Stella Damasus. The Asaba Native Nollywood Diva
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard of the movie star beauty, Stella Damasus. Stella is tremendously loved by her fans, not only because of her beauty and talent, but because of the love she has shown for the less-privileged.
Here is Stella in her own words.
I’m from Asaba, Delta State. I was born into a Christian family of five girls and a boy. I lost my brother in 1991 to asthma. I lived with my parents until I came to Lagos after my secondary school. I was living with my sister, got into music and that was when I went to Klink Studio, joined a band and started performing live. My daddy is a fantastic man. He is Chief SKC Damasus.
He was a banker all his life. During the war he was a soldier and after the war he became a banker. My mum is a banker as well. I was brought up in a home of bankers. Everything was by the book. You go to school, come back, study, receive guests and the likes. Again, because I had older sisters things were easier. Growing up was fun.
My family name was changed from Ojukwu to Damasus during the civil war because we were being mistaken to be related to a warlord.
I was told that my family name used to be Ojukwu but during the civil war there was confusion because a lot of my family members were mistaken to be related to one war lord. They were burning a lot of houses in my village so my father and his brother decided to adopt my grandfather’s first name. It was a Greek name which was Damasus, my grandfather’s name was Damasus Ojukwu. So I was born into Damasus not Ojukwu and the only thing I know about the civil war are the stories my parents told me.
The first time my mother heard I was going into acting, she summoned a family meeting.
Funny enough my mother used to be opera singer. She used to sing and act in school. Those days their generation was different from ours. She was always complaining about the vices in today’s girls. The first time she heard I was going into acting, there was a family meeting (general laughter). They said I must do law. I actually did a diploma course in UNILAG. I studied business and industrial law. I looked at myself and told myself that I wasn’t cut out for law.
I just wanted to be an entertainer and I told my father. He made me promise him that I must not disappoint him and return home a failure. He told me to do it for the right reason. At that time parents would never allow their kids go into acting, it didn’t carry the respect like it carries now. People have the impression that once you go into acting you’ll be wayward and do drugs. Failure meant, don’t let me hear that you got pregnant or get into drugs. I’ve never been a wayward child and that instilled fear that I must not mess things up because I wanted my parents to be proud of me.
I nearly passed out when I got my first N10,000 fee.
My career as an actress started as fun initially because I never thought I would take it up as a profession. I came to Lagos and the first thing I wanted to do was sing. I went to Klink Studio and met Kingsley Ogoro. He was training me to start doing radio jingles. In the course of my singing a friend of mine came and invited me to accompany her to an audition. Other girls were auditioned but I didn’t participate because I was not there for that purpose. As I was leaving a guy told me to go and audition and I went, read my lines and left.
Three weeks later I was told I got the part. They said they were going to pay me N10 000. I nearly passed out because that was in 1995 and my salary was N700 at Klink Studio. The movie was titled ‘Abused’. I played the role of Freda, it wasn’t the lead role. I was just one of those that played major roles. That was a good start for someone starting out. After that it was easier because other producers watched the movie and started calling me for jobs.
I didn’t know most of the actors and actresses very well but I’d seen Omotola’s movie before that time and I think it was very nice. But the first person that struck me then was Kenneth Okonkwo because of ‘Living in Bondage’. I shouted ‘Andy’ when I saw him and ran to hug him. I asked the director if I was going to act with them and he said yes. I said ‘oh my God, how am I going to do it’. But they were very good to me and they helped me understand my lines.
I went back to school to study Theatre Arts and I was the only female Directing student in my graduating year in UNILAG. I don’t think you learn to be an actress. It’s more of natural talent. There are some things you can learn but if you don’t have the talent it’s not going to be possible. In primary school, they always called me to play the role of Mary or Queen of Sheba and the likes. My mother noticed that I liked to act but never thought it would become a major thing in my life. But when I saw that it was worth looking into, I went to study Theatre Art in University of Lagos (UNILAG).
Going to UNILAG for me was great because before you can say you are a professional you need to understand some things about the profession. It was a bit hectic for me because it was in school that I had my two children. I was married while I was a student, had my children and was working in-between. It wasn’t very easy but we were grateful because we had lecturers that understood our schedule. I graduated in 2004. I left with 2.1 (Second Class Upper). I received my certificate three weeks ago. I would have made a first class but I was four points away from that. I knew I would come out with a great result and that part of my life will not be a waste and I’ll be able to tell my children the truth, not parents that would just tell story.
