Wednesday, October 5, 2011

‘I’d Marry My Husband All Over Again But…’ – Joke Silva

Three days to the 50th birthday celebration of screen idol Joke Silva and her ‘Renewal of Marital Vows’, our team of reporters paid a visit to her Ikoyi home, where she grew up; and the encounter was nothing short of beautiful. The warm, accommodating mother of two boys took us through her childhood memories as well as how she’s carved a niche for herself in the entertainment industry.

Although she refused to spill her trade secrets lane, Jay speaks on her 25years of marriage to her 69 year old husband among other things. Between losing their only and eldest daughter and being swindled by movie pirates, the England trained actress, mother, wife, daughter and reality show principal chronicles her five decades in this interview. It’s the 26th of September, 2011.

How does it feel to be 50 in a couple of days?

I’m looking forward to the day. I feel blessed that colleagues, friends, and family feel that it’s worth celebrating. Yeah!

Tell us a bit about your childhood days. Where did you grow up?

I started out life in Yaba, then my parents moved to Glover Road in Ikoyi when I was about the age of five. So I basically grew up in Ikoyi. Then we moved to Ikeja when I got married. And now we’re in our own house in Ajah.

Were your parents professionals?

My dad was a lawyer. He retired as Legal Advisor to UAC. He died 14 or 15 years ago. My mum is a medical doctor, and she’s 85.

Wow. Are you looking at surpassing her age?

If the lord is willing; in good health.

How many siblings do you have?

We are five. I have an elder brother and three younger sisters

Was there any pressure being the first girl? With your parents being working professionals, you must have had to do the family cooking very often.

My mother never made cooking a chore for us or for me. Whenever she was in kitchen I always joined her. I learned to do everything. It was fun. She used to love baking on Saturdays especially. I used to do all the mixtures with her and I used to get the bowl and the spoon after we put everything in the oven. This was years earlier before blenders and other cooking gadgets came on. One thing I hated was grinding pepper. Ooh, I had to grind pepper on that stone; pepper, tomato, onion and beans if we wanted to make ‘Akara’ (bean cake). There is really hardly any Nigerian dish I can’t make. The only thing I can’t do is pound yam. I can cook some Eastern dishes like Banga soup and Starch. I cook some Ghanaian dishes as well but erm, pound yam? No way.

Does it mean you do your cooking yourself?

Not all the time. I have a cook. But once in a while I may. I do it ‘cos I feel like not ‘cos I have to.I really don’t have the time to cook now as I used to. And also when you train someone to cook the way you like. Why not employ him/her to cook to your taste.

Apart from the cooking memories, what other fond memories do you have of childhood?

I grew up in a time when Ikoyi was pretty big. We didn’t have that much traffic. A lot of us used to ride on bicycles to our friends’ places. Late Pastor Bimbo used to live just behind the road. It was a fun time. When my mum travelled, it was exciting for me to go to my Aunty’s who lived in Yaba. It was exciting to take a bus as a child. Normally, we don’t take buses. There are not many of those Red buses around now. I remember No. 79 used to go to Yaba from Obalende. I think that’s the kind of memory that our present governor has and that’s why we have more comfortable buses now that everybody can go on.

I also remember that when we were on Glover Road, we used to have family re-union practically every month and all members of the family would come together to play Badminton. We were a Badminton playing family. By the time we moved on to Bourdillion Road still in Ikoyi, we didn’t have so much space.

Getting formal education.

I started out Primary school in the Anglican School on Broad Street but I didn’t stay there for too long before I moved to St. Saviours. From there I proceeded to secondary school and then A-Levels. I took a year out, and then went back to study Drama at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic art. Then years after getting married and having my kids, I decided to go to the University of Lagos where I acquired a Bachelor’s Degree in English. A couple of years after that I went to the Fate Foundation and did a course in Entrepreneurship.

