Nigerian award-winning film actress and activist, Hilda Dokubo, has opened up about her life, career, family and latest achievement.
In a recent chat with PUNCH, the 52-year-old celebrity mom who recently bagged a doctorate in Literature at the Institut International des Technologies et de Management, Lome, Togo, shares how she achieved this feat despite being a Nigerian-based filmmaker and mother.
The youth advocate who once served as special adviser on youth affairs to Peter Odili, a former governor of Rivers State, also spoke on how she has managed to keep her family off social media plus why other celebrities should keep their families away from the media.
See excerpts below…
You just bagged a doctorate in Literature from a college in Togo. How does it feel adding this extra feather to your cap?
I truly don’t know, but I just know it is an extra responsibility. Anytime I get anything, I always say to people that for every new gift or addition to life or its achievement, it is an extra responsibility. It is something that places me again before people and gives me extra tasks. I am so grateful to God for this opportunity. It is a call to more work.
How were you able to combine schooling with acting and parenting?
The key to success is not very far. It is in one’s ability to connect and stay committed and consistent in what one believes in. Don’t take your eyes off the goal. Are you going to meet challenges? Yes. Is it going to be daunting and tasking? Yes.
You may be happy on some days and not be happy on other days but if you stay committed and focused on what you are doing, it will happen. Education is up the ladder for me. Anybody who knows me knows that I love education a lot. In fact, people mock me a lot. Truly, I love to read, write and get some extra knowledge every day. There is no overload of knowledge.
Did your relationship with family and friends not suffer since you had to shuffle Togo and Nigeria?
About relating with people, it has been constant work. Acting is that profession that I describe as the most disciplined profession. It makes one an expert on human relationships. Every character we play as actors is a human life somewhere.
In playing that life, you have to find the connection between that life and the other life on that stage or screen. Now, in doing that, you have to understand how human beings relate to themselves and how they relate to others and their environment. That extra learning or effort that you have to put in all the time when you do your work teaches you that everyone you meet, no matter how young or old, deserves your respect.
Even when some of them come across as not-so-decent, you don’t forget that it is a lack of understanding that has warranted that kind of behaviour. So, you try to teach them how to behave properly. This is only done by showing them true examples of what the right thing should be.
I am my cheerful self. I am not pretentious in any way. When you are not doing the right thing, I am happy to humbly present to you the picture of the thing you are doing. We all make mistakes and appreciate people when they help us figure them out.
Let’s talk about family. How have you managed to keep your family off social media and public glare? Is this intentional?
The truth is that I did it on purpose. I deliberately kept my family out of the media. Show me anybody who puts their families out on the media that their marriages are still on or whose families are still happy. My family, for me, is private. It has nothing to do with my work.
The only reason people know my kids’ birthdays is because the people in my office wouldn’t let it be. It is hardly me. I keep my entire family out of the media because I want to protect them. There is a proverb in my language that says, ‘If your good will not bless or protect me, let your bad not destroy me!’
We have found ourselves in situations where people who know nothing about you want to set standards for you and tell you what you should or not do or how you should or not do it. My children know that I am Hilda Dokubo and they are who they are.
Speaking of family and the media and how they interrelate with one another, we have noticed recently that a lot of celebrity couples are breaking up and leaving their marriages. What do you think may be responsible for this?
Family is the best thing that anybody can long for and have. There is nothing that you can compare to family. It is knowing that there are people who are going to be always there for you. It is the responsibility of everyone to protect their unions and their families.
If somebody is not strong in form of character and you let yourself keep listening to all of the rubbish people say in the media, it may strain the relationship. My people used to say, “If you keep your ears too close to the ground, people will pour sand into it.” When you let people keep telling you negatives about your partner; however strong you are, it strains the union.
So, you don’t let it come so it doesn’t worry you emotionally and begin to affect your relationship with the other person. As a celebrity, nobody will give you billions (of naira) because you advertise your spouse every day. Since it is not adding anything, keep them away from the chaos.
Focus on making sure your family is happy. As a young actor, focus on your growth. Some people become so envious of you for no reason and may plot to spoil what they see. Everyone in public space just ought to be wise.
You have been acting for quite a long time. Why didn’t you move further with advanced studies in film or directing? Why Literature?
The starting point for either theatre or film is the writing – creative writing. I love the art of storytelling, and this is what you find in Literature. It helps one connect with history, cultures, and people. It gives one words for the picture that would be created.
They (acting and literature) are literally the same thing. This is the way one is able to create the pictures that one wants. Besides, I have a diploma in Performing Arts; a bachelor’s in Creative Art; a master’s in Theatre Education; another master’s in Acts of the Theatre before my PhD in Literature.
You emphasised your love for education earlier. What really makes you obsessed with learning?
I am not going to stop learning. There are things that one just likes as a person. For me, it is education. I love education. I am an educator. I teach people. I love that act of impacting and learning. I love the act of communication. I am not stopping anytime soon.
It is just sad that we come from a place where we have made a mess of our educational system. I wish that we still had education as beautiful as it was in my days. It was even how I got into entertainment. I was scouted in school. If I was not in school in the first instance, I would not have been found.
I knew that for me to be relevant in the business of theatre, I had to be three times more than everyone else. So, the adults who raised me taught me how to take my books seriously.
What is the ultimate goal in all this? Do you plan to lecture after a while?
I will. I already run a training and mentorship centre where I work with a lot of young people. So, I am going to keep doing that and I am sure I will end up in a formal classroom whether or not I like it.
