By Kemi Yesufu
Lynda Clems shot into the limelight after she participated in the 2006 edition of the Gulder Ultimate Search (GUS) in which she emerged the Last Girl Standing. But it wasn’t the celebrated feat of being the last female champion in the grueling competition that made the University of Abuja graduate popular; it was her antics during the show that earned her the enfant terrible tag.
Lynda’s beauty was another thing that made her unforgettable to majority of GUS fans that dubbed her a Genevieve look alike. Though, she appeared in a few films, the Enugu-born actress has maintained a low profile in Nollywood even as she climbed into the top echelon of Abuja’s high society. In this interview, Lynda speaks in her characteristically blunt manner on the shenanigans in Nollywood, her rumoured romance with Inyanya, fashion, men and how the death of her best friend, Koko Mansion housemate, Chidinma changed her life. She also spoke on her first movie as a producer, the soon-to-be-released, The Reunion. Excerpts:
YOU APPEARED IN A FEW FILMS AND YOU WENT OFF THE SCENE. WHAT HAPPENED?
Nothing happened. I had to make out time to do other important things like getting a university degree. Yes, I did fewer films because I had to make out time to complete my studies. And I also put things together to produce my first film because it is a project I have been thinking about doing for a long time.
YOU ARE ABOUT TO RELEASE A FILM BUT DO YOU THINK YOU LIVED UP TO THE HYPE THAT FOLLOWED YOUR LAST GIRL STANDING FEAT IN GULDER ULTIMATE SEARCH IN 2006? SOME PEOPLE EVEN DUBBED YOU THE NEXT GENEVIEVE BECAUSE OF YOUR PHYSICAL RESEMBLANCE TO THE ACTRESS?
I don’t have to fit into Genevieve’s shoes because I have my own shoes to walk in. No doubt, she is a great actress but I knew early enough that I had to carve a niche for myself. I worked hard at not acting like her or behaving like her. I needed to build my brand. I guess I didn’t do things the way people expected after the Guilder Ultimate Search. I found out early in my career that you don’t have to do things the way people expect. In life, you have to do things your way. I have been doing things the way I deem fit.
HOW WAS LIFE IN SCHOOL? DID YOU HAVE TO LIVE UP TO YOUR REPUTATION AS A CELEBRITY?
I didn’t go back to school with a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t get carried away with the fame I got from GUS. I come from a family where education is of utmost priority. My dad wouldn’t have accepted any explanation from me if I didn’t finish school. Now I am back, more mature and ready to be a major player in Nollywood.
UNI-ABUJA GIRLS HAVE QUITE A REPUTATION AS THE MOST SOUGHT- AFTER BY POWER BROKERS. DID THOSE WHO WANTED YOU TO MEET SOME BIG SHOTS EVER APPROACH YOU?
I was quite young when I shot into the limelight. I might have been a little saucy but I wasn’t a naughty girl. I was never into runs. People knew this, so I guess that is why they never approached me with such a proposal.
ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THIS?
I mean it. Nobody ever asked me to go meet anyone.
WHAT LED TO THE RUMOUR THAT YOU DATED A SENATOR?
I only recovered from my fear of the media recently. I don’t know how such an erroneous report got to the press and some of them used the story. I never dated a Senator. It is amazing that somebody could just sit down to fabricate a story that he fancied. Can you imagine someone writing that I wrecked a Senator’s marriage and he took me to London for holidays? Nothing like that happened.
SO THAT MEANS YOU ONLY DATED YOUNG GUYS WHILE IN SCHOOL?
Well, I was in a relationship at that time. But he wasn’t a celebrity. He wasn’t the kind of guy people know.
WHY DIDN’T THE RELATIONSHIP LEAD TO MARRIAGE?
I was really young then. Did I look mature enough for marriage?
NOW THAT YOU ARE MATURE, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
I am seeing someone now. But marriage is not an institution you go into unprepared. I am not the kind of person that will experiment with it. I don’t ever want to come out of my marriage, so I don’t care how long it takes me to get married. I am more concerned about making it work. I won’t get married because people are asking me to or because others are changing their marital status.
CAN YOU MARRY FROM WITHIN NOLLYWOOD?
Marrying a Nollywood guy would be perfect. But for me to marry within the industry, the person has to be truly God fearing. It would be perfect to wed a guy within Nollywood because I don’t see myself leaving movie making, so it will be magical to have someone who understands the circumstances I work. There will be no suspicion and he will easily understand when I tell him about what happens on set.
THERE IS TALK THAT YOU AND INYANYA ARE MORE THAN FRIENDS. IS HE THE GUY YOU ARE SEEING?
(Laughs) Iyanya? I have never had a conversation with Iyanya let alone dating him. At best, I have danced to his music or probably said ‘hi’ to him at an event. But I have never dated him. Where is this gist coming from?
BY SAYING YOU ARE MORE MATURE NOW; DOES THIS MEAN THAT PEOPLE WHO DESCRIBED YOU AS THE ULTIMATE BRAT DURING THE GUS WERE RIGHT?
I was just having fun on the show. I didn’t sit and plan to qualify for the Gulder Ultimate Search to act in a certain way so that I become famous.
