By Uche Amunike
I was at the popular eatery known as Five Star, here in Awka just a few weeks ago to grab a late lunch. While I quietly enjoyed my beautifully prepared Semovita and Bitter leaf soup, I couldn’t help listening to three friends on the table across mine as they loudly discussed the popular Chika Okpala who is known as Zebrudaya. One of them recounted how he saw him at an event recently and how good he looked. Their discussion moved on to other things and one of them popped the question, ‘what about his wife, Ovuleria? Is she still alive?’ The same guy affirmed that he actually asked Zebrudaya that particular question and he confirmed she was. As I enjoyed my meal and listened to their chit chat, I couldn’t help wondering why Ovuleria was no longer in the limelight. She should be ruling her world in the movie terrain.
They are the pioneer members of that profession. I remembered Claude Eke who acted the role of Chief Jegede Shokoya; James Iroha who played the role of Gringory; I can’t remember the name of the man that acted the role of Clarus. I also remember the glutton that acted the role of Nathaniel, whom they popularly called Naaty. Well, I came across this interview anchored by Flora Onwudiwe and published in the New Telegraph. It is about the black and beautiful amazon, Ma Lizzy Ovueme, popularly known as Ovuleria Okorigwe Nwogbo, alias 4.30! Please enjoy the rest of the excerpts…
How did you come about the role ‘Ovuleria’ and wife to Chief Zebrudaya Nwogbo alias 4.30 in The Masquerade?
When The Masquerade group came from Enugu at the creation of Imo state, they came to Aba where they had Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). Already, I was an artiste participating in NTA programs. Mr. James Iroha was the producer of the Drama department at NTA and I was also taking part in NTA programs. It was from there he picked me up and gave me the role, Ovuleria, wife of Chief Zebrudaya. The lady that was playing the wife to Chief Zebrudaya left for the United States of America.
What year was that?
If I can still remember, I think it was 1978.
Is there any difference between Ovuleria and Mrs. Elizabeth Evoeme?
Not quite, because Mrs. Lizzy Evoeme is a housewife and Ovuleria is also a house wife. I don’t see much difference in the two roles.
Was there no challenge in the character interpretations?
The challenge there is Lizzy Evoeme is a private person living her life with her family, while the role of Ovuleria exposed her to the public eye, anything I did was news. That is the challenge I figured, every time I am on guard to watch ‘what you say’, ‘how you dress’. It keeps you in check in the public eye.
How did you get to Know Mr. James Iroha?
I belonged to a group called Evil Checkmate House, it was one of my co-artistes in the group that introduced me to James Iroha who was the producer of the Masquerade group.
What were you doing before The Masquerade?
I was just a house wife and a mother to my children.
If your husband were alive would he have allowed you to act?
If he was alive I wouldn’t even have dreamt of going into the television and acting.
Did you ever dream of becoming an actress or did you just accidentally stumble into it?
I wouldn’t say that I accidentally started acting, because I have been acting since my Sunday School days. We formed the play group after the Nigerian Civil War and I was acting with them from that time.
Where were you?
We were based in Aba, we were in Imo before the creation of Abia State.
What was the title of the first episode in The Masquerade and your experience onset?
I can’t remember, it was a long time ago, Clarus and Gringory and other people were onset with me. They made things so difficult for me because they played their roles so well that I laughed continuously onset. That was my very first episode and after that I got used to them.
When you are not acting what else do you do?
I was a Staff of the Aba Town Local Government in Abia State then but I am now retired and with my family.
Did you retire before you joined the Masquerade?
I was working and acting at the same time.
How were you able to manage your home front?
The Nigerian Television Authority wrote to the local government to always release me each time they needed my services, we produced three times a week. At a point we left Aba for Enugu because we were recording the program in Enugu, so I had to leave my office work to get to Enugu for the recording. So NTA got permission for me to be excused from my place of employment.
You started acting in the 70s, not too many women were exposed, how were you treated among womenfolk?
When I started The Masquerade, it was not easy because not many women as at that time featured in television. Women from my immediate environment did not take it kindly that I was acting on television. They saw it as showing off, those people did not hide their feelings about it, but it is something I like doing and I went ahead and I did not regret it.
From your husband’s extended family, were you discouraged?
Yes my husband people, even though my husband was not around, were not happy. They saw it as being wayward, going to laugh and throw myself about on television. It is not what it is now. I was doing something then that was out of the ordinary. They were not happy about it.
But you remained undaunted?
Because I believed in what I was doing and I had passion for it. And it became very helpful. My husband died leaving me with four children to look after, the little money I got from it went a long way in helping with the upbringing of my children. So these were two the main things that kept me on. All my children are graduates and they are doing well in the society and I have grandchildren and great grandchildren.
What lesson did you learn from acting?
Acting really taught me that if you are convinced that what you are doing is right for you personally and you think it’s helping other people, just go ahead and do it. You don’t have to bother yourself with what certain people in the society are saying, because it is not everybody that will be against or support you. First of all, convince yourself that what you are doing does not threaten anybody and you have some satisfaction from it.
The women who saw you as lecherous, what is their reaction now?
Woman will look at you, you know then, if you went out to the club or beer parlour in those days, may be a cousin or husband and wife were sitting together or boyfriend and girlfriend were seated and Ovuleria walked in, the lady would hold tight to her man because they thought that Ovuleria with only a short stare at the man would snatch him. But these days, most women are struggling to get into the business of acting. When we were recording in Enugu, any day they said there would be audition you will see women coming with their husbands and children to be auditioned for roles. That showed their attitude to acting has changed, they no longer see it as something bad.
Could you tell us your state, school attended and local government?
Can you skip that question from me?
It’s okay but I am originally from Imo State and married in Abia State.
What was the pay like for the cast in The Masquerade?
If you talk about payment it was nothing. When we started the first episode of the masquerade, I got N10 and I would not collect the money for four weeks so that it could add up to N40 for a month. But when it became the New Masquerade, the money increased but it is different today. Some actors nowadays count in millions compared with when we started with N10 per episode – you can see the difference.
What advice would you give to the upcoming actors?
Most of the young people now feel that they know it all, they should not try to run faster than their instructors. They say slow and steady wins the race. They should calm down and listen to those who have been there before them. You cannot be in a hurry in the acting world. Some people do one show and want to become superstars; it does not work like that. I told you that we started with N10 per episode, but now when some people get one script, they are asking for one million naira and when they are asked to do the job, they will not be able to do it. The young ones should not be in a hurry, they should take their time to grow in the business.