My Life As A Barracks Girl - Mercy Johnson
Star actress, Mercy Johnson Ozioma a.k.a. Mercy Johnson, speaks about her life, the movie industry and other issues Q: You have played different roles in the Nigerian movie industry to the extent that your fans don’t know the kind of person you are. How will you describe yourself?
A: I am like the girl next door. Most people know me as Mercy Johnson but did not bother to find out about the Ozioma aspect of me. Mercy Johnson Ozioma are my real names and Ozioma in my dialect (Kogi State) means a girl with good luck. The fourth child in a family of seven, I was born about 26 years ago to an ex-military officer. I left my mother at the age of two to live with my father who was constantly being transferred from one station to another as a military man. I am proud of my dad because he taught me all I needed to know about crossing the bridge from being a child to an adult.
Q: Was acting part of your childhood ambition?
A: After my secondary school education, I failed the UME exams and came back to Lagos to get a degree and while that was on, I watched Genevieve Nnaji in a movie titled Sharon Stone. I later approached a friend for assistance to feature in a movie. He stared at my boobs and hips and told me 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 titled The Maid.
Q: So, what was the experience like?
A: 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 who I regarded as 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.
Q: How would you assess your exploits in the movie industry?
A: I have grown with time. There have been the good and bad times; there have been rumours and scandals. Sometimes when I cry in movies, it wasn’t the script that made me cry, but when I go back to my humble beginning and the height I’ve attained now, 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; when 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, I give glory to God.
Q: Was there anything you did as a child that you wouldn’t want to do now?
A: When I was in secondary school, I would wash my mates’ clothes and polish their shoes to get paid so that I could also pay my brother’s school fees and whenever names of people owing school fees were mentioned, I was always on top of the list. I faced a lot of embarrassment in school. My teachers flogged me; my uniform was always torn and tattered and when someone stole, they pointed at me because of my poor condition. It was a miserable life, but today, I thank God I lived a wretched life throughout my school days. I faced so much humiliation and that made me shy. Amidst all these, my greatest inspiration came from my dad and that kept me going. I witnessed lots of sad moments. I failed my first JAMB examination but passed on the second attempt. If I could have my way, I want to be a child again and live big.
Q: Was there any distraction between your childhood and spinsterhood?
A: Maybe those days when I had troubled mind. For instance, there was a time I stopped schooling to hawk pure water, plantain and other things. Do you know I was once a housemaid and also did some menial jobs for a particular artiste to make ends meet? I washed her clothes and did some other things in her home town to survive.
Q: Didn’t you have a boyfriend then?
A: Never. Who would want to befriend a girl with torn dresses, bad stockings and nothing to offer? The barracks life didn’t give an opportunity to such. But today, men flock around me.
Q: To an extent, people see you as a controversial actress. What can you tell us about this?
A: A lot of untrue things have been said about me. For instance, they said I stole money, while some said I snatched people’s husbands. I have come to realise that it doesn’t cost people anything to cook up lies about me and those were not coming until a telecommunication company called me for a deal. The next day, scandalous stories started flying and honestly, I lost the N50 million deal because of that.
Q: Has there been any time you took a script in exchange for sex?
A: It is a matter of choice. If you are approached with such and you feel your body is cheap and worth the script, then go ahead, but it is also an individual thing. If any lady tells you in Nollywood that it hasn’t happened to her, it is a cheap lie. Most people are scared of telling the truth, but the truth makes upcoming ones to watch their steps without making mistakes. Yes, such had come my way, but if you sleep around for roles, will you also sleep around to make fans love your work? It only takes God’s intervention for one to be successful in the industry.
Q: What part of your body do you treasure most?
A: My hips. I would like to insure them if there is need for it.
Q: How do you maintain your shape?
A: I think taking exercises plays a great role. I have a tracksuit I bought from Germany which I wear to jog with each time I join my brothers for exercise.
Q: Do you sometimes get carried away while playing romantic roles?
A: Whenever there is need for romantic roles, I close my eyes and say this could have been avoided. I don’t really feel anything. We only teach with our roles.
Q: Any advice for upcoming actresses?
A: Don’t come into the industry because you want to be famous, but because you love the art of acting. Then try to appreciate those who are there before you.