Liz Benson-Ameye: An actress as an evangelist
Even though she is currently not regarded as a mainstream actress; mainstream suggesting that she is no longer a face on every movie poster, as it was the case in the 90s and up until the 2000’s, what is in never in doubt is that Liz Benson-Ameye’s relevance as an actor has remained timeless.
Even till date, some of her loyal fans insist that a movie with her name and face is a straight sell.
Indeed Liz, now a ‘minister’ of God and wife of Bishop Great Ameye of Freedom Family Assembly, not only stands out for the skills that she brings to bear on her performance, but she is also regarded for some of the finest acting virtues, which she represents.
Focused and likeable stage and screen personality, who many say have, with her acting, impacted positively on people, and whose acting style many have found captivating, those familiar with the story of Nollywood would recall that there was a time in the industry when her name and face was all a marketer required to at least break even.
The Efik-born iconoclastic acting diva was clearly one of Nigeria’s prolific actors and highly regarded showbiz personality.
Liz, now an evangelist, was bonded to the arts and she still has great passion for acting, even though she admits that she is now so conscious of the kind of roles she plays in movies.
A crusader for professionalism and one who is very choosy about the scripts she accepts, acting for the second child in a family of four has been a matter of childhood past time.
Back during her early school days, particularly at Lady Lak School in Yaba area of Lagos, Liz, originally from Akwa Ibom State, would gather kids and together they would put drama sketches or singing sessions up, before a gathering.
Little did the now well married widowed mother of three, who was born under the zodiac sign Aries, know that she would ride on the back of such early performances to become a popular stage and screen star.
Even with those early exploits, especially at Edgerley College in Calabar, the Cross Rivers State capital, Liz’s parents wished for her to pick up a degree in Criminal Law.
But their desire petered away when the humble, charming and amiable actress of innumerable stage and screen credits traveled out to the United States (US). It was while there that she bagged a degree in Dramatic Arts from the Havana State University in Georgia.
On her return to Nigeria, Liz was engaged by television producer and director, Lola Fani Kayode, to feature in a number of television and radio commercials.
Not too long after, popular theatre director, Chuck Mike, found a worthy stage actress in Liz. She got a lead in the Collective Artiste presentation of Femi Osofisan’s Who is Afraid of Solarin?
She later became a regular feature in most theatrical presentations staged at the National Theatre and other venues.
From the stage, Liz found time to do some acting on television. She was inspired to join her colleagues on that turf after watching few episodes of Lola Fani Kayode’s Mind Bending.
However, her first real feel of acting on television, even though she featured in a number of short skits that ran on national television then, was as a supporting actress in the long rested television detective series, Third Eye.
But the big act that brought her acting prowess to the fore was when she interpreted delightfully, the role of Mrs. Agnes Johnson, the braggart who rides rough on her employees, business associates, clients and just about anyone that crosses her path.
That was in Fortunes, a soap opera with the signature of the movie sheik, Zeb Ejiro, which ran for about two years on the network service of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
Like the title of the soap, Liz found fortune and fame as the lead actor of that soap, which until it rested, was a must watch for most television viewers.
She moved on from acting just on television to team up with her colleagues, who had embraced acting on home video, and she got an overwhelming acceptance as soon as she stepped up there.
Her versatility and ability to interpret roles delightfully endeared her to many. Her first movie run on the turf was a cameo in the home movie, Circle of Doom. Even though it was a cameo, Liz got heads turning towards her.
She got more people thumbing up to her when she featured in such other movies, like Shame, Yesterday, Evil Men 1 and 2, Trial, Izaga, Burden, Body of Vengeance and a horde of other movies.
But it was her role as Jane in Glamour Girls that brought out her creative prowess.
She reigned uproariously and even more when Kenneth Nnebue picked up her bills as a lead actress in his commercially successful movie, True Confession.
Many still recall how Liz combined the role of an unmarried lady, that of a newly-wedded, as well as an aged mother effectively.
Most industry critics agreed that it was it was her role in True Confession that crowned her as the queen of the turf and a character actress.
An actress who has received several industry awards and honour, Liz took a back seat at some point and only returned to the turf recently.
In fact, fans that had ceaselessly complained about her long absence from the turf had a good feel of her when she returned to the screen recently as a lead character in Udoka Oyeka Living Funeral, Stephanie Linus’s award winning movie, Dry and in an urban telling, Mummy Dearest.
She lived her roles with great aplomb in those movies and with them and many others still at various stages of post-production, Liz announced her grand return to the acting turf.
“I didn’t completely quit acting,” she said in response to a question on why she took a back seat. “I only took a back seat to sort out my spiritual life and I give God the glory for His hands on my life and for blessing me with a wonderful husband, who has made the home comfortable for me.
“I am also fulfilled serving people and changing lives. It may seem that I took a back seat, but the calling of God is such that you will have to surrender completely and allow Him to lead you on,” she adds.
Asked how she feels combining evangelism and acting, the soft-spoken actress said: “I can’t really describe how it feels to be available to God and humanity and doing something that touches lives and that pleases the Almighty.
“I consider this moment one of the most fulfilling times of my life, because in a way, you are investing in the lives of people.
“I preach the Word, but it is most times not just preaching the Word, but also being able to reach out to people and save lives. And movies are one sure way you can reach people and impact lives.
“So, I have not gone out of acting completely; it is just that I can’t possibly be involved in any kind of movie. I will find time out of my calling to be involved in movies that promote a worthy cause.”
Indeed, movies that have benefitted from her expert portrayal, including Living Funeral and Dry are themed around propagating causes.
So, won’t she feature in a romantic movie, even if she is offered million as artiste fee?
She chuckled and replied: “Of course, you know what my answer will be. But seriously, I have so much work to do in God’s vineyard that I can only appear in movies that have to do with humanity, movies that preach good tidings and movies that promote positive values and moral standards.”
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