After that I was ready to go as an actress and I was not just an actress. I was the only female directing student that graduated that particular year. I knew that after a while I’ll go behind cameras and teach and train people about acting. With my degree, I brought techniques into my profession. For instance there is no part of the world you will push me to that I’ll not understand the language of acting just like banking or journalism. When you are empowered with techniques you will be able to understand when your director says I want you to give me an empathy look or method acting.
If a producer says come to my office at 8pm and you carry yourself and dress funny and go there, what are you looking for in somebody’s office at 8pm when the others have auditioned during the day?
A lot of people kept saying there are temptations in the industry, that before you get roles you have to do one thing or the other with the producer but to my greatest surprise I just found out that it was just people that are coming into the industry for the wrong reasons that are going through all of that because if you are a disciplined person and you have talent and you attend an audition and they feel that you are good enough I don’t think anybody will want to spoil his production by just packing in people that don’t have the faintest idea of what to do.
For me it’s a matter of how you carry yourself, if I come to you and I say I want to act in your movie and you say ok come and audition and I come and I go home and you call me to come and act, it’s different from you saying come to my office at 8pm and you carry yourself and dress funny and go there. What are you looking for in somebody’s office at 8pm when the others have auditioned during the day? It was a matter of who am I for me. Am I good enough to get the job or will I get it based on merit? The moment that I have to do something extra to get something then I’m not meant to do it. I walk away but because of the way most of us carried ourselves, we didn’t have to face all that harassment because from day one we identified who we were and how we were. If you don’t give me the job, no problem.
I will head back to my studio continue my radio jingle, collect my money at the end of the month and go home. Those things were there but I did not enter into that because of money, fame but because I found something that was a passion of mine, that I wanted to do and actually make positive impact on the future. I was very fortunate that I didn’t have to pass through all of that. I don’t mix business with pleasure. Everybody knows that about me. If you see me outside the production, that is a different ball game but if you come to me based on the fact that you are a producer or director, I can’t date you. Even then all of them used to see me as a small girl because I used to ask if I could help them carry their bags because they were stars and they used to call me a small girl.
I used to have a crush on Tunde Euba.
The one person I had a crush on is not in this country any longer. His name is Tunde Euba, he was in a soap opera, ‘Checkmate’. The guy was just a fantastic actor and I used to wonder if he was human.
The true story about RMD and I
Richard Mofe-Damijo is like my brother. He went to school with my elder sister in Asaba. He went to an all boys’ school while my sister went to an all girls’ school right beside his school. My eldest sister went to school at the same time with him. They were in the same dramatic club. That’s how we knew him, right from when we were kids we used to call him Uncle Evans because that’s his first name. From then on he now went into University of Benin and did Theater Arts and my second sister did Theater Arts in Uniben. So the family relationship continued. My mum loves him.
She would call him and say you have abandoned me and Richard would say I’m leaving you to spend time with your husband, I will soon come and visit. When I moved to Lagos and I was living with my sister, the first thing my sister did when I told her of my interest in films was to ask me to go and see Uncle Evans. I was supposed to be in ‘Out of Bounds’ to play the role that Bimbo played. I broke out in chicken pox two days to shoot the movie and that was how I didn’t play the role again. So my relationship with RMD has been for so many years. How many people are you going to tell that story?There was this story that RMD and I were seen doing something in a car at the Bar Beach, a very untrue and painful story.
We were shooting a film for Charles Novia, a bar beach scene. Before we started shooting my late husband told me and told me he missed his flight and he asked me where I was and I said I was shooting at the beach. He called Mike, his assistant to pick me him from the airport and they came straight to location. My husband bought Agege bread for everybody on location. We were all there, ate Agege bread, crossed to the other side, shot and then we came back to him before he asked me to go for a meeting I had that he’d go on home. A week later, Richard called me to read one paper because people had been blasting him that he did a bad thing. I got the paper and I discovered the woman they wrote about with RMD was me. I was shivering. I drove home and showed my husband, he read it, went into the bathroom and he came out laughing and I asked, why are you laughing, I’m not finding this thing funny. I’m going to fight these people.
