Every week CNN International’s African Voices highlights Africa’s most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. This week we profile Nigerian movie star Genevieve Nnaji.
(CNN) — With her glamorous looks and exceptional talent, Nigerian movie star Genevieve Nnaji is one of Africa’s most successful actresses.
The screen diva — dubbed the Julia Roberts of Africa — has starred in dozens of films, enchanting millions of movie fans across the continent.
The 31-year-old actress is considered to be a poster girl for Nollywood, the booming Nigerian movie industry, which according to UNESCO, is the world’s second-largest film producer after India’s Bollywood.
Nnaji has been performing in front of the camera from the age of 8. She is now one of Africa’s most instantly recognizable faces and has won several accolades, including the 2005 African Academy Movie Award for Best Actress.
CNN’s Pedro Pinto caught up with Nnaji before her latest movie premiere in London to discuss fame and her passion for Nigeria. An edited version of the interview follows.
Acting in a children’s adventure The Julia Roberts of Africa
CNN: Do you see yourself as an ambassador for your country?
Genevieve Nnaji: As long as you are a celebrity and in the public eye, you are an ambassador because you are the person they see — they can’t see the whole continent, they can’t see the whole country.
CNN: How would you describe Nigeria to people who’ve never been there?
GN: Nigeria is a unique and a peculiar country, and as the people, we are too.
CNN: Why peculiar?
GN: Because everything, every aspect of human nature is in every Nigerian — the good, the bad, the ugly, it’s just like another New York. Nigeria is fun, to be honest.
But when…all we have people talking about when it comes to Nigeria is crime and fraud and things…that’s just a very very minute number of people. Nigerians on the whole are very confident people. I believe we are confident, I believe we are very resourceful and we are very hospitable when it comes to visitors in the country.
I don’t think I have reached my peak necessarily so I hope for other opportunities, greater opportunities to express myself.
CNN: When you look at your country, what are some of the things that you love about it?
GN: I like that as Nigerians we have some sort of neighborly love that we don’t understand. We have a way of coming to the rescue of complete strangers. We do have that bond and I think it has to do with our background and how we are raised….I would never live anywhere else to be honest, no.
GN: No, I grew up in Lagos, I was born and bred there and I don’t see myself leaving that town any time soon. I can work anywhere else but in terms of living, I’m used to Lagos.
CNN: How does it make you feel when people are screaming your name constantly?
GN: You never get completely used to it, like the last time I was here for the other premiere — “Bursting Out” — it was pretty overwhelming. I just thought, is this my life, all these people actually loving and appreciating me for who I am?
It’s very humbling to be honest, I must say I’m blessed.
CNN: When did you realize that maybe this could be your future, this could be your career?
GN: I don’t think I ever realized that, for a long time I kept thinking, OK, this is just temporary, definitely I’m going to go back to school and read law, English or something that I wanted to do.
So I never fully accepted acting as my profession. I don’t think I saw myself there but somehow…here we are, I am an actor.
CNN: Do you ever get the feeling when you wake up in the morning one day that you wish you weren’t famous?
GN: Oh yes, I don’t even need to wake up, just sitting down sometimes I’m like, God, sometimes I hate my life. But I can’t complain.
CNN: You have been referred to as the African Julia Roberts. When you hear that, what do you feel?
GN: Thanks to Oprah (Winfrey), it’s very, very flattering, I mean not just because I’m compared to (Roberts) but because of who compared me to her.
So it’s an honor to be honest but I think it’s probably the vein we have on the forehead, I think that’s what we have in common.
CNN: What do you wish for your future, where do you see yourself?
GN: I want to be further challenged in my career, I don’t think I have reached my peak necessarily so I hope for other opportunities, greater opportunities to express myself.
Mostly because there is still something inside of me that I just feel I haven’t let out and it’s really trying to come out and trying to burst loose so I’m hoping for that opportunity…I just want that story, that story that challenges me even further.