Mary Lazarus—nominated as “Best Actress,” for her role in “Don’t Cry For Me”—played opposite Daniel K. Daniel, in Willis Ikedum’s recent sequel, “Mummy Dearest (The Wedding)”. Lazarus started modeling at 17, while still in secondary school; and, as a Geography student, at the University of Ibadan, continued to do television commercials and billboard adverts. At the end of her National Youth Service Corps tenure, in Lagos, the Abia State indigene auditioned for a role in John Njamah’s “Waiting Years”. As she revealed to J.K. Obatala, who spoke with her in Port Harcourt’s Exodus Café, ‘It’s been good ever since!” Introduce us to “Mary Lazarus”—the person behind the screen
Mary Lazarus, being made up on the set of “Mummy Dearest”
image. Well, “Mary Lazarus” is a model-turned actress. I began modeling at 17.
I’ve done many TV commercials, billboards, handbills etc. –from MTN to Airtel (when it was V-Mobile). I’ve also done Glo, Ecobank, Pampas…So many of them. Why did you forsake modeling, for the silver screen? Was it always your ambition? Not really.
I modeled in secondary school…Then studied Geography at the University of Ibadan… and continued with my modeling career, while I was there… After my NYSC, a friend called, to say that a movie director was looking for a “pretty lady” for a particular role.
He said I fitted the description. Mary Lazarus, being made up on the set of “Mummy Dearest” Who was the director? It was John Njamah. So, I met with him…and ended up auditioning for “Waiting Years”. That was my first movie. Then, after that, Njamah called me to audition for a situation comedy, entitled “Living In Lagos.” It’s been good, ever since. `Are you married? Do you have children? I don’t have children.
And I’m not married, yet. Planning to? Of course! Yes! Nse Ikpe Etim said, in an interview with me, that she had no problem with homosexuality.
And in the opening of the African Movie Academy Awards ceremony, last year, a young man did a sympathetic monologue, on the subject. What is your take on that? As for me, I’m a Christian, and I believe everything that is written in the Bible. The Bible did not say there would be a point in a man’s life, when he would take a man to the altar. It did not say, “Adam and Adam” or “Eve and Eve”. The Bible said,” Adam and Eve”. So, to me, I don’t support homosexuality. That’s it.
Do you have a social life? What do you do to …? To unwind, when I’m not shooting? I’m with family. I’m an introvert, actually. I really don’t go out too often… So, I’m usually at home. I hang out with friends, occasionally—depending on my mood…I will visit people—my siblings, my parents, etc. But basically, I prefer to be at home watching movies, from morning till night. How many movies have you appeared in? Ah! I’m sorry, I cannot begin to answer that. When did you start acting? About six or seven years ago. That’s not so long. And you can’t remember the number of film you’ve had roles in? Oh, I can’t.
Trust me. I can’t! So, that means you’re getting lots of work? Yeah. It’s been good.
Mary Lazarus and Uchi Nwachukwu on set What have you done recently, besides “Mummy Dearest”? I produced my first film, last year, called “Dance To My Beat.” Stanley Isoko did the screen play. Will you opt out of acting? And dive into producing! No.
I don’t. The thing is, I had that story for, like, three years. I wasn’t ready to sell it. Because… I didn’t want a situation where, after I’ve sold it, I’d see something on the screen that isn’t what I wrote. So, I waited until I had the resources, to do it myself.
And did it. Are you going to produce another film? Oh yes! Why not? I have lots of stories in my head. If I mention your name, to the average cinema goer, what would they remember you for? [Takes a deep breath] They might remember me for the television series, in which I played a male character. It’s called “Losing Control”.
Many people would remember me for that, because [laughing] it was an interesting and unique role… But there are other films, which they would also mention.
One is “Don’t Cry For Me”—the movie I received a “Best Actress” nomination for, alongside Genevieve Nnaji and Nse Etim—in the African Movie Viewers’ Choice Awards.
There was a scene, in “Mummy Dearest,” where you bump into a strange young man, in a bar—and kissed him, to make your fiancé jealous.
Do you get excited, when doing scenes like that? No. I didn’t get excited. Because I was asking the director, about the person I’m going to be kissing.
And he refused to tell me—until the guy showed up! And then, I looked at him. I said, “O.k., does he have, like, gum or mint or anything in his mouth?” The director didn’t answer me. Then we had the first take. We kissed. And after that, it was not funny! What do you mean? It was not funny! But I didn’t want to make the young actor feel bad. You know, you have to be very conscious of the impact your reaction could have—especially if it’s his first acting job. I tried to avoid a situation whereby, I am ranting in the offender’s presence. It might have affected him, all through life. So, I had to take the director outside, and talk to him. You know, I said, “This guy has a problem”.
