Liz Benson on her new life at 40
Her appearance in the television serial, Fortunes, in 1993 changed the course of her life. The TV soap brought her fame and fortune. At about the time of her spectacular rise to stardom, the Home Video as a medium of entertainment had become popular. Coming to movie prominence with Glamour Girls in 1994, Liz Benson has appeared in so many home videos that her face is better known than that of any other actress. Some of the movies where she played the leading role include True Confessions, Shame, Yesterday, Evil Men 1 and 2, Trial, Pureman, Scores to Settle, Izaga, Chain Reaction, Sunset in Africa, Stolen Child, Burden and many more.
A resolute and courageous lady, Liz lost her husband when she was in her mid-20 and unlike some women whose world would crash after the demise of their husband, she has faced life struggles and successfully raised the three children all alone as a single mother. She has
made a huge name for herself in acting. In this revealing interview, which took place at the Kensington Hilton Hotel in Holland Park, West London, Liz Benson bares it all,from her life as an actress, a widower at a tender age, her children, her acting career, to the rumours about her true age.
You have been away from acting for a while. Why?
I have not really been away from acting. I am still there. What happened is just that I haven't been playing what will be termed as a lead role. I've been very busy. But once a year I try to do one film.
Give a rough estimate of the movies you have starred in ?
May be fifty and above.
Can you let us into your production experience in Morountodun and Banking and You?
Oh God! Morountodun I have found a sweet thing! It was a sweet experience. It's something I did for my association then, that's NANTAP- National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners. The experience was awesome. I played the role of Titubi. (She laughs) that was the lead and it had to do with the Agbekoya's, the warrior groups. I have done a lot of productions but that one was great.
Talking about Banking and You, it was a finance programme I co- presented. It was another experience completely. The programme kept me in tune with the corporate world. It was a totally new experience for me.
How was it when you started out in Fortune?
The pilot episode was shot in 1990. And the first episode was aired (I think) on the 3rd of October 1993. It was very good.
What about your first acting role?
It was Circle of Doom. But I played just a minor role. It was produced by Paul Oke Ogunijofor, alias Paul O who acted in Living in Bondage.
After that came Glamour Girls, which was the first major home video thing I did. That was in 1994.
How and when did you interest in acting begin?
It began as a child. From a time I realised who I was and people can ask me: "who are you and I could answer Elizabeth '.
That should be at what age?
I am 39 now. You could imagine when that would be. May be when I was five year old.
What is the highest money you've ever been paid as an actress?
I don't think I want to discuss that?
Do you derive fulfillment in acting?
Oh! Greatly. Yes, I do or else some of us wouldn't be in it.
Why are we not seeing your face frequently in movies anymore?
Because it gets to a certain stage in ones life you need to take a break, take stock, recoup and refocus.
Would you take off your clothes in front of a camera and what would it take?
Genevieve Nnaji seems to be the hottest things in the Nigerian movie industry today.Do you feel threatened by her dominance?
Oh no! She is a wonderful actress. Like I keep telling people when I came into the movie industry, I never felt threatened by anybody because there were people there. That was the notion a lot of people who are coming into the industry now need to get out of their head. The sky is actually large enough to contain as many stars as possible. Even if we don't have stars in Nigeria yet, she is one person that
is good at what she does. She is just herself. And there are just few of us like that in the industry.
You have done well for yourself:did you see yourself getting here when you set out?
I saw myself beyond where I am now. If Nigeria were to be like Britain, Europe or America of course, you know what would have been happening by now.But with God's grace we are getting there gradually.
What sacrifice did you have to make to get where you are today?
For me everything has been perseverance and strong will to pursue what I believe in and where my interest lies.
Have you bee sexually harassed or pressurised by a producer or director?
No. When you know what you have and you believe in yourself I don't think you have to submit yourself to that. No I wasn't.
What are the downsides and advantage of being a celebrity?
Well, it brings you fame but fame without the finances is nothing and that is what happening in Nigeria. So you have to be very focussed to be able to gather the finances and make something out of it while the heat is still there. Of course we enjoy good and bad press. I think it all
comes with the job. As you know everything in life comes with both the good and the bad.
Apart from acting what else do you do?
(She laughs) I used to be very active in business but a Iot of things changed so I am just watching at the moment.
If you were to change a specific thing about yourself; what would it be?
I don't trust people that easily: I don't make friends that easily, then I would want to change the way I try to reach out to people. My perception of civility is really not what a lot people view it to be. 1 would probably want to change that. So that when I get into a place and somebody is talking to me, I will know where to draw the line. I am very much into myself. But my job has made me to open up a lot more. 1 wish I can change that, that is, go back into myself and just be me.
How do you like to dress ?