But I am also sure that my informal education will not stop. I want to be able to teach people how to use common sense because I have found out that people, these days, have issues with reasoning.
Can you explain how you were scouted at school as a child and how you began this acting journey?
I was a young and restless seven-year-old and then the Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture was looking for a young girl for a show on a Nigerian Television Authority channel.
So, they did this talent hunt and they got to my primary school, where they discovered me. They gave me the role and the rest, as they say, is history. So, I went from going up on the radio to TV and also on stage. By the time I was ready for university, I naturally loved to study theatre.
Was that what your parents wanted?
Theatre wasn’t what they wanted. My mom wanted me to study Law but it coincided with a time when there were a lot of issues at the University of Port Harcourt. So, I just went for Theatre Arts.
So, I went from studying Theatre Arts to moving to Lagos for national youth service, to joining Nollywood as one of the pioneers, to taking a break from Nollywood, to giving back to society, to going back to school to gain more knowledge, serving the Rivers (State) Government, to coming back again after serving the government and to coming back to Nollywood as a filmmaker.
What was your experience serving the Rivers State Government as Special Adviser on Youths?
I must confess that it gave me a lot of experience. It taught me how to become an administrator. After graduating from school and going for youth service, I had hardly done anything related to administration. So, all of that process was what I learnt serving in Rivers State.
It also brought me very close to the people. All they knew of me and what I knew of them was from a distance but that office brought the young people really close and it was really to identify what the core issues were. I am not a youth but I see from their eyes having been a youth myself.
Working with the youths has opened up a lot of opportunities for me. The minute I left the government, I set up a process where we were rehabilitating and reintegrating drug abusers and others back into civil society. All of that, probably, wouldn’t have happened had I not gone to serve my state.
You were always involved with movies where you had to cry. What did the producers consider before giving you the role?
When we started Nollywood, you would recall that whether one was young or old, one was made to play whatever role the producers wanted one to play if one knew how. I was one of those people who could play young and old at the same time. I was what the makeup artist used to describe, then, as ‘character face’.
Being very deep, producers and directors would say, “Oh! Hilda would go full method on this character!” So, whenever someone needed to play a character that was deep, it naturally fell on me. They knew that they wouldn’t have to tell me what to do because I would interpret that character properly for them the way they wanted it.
Then, they were writing a whole lot of female-angled, soft-side movies which always depicted women in pain in Africa and the like. I played that typical African woman who was always in pain. So, it looked as though I was doing a whole lot of crying.
But, I had quite a lot of mean roles like the ones I played in ‘Tongues of Fire,’ ‘Forever,’ ‘Unchanged’ and others. I had played second wife, the mischievous stepmother, and others, though the majority were always me crying.
One important thing in this industry is that you have to be known for something. There has to be a line that describes you. That line is your door opener. Once you enter and that is established, you can become as versatile as you want. If from the very beginning, people are unable to pin you to something, you would hardly get a job.
This is because the casting director would be confused. The directors themselves may not have that time to begin to work on their actors when they are working on camera angles and all of that. So, the onus falls on the actors to define themselves. That is what they are looking for. Nobody was punishing me. It was my ability to do a good job.
Did personal experience play a role in helping you to interpret a role for a movie?
There is just the ability to understand the character. Every character that I play has a life, and I create the person for that life and I just immerse myself in it and go on. It sounds too simple but it is a deep work that we do. It is really serious work to become a good actor.
What would you say have been some of the most memorable sets you have been on?
After we had established Nollywood to a point, I began to produce and direct. I did my first job as a producer and director on the film, ‘Another Campus Tale’. It was a film about student cultism, based on a true-life story. I had a few people who had firsthand experience with cultism in school while producing the film.
It was one of the very first movies that the ministry of education paid for and asked us to send it around school and speak to young people about cultism. At that time, cultism was like air – it was everywhere. A lot of students lost their lives to it. I am really glad my first film as a producer made an impact. That is one set I consider memorable.
We did another advocacy film on HIV/AIDS titled, ‘Goodbye Tomorrow,’ and that opened ways for many other kinds of filmmaking – issue-based filmmaking. This was around 2002. I was later invited by the National Council of Women’s Societies to do a movie on women in politics and all that, and that opened up a lot of doors for me. That was also a memorable set for me.
You also have a very radiant light complexion. Some people have said that there is this privilege that people who are light-skinned have. Has this been the case for you?
It depends on who is looking at colour privilege. Nobody cares about your complexion if you have character and are good at what you do. Your complexion becomes something to compensate for when you have no character. If you like, be as dark as charcoal or as white as snow, if you are good at what you do, people will call you.
All those people who apply whatever it is they apply to their body, it is all in their minds. It doesn’t change anything. Any director who tells you they need a particular complexion for a particular role should go and sleep.
There has been a serious issue of sex-for-roles in the industry. Did you experience this in your time?
When we first started Nollywood, there was nobody there to intimidate anybody. We were all young people who had just graduated from school and were hungry to make a difference in our lives. Who were you going to intimidate? We had people who were coming from NTA and we were the young ones who had just graduated to join Nollywood.
We hardly had that. We didn’t even know anything about it. But, I cannot also pretend that I have not heard people complain about sex-for-roles. My answer will be the same every day: if you know what you are doing and you know how to do it well, nobody will ask you for sex before giving you a role.
If anybody does, walk out on that person and you will still get other roles. Those who came in through this means, where are they now? Everybody wants the best person to play the role in their film so there is nothing to be afraid of.