19 May 2020
Chisom Agoawuike talks Halita, how to cry on camera and being a newbie on set
Chisom Agoawuike is the lead actress on Halita, one of the most-watched Nigerian shows at the moment. Halita, currently streaming on Showmax, is the story of a 19-year- old village girl forced to move to the city and work as a maid in the powerful Zamani household. Her time with the Zamanis is highly eventful as she navigates her way between her fellow domestic staff and the Zamani family to earn her place in the residence.
The Public Health graduate made a break in the entertainment industry after landing the title character role on the show. We recently had a chat with her about her journey to Africa Magic’s Halita, her relationship with her co-stars and more.
Tell us about your background.
I was born and bred in Owerri. I did my primary, secondary and tertiary schooling there and studied Public Health at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. I wanted to study Theatre Arts but my parents wanted me to study something more professional, something that would give me financial security in the future and they weren’t so convinced that Theatre Arts could do that for me. But they supported my dreams and knew I loved acting and thought it was something I could do by the side but not as a full time course in university. So I just had to be patient and go to school to get a degree to make them and myself happy. I don’t regret it: Public Health is a beautiful course.
So how do they feel now that you’re starring in one of the hottest shows on Nigerian television?
It’s been crazy! After every episode of Halita, if I’m not on set, my mum will call me to gush. She’d ask how I’m crying or how I interpreted a certain part. She’s so amazed that I can cry on set. She would ask me if I was genuinely crying or if they had to induce the tears and I’d tell her, ‘I’m an actor, I told ya!’ So my parents are pleased and I think they’ve gotten to the point where they’re convinced that this is what I love to do, all thanks to being on a good show.
Walk us through the process of auditioning and landing the lead role.
After previous stressful audition processes, I resolved to only go for private auditions. So when my friend sent me a flier for the Halita audition, I was sceptical. But then I saw a poster on Mr Dimbo’s page (the executive producer) and I thought maybe I should give this a try. Also, my friends did a lot of convincing so we went for the audition very early in the morning and I got a callback tag, which made me very excited. When they were calling names at the callback, I noticed that we were all petite and someone made a comment that these are the smallies, the maids. But no one knew that Halita was the main character. So before we were told to read the character, there was a briefing and that was when they told us that she was the main character and I thought ‘Oh my God! I need to get this right; I need to nail it and get my lines’. But I had no expectations to get the lead character. I just knew I had to do my best so when I got the role, it was a very pleasant surprise for me because this was my first major role.
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What other roles had you done prior to Halita?
I’d done a stage play in Abuja, ‘Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again’ where I played Elizabeth, the oyibo wife to Lejoka Brown. The turn out was quite large so that was the major thing I’d done before landing Halita.
You’re Igbo but played the role of a Hausa girl. What was the experience like?
That’s why I still see landing the role of Halita as a miracle because I remember when I was auditioning at the call back, Mr Dimbo kept telling me ‘call down, you’re fonerising, tone down the fone’ and I heard people whispering if you could speak Hausa that would have been an added advantage. But it was not something I could manipulate my way around because I can’t speak Hausa to save my life. But somehow I managed to land the role and everything I speak on the show, I learnt on the set.
What has working with your co-stars been like?
It’s been an amazing experience, which also translates on the screen. That’s because I think we all came on the same pedestal. We’re all newbies on the set and we’re all hungry for success so nobody felt better than the other. We bonded and shared our audition stories on how we landed the role and it brought us together. We talked to ourselves about punctuality and delivering our lines accurately. We also encouraged each other on the need to put our best foot forward. Most times after work, we go out and have a game night so that contributed to the beautiful relationship we have on screen. Even with the older cast, everyone is cool with each other.
Have you had any memorable encounters with fans?
Halita fans go hard. The love is beautiful and I’ve had mostly good encounters with them. When they see us it’s like we’re family. They want to help and just do something special for you. They’d say things like ‘Can you come to my house? Can I host you sometime?’ That’s the kind of feedback we get from the fans. But one of the most memorable encounters I had was this time I was waiting for my Uber to come and I just saw a car stop with an entire family screaming. The husband, wife, children – everyone was screaming excitedly and I knew I had to go over and say hello. So I went over and we took pictures and it was so beautiful because every member of the family watched the show – the husband, wife and children.
But on the flipside, a funny encounter I had was when I went for an event with Boma Eremie, who plays King. We were sitting together and this lady walked up to us and started taking pictures. She didn’t say anything; she just started taking pictures or making a video, I’m not sure which. When she was done, she said ‘Hi Halita, Hi King’ in an extremely snotty manner and she left. We found it hilarious.
What scenes did you find challenging to shoot, and which did you enjoy the most?
I’ll start from season 1. Season 1 was quite a ride because it was new territory for me. Shooting a daily show was not easy at all. Some days I didn’t know what to do, even though it was clearly written in the script – how I’m supposed to act and what I’m supposed to say. But it got confusing because it was a daily, back-to-back shoot. The first challenge I had was when I had to shoot with the character of my mum on the hospital bed and that was the scene where I was saying goodbye and she couldn’t talk. It really hit home and I think I genuinely cried because it was so similar to when I was leaving my parents in Owerri to come to serve in Abuja. So it was so hard for me to shoot but I pulled it off.
Season 2 is equally challenging because from the theme song you can tell that Halita has gone through hell and back. But the one that stood out for me is when my character had to openly confront her lover (King) following his betrayal. That was a challenging scene for me. Also when my character had to shout at Matilda, that was freaky. I found it very weird because Halita hadn’t stepped out of that meek, humble phase, so for her to be actively yelling at Matilda felt so new. I remember I had to keep asking the director ‘How should I sound? Should I be really crazy or mild anger?’ That was all that was going through my mind. Kaka’s character’s death also hit hard.
Would you say there are any similarities between Chisom the person and Halita the character?
Definitely. Personality wise I can relate with Halita. There are a lot of similarities between us, but in the love part not so much. Halita is a lover girl and I’m not. She wears her heart on her sleeve and it’s not quite the same for me as a person. In fact, sometimes when I read the script, I think ‘Wow I think I should learn something from this girl; it doesn’t cost anything to be more expressive in love’. I really like how she expresses herself: she doesn’t care; she’s living in the moment and trusts easily. I’m much more guarded and not as quick to be expressive in love but in other areas we’re quite similar. I’m also not as meek as Halita; Chisom is more upfront.
So, are Chisom (Halita) and Boma (King) a couple in real life?
No, we’re not a couple. Sorry to let all the fans down. We’re just colleagues.
What do we expect from Chisom in the future?
Acting is something I’m very passionate about. It’s not a pastime but a full time career. So I will go on to do good movies, be it TV or feature length. But I will be very selective with the kind of work I take on going forward because I want to have a successful career. So I will do what feels right in my spirit as long as it tells a story and relays a positive message.
Anyone in particular you’re looking to work with in the future?
There are a lot of people I want to work with locally and internationally. Top on that list is Genevieve Nnaji. Mr Dimbo, who produced Halita, is also someone I had been praying to work with and my dream came true. So I’ll keep praying about everyone else I want to work with.
How have you been passing time since the lockdown?
It’s been crazy because I happen to be alone so I’ve mostly been sleeping and reading. I challenged myself to read more because I’m not so much of a reader, which is bad. So I’ve been doing more reading and also binging M-Net shows. I also occasionally have Zoom calls with my colleagues around.
Halita is currently streaming on Showmax.