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For Maria’: Meg Otanwa’s Immersive Portrayal Of Postpartum Depression Came With Costs
How then does an actor enter and come out of a character that drowns endlessly in sorrow? Meg Otanwa shares.
The people came to pray, sing, laugh and eat. As they went on with the pleasantries, Derin stared blankly, holding on to the feelings that threatened to combust within her. You could feel it and see it. This woman does not want to be here. In fact, she does not want to be anywhere. You see Derin, crawling through sadness and pain, but she wore Meg Otanwa’s face. How then does an actor enter and come out of a character that drowns endlessly in sorrow?
Otanwa knew how to do the former, but the latter proved more difficult than imagined. In the resounding applause that has followed the film since its release on Netflix, she noted that the struggle was worth it and fulfilling and hopes that the weight of her performance would put a face on the menace of postpartum depression, a silent killer among new mothers.
In an industry where razzmatazz drives popularity, Otanwa has a collected personality, so it is a no-brainer that a lot of people only saw her for the first time in For Maria: Ebun Pataki, the Damilola Orimogunje’s arthouse film which is getting a lot of attention in Nollywood at the moment. As she talked about her process of getting into character and what this project meant to her, she giggled a lot, something Derin lacked the energy to do.
From adding weight to getting out of character, Otanwa shared her journey as Derin in For Maria: Ebun Pataki with us.
Inside Nollywood: You added weight for this film; what motivated the energy?
Meg Otanwa: When Dami sent the script to me and I first read it, I was scared. I was terrified because I could tell how much work I needed to do to get into it. What I really liked about the script was how silent it was and it was just a few pages.
So I knew that there was no faking through this. A lot of this will have to be real, the first of which would have to be physical appearance which Dami had talked about earlier in the conversation because he had jokingly asked me if I planned on getting pregnant anytime soon because he really wanted to show skin.
He wanted everything to be real. I did not let him bother about it because for me, the more the challenge, the more exciting it is. As soon as he said it, I assured him that I would put on some weight. I had a little over three weeks to gain all the weight I wanted to gain. So, every few days, I would take a picture and send to him about what the progression was like until two or three days before shoot, when we hit the perfect weight.
It was tough for me because this was coming when I was the most fit—working out and eating right, but I was happy to do it. I am so incredibly overjoyed that you all appreciate this. It is not a film that one would beat one’s chest and say Nigerians would love this. It is quite moody. It is quite serious. It means so much to us, the love and appreciation we are getting.
IN: What was it about this story that made you decide to do this?
It so happened that my career has just panned out this way where I tend to do a lot more of the serious movies [with] topical issues and I found out over time that these are the projects that I really like to work on. As an actor, whatever I am doing needs to have a soul.
For Maria has a soul. You read it the first time, it jumps at you and as a woman, I just thought it would be an honour to tell such a story, to be on such a project. I had an idea of what Dami was capable of, so I knew I could trust him as a director. It is such a taboo topic and we really don't talk about it. There is also a lot of gaslighting around it. You are almost made to doubt what you are feeling because nobody wants to tolerate the thoughts of whatever is going on.
IN: Did you find any part of the story upsetting?
I didn't find any part of it upsetting, rather it was this drive to get people to talk about it. To get people to be comfortable discussing it. To get people to be aware. More than anything, that was my biggest hope for the movie. In the course of my research, I came upon this man in Abuja who had lost his wife to postpartum depression. She committed suicide.
Many people have said that they did not quite like the ending because it was too sad, too depressing, that we should have at least found a solution for the character but the reality is that people die from this thing. Women commit suicide because of this and what he kept saying was that nobody knew what it was. Nobody had an idea what it was and it did not seem like anything special at the time.
What I wanted was for people to talk about this thing. I don't think Dami embarked on the journey to proffer a solution to the problem. For him, it was for people to talk about it. Let it be a conversation so people can identify the problem when they see it.
IN: You did a lot to get into character. Was it easy to leave the character behind after filming?
The process of leaving the character behind. I won’t try to deceive anyone or lie that it was an easy process. I think it was easier getting into that character than getting out of it. For a role like this, it is easier when you stay in character for the course of the shoot. It makes it easier, but I couldn't wait to be done at some point because it felt heavy and everything was painful.
When we were done filming, Dami and I kept talking and I would harass him for putting me through so much pain. He made me cry so much. He was always baffled and he counted the scenes when Derin cried and it did not seem like a lot, but it felt like I was crying every scene. I couldn't wait to be done and be me again. I left the set and it was not happening. It took a while. As an actor, it is something I am working on. It is something I am learning. Like I have a process that is effective for me to get into character, but I am still finding a very effective way to get out of character.
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