DID YOU HAVE A HARD TIME EXPLAINING YOUR BEHAVIOR DURING THE SHOW?
I felt hated when I returned home from the show. I think to an extent, I got to realize what I passed through in 2006 when Goldie died recently. It is tough for a celebrity to live their lives according to the expectations of the public. When Goldie died and people were making all kinds of comments, I remembered how I sat in my hotel room watching terrible things people posted about me on the news-bar of the GUS episodes. By the time I got home from the show, I just withdrew into my shell. I didn’t see any reason to explain my actions to people. For me, they had their minds made up already.
A LOT PEOPLE SAID YOU ACTED THE WAY YOU DID BECAUSE YOU ARE AN ONLY CHILD. IS THIS TRUE?
I am not an only child per se. I have stepbrothers and sisters. I just didn’t need to paint a picture of coming from a perfect family where my parents live together, when the opposite is the case. I grew up like most kids my age. I wasn’t over pampered in anyway. Maybe, I took advantage by getting things from my mother on one side and my father on the other side. My grandmother was kind to me too. I could go to her when I needed something. But I won’t call myself a spoilt kid.
YOU’RE BACK IN THE INDUSTRY AND YOU WENT STRAIGHT INTO FILM PRODUCTION. WHY?
No, I didn’t go straight into production. I appeared in a few films and they will be out this year. But like I said, I have had the story I made into film for a long while. I had to bring the script out of my cupboard, make it into a screenplay and shot it. I guess, I have gotten to that stage of my career where I have to contribute my quota to the development of the industry. I’m not just experimenting. I am telling the kind of story I want to see on the big screen. I am done with university; the next thing for me is to study filmmaking.
THIS MOVEMENT FROM ACTING TO PRODUCTION, HOW EASY WAS IT?
It wasn’t easy acting and producing a film at the same time. But I got tired of not having a say on how a film is done. I am a Capricorn; we love to be in-charge, besides I needed to prove my creativity to film lovers. I knew I had to take the risk to make a film that will blow the minds of viewers. I am open to criticism but I hope when people see the film; they will appreciate the work put into it.
WERE THERE MOMENTS YOU ALMOST GAVE UP ON THE PROJECT?
It wasn’t easy coordinating my fellow artistes. At a point I almost gave up. But I must say that I was fortunate to have a cast and crew that made things easy for me.
WHAT IS THIS UNIQUE STORY THAT YOU HAVE?
It is a story about a family. The film is titled, The Reunion. It is staring Clarion Chukwura, John Dumelo, Tana Adelana and I. It is a beautiful story. I tried to do something out of the ordinary. I really hope people like it.
HOW WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH CLARION CHUKWURA?
Like you know, she is a diva and a respected veteran. She was getting other scripts while we were on set but she didn’t flinch. She loved my story and the thorough manner I handled the entire project. And the truth about method actors like Clarion Chukwura is that the story in the script comes first, not money. Besides, the role she played couldn’t have been handled by anyone else. I knew that I had to get her, so when people tried to discourage me by saying she was busy or choosy about the roles she takes, I still contacted her. I look up to actors like Clarion this is why I can do a movie for free. I must mention that she was sweet on set.
IT MUST HAVE COST YOU A LOT OF MONEY SHOOTING A MOVIE IN ABUJA AND PAYING THE KIND OF ACTORS YOU HAVE ON YOUR CAST?
Yes it did! But I am just the kind of person that doesn’t like to leave her comfort zone and Abuja is my comfort zone. More importantly The Reunion is a film with a contemporary setting, which Abuja best depicts. It is a story that has lots of glamour for which Abuja has the best locations. I never compromised on standards all through production. I made sure the locations, equipment and crew members were the best around.
WHO IS THE BIG GUY THAT SPONSORED YOUR FILM?
No big guy sponsored my film. I got support from family and friends. They have been wonderful.
THE LAST TIME WE SPOKE YOU DECLARED THAT NOLLYWOOD IS A ROTTEN SET-UP. DO YOU STILL FEEL THE SAME WAY?
Yes I do. Nollywood is just as rotten as many other sectors or professional enclaves. I don’t think I will stop calling for us to be more professional and decorous no matter the beef that comes my way. I really don’t care if people hate me for saying the truth. This is why I don’t do dozens of films in a year. I am not ready to do anything with anybody because I want a role. Why do you think that some people cast a girl in their films despite her not being a professional? We must change the way things are done in Nollywood. If you hold auditions only talented people should be selected.
DO YOU THINK ACTRESSES WILL FARE BETTER IF THERE ARE MORE FEMALE PRODUCERS/DIRECTORS?
Sure, female producers like Emem Isong and Vivian Ejike are an inspiration. In fact, their films are much better than some done by the guys. So, they have shown that female producers are a force to reckon with and if we have more of them, the cases of sexual harassment will drop. The more women are in-charge, the fewer the number of girls that have to meet anyone at a hotel room just because they want a role.
ARE YOU SAYING NO DECENT PERSON CAN MAKE IT IN NOLLYWOOD BECAUSE WE EVEN HEAR OF HOMOSEXUALS HARASSING THE GUYS WHO WANT ROLES?
