Okawa Shaznay is a Cameroon born actress and a commercial print model based in Houston, Texas in USA.
She is former Miss Cameroun USA, holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and started her acting career in Cameroon with movies like ‘Eighth Commandment’ by Sarabi Pictures.
Okawa has since last year been acting in Ghana and Nigeria. She shot movies like ‘Refugee’, ‘Cheaters Book 1&2’, ‘Cheaters Vacation’, ‘Sisters At War’ and her latest award-winning role in upcoming movie, ‘Iyore’.
In this exclusive interview with NEWS-ONE’s Francis Addo, Okawa says she is not making money a big deal in her newfound passion. However, she is not acting for free.
What have you been up to?
I have been busy. I have been travelling a lot between Nigeria and Ghana as well. Sometimes I stop over at East Africa. But for now I have been shooting quite a lot. I just completed the movie, ‘Cheaters Vacation’ and prior to that I did ‘Don’t Play That Game’ by Venus Films. I did another one in Nigeria in April titled ‘Iyore’. It is an epic movie; I shot alongside Rita Dominic, Joseph Benjamin and a host of others. I was just basically shooting.
Are you making enough money?
Yeah, steadily; slowly but surely. It gets better with each production. So yeah!
Is money a priority in your career?
Money is not really an issue to me at the moment. Personally it is not an issue to me right now. At the same time what I am getting is encouraging but I don’t use that as basis to push me in the field. I know it is important for every artiste to be rewarded because it is job at the same time but most of us take it as a passion. Personally I am really passionate about it, so the money factor is not really my drive. That is not to say because it is my passion, I should be used and not get paid. What I do get now is quite encouraging. So it’s not bad.
How many productions have you done in the last six months?
I did four movies. I did three in Ghana and one Nigeria. They are yet to be released. My trips to East Africa are just for vacation. Part of family is there.
Which of your movies do you rate over the others?
The one that is out right now like ‘Sisters At War’. Personally, I really like the job because my character in it is just quite different from my personality and appearance in general. It was quite interesting to play such a character and a lot of people are giving me feedback that they really enjoyed the movie. It is really fast pace and drama based. You can’t stop watching it. It is really interesting and I really like it. But then the other movie I shot in Nigeria – ‘Iyore’ – that’s like a very mature movie.
It is a lot more different from the whole cheating thing. It is just different. It is deeper and I had the pleasure and opportunity to work with very mature actresses like Rita Dominic. She is very deep in her acting and everything.
I mean that movie is really matured based on content and the way I was pushed to perform. So I think that’s my mature movie compared to the others. But I still love ‘Sisters At War. ‘Sisters At War’ and ‘Iyore’ are the movies that I really love.
Tell me about ‘Iyore’
‘Iyore’ means life after life. It is just a story about reincarnation so I played the character of this princess of Yoruba land and I was in the love triangles between Joseph Benjamin character and Rita Dominic character. I don’t want to give away the story. So basically that’s what the story is about. But expect a lot of cultural display in this movie. It is really interesting.
What did you do when you first received the script for that movie?
I went through it and tried to talk to the director about his vision for the role; his picture in mind about how he wanted the character to be like. So after doing that and grasping what I wanted know, I went back to research. With this story my character is a princess from Yoruba so I had to talk to people there and learn certain phrases to throw in there when I am talking. I also learned about the background of the people of Benin, which the story is also about and watched some traditional Yoruba movies to learn their culture. I just had to research about their cultural background to be able to deliver my role.
Was it challenging?
Well, it was physically challenging because apart from the whole thing, trying to portray the character I had to be a warrior in some areas of the movie. So I had to learn and know how to use the sword and everything. So that was like a little physical challenge but I got it right. It was hot but I pushed through.
Anything about the Benin culture that fascinates you?
Yes! I realised that people there are very proud of their culture and they carry their king like God. You can’t just say anything about him because if you do, people around you will be like, ‘Are you serious?’ They have this pride in Benin that everything about kingdom started with them. They have this pride about them that I never see anywhere. They are proud of their heritage and I think that’s a really beautiful thing.
How soon is the movie coming out?
The movie will start screening sometime October. They are yet to roll out promotion and stuff. Trailer comes out soon.
Is the industry treating you well so far?
To me, what I can really say is I am really grateful because it is not a lot of people who get that opportunity to steadily shoot with production houses like Venus Films, Raj Films as a young actress and also have opportunity to shoot with big names like Rita Dominic, Joseph Benjamin, Jackie Appiah, Yvonne Nelson and all these people. I think that it is truly going well better than I even expected. So I am grateful to God. I am just happy at the rate things are going.
Did you have issues with any of the big names?
I didn’t have issues with any of them. In Ghana I did my first movie with Jackie Appiah and she is really nice to me. She is down to earth. I equally worked with Yvonne Nelson. I think we did two or three works together, one in Atlanta, USA and two more here in Ghana. So it has been an interesting opportunity working with these ladies.
They are so amazing and easy to work with. Yvonne Nelson is really cool. I always tell her that “people misunderstand you a lot. It takes people who are close to you really see how cool you are.” She is so cool and down to earth. Why do people keep misunderstanding her? Rita Dominic, she is cool as well. She is really welcoming.