With over 100 films under her belt, Stephanie Okereke is one of [Nollywood’s] most beloved starlets. In the last two years, Okereke has reached many milestones: completing work on her first feature length film “Through the Glass,” signing a [major] contract with a U.S. based cosmetics firm, and committing to raising awareness about vesico vaginal fistula – an increasingly prevalent and traumatic medical condition among females on the African continent, particularly in places like The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia. The condition, often a result of rape or improper procedure during childbirth, causes waste from the bladder to flow into the vagina, [resulting] in continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault. LADYBRILLE.com caught up with the Nollywood A-list actress and humanitarian, and we've got the inside [scoop] on the next big thing for [M]s. Okereke!
Stephanie, the Face of L’Maj Cosmetics
LADYBRILLE.com: First things first. There has been a whole lot of skepticism with you clinching Hollywood/Beverly Hills based L'Maj Cosmetics deal. In fact, many still don't believe you signed a “$1million contract with an American beauty company.” [Can] you confirm the deal and why do you think there is so much doubt that a Nollywood actress could be the face of an American beauty company?
Okereke: I have heard all sorts of things myself. Some say five million, some one million. Yes, I [signed] an agreement with L'Maj. But, I am not allowed to disclose the [terms], and we [are] still working out other [terms]. So I’ll say no comment on that.
Brush with Death and Campaign Against Rape
LADYBRILLE.com: You've been through the good the bad and the ugly in these last few years. We [c]ommend and congratulate you for having the strength and courage to fight the battles that you've faced thus far. You are an inspiration to many women and we hope that you will continue to do great things.
Okereke: Thank you.
LADYBRILLE.com: For those who are just being introduced to you, you had a very significant thing happen to you, a car accident in 2005. Share with us what happened. What were you doing just before the accident? How long did it take you to recover?
Okereke: It was a horrible experience. One I hope never to ever go through again. Before the accident, I was shooting a movie in Owerri [a city in Southeastern Nigeria in Imo State]. I was nominated for the Africa Movie Academy Awards [AMAA] and I had to attend. On my way to the event from Owerri, I had an accident. A big truck collided with my car. I was [lucky to escape] with burns and a broken leg.
It took me about two  years to heal because I had series of operations on my leg. It was God's strength that pulled me through those difficult times and the fact that I kept a very positive attitude towards my situation, knowing that it wasn’t the end for me. Also, I had a lot of people who showed me love and care: family, friends, fans, everyone, of which I am very grateful to and especially the three men who rescued me from the scene of the accident and took me to the hospital. Like I tell people, your first healing, starts with your mind. [I] am grateful to God that it’s all history now. For people who are in the same situation, just don’t give up. It’s only a phase that will pass . . . you just have to turn it around for your good.
LADYBRILLE.com: Speaking of "not giving up," let’s talk about your current campaign against rape in Africa. Rape is a very sensitive topic and in Africa, it is sort of the big elephant in the room that is never talked about. You recently got up in front of 20,000 Liberians telling them it is time to say "NO" against rape. Why did you choose to attach your name to a cause against rape, especially in Africa?
Okereke:Why not? The problem with us in Africa is that we sometimes shy away from the things that happen around us. RAPE! is one of the most horrible things that can happen to a woman, ripping her of her pride and dignity [only to be replaced] with humiliation and psychological trauma.
I [e]scaped being raped as a young girl and I knew how hard it took me to get over “that psychological state” of nearly being a victim; not to talk of what the real victims have to go through-- prone to diseases, unwanted pregnancies, other medical complications and even hatred towards [m]en. So yes! If my presence in Liberia will make young men reflect about their lives and think about the kind of future they want to have and say “No” to RAPE, bearing in mind that Real Men don't Rape! Why would I not be happy that I had in my little way made change?
LADYBRILLE.com: Thank you for saying, out loud, “NO” to rape, especially in Africa. We hope Africa's government, law enforcement agencies and judiciaries start implementing and enforcing anti-rape laws to serve as deterrence against such acts of violence against women.
