Lizzy Evoeme as Ovularia in New Masquerade
Mrs Lizzy Evoeme, popularly known as Ovuleria, in the now rested NTA series, New Masquerade, played the role of assertive wife of Zebrudaya Okoligwe in the TV comedy. The 77-year-old veteran speaks with ALEXANDER OKERE about her childhood, career and family experience
You currently live in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Has it always been your base?
No, it hasn’t. I came to Port Harcourt three years ago. When I left Enugu, I went to live with my daughter in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. My daughter, in 2016, passed on, so there was no way I could continue living in Uyo. That was why I relocated to Port Harcourt.
Were you born in Enugu State?
I was born in Calabar, Cross River State, but I am a native of Akabo in the Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State. I married an Ngwa man and I have spent almost all my life with Ngwa people. My father was a seafarer; he was a captain and a trader. My parents had eight of us and I happen to be the first of them all. My father was one tough disciplinarian, who didn’t take any nonsense from his children. The way he used to whip me and my siblings is still fresh in my memory. I still dream about it, sometimes. But it paid off for me.
Was acting your childhood ambition?
I wouldn’t say it was or wasn’t. My childhood ambition, actually, was getting married as early as I could and running away from the home because my dad was very tough. Being the first child, everything came down to me; if somebody didn’t wash the plates or their clothes, they would ‘call my name’ (hold me responsible). I found it hard to take all the time.
In those days, girls married early; some of my peers were getting pregnant without caution but my father used to threaten that he would kill and bury me under his chair, if I disgraced the family. That put fear in me and I looked forward to getting married and moving out so I could escape his whip.
How did you join the New Masquerade team?
I belonged to a drama group in Aba; it was called Ndiche Playhouse and we used to do plays and invite people to watch and make donations because money wasn’t that available then as it was not long after the Nigerian Civil War. There was a show we did that was popular. So, when the New Masquerade came to Aba, they were also doing shows on television.
On one occasion, somebody invited me to attend the rehearsals for a play, Sons and Daughters. I went there and auditioned for a minor role and got the role. When one of the major actors, Gertrude, was leaving, they wanted somebody to take up her role in the play, Zebrudaya, and asked if I could do it. I told them I could and that was how I got the role. James Iroha, aka Gringori Akabogu, produced ‘Sons and Daughters’ and ‘Zebrudaya’.
How was the name ‘Ovuleria’ coined?
I don’t know; it was the producer who coined that name and told me to answer it and I did. He never told me the meaning.
Did your major acting career begin with the New Masquerade?
Yes. I can confidently say that because even when I was with the Ndiche Playhouse, it didn’t last for too long. I started my acting career with the New Masquerade in 1985 or 1986.
Do you think it was a commercial success for you?
If you are asking whether I benefited from it, yes, I did. We were paid, especially when it went to the network platform. It helped me. Being a widow with children, what I got from it went a long way in helping in managing the affairs of my family.
Do you know what led to the discontinuation of the programme?
How would I know? The authorities of the NTA know what led to it (its discontinuation)?
When it ended, what did you do next?
I didn’t take up any other profession. I continued acting; that was the time Nigerian home video started. I did few shows before I travelled to be with my family elsewhere. But I can’t remember the shows now.
Did you have any challenge moving on after the New Masquerade?
I missed the time I spent with the cast but I didn’t dwell on that or sit down and lament and feel miserable because as God would have it, just at that time, my daughter invited me to come abroad. By the time I came back, the boredom and sadness had worn out.
The stage name, Ovuleria, seems to be more popular than your real name. Did it affect you personally?
It affected me but I won’t say it did negatively. Most people who know me don’t know me by any other name except Ovuleria. But to tell you the truth, when people close to me, like family members or intimate friends, called me that name, it sometimes annoyed me. I prefer being identified with my real name. I felt that a fictional name was taking over my real self.
Are you still in contact with the major cast of the New Masquerade?
I miss all of them who have passed on because we were not just colleagues but a family. We had quarrels but we made up. We ate together and travelled together.
Can you tell us the countries you visited as part of the cast?
We visited the United States of America and Sierra Leone, Cameroon; but within Nigeria, we visited almost every part of the country.
What are the other things the TV sitcom did for you?
It gave me fulfilment and achievement because I enjoyed every moment of what I did. When you go out and people you don’t know and wouldn’t have met in your entire life tell you they appreciate what you did on TV, it gives you fulfilment.
At 77, do you have any regrets?
I don’t have any regrets. God has been in control of my whole life, in spite of the tragedies I have faced. I believe God knows why they happened.
Will you like to share some of such sad moments?
I lost my husband at a very early age. I lost him during the Biafran War (Nigerian Civil War). Out of the five children God blessed me with, I now have only two left. Losing my children and husband has been my saddest moment.
How did you meet your husband?
I met my husband in my church choir. He was also a member of the same choir. I married very early.
Was it because of your father?
I told you my father was a bully and I always wished I could marry and get out of the house. So, when I met my husband (and he was a very handsome man), he was a promising civil servant at that time and there weren’t many of them. He was a court clerk and at that time, civil servant were regarded as ‘big men’ (wealthy men). I found him very attractive; when he proposed to me, I accepted and the marriage was fruitful and successful though short-lived. He died as a result of the war.
What would you describe as your happiest moment?
My happiest moment is when I am with my grandchildren.
What would you have become if you were not an actor?
I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse. But when I married my husband, he said I was not going to work, that he would rather work and look after me and the children. So, if I could turn back the hands of time, I would have loved to be a teacher or a nurse.
Comedy in Nigeria has taken different forms since the era of the New Masquerade and similar sitcoms that were popular in the 80s and 90s. How would you rate the types of comedy aired in the country today?
Personally and from an old woman’s point of view, it has greatly improved. But the quality of shows produced now is not what it used to be during my time. There are things, like the language and acting, which go on air these days but weren’t allowed during my time. I don’t agree with some of them, personally. There are some roles given to people which I wouldn’t play for any amount of money.
Morality has gone to blazes. I think female actors should consider their personal and social gains before accepting roles. Everything is not about money. My father used to quote a portion of the Bible which says that a good name is better than gold. However, it depends on the individual because according to Zebrudaya, “one man is meat, another is poison.”
If you are given a role to play, think of what you will be portraying to the public and the impression people will have about you as a person because not everybody will know that what you play is not who or what you are. If you want to make a name for yourself, make a good name.