Anthonieta Kalunta speaks with THEWILL Shade Wesley-Metibogun on her foray into acting, challenges and expectations for 2023
Looking back in retrospect, how will you describe 2022?
It was a year of growth for me. And the growth was a holistic one, mentally and career wise, not just as an actress, but as a producer as well as a journalist too. I got a lot of rejections, but I learnt how to handle it. If I had experienced the things I passed through in 2022, say two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it well. So, I can say I am more mature now.
Were your goals and aspirations met in 2022?
I started the year with two things, I wanted to get acting gigs and I wanted a certain position where I am currently working. I thank God that I got the two things, so I can say yes my goals were achieved last year. It was towards the end of the year that things started taking shape. I still hope that 2023 will produce some other goals for me. I want to see people watch me display a certain level of rage in terms of the roles I play. I hope to get such roles this year. There is a level I want my finances to be, I am not there yet. It’s better than where it used to be though, I hope to step into the next level this year by God’s grace.
When did you venture into journalism?
I have worked as a presenter for both radio and television but for now, I work as a producer for a media house in Abuja. I produce contents, I create them and oversee them to the post production level, that’s what I do whenever I am not filming.
How did your journey into acting start?
My love for acting was ignited when I went to see a stage performance my brother was acting in. He wasn’t studying Theatre Art but took elective courses from the department. The lighting, the stage, costume, the acting, the sound, everything had changed, it was so beautiful and I felt I should choose a career in that field as well. So, I decided to study Performing Art.
How has the journey been so far?
Starting out was just the grace of God, my screen acting at the beginning was school related before I featured in ‘The Milkmaid’ that represented Nigeria at the Oscar and the accolades that came with it. My journey so far has been enhanced through meeting people. I cannot overemphasize the role of relationships in the industry. The journey has been consistent, filled with growth.
How did you secure your role in ‘The Milkmaid’ despite the fact that you were still new in the industry?
It was through one of my lecturers. I had finished school but was still in Zaria at that time. One of my lecturers told me that some people wanted a cast for a movie and I looked like what they wanted. I spoke with the director and I was told they were having an audition. It took place in Taraba State. I got there, met a lot of people, and did my bit. I wasn’t expecting the major role. I felt they needed someone as fillers being a first timer. I got a call from the director, he said he really liked my performance and costume for the audition. It was a northern scene so I wore a long red dress and a veil, something close to what they would be looking out for. He asked if I could play the lead role. It was shocking for me because I felt they would have had their lead actress. I accepted the lead role.
How challenging was it as a first timer?
It was challenging and at first I felt I shouldn’t take the role because it clashed with my National Youth Service Corp posting. I really wanted to serve in Abuja but somehow, God arranged it and I served in Abuja. I had to do a lot of thinking, but I felt it was something I wanted to do, so I decided to join the set. The first day was really beautiful. The cast and crew were very supportive. As much as I was a first timer, they helped me through the journey. They were so deliberate and intentional, and they made me very comfortable. We had tough moments, like production delays. It was supposed to be for three weeks but we were at it for three months because of many factors such as security, weather. I never felt like dropping it and leaving at any point in time.
As a producer, how did that aspect of you evolve?
When I got to school in my 100 level, I won the award for the hottest newbies in my department. People came to me to suggest so many things I could audition for. I even auditioned for a beauty pageant including hosting red carpet events in school. I volunteered at Life Radio in Zaria, I used to do voice over, paid and unpaid. I accepted every good opportunity thrown at me. That was how production started for me. Eventually, when I got to serve, I served in a media house. I got introduced to news casting and that was how my career started.
How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to go into acting?
