From a very humble beginning in Nollywood in 1996, top actress, Franca Aernan, through dint of hard work and consistency has risen to the top of her career. “I’ve paid my dues in Nollywood.”
Aside acting and being a publisher, Benue State-born Aernan has churned out four successful movies as a producer. “My dream is to produce lots of movies, but the industry is not yet stable. I will return when the industry is fully settled”, said the star of Valentino, Coming to Africa, Sabina and many other hit movies.
Continuing, outspoken Aernan who is very bitter with Zack Orji for sidelining her in the running of Actors Guild, as it’s national public relations officer, said she still wants to contest for elective office despite her not too successful first outing.
“I tried my best as P.R.O of AGN, but my president, Zack Orji, sidelined me while we were in office, he kept acting in Isolation. But I’m coming out again to run for the post of Vice President, North Central, in our forth-coming elections,” further disclosed the Mass Communication graduate of University of Lagos.
35 years old Aernan who started her acting career first on TV with NTA Lagos and had thrilled in many soaps, when asked about why she is still single said; “I’m into an affair which I’m still taking my time to study. At 35, I’m under heavy pressure from my family to get married.
But I’m still looking for the kind of man that shares my kind of vision. In fact, I’ve not seen my ideal man…,” revealed the meticulous screen dazzler who wants to go into politics after 2007 at the federal level. “I’ve already started consulting with my people and constituency.”
Hi, Franca, how was your Easter and how did you spend it?
Hmmh! Easter was mourning period for me, I was indoors all through, honestly, and it was one of the lowest periods in my life. I lost two young people related to me this past Easter period. One was my younger sister and the other my sister-in-law. The former was 25 while the latter was 26. So you can understand the trauma I’m still going through losing such people. It’s disheartening. In essence, my Easter was not a good one. I was indoors throughout. (Accept our (condolences) thank you.
You read Mass Communication, why did you abandon it for acting?
No! I wouldn’t say that I abandoned Mass Communication for acting, because acting to me is one aspect of Mass Communication. Because through acting I still communicate to a large number of people who are heterogonous. They are interwoven; I’ve not abandoned it.
Okay, why are you not practicing it professionally?
Look I’m a publisher, my last book just came out. And I intend publishing a magazine or better still, package something for television. In fact, I’m starting this year. So you can see I’m practicing in my own little way. But not like you.
Your romance with acting, how and when did it start?
Emmh! I started actually on television; the person who encouraged me to go into acting was my uncle, Patrick Ithoyegh. He was the Director of programmes when I came into acting at NTA. This was ’89, ’90. The first time I came to Lagos in 1990, he took one look at me and said, young lady, you are going to do well as an actress, especially with your kind of diction. I started appearing in Tales By Moon Light and few other dramas on NTA then. From there, I moved to the stage. I was a member of the famous Anansa playhouse. I also acted in Winds Of Destiny, Ripples and few other prime time soaps on NTA then. I joined Nollywood in ’96, during my final year in Unilag. The movie was titled No More Foods For The Gods. By Jeta Amata. Kudos must also be given to Ifeanyi Dike for gathering us together to start an association, which is today known as Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN). It must also interest you to know that I’m a founding member of the actors guild.
What is happening, we no longer see much of you in home videos like before?
Yeah! You are right. The last movie I starred in was Wind Of Fate; it came out late last year. The trend or will I say the way the industry is going right now is not really favouring a lot of us. The bulk of the stories are tilted towards Igbo cultures. And most producers, especially the new ones, feel they are most comfortable with only Igbo actresses. For example, all the epic movies are centered on Igbo cultures…
(Cuts in) But what are non-Igbo actresses like you doing to curtail this trend?
I’ve advised them on several occasions to also explore other cultures in their storylines. The Igbo culture in terms of storylines has been exhausted. They are now recycling stories and people are getting tired. They should look outward. I’m not begging to be included…
But do you sometimes envy some of your female colleagues and contemporaries who are still at the front rows in Nollywood as top actresses?
(Raises voice). I do not envy anybody I’m a pioneer actress and also a pioneer founding member of AGN and other guilds in Nollywood. I have achieved a lot in Nollywood which I also know many people are envious of.
As a top female producer, how many movies have you produced?
I have produced four movies. I started with Sabina, Blind Fury, Coming to Africa and Dying to Live. In fact, I produced last in 2001.
And why is it taking you this long to produce another movie?
I stopped producing because I did not make money from these movies. You only make money when you are either a marketer in Idumota or Onitsha. As an independent producer, your movie never makes the box office.
(Cuts in) So, you’ve abandoned movie producing completely?
No! I have not abandoned it. I will come back when we are able to find other outlets for marketing and distributing our works. Indirectly I’m being told to stop producing and go back to acting. Do you think I love losing my money after each production?
Like how much have you lost so far as a producer?
I spend millions on my films and end up not getting anything in return. It’s painful.
But what makes one a successful female movie producer?
No special secrets. Just have a very good script, funds, assemble the best team and have the best distributions and marketing outlets.
You recently published a handbook for your colleagues titled I AM AN ACTOR. What inspired it?
