For star of Secret Mission, Mary Data Uranta, her first foray into Nollywood was unpalatable. When she started out as a green horn, it was not easy finding her feet in the industry because most times she ended up with people who were only interested in taking her to bed rather than exploiting her talent.
In an exclusive chat with The Entertainer, the actress opened up on her ordeal in the hands of film producers and declared that the sexual harassment was so much she decided to take a walk from Nollywood. That decision took her to the UK where she studied at the London School of Arts.
“At a point, sex became a condition for getting movie roles so I just took a walk. There were times when I missed getting roles because I wouldn’t succumb to pressure so I left and did other things including studying at the London School of Arts. But the passion was so strong I knew I just had to return so, I took time to look for professionals; people who would be interested in my talent and not taking me to bed,” she recalled.
However, the United Nation’s Peace Ambassador declares that sexual harassment is not a big deal today because it is a thing of choice. Hear her: “It’s a natural thing in the industry; men will always chase women so I don’t think it’s peculiar to Nollywood. It’s the same thing everywhere you go. I think those in the banks and other sectors also get harassed. So, it’s not what I love to discuss.
“Definitely, harassment will come but it’s a thing of choice. Movie or no movie, a producer can see you and get attracted to you. Same thing goes for an actor or marketer, so for me, it’s not a story to talk about.”
Mary is an indigene of Okpobo but grew up in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. She lived all her life in Port Harcourt before relocating to Lagos to pursue a career in acting.
Commenting on her childhood, she said: “I had a great childhood. I never had it rough or tough growing up. Fine, I’m from an average home. But it’s never been bad. I had all I wanted as a child. I’m from a family of 13. Seven kids from my mum and four step brothers including mum and dad. It was fun growing up with my brothers and sisters, we were one happy family.
Right from childhood, Mary had always dreamed of being an actress so when she was in her teens she started shuttling between Lagos and Port Harcourt just to attend auditions.
“I’ve always loved acting,” she recalled. “I have been very passionate about it. I used to come to Lagos then from Port Harcourt just for auditions, my friends and I actually. We used to go to Asaba, Enugu, Owerri and even within Port Harcourt just to get auditioned. But after a while, I said to myself, ‘If Lagos is the place where it’s happening, I think I should just move to Lagos instead of coming and going.’ And that was it.”
According to Mary, her journey into acting came with a lot of challenges because her parents were not down with it. “They had a way of coming up with good excuses about why I shouldn’t act so, I never had the full support at the initial stage from anyone around me. Actually, my parents didn’t have a problem with me doing it as far as it was in Port Harcourt. Probably that was because I was very young at the time,” she says.
Consequently, Mary had to sneak to Lagos to attend auditions and also get an apartment in view of her plans to finally relocate to Lagos and pursue her dreams. “My coming to Lagos was even a problem. Initially, I didn’t tell my parents that I was relocating to Lagos. I came quietly, got a house, furnished it and was still going to Port Harcourt and back as if I was around.
But later I had to tell my mum. And she was like ‘how would you cope all by yourself?’ But I assured her that I would cope. So, that’s how I became a Lagos girl. Ever since, I have never looked back,” the actress stated.
Mary got her first role ever in Port Harcourt and it was in Girls Hostel, a movie also starring Olu Jacobs, Ngozi Ezeonu, Uche Jombo, and Empress Njama. “I was still in school then. The movie was shot in Port Harcourt and the director came for an audition there, so I went with my friends who were in the Theatre Arts Department.
They actually forced me to come with them. When we got there they each got a role in the movie and the director now turned to me and said ‘hey you, don’t you want to act?’ And I said ‘yes, I want to act’. I was very shy. He auditioned me for a role and surprisingly I did well. That’s how I got the role of a hall president in the movie. After that, we were brought to Lagos for another movie entitled, Silver Spoon and then another one entitled, Church Committee, and ever since I have never looked back,” she narrated.
Recounting further those years, the actress said: “Movies were very big then but at a point I stopped because I was still in school and my HOD was not down with my acting so she was always giving me problems. In fact, I had an extra year because of that and that was a big problem for me. But after school I took up the challenge. I told myself this is what I wanted to do and nothing could stop me.”
However, Mary pointed to Secret Mission as the movie that gave her the big break in 2005. Hear her: “I played the lead in the movie. I played the role of Ngozi Ezeonu’s younger sister. There were also Desmond Elliot, Tonto Dikeh, Chioma Chukwuka and others. That movie stands out for me because I had problems interpreting the role.
“It was so bad I had to go to the producer twice to return the script. At a point, I went to the producer and pleaded with him to look for someone else to play my role because it was so difficult for me. I wasn’t just getting it right at all. I was just fumbling. At a point, I fled to Port Harcourt and they were looking for me everywhere.
“They called and asked me to come back to Lagos because I had already shot the film half way. The lesson I learnt from that experience was that it’s not about someone giving you a big role; the real challenge is interpreting it. But I guess it’s because it was my first lead role. Now I’m a pro. My work speaks for me.”
So, how’s the man in her life coping? The actress responded thus: “Men are just beginning to come to terms with the reality that a woman has dreams which she wants to actualize. They are beginning to realise that acting actually pays because people are becoming famous and rich from acting.
“Then, when we started, it was for the love of it. We never knew that we could make money from the industry. Nobody ever wanted his girlfriend to do movies but I am happy I have a man who believes in my talent and is giving me all the support.”
Who is that man in her life? “I don’t want to talk about my relationship,” Mary says with a dismissive tone.
As an independent career woman, does she sometime scare men? “Sometimes yes, you know men will always be men. When you are independent they worry. They are like ‘am I sure if this one will stay?’ When you are dependent on them they are like, ‘this girl, your bills are too much.’ So, it’s like that. But when the right person comes, he will understand that you are doing what you have to do and accept you the way you are.”