He said, cool down, who are you going to fight, can’t you see the date they put here, that was the day I came to spend time with you at the bar beach, I came there with my assistant, so why are you killing yourself? Is it about what people are saying or what I think of you or the truth that you know? How many people do you want to go and start raking for and I said but it’s not nice because people who don’t know the kind of relationship I have with him won’t understand and his marriage could be in trouble.
That was the same time people were saying my husband had stopped me from acting. It was a lie. He was the one that kept saying go there and show your face. Let them know that nothing happened but I declined and stayed at home for two years because I felt if Nigerians do not appreciate the fact that I’m spending the best of my youth entertaining them and making them happy, let me stay at home. I was designing clothes, travelling to Ghana, Cotonou; I started Mon Afrique. I went back after my husband said this is what God has asked you to come and do.
Jaiye Aboderin, my best friend…
You don’t plan love, Na music carry Jaiye and I come together. When I was performing at Jazzville, Jaiye liked my voice and said let’s work together. We set up a band and started performing, making money together and he said I don’t like the fact that we are spending money around, let’s keep it within, why don’t we just get together? And I said as I’m looking at you sef, you are not a bad guy. You are a correct guy. The rest is history. It was great, we had a wonderful working relationship, family relationship. He was my best friend. He was a good man. There is nobody that you’ll meet on earth that would say anything negative about him.
My life with Jaiye was every woman’s dream
My life with Jaiye was every woman’s dream. Everything was good, the way a marriage was supposed to be was the way it was. Everything had timing, everything has explanations, everything was done the way we wanted to do it.
For instance when we had our the first baby, he wanted so much to be there but I said I didn’t want him to be there. I didn’t want him to go through that aspect. He wanted to but I tricked him. I didn’t tell him the exact time that they said it would happen. He just missed by a few hours. It was great, a wonderful experience. Normal labour, painful though, I was very thankful. I changed, became fat, darker but it was a wonderful experience.
Despite Jaiye’s weight, he was energetic.
Regardless of what people saw, Jaiye was the most flexible man I’ve ever saw. You should have seen him perform on stage. He was the one that didn’t get tired. He did all the dancing, jumping around and all that. He was very energetic and full of life. He was doing different things at the same time. He exercised a lot. He played basket ball. His weight was not a problem for me.
The day I became a widow
I had a meeting that day in Yaba. The day was a Friday. I got dressed and he was supposed to go and play squash with his friends. For some reason we spent lots of time chatting that morning. It was a different meeting. We decided that we would spend the day together after his squash and my meeting. I left and while on the bridge my car started giving me problem and I called him that my car (a Land Rover Discovery) was giving me problem. He told me to park it and take a cab to where I was going that he would get a mechanic to come and pick it. Then sometimes around 5 or 6pm, I got a call and the person that called me was somebody that never called me. He was a Lebanese, my husband friend. He asked me a funny question about whether my husband had a history of epilepsy.
He was stammering, he asked about high blood pressure and he said, ‘you know what Stella, can you come to the island?’. He said my husband wanted to see me. I told him my husband was playing squash, he said no that he later hooked up with his friends and decided to go play basket ball at the Lagoon Restaurant. He said he fainted, I said no he couldn’t have fainted because that kind of a man doesn’t just slump and faint. I dropped all I was doing and rushed to the car. The car that was giving me problem suddenly started working. Another friend who is also a Lebanese called me and I wondered why everybody was calling me. He gave the phone to Kate (Henshaw) and I asked what the matter was. She said I needed to come and gave me an address. I knew something was wrong but death was not an option. I did not know how I drove from Herbert Macaulay to the Island. I must have been driving at 200kmph. When I got there, I saw a crowd like you would see at a crusade.
They started looking away when they saw me. Kate whispered something into the ears of something that came with me and that one took off and she wanted to dive under one car. I said they should let me see him since he asked that I should come and see him. They took me to the doctor’s office, and he said ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, your husband is dead. There is nothing we could do about it’.
I did not feel anything at first. I was in another world. I looked around me and all his Lebanese friends were crying. I looked at the doctor and said, ‘did they tell you the kind of person I am, I don’t joke with this kind of things. Tell me where he is so that I can go and see him’. He said he was not joking.
Later I was told that I grabbed him and was shaking him. It was his friends and Kate that were consoling me. I was later told to come and identify him so that I would be sure. I saw him and he looked like he was sleeping. I was still in self-denial. I couldn’t believe that somebody that was so healthy in the morning could just die. I didn’t understand what was happening. Later on, my doctor told him they met in the morning and he checked him and he was alright.
