Veteran actress, Folashade Omoniyi-Adewale, popularly known as Lepa Shandy, speaks to THEPUNCH about her career and related issues
You were shot into the limelight with the name ‘Lepa Shandy.’ How did the name come about?
My name is Folashade Omoniyi, now Folashade Omoniyi-Adewale, because I’m married. I’m popularly known as Lepa Shandy.It happened that I was offered a role in a movie by Gbenga Adewusi, Bayowa Films and the title of the movie was ‘Lepa Shandy’ and the funniest thing was that the name of the character in that movie was Shade, which is also my real name. So, after the movie, some began to call me ‘Lepa Shandy.’
I can recall that even before I took that role, I had a friend who used to call me ‘Lepa gawu.’ He took the name from a popular song that trended then. I was so mad with him each time he called me that. When I then acted that movie and it became a brand, that friend of mine was the first person to comment about it. There is a saying that there is power in the tongue and I will say that I am a testimony to that.
What is the meaning of ‘Lepa Shandy’?
The name of the character in the movie was Shade, but because of the business she was doing in the movie, they gave her ‘Lepa Shandy’ and it was because the character was a slim person. ‘Lepa’ means slim while ‘Shandy’ came from Shade; so, it means slim Shade.
You’re a slim person and incidentally your name is the same as that of the movie character. Was that why the producer gave you that role?
You see this life, you never know where God is taking you to or why God made you the way you are. You can never tell because nobody knows tomorrow. My growing up was funny — without shape. I was so slim. Even my dad got worried at some point, although he knew that I’m a light eater.
When I came into the industry and I was asked to play that role, I realised that God had a purpose for it. If I tell you the names of seasoned actresses that auditioned for that role at that time, you will agree. I was relatively new in the industry then and I was not popular. People that were known and had the name already at that time auditioned for that role but didn’t get it. Many things happened before I could get that role and it was just God.
It’s been decades now. Are you still as slim as you were in those days?
(Laughs)…… No. I have added a little more flesh now. I’m still not fat but just added a little more flesh here and there. At a point, some people accused me of not deliberating trimming down to preserve the brand that I created after the movie role. They said I didn’t want to add weight so I would not lose relevance. I just laughed. But I’ve added some weight now. Maybe then I was using size eight, now, I’m between size 10 and 12.
Do you now object being called Lepa Shandy?
I don’t have any choice. It has become my second name. Most people don’t even know my real name. If I go to any event and they introduce me as Folashade Omoniyi, it won’t ring a bell, especially when people cannot recognise me, but once they hear Lepa Shandy, they start roaring. So, I don’t have a choice than to stick to the name.
Being a movie that shot you into limelight, how much were you paid for that role?
Hmnnn, I won’t tell you how much I was paid, but I will tell you categorically that compared to what they (movie producers) paid those who were not known faces then, I was well paid. Some producers would not even pay you. They believed they were helping you. They would say by giving you a role, they were giving you an opportunity to make a name for yourself. I had some experiences like that then. I won’t mention names but they were top actors that had been in the industry. When they offered me roles, they would say they were helping me but when I saw them after I got that Lepa Shandy role, I made them realise the way God did it for me and added that I was well paid for the role and well taken care of. In fact, I can remember I used the money to start up the first shop I had on my own. The producer also provided my costume, accommodation, feeding and everything. I am grateful to Gbenga Adewusi.
Did you really want a career in acting or was it something you stumbled upon?
Well, before now, I used to say that I got into the industry accidentally but I’ve come to realise that I shouldn’t say that again because anything you do, God has a plan for you to do it; nothing is accidental. So, I would say that I had the passion for acting before I ventured into it but I never knew I would come into the industry the way I did.
It was actually my elder sister who had an interest in acting but my dad wouldn’t allow her. Incidentally, she’s in the industry now eventually, though my dad didn’t allow her then because she was a bit troublesome.
Did you have your dad’s approval then?
By the time I wanted to come in, I was of age and I had been to the university already. The only thing he said then was that I should tell my fiancé to come, so that he (my fiancé) could give his approval. He said once my fiancé gave his approval, he would also approve. Luckily then, my boyfriend gave his approval, so, my dad also gave his. I can remember my dad told him that he shouldn’t come back and complain. That was it.