I have always been academically smart since I was young. I wanted to be a Vet Doctor before I went to see the stage performance. When I applied for Arts, I didn’t inform my mother, I didn’t want anyone to be able to change my mind. It was later on that they found out. The unspoken agreement between me and my parents was that I would do Law. Eventually, when I wrote Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, I told my mother that I wanted to study Performing Arts, she didn’t want to have it at all because she was wondering what I wanted to do with my life after studying Performing Art. There was a lot of convincing. My brother took time to explain that it was not as bad as they thought. Eventually, my mother agreed but anytime I went to her office, she would ask me if I really wanted to stay in Arts. It was something I love so I stood my ground. My mother is not a very strict person and she would not force you to do certain things.
Sex for roles is a constant issue in the entertainment industry. Have you experienced such?
I don’t want to counter any other person’s experience. I have friends who have told me about such but over the years, things have improved. They have encouraged those who had the experience to come out and speak up and they have helped some of them to get justice. I started on a clean note. It was a public audition, I didn’t lobby for it. After that, it has put me on a certain level really. I have not been exposed to such. There are some people who will approach you and will not come out to say it in a plain language but the society has passed that point where someone will just say ‘sleep with me and I will do this for you’, it’s more subtle now. I will advise ladies not to be desperate, even if you really want to, just don’t be too desperate to accept what you would regret later. We should know that certain things are not worth it. If you will not be proud of whatever it is in future when you tell people, then, don’t do it.
Were you not discouraged when your friends shared their experience with you?
I wasn’t and it was for one reason. It wasn’t an acting problem. I experienced sexual harassment even before I got into acting. There is sexual harassment in the media, banking industry and everywhere. It is only more pronounced in acting because movie practitioners are in the limelight. So, it is not about the career, things need to be put in place to ensure those girls are not taken advantage of and people are able to get justice anytime they complain that they were sexually harassed.
If you are to choose between acting and broadcasting, which would it be and why?
To be honest with you, I will say I really love acting. I don’t want anything to come between me and acting. Whatever thing I decide to do must come alongside acting, not that it will stop me from acting.
What is the best thing about being an actress?
Having to live different lives. I just got back from a movie location. You know. the different characters you have to portray. Then, meeting a lot of people as you journey through your career. Meeting different crew, actors on set with different experiences. The level of diversity which is just awesome.
Lagos is the hub of entertainment, but you stay in Abuja. Wouldn’t it limit the numbers and types of roles you get as an actress?
I know Lagos is the hub of entertainment, I know it is a conversation I need to have with myself this year but I still feel like regardless, I have gotten some roles despite not being in Lagos. I actually stayed in Lagos for some months after my youth service and when I returned to Abuja, I got more jobs from Lagos and was wondering why they didn’t call me when I was just right under their nose. Lagos is just an hour away, technology has made things easy. In terms of events, maybe. I remember when I got an invitation for the Africa Movie Academy Awards, AMAA, I couldn’t make it because I had so many things I had to consider. If I was based in Lagos, I wouldn’t have to think so much before attending the award ceremony. There are things I will have to consider.
Who are the people you would like to work with in the industry, from actors to producers and directors?
There are a handful of them, I don’t want to mention names. But I will say that I want to work with producers because I feel the industry has gotten to a stage where producers are deliberate about their actors and crew members. Those that care about the people as much as the production. They care beyond just the project and beyond the work you do for them. They also care about your wellbeing during that time. I would like to work with Kenneth Giang, there really are so many people. For actors I will say Nse Ikpe -Etim, Sharon, those people who are doing well with their craft.
How was growing up?
I was born and brought up in Zaria, I had my education there as well and I graduated with a degree in Theatre Arts from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. I lost my dad when I was ten years old, so I grew up with my siblings. I have a brother and three sisters. We spend most of our time together. Zaria is a small community, my entire life till I became an adult was within that community.
Have you been to your hometown before?
Yes, my sister got married in 2021, so I went there for the wedding.
Many assume you are a northerner. Maybe because of your role in ‘The Milk Maid’. Why do you think people assume you are from the north?
I hear that a lot. Maybe because I grew up in Zaria. Some mistake my surname to that of a northerner too. Kalunta is an Igbo name.