I am not a man so I cannot tell you if men are harassing other men. But with the kind of things we hear in Nigeria these days, anything is possible. But I’ll tell you that we condemn it (sexual harassment) in Nollywood. We know we have to keep the industry clean so the stink doesn’t scare us away. It is the unprofessional usurpers who should give way in Nollywood, not committed professionals like me.
BUT HAVE YOU HAD A FEMALE TOASTER IN NOLLYWOOD?
No I have not. Are there lesbians in Nollywood? I cannot tell since one has never approached me.
HAVE YOUR COLLEAGUES CRITICISED YOU OVER YOUR COMMENTS ON SEXUAL HARRASMENT IN THE INDUSTRY?
Nobody has told me that he didn’t give or he won’t give me a role because of how I condemned sexual harassment. But there are some people that I know my stance is the reason they don’t call me for anything. When I see them, I laugh.
OF RECENT, THERE HAVE BEEN COMPLAINTS ABOUT ROMANTIC SCENES IN NIGERIAN FILMS GETTING TOO RACY. YET, WE HAVE AMERICAN FILMS THAT ARE EVEN MORE EXPLICIT. WHICH WAY SHOULD NOLLYWOOD GO? DO WE CUT DOWN ON THE RACY SCENES OR WE MAKE THINGS AS REALISTIC AS POSSIBLE?
There is nothing wrong with romantic scenes that are professionally done. Lots of people admire top actresses like Jada Pinket, Angelina Jolie, then, when it comes to a Nigerian film, they make a big deal of people realistically telling a story. For me, I haven’t gotten a script that will make me act a racy scene and damn the consequences.
WHEN ARE YOU THE HAPPIEST?
It’s when I am with family and friends. These are the people I feel free with. When I am with them I feel safe. They don’t look at me like Linda Clems, for them I am their sister and friend.
WHO ARE YOUR FRIENDS IN THE INDUSTRY?
I don’t do industry friends. You know why? These distracting rumours about fake romances come from people within the industry. I do have colleagues that I can send a ping and call from time to time but I don’t keep industry friends. If I must keep industry friends, then it must be guys.
IS IT BECAUSE YOU AND THE GUYS CAN GO PARTYING TOGETHER?
Yes, we can party together. But above this, there is just too much beef among actresses. There are just a few who can relate with you without being envious. I don’t know why actresses can’t accept the fact that the sky is big enough for us all to fly.
HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR ‘ME TIME’?
I love traveling and I love partying with friends. I could just cook and call up friends to my house. It doesn’t have to be a big party.
WHERE DID YOU TRAVEL TO LAST?
Kuala-Lumpur. I like to go to places where I won’t bump into anyone I know.
WHO DID YOU GO WITH?
(Laughs) Must I go with a man? Who says a girl must travel with her boyfriend? There are sometimes you really want to be alone. Besides, my boyfriend is a busy person; he only travels with me when he is free. He could spend a few days with me and return to Nigeria to continue with his business.
WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO TELL US ABOUT THIS MYSTERY MAN?
You just said it. He is a mystery man whose identity I will reveal when the time is right. For now, please allow me shield him from the press.
YOU DIDN’T HAVE TATOOS DURING GUS, NOW YOU HAVE A FEW OF THEM. YOU MUST LOVE TATOOS?
I only have a butterfly on my back and the one on my chest is the name of my late friend, Chidinma Mbalaso. She was my best friend. She was a housemate on D’banj’s Koko Mansion reality show. She died on her way back from Kaduna where she went to buy a car.
HER DEATH WAS TRAGIC. HOW DID YOU GET THROUGH THAT PERIOD?
I really can tell you how I survived her death. I cried so hard, I was scared that I would die. I had to get her name tattooed on my body. Her death made me grow up. She was a source of inspiration to me. She always urged me on career-wise. She couldn’t bear to see me being unserious with my work. With hindsight, it seemed like she knew she wouldn’t be here for long. She was wise beyond her age. I was older than her, yet she gave me advice that always made sense. She was one friend I knew that our friendship went beyond our partying together.
IS IT TRUE SHE CHOSE TO DRIVE HERSELF BACK TO ABUJA THOUGH IT WAS HER FIRST CAR?
No, it wasn’t her first car. It was her second car. She was a good driver. I heard all kinds of things then. Please, people should learn not to speak ill of the dead. She never was a heavy drinker or someone who smoked to get high. My late friend was just unfortunate to be involved in an accident that took her life. I am grateful that I have this opportunity to clear her name.
WHAT DETERMINES WHAT YOU WEAR?
I love fashion a great deal. But you know how the weather is in Abuja. The Abuja weather is what determines what hair I make, the clothes I wear and other fashion decisions. But I splurge money on wristwatches and perfumes.
SHOULD GIRLS BARE FLESH OR KEEP THINGS MODEST?
Shouldn’t we be talking about people dressing their age? I think you can condone young women doing things that point to youthful exuberance. But when I see an older woman exposing her body, I feel embarrassed. I look at some pictures from parties or the red carpet and I feel awful when I see mature women dressing like little girls.