Dealing with Divorce
LADYBRILLE.com:You recently filed for divorce in Nigeria's court systems. [I]nstead of asking you about the dynamics of the relationship [that led to divorce], [h]ow do you deal with the media’s constant [need to know] about you and your need to preserve/not [publicize] too much about your personal life?
Okereke: It's part of my business. Sometimes you get negative or positive press. I only try to do the best I can, not shying away that [in life] we all [sometimes] make mistakes. But, do you want to saddle yourself with the things that you did wrong or move on and use those experiences to do things right [so you] can have a fulfilled and wonderful life? In life, you just have to let go of the past in order to move forward. I just keep moving. Only one thing is permanent in life and that is CHANGE!
Passion for Acting
LADYBRILLE.com: Indeed. Let’s talk about your work as an actress. You've been in over 100 films since you began your career a little over a decade ago. That's an awesome feat! What keeps you motivated?
Okereke: God, and the fact that what I do is inborn. I have a passion for my craft that is why I also find new grounds to break and new and challenging things to do. I find satisfaction in what I do. If one discovers one's purpose/talent in life, it gives you joy and you will definitely excel.
LADYBRILLE.com: What do you love most about the work that you do?
Okereke: The fact that it allows me to express myself and it feels good when I walk into a place and people recognize and appreciate me. It's the best feeling ever. Also it has given me a platform to effect changes in my society. [For example,] I got invited by the UN and Liberian government to talk and campaign against rape. I was really happy that my voice was heard and [p]eople were really encouraged that it is time for change and to say “no” to rape! Again it entails a lot of traveling and I do love to travel!!
LADYBRILLE.com: What keeps you [f]ocused?
Okereke: My strong belief in God and the fact that I just don't want to go through life without leaving a legacy.
LADYBRILLE.com: Speaking of leaving a legacy, probably one of the strongest roles your fans have seen you play was alongside Richard Mofe Damijo [RMD], Nollywood's Iconic figure, in "Critical Decision.” Share with us what it felt like working with RMD [in that blockbuster hit]?
Okereke: It was a delight. But, that wasn't the first time of working with him. We did a movie called "Private Sin" and it was awesome.
Okereke in Non-Traditional Roles
LADYBRILLE.com: Besides your statuesque 6ft frame, one of the things that make you stand out is the fact that you have taken some non-[t]raditional roles in Africa’s film industries. For example, you played a major tomboy in "Gambling with Marriage." Another one of your movies, the name escapes [u]s, that was a blockbuster hit, you lived a double live disguising as a man, even had a beard, drove a motorbike, performed some fighting/action scenes with the fellas and was a successful thief!, stealing fine jewelries till you finally got caught! How did you get those roles and where did the guts come to take on such non-traditional roles?
Okereke: The movie is called "More than a Woman." I love being versatile and [it is] reflected in my work and life. I do not want to be stereotyped in my roles and as an artist, I love to try new things--something different that people don't expect.
LADYBRILLE.com: Something different was your role in “Gambling with Marriage” because you played alongside Gollywood [Ghana’s movie industry] A-list actor and actress the gorgeous Nadia Buari and handsome Van Vicker. What was that experience like? Gollywood is giving Nollywood some stiff competition.
Okereke: It was really nice and fun. I am very happy the way the Ghana movie industry is growing.
LADYBRILLE.com: Recently you finished work on, "Through the Glass" a film you wrote, produced and directed. Give us a preview. Who does “Through the Glass” speak to and why should people go out and support it?
Okereke: “Through the Glass” is a movie about a guy [Jeffery] who doesn't want to commit to any relationship but finds an unknown baby in front his house. He [desperately] tries to find the mother of the baby before his whole life is completely ruined. He also gets into a relationship with his neighbor Ada, a Nigerian who thinks he doesn't respect women. It is also a movie about a young man craving for his father’s love and support. People should watch it because it's different, interesting and educating, [plus] it's my first feature work as a director/ writer/producer! [Laughs]
LADYBRILLE.com: [Laughs] How exactly do you plan to market and promote "Through the Glass?”
