Lights, cameras, action! For the past twenty years this is what many have known Nigerian actress, producer and director, Genevieve Nnaji for. From starting out as a child actress at the age of eight, to climbing up the ladder of her profession, over the years, Genevieve has shown that there is beauty in simplicity. No one knew she had spent well up to two decades in the industry, until the last day of 2018 when she took to her Instagram page to write: “As 2018 comes to an end, I mark 20 years in the art of filmmaking. I’m grateful for my life, journey, and growth thus far".
The fourth of eight children, Genevieve was born on the May 3, 1979, in Mbaise, Imo State, Nigeria to an engineer father and mother who worked as a nursery school teacher. An alumnus of Methodist Girls' College, the actress went on to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Arts from the University of Lagos. Little Gennny made her acting debut in 'Ripples', a television soap opera produced by Zeb Ejiro, the Guru of Nollywood at that time.
Having featured in more than 80 movies, Genevieve has come to master the art of making a character in a given script seem beyond real. Like a master storyteller, she makes use of empathy in engaging the emotions of viewers. This she did so well in 'Mirror Boy', a Nigerian fantasy movie which cost an estimated £250,000 where she was made to play the role of mother who had to cope with a delusional son.
“Acting is all about creativity. It is about taking on the soul and spirit of the character, using imagination to bring the character to life and making people believe in the role. I have respected myself as an artiste. I think the success stems from the fact that I have given acting my all. I have not deviated from the realisation that all I ever wanted to do was act. It’s hard to tell, what I would do differently if I were to do it all over. The fact is, I can’t imagine my life any other way,” she told The Punch in an interview in 2014.
In all these years, one thing has made Genevieve the special breed she is — that she is not the kind of actress that features in every movie script that is thrown her way. Like a professional distiller, she handpicks the best and transforms the script with the uniqueness she brings to the art, into premium blockbusters.
“In the beginning, the movie industry emphasised quantity but things are changing and there is an improvement in trend. I am among the people who advocate for the improvement of the industry. So said, I am constantly watching out for the kind of stories I take part in. I am in support of movies that show a great deal of professionalism and creativity,” she added in the interview.
How time flies? That is the question that comes to mind when one begins to come to terms with the fact that the young Genevieve of yesterday has grown to become a queen whose film ideas have transcended the local shores of Nigeria into international quarters, with the latest in her achievements being the September 2018 announcement by Netflix that it has acquired the worldwide rights to her movie, ‘Lionheart’.
Indeed, twenty years after, the screen remains Genevieve's playground.