Was it the same person you eventually got married to?
Yes, we did but we got divorced.
Would it be right to say that you are in your second marriage now?
Yes, with the husband that God really made for me.
You were at some point into modelling. Do you still do that?
Not anymore. The acting got a better part of me and I preferred acting to modelling, so, I decided to drop modelling.
How was your early life and growing up?
It was fun because I was basically raised by my dad and he was a soldier. You know all these fathers then, he was very strict. My dad was extremely strict. There was time for everything – time to wake up, time to sleep, time to eat and to go to school. I think it helped me later in life when I was of age because I was able to make use of those values, especially when I came into the industry because in this industry, you can be as free as a paper, so, if you are not well disciplined or brought up, it could affect you.
My growing up was fun but also very regulated. I was the only daughter from my mum, so, my dad had a soft spot for me. I remember then, he rarely beat me because I was too fragile and if I did anything bad, I would have cried my head out before his arrival, such that when he got back, he wouldn’t be able to beat me again. I hated being beaten. I was conscious of everything I did. I followed my dad’s rules and regulations so that I wouldn’t be caned.
After primary and secondary school, I went to the School of Agriculture in Abeokuta before going to the University of Lagos. That was because my dad wouldn’t allow anybody to sit at home, doing nothing. He would say that we should look for something to do while waiting for admission. It made me have experience in many areas. For instance, I also worked in the bank at some point because my dad wouldn’t allow me to rest. I did all of that and I got married late. I was always busy doing something. As I speak to you now, I have my sewing machine with me abroad. The interesting thing is that I never learnt fashion designing or tailoring, I just knew how to do it.
What course did you study at the University of Lagos?
I studied Data Processing.
At what age did you get married and became a mum?
I became a mum 10 years ago.
At what age did you marry in your first marriage?
Reports have it that you are in your early 50s. Is that true?
Yes, I’m preparing for my 52nd birthday.
Were there things you did in the industry or decisions you made in earlier years that you regret or that you’re very proud?
First and foremost, let’s just thank God for His mercies because when you are alive, you’ve achieved something. I want to thank God for that, but no matter how life is, you would still have one or two things that you may consider as regrets. One of the things I would have loved to do at my younger age is to have a child. I would have loved to have my first child at an early age so that by now we will just be like twins, but we thank God for everything because our lives are not in our hands. One could wish for one thing but God’s plans will always prevail. I still achieved it but it came a bit late.
One decision I consider positive was accepting God’s call into the movie industry. Life in the industry is not easy because you are like a pastor or an Imam or let’s just say a man of God. The contents we put out are to teach people about life. What we do is another form of preaching to people. That’s why each time you go wrong, people chastise you because you are supposed to be a good role model for people and live by the lessons you preach in your movies. That’s why I see being an actor as a calling. You have given your life to the public, so, you are like a teacher.
Apart from people that are looking up to me, I’m conscious of my daughter. Apart from the public, you have to also consider the kind of legacy you want to leave for your children. What I’m enjoying today is what my father instilled in me.
What were some of the challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
There are many challenges, spiritually, physically, emotionally and so on. Once you get into the industry, let me not even say movie industry, you must be prepared for the negative and positive aspects of it.
The first negative aspect is bad press. If I told my husband that I was going to grant this interview, he probably might either say no or he would say that I should be careful about what I would say because one might say something and they will write something else. I was the one that made my husband to know that the headlines of newspapers are about sales. These people want to sell their paper, so, they would want to use a catchy headline but it’s not everyone that would go further to read the story in the paper. For some, once they see the headline, they carry the news just like that. I was the one that gave him that lecture.
Bad press can make or mar you. People that are patronising us and our fans want to know everything about us. So, if the press decides to just churn out only the bad things about us, it might not go well and that’s why depression is all over. You guys are just selling your things without knowing what’s going on. It mustn’t always be negative. Say something good about people, at least.