Okereke: I am planning a premiere and [s]ome theatrical releases and distributions in [the] US, UK and Nigeria.
LADYBRILLE.com: What was [the] experience like directing/writing/producing “Through the Glass?”
Okereke: It was a humbling experience, [and] actually helped me [learn] more about myself and [discover] my [hidden] talents. [It] also made me appreciate people behind the scenes because they are the ones that make us superstars! The experience was great and I am happy I went through it.
LADYBRILLE.com: What are some of the current projects you are working on?
Okereke: I am working on releasing "Through the Glass," and also working on my VVF(Vesico-Vaginal Fistula) campaign, setting up my production company, working with the Nigerian Red Cross to build clinics for free medical care for the poor [across] all states in Nigeria, and a lot more.
LADYBRILLE.com: [Busy, busy, busy!] Since you travel back and forth to the States, what specific Hollywood actors, directors and producers would you like to work with?
Okereke: Martin Scorsese, Tyler Perry, Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett and a lot more. >
LADYBRILLE.com: How can your European and American fans support you?
Okereke: I would love them to buy more of my work and look out for new things I am doing, [a]ttend my premiere which is coming up pretty soon and also buy the movie” Through the Glass” [not pirated ones] when it’s out on DVD. Any kind of support that they can give will definitely be appreciated.
Becoming a Fashion Icon
LADYBRILLE.com: Before we let you go, we gotta talk fashion! We have noticed, overtime, your fashion sense has really evolved. [S]ome of your colleagues [i]nform us Nollywood lacks the resources and skilled persons in the beauty and fashion department. At times, actresses and actors are responsible for their own garments, hair, make-up e.t.c. Is progress being made in that area?
Okereke: When you say evolved? Is it judged by the [fashions] you see in movies because people always make a mistake to judge [Nollywood] actresses on fashion [t]hey see [them wear] in films; not bearing in mind that we are playing characters not ourselves. I have heard situations where people say, “this [person] is the best dressed actor or actress” [based on] what they wear in the movies instead of when they see them in real life, at an award, or any kind of event.
[N]evertheless, I understand that the wardrobe department in the Nollywood industry is still going through the "change phase" in understanding [c]ostumes play a major role in a movie, but there have been a lot of improvements. For more improvements, I feel we should employ people who know what costuming is all about because it very difficult for an actor/actress to concentrate on his/her character and also think about what s/he is wearing. . .
LADYBRILLE.com: [When we say] “evolved” we mean your fashion style sense evolving on and off screen over time and we like what we see now. It’s nice to know there are lots of improvements in the industry because it is frustrating for us to talk about our favorite names in the biz with limited positive fashion images to share with our readers.
What do you think is needed in Nollywood's fashion and beauty department to elevate the fashion standard so Nollywood fans can look forward to watching their A-list actresses and actors; and be inspired by their style sense?
Okereke: I don't think much emphasis should be [placed] on what they see on films, though I understand that there is a need for the actors/actress playing a role to dress appropriately. For instance, if you watch a foreign movie and the emphasis is on fashion, they bring your attention to it, like "The Devil Wears Prada" and “Sex and the City." But, if it's not about fashion, they wouldn't distract you with it but draw your attention to the characters. [R]egardless, I think an actress going for an event or occasion should actually [take] into consideration what she’s wearing and make sure it suits her body type perfectly; not only because people are watching and scrutinizing but [because] it [is] all about you and the impression you want to leave, so more efforts should be made.
LADYBRILLE.com: Thank you so much for your time! We wish you all the best with your upcoming projects [and] do let us know when your movie premieres!
Okereke: It was my pleasure and thank you!
by Niama Sandy and Uduak Oduok.