Wow, your mum a doctor, dad a lawyer and you wanted to study…



I felt that was what I was wired to do. My family had known since I was a kid. They encouraged and nurtured it but more as a hobby. We had so many others in our family who were into entertainmen – . People like Aunty Francesca Emmanuel, Aunty Ibidun Allyson and Uncle Jabba. They got me involved in whatever I could do to nurture the talent. So I became a member of Steve Rhodes voices. I tell people that any discipline that I have in this industry – and people say I am very disciplined, I learnt from late Uncle Stevo. I particularly wanted to go for training and later I worked at the University of Lagos Cultural Centre and then the National Theatre…

Working as what?

As an actor. I was getting a lot of acting work. I worked on NTA television and then radio. I was making quite a bit of money and my father was like ‘whatever you had to do, train and train well’. And I began to see reason with him, especially when I was working at the National Theatre on ‘June’s Metamorphosis‘, a play. I couldn’t really analyse the role and it was really getting on my nerves. And then my father said,’you need to train for this thing’. And that was when I got an acting coach in England. He was one of the top acting coaches. He wrote a book on voice training. And it was with him I did my voice training and audition training. Then I applied to several drama schools and at the end of the day I chose Douglas Academy of Dramatic arts. And that’s where I was for two and some years.

When I came home after my A-level I wanted to get into the University of Ibadan or Ife to study Theatre Arts but then I was late, I had to apply the next year. So that year my parents decided that I began work in the field I wanted to train in with the hope that I’d change my mind if I found it difficult. An uncle at the University of Lagos later introduced me to a company of actors – the University of Lagos cultural centre now called Creative Arts department. We used to prepare plays for convocation or whatever ceremonies were on. It was while I was at the University that somebody came from NTA saying he’d heard about a young girl who just came into the country and was doing an amazing work. We met and he introduced me to television drama. We’d rehearse for about 7 to 8 hours right into the early hours of the morning. There I met a lot people who were working in radio like Jide Ogundade. He introduced me to radio and I became part of his company for radio drama. All that was before the invitation to perform in ‘Jane’s Metamorphosis’.

It’s interesting to know you started out singing. Do you still sing?

I can’t sing to save my life. *Laughs. You know the funny thing is that, even then, I didn’t have much confidence in my singing. But Uncle Steve didn’t believe anybody couldn’t sing and I was always enthusiastic about my rehearsals. So it’s not like I don’t sing, I sing, but I wouldn’t take up singing as a profession. Not even in a million years.

But how about being on Project Fame?

In that respect, yes! The thing is that I have an ear for music. I can tell when you’re off, flat and things like that. But that case is just like people who train actors but they themselves cannot act.

So when you were faced with the project fame job, did you feel qualified?

I asked what the necessary qualification was, and they said I had it. It was the need to be able to nurture young talents and that I’ve been doing for more than ten years in different schools. They also needed me to help in their speech. Of course a lot of them who come can’t speak clearly you know so I am there. I also help out in interpretation. So all those put together worked for me. I’m head of the academy; I’m not the voice coach or singing coach.

When was your first stage play?

That was in late 1980s and there were two of them that we did back to back. ‘The Exception‘ and ‘The War – Omoodo‘ both by Bode Afam. I started working on stage before television.

At what point did fame start setting in?

I remember walking down a road in Aguda with my husband-to-be one closing hour, and all the school children, just made a B- line for us screaming, ‘Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that’s headmaster’. I was scared. I held him so tight, he was like ‘honey it’s okay they like your work’. I was shaking you know. So ‘Second Chance‘ and ‘Mind Bending‘ did it for me.

What year was that?

That must have been in 1984/85.

So did you have it mapped like ‘I’m going to conquer the stage audience, the TV audience, then radio audience’?

