Known for roles in Shirley Frimpong Manso’s Adams Apples, the award-winning 4Play, and the cable television series Tenant, actress Helen Asante, talks to enewsgh.com about her career, the challenges that comes with it, and on the uniqueness of her body size.
Full interview below
How was growing-up like for you?
Art was something that I had in me. Growing up, I could paint, organize my own magazine and articles, dance, write music, and write screen plays as well as acting in front of the mirror, playing multiple characters in my head all the time. At first, I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t know there was this concept called acting.
So growing up, I got to understand and that was it for me after high school. I was always looking to go to Hollywood to become a hip hop dancer and act after high school because I didn’t think I could do any acting here till a friend advised me to start from somewhere and get the experience. So I started going for auditions and here I am now. After several auditions I landed my first major role as Nadia Buari’s younger sister in Sin of the Soul.
What did you have to give up to be the Helen Asante we know now?
At a point, I had to drop out from college. I was attending Zenith College and it was difficult keeping up on been on set and at lectures all the time. So I thought my focus was on acting more at that moment. I wanted to study Law and Mass Communication but I was offered tourism in College which I wasn’t so pleased with so I was willing to give up on that and focus on acting to get some experience, after which I would go back to school and study.
That was my decision I made after weighing the options I had at the time. I also had money issues and all that but you have to do what makes you comfortable because I was struggling to pay my fees at college and after paying the fees, I wasn’t able to attend lectures like I had to. I was losing out on both sides, so I just decided to drop out till I had a firm grip on the acting which was and still is my passion.
I believe it’s not about you being educated before you become a successful person in life. It’s real life experience that you go through that makes you smart and strong to face challenges. I have been through a lot of difficulties in my life and I have learnt from and I am learning every day because every day of our lives is a lesson learned.
What are some of the challenges you face as an actress?
There are a lot of challenges that I faced as an actress in the beginning. I had to do a lot of auditions. Sometimes I don’t even have money for transport to get to the audition ground so I will have to borrow from my mum or sister just to be able to get there. And when you get there, sometimes, you will not even be picked for a role. But it didn’t stop me because I had it in mind that in order to get to Hollywood, I needed to gain experience so I was not giving up. So I persisted and persevered. You have to respect yourself, be determined and patient in this industry where there is so much competition.
“The other challenge is that, I am not the definition of an obvious Ghanaian girl which is (big butt, breast and the rest) and all that. I am cute looking so my industry friends always thought of me as a kid and nicknamed me Cutie. But I always kept my head up. Yes I am cute but a tough girl, I’m not the kind you would want to mess with me.
With my size, I don’t think you can find it anywhere in the industry and I am proud to be the only one in the industry this cute. Fresh in the industry, I was always thinking my size was going to be a challenge for me to land the kind of roles I wanted. But with the experiences God put my way, I only realized that, it was just preparing me for a big thing. The secret was to be strong, confident and be on my own.
There is an article that suggests you don’t get lead roles because of your body size. Is this true?
About that article, I think my message was not clear. I was asked about the challenges I faced and I said I think my size is a problem for some of the producers out there because they think of me to be too small. But I didn’t say it’s the reason for me not getting roles at all but rather not getting the sort of roles I feel I can play as an actress.
As an actress you get to a point in your career where you want to take up more challenging roles to prove yourself and that’s what I meant I was not getting. May be next time I need to explain myself better in an interview. I get calls most of the time from producers who want to work with me but I turn down for some personal reasons.
The whole of last year 2013, I turned down all offers for interviews. Why? Because I just decided not to and needed time to refresh myself. It’s a personal decision and I get jobs but I turn down carefully. I am not desperate but have a game plan and am sticking to that. It doesn’t mean I don’t get roles I do by the grace of God. For 7-8 years in the industry, come on I have paid my dues (doing free jobs and auditions) enough to get called for jobs.
Secondly, I feel also our mentality in casting from some directors should change. Its acting and you need a good character to imitate a character and make it believable. But our system here is different. It’s based on other things which should not be. If we really want to do movies, we have to change our game plan.
Part of the reasons I turn down some scripts is because the movie houses want to cast me just because “I am the face” but not because they think I am good for the role and the role fits me perfectly and I can deliver. Whenever I get that feeling, I don’t do it and I can tell by just reading the scripts.
Is the movie industry lucrative. I ask because many movie makers keep raising red flags about it’s imminent downturn?
Most people in the movie industry complain about the industry not paying enough, but movies keep coming out. Well it depends on where you look at. I have been acting in Ghana and my experience is here, so I will say it doesn’t pay in Ghana.
Because a lot of things are wrong here; there are no measures set in place for actors/actresses or even producers. Actors and actresses are struggling more than producers. I think we are joking down here because we refuse to see where film can take us. Film making can be a tourist attraction which can boost the economy.
But no everyone is doing their own thing just because they have the money to and faking for the public to think they are professional’s whiles they are not. Even at that, we as Ghanaians accept the rubbish going on that’s why we still facing issues in the industry. If you are a film maker, be a filmmaker and that you don’t need a degree to tell you to do the right thing. Sometimes you shoot for a production and to pay you your money becomes a problem. They will pay those they think have got money and then your money is sidelined where you will have to fight before you get your money. Why should it be so?
In Adams Apple, you really did a good job. How did you prepare for your role? And what did that role teach you, and how has it impacted on those (roles) you picked afterwards?
hahaha omg ! Adam’s apple… Well it’s been a long journey for me personally. First I think I had to audition two times with different characters before I landed the role.
And I remember with my second audition I almost lost the role because they called me and I was home with no money to even move to the office and my driver at the time I called to do me a favour of getting there was delaying so they kept calling me and calling me and I could not even say oh I can’t make it because I don’t have the fare: that would have shown them I was not serious in my career and that’s something you don’t do.
So finally when my call time had passed they called me to cancel it and tell me I have lost the role… I broke into tears. I prayed and cried and was hoping to make this right if I had another chance like that and luckily my phone rung and they said oh we are going to give you another chance so come immediately. I learnt to be time conscious and serious with time no matter what situation I was in from then. Because the director wasn’t playing with her time and I had to make sure I was always ready with my lines.
So what I do is if I have a 6am shoot I wake up at 4am to read over and over my lines before I get on set… You know it’s not easy going through personal challenges with issues and get on set to be perfect and focused… I cried so many times on set because I was struggling with my lines, thinking about other things, not being able to stay focus, not even remembering the same lines I have rehearsed over and over again.. It’s wasn’t easy. But I thank God for the experience. And the effort of taking my work serious … I’m not perfect I struggled but that was the kind if challenge I needed…
How many movies have you done since you started acting?
I have done nine movies since I started my acting career. Which is In the eyes of my husband,
The king is mine, 4play, 4play reloaded, spirit of a nurse, sleep over, twisted desire, Adams Apple season one and two and Tenant (Mnet Series).
Is acting a full time job for you, or you have other ventures you work on?
Well I do subtitling for few of the Twi movies for some few producers. Assisting with production for some other people. Aside all that, I do screen plays for myself and working on something soon God willing.
Any awards so far?
I won an award in Nigeria Lagos for the most promising actress in 2013.
By: Maame Yaa Tutu/Enewsgh.com