As the immediate past national PRO of AGN, I was like a mother to the up and coming ones. Lots of them came to me asking how they would become actors and stuffs like that. After lecturing them on many occasions, I decided to write a book based on the kind of questions they asked me during these sessions. Also their crave for knowledge and the need to fill the gap between them and the established ones gave birth to the book. And the response I’ve been getting since the book graced shelves have been overwhelming. I’m even planning a reprint with any printer.
A lot of people said you did nothing as the immediate past national PRO of AGN. I would like you to comment on this
How do they expect me to achieve a lot in office when I was being sidelined. The zoning of the executive offices was done wrongly. We were scattered in different states. It was only Zack Orji and I that were in Lagos and it really affected my zeal to work. Even as a national officer, I had no office to operate from. My colleagues kept doing things without contacting me. I delivered in my own little way. I single handedly brought up the Benue State Chapter. Zack Orji, took several decisions without involving me. So, in essence, Zack Orji sidelined me while we were in office together. He acted in isolation.
You are currently vying for the post of Vice President, North Central, at the forthcoming AGN’s national elections. What makes you think you will deliver this time?
I’ve delivered before within a very short period. And this time around, I will deliver 100%. We have now agreed to hold meetings periodically the moment we come on board. Everything will be reorganized and repositioned unlike before that Zack was working in isolation. It will be a brand new beginning…
Is it true that most men demand for sex from you female producers before accepting to assist you financially?
My brother, the truth is that 99% of men will give a woman money or help you because they want something from you in return. I don’t want to expatiate on this.
But has it ever occurred to you as a producer?
I am a woman personified, this will tell you where I’m coming from.
You are over 35 and still single. Are you scared of marriage or the men are scared of you?
The fact is that I’m still single because I’m still searching, but not desperately searching.
Who is your ideal man?
(Thinks) I’m searching for a very intelligent man, who will share my kind of vision, a man who is ready to look at the past and reconcile it with the future.
So, all these years, you have not seen such a man or do they come and go?
I’ve not seen that kind of a man. I’m still searching for him but not desperately.
But do you sometimes regret the fact that you are still single at 35?
No! I don’t. I believe I will get married at the right time.
Do your parents put pressure on you most times to settle down?
Of course, they do that. No parent will have somebody like me at 35, and still be comfortable.
Are you into an affair currently?
(Laughs heartily). I have a man in my life currently. We’ve been on for a year now.
If he proposes, will you?
He has already done that, but I’ve not said yes.
Why. Is he not your kind of man?
I want to be very certain first.
Let us take a look at your background. Who is Franca Aernan?
I’m from Vandeka LGA of Benue State. In fact, I’m a Tiv girl. I’m from a family of eight. The first child of my family, we are four at par.
Some of your siblings are in Nollywood as actors. How did it happen?
I brought them in. Jayke and Christy are here in Nollywood with me. Pachanga is waxing stronger in the music industry. Joshua, our last-born is also a cameraman in Nollywood.
As a top actress, are you fulfilled financially and otherwise?
I’m fulfilled as an actress, but financially I’m not yet fulfilled.
Aside acting, what other things do you do?
Aside acting, producing and publishing, I also run an NGO with some friends. When the time comes, we will make it public, not now.
Can you still remember when you fell in love first? At what age was that?
Honestly, I fell in love first when I was about 28 years old. We broke up after a while because of some irreconcilable differences.
Do you sometimes regret the fact that the affair with your first real love did not lead you to the altar?
I don’t have the time to think about my past. I like looking forward.
There is this general belief among your colleagues that you are arrogant and pompous. How true is it?
I’m only reserved. People look at being self-assured as arrogance. I’m self-assured because I believe in myself. I’m a confident person and most people take off the moment they see my intimidating confidence, thereby mistaking me to be a snob or an arrogant and cocky person. I’m not! I don’t believe in bending over back for anybody.
How come you’ve not been able to attract movie loan from your state with your famous face so that you can shoot a movie about your rich cultural heritage?
I’ve tried and failed so many times I have also approached my state government on this issue so many times. Even at a point I met my State governor and the first lady, but they did not encourage me that much… being the first popular home video actress from Benue State I felt I should be encouraged, but they did not do that… I’m of the view that they have not looked at arts as a very important aspect of their portfolio.
If you are to meet God, what one major wish would you ask from Him?
(Thinks) I will beg Him to have mercy on me and forgive me my shortcomings. I would also want Him to know that I love Him truly. I won’t ask more than these, because He had already done so much for me.
What is your dream for Nollywood?
My dream is for foreign moviemakers to come down and help us break even. I want them to come help us break this current monopoly, so that there will be unity in diversity. When foreigners come they won’t look at any tribe before giving roles meritoriously. And before you know it, we will be on the world map of a true film nation.
As a child growing up, was acting what you dreamt of doing?
Not really. I wanted to be a lawyer as a child growing up. But I don’t and will never regret being an actress. I’m already an ambassador for people who do not have a voice to speak out.
You are the C.E.O. of Edmund Grace Nigeria Limited. When was it floated?
I started it since ’94. We are into movies, productions and general merchandising.
In the next couple of years, where do you hope to be?
I’m going into politics in the next couple of years. I’m eyeing the Federal level. I also hope to be an international ambassador for this country. In fact, I’m stepping out after 2007.
First published, April 2005.