No, it’s just the way it happened. I’d say ‘Second Chance’ and ‘Mind Bending’ did it for me with the television crowd. ‘The King Must Dance Naked‘ did it for the theatre crowd and the theatre practitioners. It was produced by Fred Adueze. For the movie audience, it was ‘Violated‘ by Amaka Igwe where I played Mama Tega. And for the Yoruba audience it was ‘Owuro L’ojo‘.That’s my mum’s favourite.

If she has a copy I really would like to get one.

How did your family react to your new-found popularity?

My parents were very proud, even before I began to train. I can remember compeering an event with Sola Omole and it was at the National Theatre. They sent a car to pick me up and my mum told some guests she had with her with so much pride that, ‘Joke lo wa gbe yen o’ (It’s Joke they’ve come for)*Laughs. ‘Oh she’s an actress and she’s also a very good compeer. That’s the official car to pick her’. *Laughs.*I thought that was so sweet. ‘And she’s earning this and that, much more than some civil servants, honestly she’s doing well’. They were so very proud. Before my father eventually died after taking ill, there was no show I did that they both didn’t come. Sometimes a friend would phone to tell them that they saw me on Tv and they’d be so offended I didn’t tell them about it. My mum is still very supportive.

Any particular reasons you don’t feature much in films?

I’m constantly moving between thin and thick. That’s why you’ll see I haven’t done as many films as some of my colleagues. I’ll probably finish this film, and then I have two or three plays waiting for me. I love the stage. I’m not saying I prefer the stage to films though.

And if you were to quit one for the other…

No, I won’t. I enjoy both. Now we’re in talks on a project that’s coming up November/December, and that’s going to take most of my time.

A stage project?

Yes, an amazing stage project. My husband and I have a production company called the Lufodo Company. Under Lufodo production we’ve produced twenty theatre plays. We’ve even taken one to England, and performed at the Hempen Park.

When you were on TV and started acting in the movies did you get poached from Hollywood producers?

I wouldn’t really call it Hollywood. It was a mix of Hollywood, BFI (British Film Institute) and the French Film Institute. It was actually a BFI project. And it was a play written by a Nigerian based in England. There was a proper audition for people of our set where you don’t meet whoever else was auditioning. You’ll only find out about the other people that auditioned much later. And I met with the producers at Eko Hotel. After my performance, they said I’d hear from them latest in the next two weeks. I heard from them the next day and they hoped I was available. They needed me to sign some papers but I told them to hold on ‘cos somebody had to take a look at them. I did sign on eventually. The challenge we had then was that the Nigerians working in Britain or the British of Nigerian descent were like ‘I was coming to poach on their own turf’. But the producer was so adamant because I brought the flavour that she needed for that character. It had Colin Firth, who won the Oscars recently for the ‘King’s Speech’.

‘The King’s Speech’?

Yeah. He won it this year and I was so happy for him. He actually spent some time in Nigeria then. Collins played my son-in-law, and Nia Long played my daughter in that particular production. It’s called the ‘Secret Laughter of Women‘. It’s still on Youtube.

How did that help internationally?

Not particularly well because it came at a time in my life when we just lost our eldest daughter. My husband was like, ‘Joke go and work. It will help you, you know’. So I didn’t bother using it or sending it or things like that. Of recent, it is the younger Nigerians who are probably the age of my eldest son, who have come to ask me to be part of their projects. But they’ve done so in a way that I find disrespectful. So I don’t get involved in their work. And all that’s just because we don’t have that formal division of talents like we have abroad, that let’s you know an A-Lister, B-lister, C-Lister and things like that. You think you can just come and ask me to do what a C would do? The way you employ a C is the way you want to employ me? No way! I don’t care who has signed on to the project. When you met the whoevers who signed the project, did you ask for their show reel? Did you ask them to do a film? At this stage of my life, I am upward only. Anywhere in the world we are auditioning, I’m meeting the director one on one. You make your decision there.

Wait, have you had this kind of situation recently?