Of course there are some details I won’t be able to give you. A lot of things went on that I couldn’t say now. I wasn’t angry with him because to me he was sleeping. I couldn’t believe he was dead for a long time Not even on the day of service of song. I think it was the day of the burial when I had to pour sand into the grave. I think I just flipped and sat on the floor, I just couldn’t believe it. It was when we got home and people started consoling me that I started looking at myself.
All that talk about him having had a history of high blood pressure was so untrue. He did not have a history of anything, he was a big person and he was taking his time to do the things that he needed to do to stay healthy and up until that day he was healthy because he was checking it, doing his check- ups in South Africa. Anytime I don’t agree when people say there is a history of something. I don’t like that word.
Lessons I learnt from Jaiye’s death.
After his sudden death, I just learnt to take things a little bit easier and there are some things in life now that I take more seriously. I pay attention to my health more, I do more check-ups. I talk to my doctor more, I check myself even before any symptom comes and then I spend a lot of time with family because that’s one of the most important things. To get peace you must be at peace with your home. Even after all the hustling you have to know that if you die and leave all the things you’ve hustled for, that’s the end.
I don’t believe in lazy widows who wallow in self-pity and expect people to come and throw money at them.
What I’ve decided to do is not to dwell on the problems of widowhood because we are using that to deceive ourselves. It has made many women to become lazy and laid back. They are blaming everything on society and government. I always tell young women that as you are getting married, make sure your lawyer has everything thing that your husband owns. You should be the next of kin and you don’t need to wait until a man is 60 or 70 before he writes a will. Even if it’s not about the wife, protect the children, you must do it. Let him put you as his next of kin so that you are protected if anything happens. All these issues of I’m a widow and I’m African, so I must wear black for one year and you wait until your in-laws come to throw money at you should stop. You don’t need to wait for government or others to come and help you out. Nobody will train your children if you don’t work.
There was nothing people did not write about me. They labeled me a merry widow but I asked myself who will help train my children? Nobody. I waited for all those people criticizing me to come and tell me not to work, that they would pay my children’s school fees. Nobody came. So will I say because I was mourning my husband, I should sit down and not work? Mourning never stopped. I’m still mourning him, he’s still in my heart. I still go to the graveside every December. He’ll remain in my heart even if I marry 100 times because he was my first. So, if you want to carry that on your head and go out to beg for money, it will not work.
The Aboderins and my children
My children are very happy, they are great, fulfilled. Everything is fine. It’s not about me. My children have a mind of their own. When they like a person, they are the ones that will say mummy when is he coming again? They are happy.
As for my in-laws, I have decided that I will not comment on anything that has to do with another person that I cannot talk about. I can talk about me, my family but any other family I can’t go there.
But they cannot take my children from me according to any culture because I married in court.
It’s good to be married again
It is good to be married again. It’s a good thing but I don’t want to celebrate my marriage on the pages of newspaper. It just happened. I’m sure you’d like to know if he proposed on bended knees but I can’t talk about that.
It took me this long to re-marry because I did not want to marry for the wrong reasons.
No two human beings are the same, you can never compare one man to another, if not you will remain single for the rest of your life. If you are looking for a replacement, you are looking at marriage for the wrong reason but if you are looking to find love again you have to keep an open mind and start your life afresh which is exactly what I did. I didn’t want to marry because I’m desperate. I didn’t want to marry for the wrong reason. I didn’t want to marry and then pour my frustration on this new person because if you don’t heal inside of you mentally, psychologically, spiritually, if you don’t heal and find love for yourself because losing a husband makes you think of yourself as a different person.
You blame yourself, you blame the world, you blame everything because you are filled with pain and hate, anger it takes the grace of God to calm down and start your life again. To change somebody’s mindset at an adult age is difficult and once that mindset is not changed, once you are not healed of what loss you have suffered, once you have not been able to tell yourself I can love myself again because if I don’t love myself nobody can love me. If I don’t come out and people see joy and peace nobody will be attracted to me.
