Nollywood actress, Mercy Johnson spoke to Bella Naija’s Adeola Adeyemo about her new life as a wife, mum and actress.
It’s great to see you Mercy. Let me start by saying that you have a beautiful home.
Thank you. It was a surprise from my husband, Odi. He didn’t tell me about it while we were in America and when I returned back to Nigeria, I thought we were going to our former house but he drove me straight here. And then he also gave me a new car with the plate number ‘Odi’s Wife’.
Aww, that’s so sweet. There’s been a lot of media attention surrounding the birth of your daughter and her recent dedication. How does this make you feel?
At a point, I actually felt the whole thing was over dramatized. I really appreciate the fact that some people wish me well and are happy for me which is why I share her picture on Twitter once in a while. On my Twitter page, more than 3000 people ask me about Purity every day. Sometimes I get overwhelmed but I’m grateful for the love and goodwill messages and I can only say thank you.
Purity is quite a unique name. What inspired her name?
When I asked my husband, he said “You. She reminds me so much of you.” He said I have a good heart and he’d really want her to have a good heart and clear conscience like me. And he’d wish for everything about her to be pure.
As a first time Mom, how has the experience been so far?
It’s magical, it’s awesome! I just can’t stop staring at her. When I was pregnant, my sister-in-law came to the house and when her son pooped I said “Oh my God, don’t let it touch my chair!” Then I was about six months gone and she just looked at me and said “In three months time, you will understand”. And really, it is true. Now when Purity poops, I begin to dance. Everything is special. I want to clean her up myself, dress her up myself. I just can’t explain, she makes me complete.
Has pregnancy and motherhood affected or changed you in any way?
Well, you can see, I’ve added so much weight. But aside from my physical appearance, having Purity has changed me so much as a person. Having her makes me want to set the right example, to have good records so she doesn’t get embarrassed when she’s grown. It changes my perspective to life and the way I react to things. I tolerate things more, I overlook things more. I love children generally but now I understand how precious every child is to their mother so I try to treat other children the way I’d want her to be treated if I’m not around.
Let’s talk a bit about your career and what brought you into the limelight. What inspired you to take up acting as a profession?
I’ve had too many criticisms for saying this but I actually had just one inspiration and it was Genevieve Nnaji. When I got into Nollywood, lots of things later inspired me to do the things I do but she triggered my interest. I watched her in the movie “Sharon Stone” and I knew I wanted to act.
What were you doing around that time?
I had just finished Secondary school and so between that time and trying to get into the University that I launched my career.
Getting a big break is often difficult for a lot of aspiring actors. Was it easy or difficult launching into the movie industry?
For me, it wasn’t that difficult. There were challenges here and there but it was basically about how you can present yourself as an actress.
When did you feature in your first movie and how many movies have you featured in till date.
This was in 2003. If I want to be humble I’d say over 50, if I want to pose I’d say over 200. But really it is quite a lot. You know the way we do movies here it’s just on and on and on in several parts.
Actors often complain of being cast in similar roles that don’t truly exhibit their versatility. Did you ever feel like you were being stereotyped into acting very similar roles?
I was never stereotyped, I could just across to any role. Most of the producers I worked with knew that I played a lot prior to when I got married. I could speak the Warri language, be the thug…. I can try to play any character convincingly well.
A good number of Nigerian movies are now making their way into the Cinemas. Have you featured in any big screen movie recently?
I really want to do cinema movies and I have quite a few on my table when I resume work. But I’ve always been proud of my works and the ones I’m not really proud of are like a stepping stone to learn.
You were inspired to act by Genevieve Nnaji and now you inspire other people to take their chances in the movie industry. How does this make you feel?
I feel awesome, it’s a privilege. I hold her in a very high esteem. She taught me a lot whenever we had a chance to work together. She would say “Oh no, do it this way” or I’d just stand and stare at her while she worked and learn a lot. So now it’s a pleasure when some young girls tell me they are inspired by my work. When my colleagues applaud me, it’s fulfilling and I’m grateful that I can make an impact.
You speak so fondly of Genevieve. What is the relationship like between both of you now?
She is like a rock; I can always run to her when I’m in a tough corner, anytime.
Growing Up & Education
Tell me about your childhood. What was growing up like?
I was a tomboy. I am the fourth child from a family of seven children. The first four are girls and the last three are boys so I actually moved a lot with my brothers, climbing trees and stuff like that. We didn’t get everything we wanted but we got everything we needed. I’m from a very humble background, a Christian family. My Dad is an ex-military officer and we basically grew up in a Military environment. I attended Navy Primary and Secondary Schools until I went to the Lagos State University before I deferred.
What were you studying at the University and why did you choose to defer your studies?
I was studying English and I deferred at the time I was moving to my 200 Level. I was sort of very busy with my career, acting here and there, making money and it got into my head. But I’d love to go back to school.
To Lagos State University?