Mine comes with mood. With colours 1 am very subtle. I am not a loud person. When it comes to dress, 1 like casuals a lot because they make me very comfortable. I could go for a formal dinner in the State House in my Jeans and T -Shirt, if I had my way.
What do you do when you are off set?
I take a walk.
How do you feel about bad press?
It hit me hard sometimes ago. Like 1 said earlier on, you just have to live with certain things. That is one of the things 1 have to live with in the industry l am in, I have taken it that for those who know me, my family and those who call themselves my friends, they know me better and they can draw the line about what is written about me.
What was ever written about you personally that hurt you most?
I think it is the perception about my age. The first time that I was hit by bad press was when they wrote that I was 36 and was dating someone who was 26. That wasn't correct at all. The guy was in his 30s and I was in my 30s as well. That was long time ago.
Who was the guy?
Abbey, he used to be a musician. 1 think this misconception about my age has to do with the role played. I remembered that in True Confession I played the role of an elderly woman. But it seems they forget that I also played a young woman in roles. There are so many things that have been written about me that are untrue, about pregnancy, about marriage. 1 think a lot of people just open their mouth and say things that are not true. There was once a story about my being dead. And of course I wasn't dead.I am still alive, 1 think it is better to clarify things before going to the press.
Take the robbery incident that happened sometimes ago.1 was taking my mother to the church, when it happened. People were there and the police recorded it. But surprisingly a national newspaper came up that 1 was coming from a party. Yes, I could have been coming from a party, but this day I wasn't. This is something that happened on a Sunday morning in Apapa between 8.00am. What the reporter needed to do was go to the police station and get the fact. That report gave people different view and perception about what happened. I felt really bad about the report.
Did you ever perform any secret marriage with Greg (real name Mike Nwankoni) as it was once reported?
I never did. At this age I want to believe that if l should get married it wouldn't be a hidden affair. There was nothing like that.
How best can you describe yourself?
Crazy! I am crazy. I know a lot of people will be wondering what she means by that. I am just me. I get very upset. I can be very temperamental. I think I have been able to sort that out. My mother told me that you should talk more when you are upset. Talk to people about it instead of bottling it up. Before, I could bottle it up and just avoid the person and continue with my life. These days I open up more. I think I am a very friendly person. But because of the job I do some people feel threatened by my presence. So you've got to warm up to me first or else you will find me as cold as ice.
Away from acting, how do you relax?
I like travelling. So I travel a lot because it is when I travel that I have time to relax. I also go to the beach and stay in water. For me, staying in the water is like a therapy. When my children are around, I like to cook. I enjoy reading. I do a lot of films and barely have the time to watch them but whenever I can, I watch one or two our movies.
Who are your close friends in acting?
I have none except Rosemary Ingbi.
What has been the most challenging period of your life?
I have many.1 view myself as a single parent. And there are times even after so many years I could wish that I have my late husband around, especially when I need to make decisions about the children. To be honest, it is difficult and challenging. Trying to bring my children up single-handedly is the most challenging period of my life. Every other things that happened to me apart from my children I just take it as part of life.
How was it then when you became a widow in your mid 20s after the death of your husband,Samuel Gabriel Etim?
You know when you are young you really don t know the weight of certain things. You can't comprehend certain situations you find yourself You just try to carry on with the reality. It is normal to cry. It's normal to be cheated by in-laws, its normal for people to want to take advantage of you, but there again if you were brought up to be independent like I was, you stand on your feet and say no, my kids are going to be where I am. And you can do anything you want to do for them through me. I knew the person I was married to could help any and everybody. He was a very open- minded person. With that I know he loved his children so much and he loved me equally. That gave me the strength to go on and go through every thing and be there for the children.
How are the children doing now?Is it true that Roseline will be pursuing her university education in UK?
Yes, Roseline will be studying law at the University of Essex and the other two are in school at the Republic of Benin.I feel feel wonderful about the children. They have been fantastic. Excellent I must say. I don't have any regret at all. I will go to any length I to make sure that they whatever they want in terms of education.
How come you never remarried after the death of your husband?
Marriage is not something I want to play with. I respect the institution very much. And I don't want to rush into any. I had a fantastic relationship with my late husband and I don't know how I would have handled it. Moreso, the children have been uppermost in my mind. So I just don't want to gamble. The man will want attention, likewise the children. But my children come first before anything.
Are you fulfilled as an actress?
Yes I am.
And as a mother?
Are you in any relationship?
Yes l am.
Who is he?
You are 39 but it seems you are only in your late 20s,what is the secret of your looking young?
It is God's grace.I exercise a lot.Without exercise I probably would have been three times this size.I exercise not because of my weight but to keep fit.I have a trainer and I jog round the estate three times a week very early in the morning.My trainer wakes me up at 6 am.
You will be 40 in April,what are you doing for your birthday?
I don't know yet.