Do you know the stigma that comes with widowhood in this country, do you know how many families will tell their son ‘’if you near that woman who is married before her husband died and we cannot even explain how that man died till today and she now has children. Then you young man, with all the young girls around you are looking for a woman with two children.’’ All these things happen. It’s not home video. I’ve seen, I’ve heard. For me it was a matter of I’m I looking for a husband now or do I just want to be healed and have joy again in my life because if you are not happy within yourself no man can make you happy. That’s the mistake a lot of women make. I have wonderful kids and we are happy together.
Any man that sees this ready-made, wonderful family should be the one that should be running and say please I want to be a part of this family because what I give off is love, peace, joy because I have decided to deal with my loss internally so that I’m not looking at you the next morning and I’m not worried that what if something happens to this one now, what if one family members comes and say don’t do it? What if he sees one fine girl outside that is very single and has never had kids and she’s very shapely and me I’m ‘after-two’.
For me it’s not how long it was a matter of if I was ready and prepared. Will you be willing to submit to another person totally different? Would I be able to become a good wife, and even try and be a better wife now that I’m older and more matured? There are some things that I know now that I’m supposed to apply. I have a better understanding of how to manage things and make sure that I play my part as a wife. Am I ready to start all over again because to be single for a long time is not an easy thing to just change it over-night. I had to be ready, physically, mentally I have to be ready to allow another man in my life.
Life rotates between life and death
Life and death are like a rotational thing. Some people will go for others to come. Others will come again for others to go. It’s a circle that we all have to pass through, some earlier than others but something that must happen. There must be birth and there must be death. It’s not a good thing when death happens around you but it is inevitable and birth when it happens around you it’s a good thing. As a Christian there are some things that when they happen we will cry about. We will feel pain but we also have to understand that is the way life is. We also have to understand that according to our faith those people up there in heaven are looking at us and laughing at us and they are probably saying that you think this is life you are living, this is where the action is. I still feel pain when death comes early, especially when it claims the good ones.
For a long time after Jaiye died, I felt like dying too so that I could go and join him, I have not stepped out with my husband; the man whose photo was published as my husband is not my husband
That picture is not my husband, hope you know that. I’ve asked them to do a retraction and apology. I saw my face in the front of a magazine with a headline that says ‘Stella Damasus steps out with new husband’. I don’t know who that man is. They called me on phone to apologize that their photographer made a mistake and I told them to make it known to people that it was a mistake because that man could be someone else’s husband. When my husband saw it, he laughed.
I’ve played a lot of roles but I haven’t found any that defines the real Stella
The movie, ‘Widow’, is not my story. I didn’t write the story. I shot the film in August, Jaiye died in December. I did my job to the best of my ability like I played in other films. If I didn’t become a widow I don’t think anybody will be asking me this particular question because I’ve done other films that are equally very good. There was ‘Engagement Night’, ‘Queen of the Rain Forest’ where I played a queen whose land was given to her by her father who passed away. There was an enemy neighbour community that wanted to overthrow the queen and then her younger sister who wanted to be queen The younger sister set up a group of people to cause a war so that she would go into war and fight and be killed but unfortunately for her she went into war and the prince of the other kingdom saw her and fell in love with her. He didn’t kill her because he could have. He allowed her to win the battle and she went back home and then he came to her kingdom disguised as a beggar just to try and win her over and then with time she started to like the man and then the rest is history.
In ‘Engagement Night’, my character on the eve of her wedding saw somebody from her past and she was afraid she might tell her husband because she didn’t know that the person from her past was her husband’s best friend. On the engagement night she went to the hotel of her husband’s friend to beg him to leave her and her man alone. Unfortunately, the groom who was also returning the wedding tie of his bestman, his friend caught his bride-to-be in his friend’s room. He went ahead with the wedding ceremony but he made her life hell.
I’ve played a lot of roles but I haven’t found any that defines the real Stella because many people have the impression that I’m very emotional because I cry a lot. That’s because those are the kind of roles that they’ve given me over the years but that’s not who I am.
When preparing for a role, I work in front of my mirror a lot.
A lot has to go into preparing for a role. First, I have to define who the character is, each role is totally different from the next. You can’t use your personal life that is totally different from a character to play that character. It means that you have to build a brand new character, know how does this person talk, how does she think, her age, educational background, what relationship does she have with the next person, who is she supposed to be and how are people supposed to see her. There are a lot of factors. It’s more than reading and cramming your script. I work with my mirror a lot. For each line, I want to see how the camera will capture my expression. Sometimes I record myself at home.