first. It encouraged me and told me that I could do this and I was really on the right path. For these reasons, it means the most to me.
Have you ever turned down a script?
Yes. Several times.
Before you accept a script to star in a movie, what are the factors you look at?
First things first, I have to like the story as a whole. It all has to come together without loose ends. Then the character I play has to be relevant to the story. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lead or a supporting role; it just has to be a character that the story cannot move forward without. Those are the major factors I consider.
Who are your role models?
My parents, Charles and Maureen Omeili. They have lived exemplary lives for me and they have raised my siblings and I to be respectful, hardworking dream chasers and to have life values. They taught us to always stand and fight for what we believe in and equipped us with all we needed to go through life. If I can raise my kids even half as well as my parents raised us, then I would have done a fantastic job.
On the love front, what should your fans expect, will the wedding bells be tolling soon?
When I know, they will know
Would you say that the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is measuring up to the famed Hollywood? Measuring up? No. Growing?
Yes. Rome wasn’t built in a day. We will get there.
What’s your opinion on the state of the theatre in Nigeria, why do you think theatre in Nigeria is not thriving as well as the movie industry?
Oh theatre thrives! It is thriving but theatre is live so people have to go out to see it at that moment unlike the movies that can be seen at any time and will naturally be the option for very busy people. But theatre in Nigeria is thriving very actively and is very successful. There are many theatre enthusiasts and lovers. So it is doing very well.
Do you have plans to return to medicine or what’s the next challenge for you?
I usually say that I never really left. If one studies my profile, you will see that I do a lot of health advocacy, but through film and lending my voice to various health causes that I am passionate about. I believe that as a doctor, I have the medical knowledge and as an actor, I have the voice to make that knowledge known so that people can live better and healthier lives.
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