No. I’d love to take up some acting lessons or study a course in Acting since that is what I’m into.
Your profile on Wikipedia says you got into acting because you failed your University Entrance Examinations. Also, there were some reports about you leaving school because you weren’t so good with your academics. Are these reports true?
I banged my JAMB, yeah that is true. I had to write JAMB twice. But it is not true that I wasn’t good with my academics. I didn’t have issues with passing my exams at school.
What is your definition of a sexy woman?
Sexy is inbuilt. It’s just how you feel about yourself. For me, sexy is confidence. It mustn’t be about the Malaysian hair or the Gucci bag or the big bum. It’s about you liking yourself just the way you are.
But most people would call you sexy because of your figure…
For me, it just runs in my family. I don’t work out or do anything. I’m just trying now to work out and swim to lose weight and get back to work so Odi doesn’t get to call me Orobo again. When I bath Purity in the morning and I see the curve of her hips, I say “Oh my God, Odi. Purity has hips” then he says, “She is just 4 months old, shut up”.
That’s funny. Now that you mention your husband again, tell me about him. When did you meet him and how did the love spark between both of you?
I met him in 2009. We had met before on a flight and I didn’t remember but we met again in 2009. He is a good person. I can’t really tell how it started. We kinda clicked and started dating just about the same month and it feels like we’ve been married for four years because since we met, we’ve been really into each other we’ve been really close.
He must have known you were an actress then. How did this affect the way you started off your relationship?
Yes he did, but he didn’t know I was that big because he didn’t really follow the movie industry. Sometimes you meet some guys and they get intimidated about you but not with him. The first time we were supposed to have a date, he said “Let’s go to my house so you can cook for me” and in my mind I was like “Seriously, this guy doesn’t even know my name”. So I said “My name is Mercy Johnson” and he said “Yes I know”.
What is the most romantic thing he has done for you recently?
He got me a new diamond ring different from my wedding band. I kept saying I want a new band, something really big and he got it for me. He is extremely loveable.
In the weeks before your wedding, some controversies sprang up and there were speculations that the wedding may not hold. How were you able to pull through this period?
I knew my wedding was going to hold. It is easy for people who are outside a box to try to explain the inside of a box without coming inside. People who didn’t know anything had lots to say. But it was fun to let them have their say. If having your say makes you feel better, I can’t take that fun away from you. But we in the box knew what’s up and people who wanted to know what was going on actually came into the box and knew the truth.
Was there anything new that you learnt during that period that you didn’t already know?
No. It was just shocking how people would bring negativity into what’s positive. I think that was the only thing that was new to me.
Google ranked your name as the most searched celebrity in Nollywood for 2011 and 2012. Are you proud of this?
When I asked my husband if it a good thing and he said yes it is. I know that it’s not possible for everyone to like me so good or bad, if you ever googled Mercy Johnson’s name, thank you. If you didn’t google, google won’t say I’m the most searched so thank you, keep googling.
Do you have any affiliation with the gossip website mercyjohnson.com?
No, I don’t have any and I’d like to stress that please. I don’t know why somebody would do a magazine and call it Mercy Johnson Celebrity Magazine or why somebody would take my name and put it on a domain for a gossip website. I can’t even use the domain name anymore and I’m so pissed. I am only on Twitter. I’m not even on Facebook anymore because somebody put up a Facebook account in my name where they put up inspirational messages on my behalf and I don’t even know where that is coming from.
What else do you do professionally apart from acting?
I do lots of charity. The Mercy Johnson Foundation for Children and Widows is very active and that takes most of my time for now. We make donations; we give out school materials to students and go to hospitals to distribute drugs and medical equipment.
The Changed Woman
Let’s talk about your style. What influences the kind of clothes you wear?
I don’t wear what is in vogue or what everybody is wearing, I just wear what suits me and I’m lucky to have a physique that encourages everything I wear. My husband is a huge critic so when he compliments my dressing, I feel so good. He doesn’t believe that exposing anything makes you look better. He feels when you cover up, you look real nice.
Would you say your personal style has changed since you got married?
You know, you get wiser by the day. Sometimes when I look back at some old pictures, I’m like “Seriously, did I wear that?” I’ve learnt a lot since I got married and I know that if I had gotten married earlier, I wouldn’t have made most of the errors I made. When you are married to somebody who is so organized, he brings you up the right way and reminds you of who you’re supposed to be.
Is there any particular reason why you decided to gave birth to her in the USA?
No, I could have given birth here but I was at a point in my life where everything meant a lot to me. By God’s grace, I got pregnant barely a year after I got married and I just wanted everything to be fine. Not that it wouldn’t have been fine here in Nigeria but it would be odd for us to say we are not aware of the lapses in our health care system.
What are your dreams for 2013?
To get better in my career, to work with more matured scripts and improve on everything I do. However the most important things to me now are my husband and my daughter so I want to do everything in a manner that would be befitting for them.