Nollywood actress, Rosanne Chikwendu, has worked her way into the acting career, which has been her childhood dream. From playing the role of a cute nurse in the Tinsel series, Chikwendu has found herself accepting and playing a role as a stripper in Amazon prime series ‘Grind’. In this interview with IFEOMA ONONYE, the actress speaks about putting herself in the shoes of a real stripper, a job she defined as demanding courage and physically tasking.
Would you say you found yourself in the acting career or have you always wanted to be in the movie industry?
I had a 9-5 job actually in between university and also after NYSC. I worked in an upstream company for oil and gas. At a point, I quit and went ahead to pursue my acting career and making it big in the movie industry.
Who were your mentors-actors and actresses- you looked up to when you were working on debuting in your acting career?
Kate Henshaw, Nse Ikpe-Etim, Richard Mofe Damijo, Patience Ozokwor stand out for me in the acting career.
What was the first movie you featured in, how nervous were you?
My first appearance was in a series, Tinsel. Tinsel was my first screen debut. I played a nurse and it was nerve wrecking, but everyone made me feel so welcomed on set, especially, Aunty Ireti Doyle.
Back in your school days, what were your childhood dreams?
I have always wanted to be on screen since I was in primary school. I looked forward to playing on the cast on Super Story. I also wanted to be school teacher at some point but I guess being actress won and here I am.
Were you one of the few that wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t cope with sciences and then ended up in arts?
Back then in my secondary days, there was something called Senior Secondary 1P. That is SS1P after you finish your Junior Secondary exams. It was a phase where we took different subjects from different departments, just so that students can identify where they felt comfortable. I hated physics and chemistry but I loved accounting, commerce and literature. So, I was in between commercial/ arts student, and my school allowed i t . That helped me a lot.
You recently played the role of a stripper in the Amazon series, ‘Grind’. How did you feel when you got the script?
I was thoughtful. I kept thinking, how do I play this role? This is very different for me but as I read the script, I fell in love with the script.
Nigeria is a conservative society. Were you at any point tempted to reject the script, especially because of the backlash it may bring?
Not at all. I was more focused on the story rather than the thought of what people would say. The story touched on the challenges of a young woman trying to find her footing, take care of family, maintain her relationship, and her struggles with religion, all of which I believe the audience would love. A number of actors who have played sensitive roles in the past have told stories of the lengths of research they went through to pull off some roles. Did you at any time have to visit and talk to strippers. Yes, we had to do tons of research, visit strip clubs and talk to actual strippers. We had to go for pole dancing training for three months to get our bodies right for the job.
Your followers on Instagram know you as a gym buff with a banging body. Do you believe all that working out prepared you for your role in Grind?
Trust me, when I say working out in the gym and doing pole dancing are two different things entirely. I struggled but yes, being a gym freak helped my core strength along the line. I have a new respect for actual strippers. Their job isn’t easy. So, yes, spray your mint well whenever you visit the club.
What was it like on set?
It was always fun. Sometimes, I forgot that I was actually on set because it always seems like we were in the club. We had dancers on the pole all day, extras sipping drinks and cast spraying money on the dancers. It was a lot of fun.
Did you consider using a body double for some of the explicit scenes?
No, I didn’t, but I had my lazy days. But, I also wanted my body to go through the pain to help me with the emotions.
Where do you draw the line as an actor before you accept a script?
Regarding drawing the lines, I try to focus more on the story like I said. It’s not about being a stripper or being in erotic scenes, it’s more about the art for me; like what was my character trying to say all through the script; how she felt. Is she able help or influence an audience with her story? Can I or anyone else relate to her? Are the sex scenes tastefully done? If I don’t have all these answers and more, I don’t go for the script.
We’ve seen you in diverse roles throughout your career. Are you pleased with how far you’ve come?
Oh yes, I am. It’s been a rollercoaster ride playing different characters over the years and I’m super grateful. This role on Grind, however, was different. I don’t think people will like me very much. It is my first time playing a villain on a project.
Modern day films are beginning to touch on subjects previously considered sacred. What would you say is the reason for that?
I think that filmmakers are more diverse now. The world is changing and believe it when I say that we are being judged from other parts of the world by the content we put out. We creatives in general want to be heard the way we want. One of the reasons the creator of ‘Grind’, the movie, decided to tell this story is because she wondered what strippers’ lives was all about. I mean, they are human beings after all. They can literally be your neighbour and you wouldn’t know. Filmmakers are telling stories that are considered sacred because they are stories that happen in our society after all. So, instead of asking why, they ask why not?
Following this milestone, what kind of roles are you hope to get more of?
I would like to play an action film, maybe a snipper, who fought in Afghanistan and is trying to find her way back into society. Basically, something that will push my body to its limits. I love challenges.
What do you believe are the key ingredients that make an excellent actor?
Just be you. Find your voice and stick to it. Also, it’s okay to say no to jobs you’re uncomfortable with. To be honest, I really don’t have all the ingredients as I’m still a work in progress.
In Nigeria presently, many don’t stick to just one job or one career. Which other businesses are you into or you would love to go into, aside acting?
I model for brands. I also present for shows and events. And I look forward starting my gym clothing line someday.