In a new interview with Tribune Mercy Johnson Okojie opens up on her journey from grass to grace, revealing how she lived in a lizard infested building with her family and how her mun sometimes worked menial jobs to make ends meet.
What has Mercy Johnson been up to lately?
I have been busy shooting movies, moving from one location to the other. I give God all the glory.
You recently set up the Mercy Johnson Foundation. How far has it gone?
So far so good; it’s progressing. It’s been God all the way.
How many movies can you recollect doing so far?
Over 100 movies.
What were your days like as a child?
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.
And how has it been through fame and glamour?
There have been the good and bad times; there have been rumours and scandals. Sometimes when I cry in movies, it isn’t the script that makes me cry. When I recall my humble beginning, I give thanks to God. When I remember how we moved into an uncompleted building and had to take cover whenever it rained because of the condition of the house; how my brother did a menial job as a bricklayer to earn a living and those days when we rolled over a stick to cover the windows up till the point when I started acting and raised money to cover the roof… I recall those days we were living with lizards because the floor and the walls of the house were not plastered, or when I had scars as a result of my several falls.
So how did you start acting?
After my secondary school education, I failed the University Matriculation Examination (UME) and came back to Lagos to get a degree. While that was on, I watched Genevieve Nnaji in a movie entitled: Sharon Stone. I later approached a friend for assistance to feature in a movie. He said I had a great body and that I would make a good actress. He later took me to the National Theatre, but a role did not come until a year later, when I had my first lead role in a film entitled: The Maid. The Maid was my starting point and it was quite challenging to play the lead role because it was my first movie. I was fidgeting when I saw the likes of Eucharia Anunobi, whom I regarded as a screen goddess during my secondary school days. I never thought I would make it with people like that. So, when I saw her, I was so excited and considered standing beside her as sacred. She actually realised that and later helped me by giving me the needed courage.
What is that accessory that you can never be caught wearing?
A nose ring.
What has marriage changed about you?
Marriage has taught me lots of things and I’ve learnt a lot since I got married too. I know that if I had gotten married earlier, I wouldn’t have made most of the errors I made. It’s good to be married to somebody who is so organised; he brings you up the right way and reminds you of whom you’re supposed to be.
You seem to be enjoying marriage a lot. You even once said that as soon as Purity (her daughter) clocks one, you would be going back to the labour room …
My sister, marriage has been sweet for me because I have the best husband and daughter in the world. Being a married woman, I have learnt to tolerate things more. It has changed my perspective of life and the way I react to things.
But getting married and being an actress are two different things. How do you balance up?
When I’m not at location, I spend quality time with my family. And guess what? My husband has always been there for me and Purity. It’s obvious we are his priority. He’s a loving husband and father.
Your husband does not complain about those times when you are away?
He doesn’t; he understands the nature of my job. He’s the best thing that has happened to me. People usually say men are not reliable. In the case of my husband, he’s a blessing.
What was the point of attraction between you and Mr Okojie?
What attracted him to me was his fearless approach. You know 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 know my name.” So, I said “My name is Mercy Johnson” and he said ‘Yes I know.’
Taking your child to movie sets can really be demanding and stressful. Does Purity not disturb you when you are on set?No, she doesn’t. When I take her on location, she has lots of uncles and aunties who dote on her. They carry her, feed her and many more. Sometimes, I don’t even get to see her until she needs to breastfeed.
How has motherhood changed your perspective about life?
It has changed me just the way it changes women. You begin to see yourself as a co-creator. You begin to see yourself as a protector. It will also make you feel more responsible for other children as well. You begin to see them as children of some other mothers. You have a sense of responsibility to want to protect them as well.
If he tells you to quit acting one day, would you give it a thought?
When we get to that bridge, we will cross it.
How do you pamper yourself?
I have fun with my family.
As a dutiful wife, how do you pamper your husband?
Sometimes I take him out on a date, surprise him with gifts and so on.
As a married woman, does he complain about your romantic scenes in movies?
No he doesn’t. He understands the nature of my job and he knows that acting is just make-believe.
There was an issue with you and Tonto Dike recently. She dissed you on Twitter for saying you would go back to the labour room immediately Purity was mature enough. Why didn’t you reply her?
I’d rather not talk about it.
What does style mean to you?
Style to me is putting on anything that makes you feel comfortable. 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.
What is that accessory that you continuously fill your wardrobe with?
That will be my wrist-watches.
And how many of it (your favourite accessory) would you say you have?
Close to 10.
In a few years to come, what would you love to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as someone who accomplished useful deeds. I would like to leave with the memory of someone with a good heart, who did her best to help others.
There is a very strong competition among actresses. How have you managed to maintain your position as one of the most popular?
I would have to give all glory to God how far He has helped me. I have tried as much as possible to give my best to the industry and I cannot say that I have arrived, but it is obvious that I am not where I used to be. I will continue to do more.
It doesn’t look like you would go back to putting on those sexy clothes again after you wean Purity. Or would you?
No I don’t plan to. Motherhood and marriage have changed me. I am over that because I am now a married woman, a mother at that.
What has been the most negative report that you have read about yourself?
A lot of untrue things have been said about me, but I have come to realise that it doesn’t cost people anything to cook up lies about me. The one I remember vividly is the one they said I stole money and also snatched people’s husbands. I lost a deal worth N50 million from a telecommunication company because of that.
It was reported that you were banned for increasing your pay as an actress.
There was no ban at all.
You promptly responded to OJB’s cry for help and gave him some money. People said it was publicity stunt, while others said it was just your character…
I don’t need to be more popular because I am already popular. We were just promoting the ideals of Mercy Johnson Foundation. The idea is to identify the needs, evaluate and help in our own little way. All fingers are not equal. Those in position to help should do so without hesitation. I strongly believe that as stars we should live beyond the euphoria of stardom and the moment. We will not always be here. What happens if you look back and realise you could have done a lot to make the world better when you had the spotlight and you didn’t? I want to live beyond the moment.