For years Chioma Toplis has been A significant part of Nollywood with her signature of excellence emblazoned on some of the great movie productions in the industry. The tempo would however be slowed due to injuries that precipitated series of surgeries on her. Today, the actress is fit and back to movie sets as she explains in this interview with NGOZI EMEDOLIBE.
How would you describe your journey in Nollywood so far after 16 years?
This is actually my 17th year in the industry; and I must say that the experience has been amazing. I came into the industry in 2004, three years after starting my boutique and clothing business. I had challenges combining acting with business, most especially as it required shuttling from London to Nigeria frequently. Sustaining both was exhausting financially and otherwise. And I nearly gave up, but as a go-getter, I persevered. And today I can say that I am grounded in both. I am a household name. In fact, I have cultivated both fans and customers.
Did you have your mind focused on acting as a child?
It wasn’t a childhood dream; and it also wasn’t a quest to become popular. I will call it a passion that I grew up to discover and worked towards achieving. However, I did all those Sunday School dramas and choir things while growing up.
Before you joined Nollywood, you were a model in London?
I was not a full-time model per se but while taking my kids to modeling agencies and drama school, I developed the interest and started sending my pictures in for commercials too. I had some appearances in some regional newspapers with my kids. But I found out that I could do better in the business in Nigeria, so I started the search and ended up in the entertainment industry. And that was the end of the dream for my kids too, because I was never around often again to take them to drama and dance school.
Many believe actresses easily fall out with their spouses. How have you been coping with marriage despite being in the limelight?
I have been married for 25 years and still counting. I can say that being happily married does not have anything to do with one’s career. It is purely out of mutual understanding.
What advice will you give to women who want to get into Nollywood but scared that it could affect their marriages?
What works for me in my marriage may not work for another woman. Marriage does not come with a manual. Like I said, it is understanding that couples need to live happily. It is a mutual thing.
Some of your female colleagues have dabbled into producing and directing; are you thinking along this line?
For me, it is only acting. I tried producing in the past but it did not end well. Ekere oru eke. Everyone has his or her part.
What kind of roles are you most comfortable with?
All kinds of roles I would say. I look forward to those very challenging ones. But I do not like those people call ‘epic roles’. Yes, I hate those which involve running around in the bush…not me.
I heard you are picky when it comes to brand endorsement?
I seek what is worth the trouble and time. I don’t know if that translates to being picky. I have one in the pipeline now with a logistics company. Negotiations are still going on though. For me, it is not just being an ambassador, so many things must be right. The money should at least be reasonable. I would like my face to be a brand of something meaningful that will portray my ideals. That has been the issue.
How would you rate 2021 in terms of movie production as you return after the surgeries?
I think it has kicked off on a positive note, despite the lull created by the pandemic.I have been shuttling from Lagos to Asaba for work. So far, I have been on four different movie sets, and I just got called for two others at Asaba. The four done so far were all different in their own ways with different cast and crew members. There is ‘Mad Preacher’, which I shot for Rockcelly Productions with Zubby Michael, Njideka Okeke, Adim Williams and Hayes Achu amongst others. There is ‘Crazy Widow’ for Holycup Productions, which I shot with Mercy Johnson and Browny Igboegwu. Then, ‘ Amaka, My Love’ with Harry B, Frederick Leonard, and Ngozi Eze, shot for Ossy Affasson; and there is also ‘Dangerous Battle’ for Elshaddai Productions with Stephen Odimgbe and Nkechi Nwaeje. They are great works, and offered me the opportunity to reconnect with some colleagues I had not seen in a while. I intend to complete the new ones before going back to London to see my family briefly.
How are the kids coping without you around?
Initially, it was tough. But they are grown up now. My first daughter is already working as an architect in London. The others are studying in the university. They are grown now.
Is any of them preparing to take after you in entertainment business?
Yes, my last child is. She is the one I call my ‘mini-me’. She is 20 years old now and in her second year in the university, studying Media and Advertisement. It was her choice and, of course, I am encouraging her to come out with a first class, before pursuing her dreams. She said her dream is to work with VOGUE magazine.
What will you consider as the recipe for success in the entertainment business?
I will say staying true to oneself; not having cliques and avoiding gossips.
Your 40th Birthday got a lot of attention because you celebrated it with inmates of an elderly home; what efforts have you been making about sustaining this?
In reality, I haven’t done much after then. And that is because, shortly after, I had an accident which led to series of bone surgeries with metals and screws fitted in my legs. I was going in and out of the hospital for a long while. I would love to continue when I am well-settled.
What will you say to your fans that have dreams to accomplish in various endeavours?
If you try and you do not succeed try, try and try again. Rome was not built in a day!
As an actress what gives you joy apart from hearing that your movie project is successful?
When I go out and people are excited to meet me. It gives me special joy knowing that people are happy because of me.