International actress and producer Jennifer Oguzie has been in the scene since her childhood days when she starred in the production of Kiddies Club. Now based in Hollywood, California, USA, the multi-talented entertainer, dance coach and martial artiste says she also dabbles into certain aspects of law enforcement. Recently in Washington DC, Entertainment Editor, VICTOR AKANDE, encounters her in this all-revealing interview.
YOU often describe yourself as an international actress; what is there to take home?
By international, I mean, even as a Nigerian, I am able to travel the world to work. I am an American citizen. I don’t need to get a visa to come work for you in Nigeria for example. I am also able to work in any country in the world.
Meaning, you are not a Nollywood actor…
I am a Hollywood and Nollywood actress. I am not tied to one specific industry and that defines being international too.
I thought that Hollywood actors are those who have featured in one Hollywood movie or another; or it doesn’t work that way?
Not really. I have done a lot of reality TV shows in Hollywood. I have also done commercials and other stuff. So, yes! I am Hollywood, even though I started off in Nollywood, which brands me in both.
Talking about Nollywood; what are the other movies you have done aside Last Flight to Abuja?
I have done Stubborn Grasshopper, Close Enemies, Far from Home (part 1 to 3), and Nasibi; a cartoon we actually did here in the United States; but I am not sure if it actually made it out. There is also Okoto the Messenger with Paschal Atuma, My American Nurse and a whole lot of others. Sometimes it is funny, they change the names around and we can’t keep track of them.
How many of these movies did you have to fly to Nigeria to be a part of?
The big one was actually Last Flight to Abuja. For the other ones, I was in Nigeria when they were being shot. Some others were shot here in the US.
What would you say is your unique selling point as an actress?
I would say it is my originality. I can switch from having an American accent to my Nigerian dialect. I also speak Igbo fluently, so I am able to pull off a role in that dialect. Also, I’m good in Pidgin English and if I am guided well, I could do a script in Yoruba too; being able to switch from African accent to American accent, to playing village girl or foreigner is an advantage to me.
For movie productions in the Diaspora, what do you think they can borrow from the filmmakers at home and vice versa?
Production wise, first of all, when you have a good director that has a good view and passion for filmmaking, I think it will uplift any production. And having the right crew, having the right camera and the editing is one huge part of filmmaking. If your editor is not experienced and if your editor does not know what they are doing and the scoring of the film is wrong, then it brings down the whole quality of the film.
I think production wise, that is the most important aspect of making a film and I think that is where a filmmaker should focus more on being very prepared during preproduction to get everything together and everything well set up before they bring in the rest of the cast and crew to make a film. Making sure you have the right location, the right camera, the right crew is very important in production.
Of all the films you have done, which one easily comes to your mind as the best?
I would say being a producer in a Hollywood movie that I was a part of called Chavez Cage of Glory. It is an honour and a blessing for me to be a part of a big film like that, working with Steven Bauer from Scarface and Danny Trejo from Machete Kills and Hector Echavarria who is the director and also acted in it in a lead role is also a world Legendary Martial Arts (LMA) champion.
There is also Patrick Kilpatrick (John Stone). These are big Hollywood stars that I was on set with, and being a producer in a big film like that has really opened some big doors for me. It was just released in the theatre in Los Angeles, California on September 13th, so that has really opened doors to a lot of people, from Paramount Studios, from Disney, big time producers talking to me and wanting to bring me on board in their next project because when it comes to the publicity and distribution which Destiny Entertainment owned by Hector Echavarria who is the director, we really did a good marketing strategy and using a word of mouth to get the movie out there.
How long have you been in LA?
I am in LA for good. This is home for me. It is where I reside. I travel when I am needed. I moved out to LA in 2008 from Baltimore Maryland. From 2008 till now, I’ve been in Los Angeles. But I try to visit Nigeria at least three times a year.
What are those things that take you to Nigeria, specifically?
Just for the love of my country, and for any job that requires me travelling down. Also, I plan on relocating back to Nigeria in the future because you never know; you always want to have something to fall back on. If I ever want to get a government job, I needed to secure that. Specifically, I came back to Nigeria for my NYSC and I am very proud of myself that I have done that.
What school did you attend?
I attended University of Maryland, Baltimore so I served as an international student. I served in Abuja.
You speak so passionately about LA. What is it about LA that you don’t get elsewhere?
It is a state and a city that rings the bell that hits in the heart of entertainment. It is a world of opportunity for everybody not to give up. It is where people will not see you as going crazy about entertainment no matter how you look, how you talk, how you dress, with or without accent, they know you are an actor. Unlike other states where the entertainment industry is not big or recognized. You might dress in a certain way and they think you are overdressed, underdressed or crazy. They don’t understand the language you speak so Hollywood California is the movie land for entertainment industry.
Apart from movies, what else do you do?
I teach African dance and I am also involved in law enforcement. That is a part of me that I try to keep on the down low. I don’t let it out that much.
You are a spy?
I have no comment on that but I have worked with the Los Angeles Police Department. I have worked for the immigration and customs enforcement in deportation of illegal immigrants under a security company. What we do is to transport illegal immigrants from Los Angeles to Mexico. I have a lot of certifications and licenses to work with a lot of undercover detective jobs.