And then too, the young fellow was doing it so real—like bringing out his tongue, and everything! I had to tell the director, to make him understand, that this is acting. In acting, you don’t poke your tongue, and all that—putting your saliva into my mouth. No. That’s too far! The script didn’t warrant passion, anyway.
It was just a guy who was walking into the bar.
Because I saw my boyfriend there, I just grabbed the stranger and kissed him—to make my fiancé jealous. Do you have these kinds of problems often? It has never happened, before. You are already a producer. Are your eyes set on directing, as well? Oh yes! But it’s one step at a time. Will you go back to school? Or you think you already know enough? I’ll have to go back to school. Beyond that, I don’t know. There’s no target date.
But I’ll work towards it. Who are your role models? I have different role models, for various aspects of my life—for “fashion,” “acting,” “personality”. There are a whole lot of them. I admire Kloe Kardashian’s sense of fashion.
Then, there’s Denzel Washington. I admire his acting abilities. Kimberly Elise, the lady in “Diary Of A Mad Black Woman”. I really, really, really like her. Tyler Perry. I admire his strength—when it comes to acting, directing and producing, at the same time.
I like him a lot. So, like I’ve said, I have different role models for. But you didn’t name any Nigerians? .I have many Nigerian role models. But the individuals I’ve mentioned, are the ones I really look up to. Was “Mummy Dearest” your first time working with Willis Ikedum? Yes. It was my first time. How do you find him, as a director? He’s good.
He’s o.k. He knows what he wants. Ikedum has it in his head already, you understand? He wrote the script. So, he wants you to interpret it according to his vision—the way he’s looking at it. What is your assessment, of Nigerian cinema? We have 25 to 30 theaters in Nigeria. We need more—so that, when I’m coming out of my house, a theater is just a stone throw away. I think the government really has to look into this cinema thing. They are focusing only on oil “oil,” “oil,” “oil”. But entertainment brings money too.
Because we have so few cinemas in Nigeria, it’s quite difficult to convince people to go out and watch a movie. The distance, to the theater, is discouraging.
Think of someone in a big city, for instance, who doesn’t drive. They may have to take two to four different commercial vehicles, to reach the venue. If you were in that situation, you might have a change of mind. That’s one cause of piracy. Because, you might just buy a N100 pirated CD, slot it into your player—and sit at home.
So, what should the government do? I’ve just said it! They should invest more in cinemas! You mean, the Nigerian government should actually build movie theaters? They should. If I had the money, I think I would consider building a cinema.
Why not?… But right now, who do I turn to? You? My next door neighbour? If I knew of a person, a potential investor, I would talk him into building a movie house—because, in the long run, he’s definitely going to make his money back… What do you think of “private detective” film, as a genre? It’s o.k. Just look at the crime.
Don’t we have crimes in Nigeria? Look around you. But the movie industry doesn’t seem to be interested. I don’t think that’s the case. There are a couple of private detective films that I am aware of. I can cite “Murder At Prime Suites,” which my friend, Chris Eneng, directed. It’s a detective story. Do you do any mentoring of other actors and actresses? Oh yes. But there’s a limit, to which I can reach out. I ask those who want to start acting, so many questions. Most of them get interested, because they see me on screen.
“Oh, I want to be like you!” My response is: “Be like me, how? Do you have the passion—the passion for acting—as I do?” You don’t take up film, as a career, because you’ve seen someone you like on the screen. There’re so many things involved!… Don’t start something, you cannot finish. The young ones nowadays, for example, don’t like going for auditions. They just want to exchange phone numbers, then sit in their houses! “Mary, is there any job for me?” I tell them, “No! Go out and hustle. Go for auditions. I started from auditioning”. If you’re passion-driven though, I will take your number.
And if there’s a character in the script, that you can fit into, I’ll ask the producer, “Do you have someone playing that role?” If he doesn’t, I will recommend you…But if you’re just laid back, waiting for manna to fall from heaven—no, I don’t like that… Do you make off-screen appearances, say, at secondary schools or universities? I’ve only been invited to do something like that, at Kirikiri Prison, in Lagos. It was my friend’s birthday. And he called me to come and do some mentoring. You have actors there.
You also have singers, shoe makers, fashion designers and craftsmen in the prison.
So, I just gave one or two talks, to them. And that’s it.