Yes, especially from people abroad. Unfortunately for them they need to have a bit of manners. They think they’re coming to do Nollywood a favour by picking us for international films. For us it’s (featuring in international films) no big deal. We’ve worked with some of the best. And the people we’ve worked with have a lot of respect for our work. I mean there’s a new asking that was done properly. It’s offer only. And they’re waiting to find out if we’re interested. That’s how it works. That’s how you deal with our own calibre. You don’t ask us to send you a short film or show reel. How dare you?

Having experienced such disrespect, are you looking at doing anything about putting proper structures in place by joining the AGN (Actors Guild of Nigeria) or similar bodies?

I am a life member of the AGN. My husband and I are involved behind the scenes. The structuringis happening but it’s slow. I mean in other parts of the world, the person that I’m talking about that’s asking for a show wouldn’t speak to me. He would speak to my agent. I have several agents and it’s a tough industry. And some of them don’t realise how tough it can be to be an agent. So the agent I’m with now, she’s perfect. Most people don’t have her telephone number so they still call me but I just refer them to her.

How have you managed to stay relevant?

(Exhales) It’s a secret I gained from one of my friends. And I’m not prepared to share it. (*Laughs*) It’s what gave me leverage, and it’s my own, urm, there’s a business term for it. You know, I’m not going to share it. Even the person who told me didn’t realize she was saying it. I got it, I picked it up, and I’ve never let it go since then. Again it’s the grace of God that has kept me relevant. And I think one of the things I learned from my husband is to be able to read where the industry is going, and be part of that move, because there’s always a change. One needs to be able to read that, ‘this is where is the industry is going right now. How do I fit in this look of the industry and be compatible with it?’

Project Fame helped a lot in projecting your image to a lot of young people. Was it a strategy?

What I’ve learned over the years is, once you’re in this industry there’s no job you shouldn’t take on as long as it’s not indecent. There was a time in my early years when I used to present a program called Teen Talk on Channels TV. Sometimes you say to yourself, ‘all I want to be is an actor because that’s what I trained for’. But you’re not going to get acting jobs all the time.

Why don’t you have your own talk show? Like ‘The Joke Silva Show’ or something.

Talk Show? It’s not just my thing. My mentor was actually planning one for me, but I said no.


If I could get a talk show, then I would probably have a television series. Do you understand? For me my comfort zone is acting and that’s what I’m passionate about. I’ve been asked to be the head of school in Project Fame, I love that a lot because I love mentoring young people. My job on that program is to teach the young people life skills. Project Fame went well for every single day for three months.

How tedious was that?

You know it’s very tedious, very tedious. But I like it. I’ve seen them grow from when they come into the house to when they leave. And it could also be heart-wrenching because there are some contestants you hope will stay for long but then they go.

People notice the friction between the judges and the faculty at the shows, why is it like that?

It’s because we (faculty members) are on their case everyday and we see what progress they make you know. So the judges are like ‘this is what we saw last week, this is what we’re seeing this week’. And we are saying that this particular person has improved but that’s not their own job description. Their job is to judge what they see. That’s why it gets emotional sometimes because we have a bond.

Is any of all that drama scripted?


Through the three seasons, have you ever been disappointed in who was named winner of the talent show?

I’ve never been disappointed with any winner. Sometimes it’s the runners-up I feel, ‘oooh, somebody else should have been there’, but for one reason or the other, they left the competition too early. That’s the nature of the game anyway, isn’t it? It’s a competition and there can only be one winner.

Have you produced any movie before?

Yes, my husband and I did a movie. We produced a film called ‘The Kingmaker‘. It examined the political arena of Nigeria, and focused a bit more on the god-fatherism that we have in our politics. Basically the argument we were trying to project was that even if you get into power through the political platform of a god father and you see that the god father does not have the interest of the populace at heart but he just has you in that position so he can siphon money, then jettison the god father because there’s nothing like the power of incumbency. That’s basically what the film was about.

What year was that released and which actors did it feature?

