Genoveva Umeh is a Nigerian-British-trained actor. She is an alumnus of the Identity School of Acting, United Kingdom and the Ebonylife Creative Academy, Nigeria (2021). She is also a Law graduate from the University of Surrey, UK. In 2022, Umeh was nominated for the Best Actress in a drama award for her first feature film, ‘A Tune Away’. Her filmography includes being nominated for the British Academy Film Awards (BATFAs) and Sundance Short Prize Winner 2021 in a short film titled ‘Lizard’. Her Netflix credits include ‘Blood Sisters’, ‘Far From Home’ and ‘One Lagos Night’. She also leads in Episode Four of Showmax original crime drama series known as ‘Crime and Justice’. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she speaks about her passion for acting and her role in MTV Shuga latest series.
You have featured in a couple of Netflix movies. How did it all start for you?
I fell in love with acting in high school; I found that drama quickly became my favourite subject. The two hours we had wasn’t enough so I fell in love with the idea of stepping outside of school to explore – going to see the theatres, watching plays and also enjoy playing.
I think my soul loves playing and I really fell in love with that. I found out about a drama school – Identity School of Acting, which I kept attending. It felt like an extra-curricular activity that I enjoyed.
As I grow older, I felt like it was just a hobby perhaps because of my culture. I knew I was part of first-generation immigrants, my parents worked so hard to come into the UK, so I felt that mentioning an art-related subject to them will be a disservice especially when the idea was to come over for greener pastures.
So, I studied Law, but when I quickly figured that Law wasn’t what I wanted, I went back to acting and it felt like a comfortable ground. As I watched a lot of Nollywood movies, I knew I would find my grounds here, so I did a lot of networking while I was in the university. The rest is history.
At what point did you decide to come home to join Nollywood?
It was in 2016, I just finished my first year in the university. As much as I enjoyed studying Law, I wasn’t passionate about it. I looked for opportunities and just wanted to get back to my hobby – acting, so I searched online, looked for acting opportunities.
I sent in self-tape for auditions and when an opportunity came through I had to travel to Nigeria – Enugu– to film for a month in the same 2016. Everything great and awful happened and with that experience, I knew I would try to work in this space – Nollywood. So, when I graduated in 2018, a week later, I was in Nigeria.
What has been the experience like for you since you launched out in Nigeria?
I have learnt that it is very important to be yourself, know who you are and being true to yourself when it comes to Nollywood and life. I think I approached acting from a passionate point of view and I feel like because I have approached it in that way, I have been open and blessed with opportunities coming my way.
For me, I wanted to work hard, experience opportunities, watch films and appreciate the work that people are doing in this space. So I think it has been challenging, especially having to adjust to living in Nigeria and it is a really tough place to live and celebrate the wins when they come. It’s been a learning experience for me.
Tell us about your role in the MTV Shuga series’ season five
I played Chika; she is a smart, talented digital artiste who is fighting to inform people about COVID-19. This is a topic we are now exploring with the MTV Shuga show post-pandemic.
Through her eyes, you will get to experience and see people that have dealt with the long-term effect of COVID-19. A lot of young people will relate to her, and her story is important for all those who have dealt with COVID.
What influenced your style of acting?
Acting has always been something I have enjoyed watching and I also discovered I could do it. Essentially, I am a huge fan of anyone who tells me the truth on screen or on stage. That is my idea of acting.
Are there roles you cannot take on?
Ironically no. I love the challenge. So, I am really open to roles that make me uncomfortable because the more the challenge, the better for me and I can really get to work. I would look forward to playing a more challenging role similar to the Woman King, because it will require intense trainings and I look forward to them in future.
Describe Gene in three words
Fun, loving and intentional.
Are you considering being in Hollywood yet?
I am open, and by God’s grace if it comes to my plate and I get to audition, hopefully in a place where I get to tell authentic African stories, that will be great. As long as it is representative of the true character and the kind of role I want to play, that is fine.
If you didn’t take on acting, what profession would you have settled for?
I would just be an acting coach. I will be watching people and make sure that people get it right. Those things excite me. Put me in any room where there’s an acting setting, I love it because it challenges you and it is really fun.
So, it’s safe to say your life revolves around acting.
Yes, definitely it does. And what I have learnt in my profession is that I am my work. I have to constantly make sure I am feeding myself with information that aids my journey.
What do you consider basics for getting into acting for young people?
I think it is important to note that it is a really tough profession and if you are a young person eager to learn, passion will take you very far. This is because passion will drive you to show up to things that you can learn from, including film festivals, watching plays, meeting with people you are inspired by, supporting the industry.
If you are passionate about acting, go for it, it will be tough, enjoy it and make sure you are keeping tabs of your ways.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion means freedom and being true and confident in your skin. Wearing what you want and feeling good in what you decide to wear essentially brings out who you are and makes you extremely confident.
What is your style?
My style is natural. I like simple styles; mixing earth tones. It is fun and chick
What is your favourite local dish?
I am from Anambra State so I am obsessed with Akara and Pap, Gbegiri and Ewedu.