Have you ever been in a situation where you had to recommend Nigerians for deportation?
I have no comment on that.
What factors are responsible for illegal immigration and what lessons do you think the Nigerian government can learn from it?
A lot of people are very fortunate to walk into the embassy and get a visa to come to the United States, they come here, stay the duration and go back and continue their lives. That is proper common sense. But on the other hand, you have young people who don’t have a goal or strategies of what they want to do in the US.
They get a visa, come out here, they get overwhelmed with the life, the communities, the women, the structure and they overstay and then they are left in a situation where if they go to Nigeria they can never come back to the US so they stay and become illegal immigrants.
What did you study in school?
I studied Social Work and Psychology. I also minored in Sociology.
At what point did it occur to you that you could be an entertainer?
From birth. I have always been a child star. I was one of those kids on Kiddies Club which was shown every Sunday on NTA. I started acting and dancing as a child. I grew up being in front of the camera, so it was something that was second hand nature, something that came naturally. Of course I took a lot of polishing classes on acting in college, but I have always known that being an actor has been a great passion and love in me.
Are you married?
No, I am not married.
I saw you with a little boy and I thought that was your son
Yes, you were right. He is my son. His name is Obama.
(Smiles) I got the name from the most influential man in my life, Barrack Hussein Obama, the President of the United States of America. When he became President in 2008, I said to myself, the history that he has made in our lives, the great impact that he has made in the black community in being African American, if I’m ever blessed to have a son, I will call him Obama. As God would do it, in 2012 I had a son, and I named him Obama. He is one-year-old already.
How much time do you have for Obama considering all that you do?
I actually have a hundred percent time for my son. I took up a nine-to-five job for a whole year to raise him. It was one of the most crucial and challenging decisions that I took just to embark on what I have already saved and to take the sacrifice of not having a steady income coming to my hand because I refused to take him to the day care.
I wanted him to enjoy that motherhood, I wanted to enjoy what it is to nurture a child, to give him the best love, the best care, the best attention I could in his first year of life because here in the United States, it is very difficult to raise a child and also go to work at the same time. You see a lot of families; their kids grow outside of their territory meaning as early as two weeks, they get dumped in a day care facility.
They are not there when the baby starts crawling, they don’t know when they made their first sound and they don’t know when they take their first step. They always have to rely on the baby sitter to tell them such things. Also, there are so many abuses that go on in the day care centers; kids get molested; they come back with diseases on their skin and stuff like that. I wasn’t going to take that chance so I decided to take care of him. I breastfed my son till he was eleven months so he is a healthy child. When I look at him, I tell myself that the sacrifice I took was worth it. If I had to go do a job, my mother takes care of my son.
With a hundred percent time for your son, what space is there for a man who wants to come into your life?
There is a lot of room; there is a lot of space. I don’t see how my son would affect any man who would come into my life. If he would love me and care about me, he would love whatever attachment that I have to my body which is my son. However you feel for me, you transfer it to my son and we grow a happy home.
How available are you?
I’m available. I’m very much available (laughs).
What are your hobbies?
I love to take risks. I would love to jump off from a high rise or pull a stunt. Those are hobbies I love. I love to take vacations, I love to go to the movies, just have a quality time with a loved one or a friend, not necessarily someone you are intimate with. A quite time at the movie theatre, a walk on the beach, listening to music. I love dancing, I love spending time with my son. I love martial arts; I love anything that has to do with sports. I love swimming, I love kickboxing,
Even as a woman?
Fitness is key to me because being involved in sports allows me to stay healthy, physically fit and it calms me down emotionally mentally and otherwise. I have lost over 80 pounds within a year that I had my son. For me to be able to bounce back, I think it is a lesson to other women out there that having a child is not an excuse to leave themselves to be fat. People are afraid to use the word fat but I’m not. If you believe in yourself and want to get back in shape, do not use a poor child that you gave life to as an excuse to stay fat. You can always get back in shape. I am a strong believer of fitness.
Where exactly are you from in Nigeria?
I am originally an Igbo girl from the east coast. I am from Owerri West.
What project are you currently working on?
Like I said earlier, the current film project which I am one of the producers is Chavez Cage of Glory. It came out in the theatres on the 13th of September and we are hoping and planning on bringing it to the cinemas in Nigeria if we can get a concrete agreement. Right now, I am working on the pre production of a film called Nwannem in Igbo which means sisters. It is a story about two siblings and it shows you how miscommunication can bring a deep hole into relationships. How it can break you, so it is always good to communicate very well in families.
It is very deep. It is a story that will open our eyes for us to relate more with our siblings. Also, I have officially been cast for a Hollywood film called Hidden Varley: The Awakening. It is a horror movie and we will be shooting sometime in January. It will be a big film and they are already comparing it to Twilight. I also have a movie in Nigeria which is called Mystery Beads. It will be the first 3D paranormal film in Nigeria. I am currently attached to a lot of projects. Also, right now, I am in a negotiation phase with a producer that has me on HBO series that he wants me to be a part of it. I am really looking forward to the rest of the year and next year. I am happy and excited.
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