‘The Kingmaker’ was probably shot in 2006 or thereabout. It featured people like myself, Bimbo Emmanuel, Olu Jacobs, Aunty Bukky, Enebeli Enebuwa and it was directed by Fred Amata. I remember when we released it; we got a phone call from a man in Abuja and he was like ‘Who have you been talking to?’ And we were like; ‘talking to who? Who are we supposed to be talking to?’ The movie theme suggested that we were talking to people in the presidency but really any fool reading the newspaper would deduce some of the things we did. The script was written by a lady called Bunmi Oyesan who’s an amazing writer. She wrote ‘Owuro l’ojo’ too. She’s written a lot of novels. She’s now in Canada. But we ran into trouble waters with the distribution of the movie and the pirates gave it to us in a way we’ll never forget in our lives. We later met a distributor who told us, ‘you know we were the ones who killed ‘The Kingmaker’ in the market’. I’ll keep his name quiet. He actually met me at BOB TV and he said, it was a brilliant film and he made good money off it. The film was a very good film but they killed it in the market. It was pirated.

Didn’t you learn about the marketing and distribution terrain before venturing into production?

We were actually venturing into our own network. We were joining forces with other people to set up our own distribution network and it’s very difficult to fight the mafia. But we haven’t given up on setting up a formal distribution network. It’s a necessity not just to make money on our own, but for the survival of the industry.

How much did you invest?

I think it was about 5million at that time. We did everything possible and we were able to pay back every single one of our investors.

And that’s the only attempt you’ve made at producing movie?

Yes. We haven’t ventured into movie making again until we are sure we can track them.

Do you have an autobiography in the works?

No I don’t.

Wouldn’t you like to have one?

I don’t know. What is it about my life that people want to know abeg.

Does it feel like five decades yet?

It doesn’t. It doesn’t feel like that at all. There’s still so much I want to do and I know I’ll do.

Give us some of the major highlights of your life.

Having my kids definitely and the various jobs that I’ve done. Winning the Solidra Awards, which is an award that the likes of Wole Soyinka, Aunty Francesca Emmanuel, Aunty Taiwo Ajayi Lycett have won is a great honour. I have it on my wall. I feel very pleased with that. So far I feel I’m the only actor that has won the AMAA twice. I’ve found out that practically all the awards system has been set up for this industry has recognised my works one way or the other and I’m grateful to God for that.

Why do a lot of people think you’re older than 50?

Laughs. Well it’s because one has been in their lives for so long. I’ve been in this industry for 30years. Very early in my career, I started playing an older woman. The very first older woman role I played was ‘Mama Tega’ in ‘Violated’ and she was a woman between her 50′s and early 60′s. I was playing mother to a Richard Mofe Damijo, who is actually a couple of months older than me in real life.

Your union is one of the most enduring we have in the Nigerian showbiz industry. Tell us, are things as rosy on the inside as they appear on the outside?

There have been one or two times people have written not-too-pleasant stuffs about us but you know the thing with marriage is that there are cycles. And one should mature with each passing cycle.

Have there been times you felt pushed to the wall and you felt you needed space away from each other or even throw in the towel completely?

Of course there have been. But the beauty of it is that by reason of our jobs we are not always together. So one can take whatever space you want during that time. Again we have realised, you know, that we are so bonded that we can’t do without each other. I mean even when you say you want space, the next minute he’s on the phone asking, ‘how are you’?.

How far apart are your parents in age?

Six or seven years.

And then you brought home a man nineteen years older than you. How did your parents react when they met him?

They loved him. He’s easy to warm up to. My mother didn’t have a problem with him but when my dad heard his age, he was like, ‘oti o’ (No). But with time, everything was settled.

Would you repeat the same thing all over again?

Ha, no o! I would marry the same man all over again but this time I’d like to be maybe four years older. That would close the gap a little. I got married at the age of twenty-five.

Source: The net

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