Secondly, this is a general one and I think I handled it the best way I could think of. They call it sexual harassment but I won’t call it harassment because it takes two to tango. If a man decides that he wants to go out with you, you have the right to say yes or no. That is what I tell people when they say that they were sexually harassed. I usually ask if their hands and legs were tied or they actually consented to it. There’s no girl in the industry that will say that she didn’t go through that. It is then left for the person to decide. Do you know that there are people who can’t say no? There are some people like that, especially when they meet someone with sugar-coated tongue.
When I had my first job interview, I was asked out by my potential boss. Well, I won’t say I was sexually harassed. I was just about 18 then but I said no to him and that, of course, meant ‘no’ to the job but it happens and it’s very rampant in the industry.
Another challenge is that you lose your privacy totally. It then depends on you to be who you are and that’s what I do all the time. I try to be me. There are so many of such issues but I just try to take the most important ones.
I had an experience one day that I was coming from a location early in the morning on Ikorodu Road, precisely between Ketu and Ojota. There was a traffic situation that day. One of the area boys just recognised me and went to call others. I won’t forget that day in a hurry. The others came and surrounded my car. I thought of giving them something from the cash envelop I got from location but I gave a second thought that they could just take everything if they sighted the envelop. People in cars around saw me and were saying, “See Lepa Shandy,” instead of coming to my rescue. It was a soldier that was behind my car that helped me. The man had to follow me to Ojota under bridge, to make sure I was safe. It’s a pity the way it is in Nigeria. If you recognise your celebrity, just say hello and go but area boys will harass you, requesting for money from you as if you are earning your money for them.
The money is not really coming from the movie industry but people will not understand. It is the goodwill that will give you the money. Now, endorsement is rampant, but then it was goodwill. With your name, you can open doors that you never expected can open. Like me, apart from acting, I do contracts, I have a company. It’s my name I use to get the contract, so, that’s where the money comes from.
Social media is another one. Social media is good and it’s bad, I must tell you. Without social media, maybe some people would have ended up in a psychiatric hospital but the negative aspect is also killing people. For instance, when I moved abroad, I didn’t want people to recognise me and I don’t also like staying around our people because they don’t mind their business. I sometimes don’t use make-up so they won’t recognise me. I just disguise. There was a day I heard a guy singing Baba Ara’s song in a shop, I had to run away because I thought he’d recognise me. Most of our people are very funny. When I was going through my divorce, someone was recording me and I had to go to the person to say I saw what he did and I asked him to delete it. Thank God my lawyer was with me and my brother, who is an army officer. I don’t know if it’s a journalist or someone that wanted to just record and post online. It’s not even about posting it online but the reaction that it will generate from people online.
When I got a property, someone asked me why I didn’t post on social media and I said why should I do so? I don’t have to do that if every other person is doing that. A Yoruba adage says that “Ti Isu eni ba ta, a ma n f’owo bo ni”. It means that if God blesses you, you don’t have to blow your own trumpet. Most people that are making noise on social media don’t have anything or some are from homes that they’ve not seen that kind of life before. It’s not everything you must post on social media and that’s why you see a lot of Yahoo boys and ritualists who will do everything to make sure that they achieve that too. Many people live fake lives on social media.
You’ve not been active in Nollywood in recent times. Why is this so?
The last movie produced by me was before I left Nigeria but I have done just two movies since I got here. They weren’t my movies, anyways. I partook in two of my friends’ movies since I got here but right now, I’m devoting my life to my family. One thing I like about my industry is that there is no retirement. You can take a break and come back anytime.
If you are a good parent, your focus should be on your children. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t live your life but whatever you do, when you start having children, you should focus on them. What legacy do you want to leave behind for them? When I realised that my daughter is growing and all of that, I needed to protect her future and so on, I had to take a pause. Understanding parenting sacrifice and all that, I had to put my job on hold for now. What I need now is a home.
Most women, especially in my industry forget that you live your future now. You plan for your future now. You can decide to achieve anything but I’m an advocate of home first, despite that I came from a broken home. If you are a man, you need a woman when your children would have all gone and are on their own. As a woman, you need companionship. When you have the opportunity to protect your home, you should take it. Marriage is not always a bed of roses. It’s about tolerance, not even love. Love can varnish any day. That’s why I decided to build my home first and love will come later.