Veteran actress Idowu Phillips popularly known as Iya Rainbow tells Ademola Olonilua about her career and life as a widow.
How did you get the stage name Iya Rainbow?
The name of my late husband’s group is Osumare Theatre and I was always referred to as Mama Osumare but there was a day I did a movie for the English-speaking section of the industry and the name of the film is The Vow. In the movie, robbers came to my house and killed my child and I was meant to react like anyone would in real life. I cried and tore my clothes. After the director yelled cut, I was still crying, so some Igbo boys on set came to ask why I was still crying. They wanted to call my name but could not pronounce Osumare, so I told them it meant rainbow in English. They were amazed and said they would be calling me Mama Rainbow which they felt was easier and that was how the name stuck.
Were you born in Lagos?
Yes, I was born in Lagos but my parents were from Odogbolu, Ijebu, Ogun State and they were staunch Christians. My father was a prophet before he died. I attended the school of nursing to train as a nurse. I worked at several general hospitals before I retired in 1986 after 20 years of service.
It seems crying profusely in movies comes naturally to you, how do you do it?
I often remember some painful incidents in my life because it is not easy to force tears from the eyes when you are not beaten. Sometimes, I remember my late husband and that often brings tears to my eyes. When I remember some things I am asking from God but have not received, it brings tears to my eyes. You know that sometimes we cry to God when we ask Him for things. That is how I do it.
How did your parents react when you chose to be an actress?
I have spent 45 years on stage. Initially, my parents were not in support of my career. It was worse for someone like me because my father was a prophet. When I started acting, parents strongly opposed it. But now, I am amazed when I see parents encourage their children to go into acting. Then, our profession was seen as something meant for lazy people. People always looked down on us until God blessed our job. Now, it takes me around the world. My parents later relaxed because they were told by prophets that it was my destiny. My father told me that because he desperately wanted a female child, he begged God and fasted for 40 days. When he was asking God for a female child, he was told that the female child he would have would be a servant of God and be more popular than her parents. They were also told that she would go to places they never imagined. It was not through my nursing profession that my glory shone but through my acting career. They eventually saw that the profession was paying off and I was receiving awards all over the world and they later supported me.
Did you decide to build a church because of that prophecy?
It is part of the prophecy. As an actress, I am like a lecturer. We teach people about the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of life. God had been calling me to serve him but I felt that if I heeded the call, I would not have time for my job. So, I refused. He called me for over 15 years but I turned a deaf ear to him. In 2004, I went to London and a young lady, Kate, who sews our garments, asked me to accompany her to a church where she wanted to make a garment for a prophetess. Initially, I refused because I did not like people seeing visions about me but I agreed eventually. When we got there, she went in while I waited outside. The prophetess came to meet me outside and in the presence of everybody, she asked me why I was running away from God. Then she said that God asked her to query me about the staff He gave me. I told her I did not understand what she was saying since I was not Moses. She said that God told her that if I did not heed his calling, I would suffer. The fact that I did not initially heed the calling made me suffer in life. Even my children were not spared, they shared in the suffering.
What kind of suffering did you encounter with your children?
Sometimes, we would wake up and there would be nothing to eat. Often times, we ended our early morning devotion in tears because there would be no food. God intentionally blocked everywhere we could possibly get help. People began to tell me that I was just being stubborn; they said I was suffering because I refused to listen to God. I had to accept the call at last. I have been at it for seven years and ever since then, I have been blessed tremendously and there is nothing I need that I don’t have. I don’t go hungry anymore; I give out scholarships and can afford to sponsor people now. If you have noticed, I have not been in any movie for about two years now and I am doing very fine. But if anyone calls me for work, I would oblige because acting is a calling for me; it is a gift I brought from heaven.
At 72, how do you combine God’s work with your acting career?
They do not clash at all; I also anchor events. It is a matter of planning and ability to organise one’s life.
Don’t you ever get tired?
I do get tired but when I am, I rest. This is the time I have to do all I can do because there would be a time that even when I want to do certain things, my body would not allow me.
As the only girl child in your family, how did you grow up among boys?
I was a very troublesome girl. I always got into fights and most of them had nothing to do with me. I always defended those that could not fight because I do not like people being cheated. Whenever I went to school and saw someone being bullied, I would wade into the fight and often times I would get my clothes torn. At a point, my father got fed up because even if I went to the stream to fetch water, I would fight. If someone offended me on my street, I would tell the person not to pass my street again and if the person did not listen, I would beat the person up. People always wondered how a girl became a terror to boys. I once fought with four boys at once and I injured them all. We were taken to Central Police Station, Marina. When we got there, the policemen were surprised that a girl fought with four boys and the boys said I was too tough to handle. I was quite tough but I thank God that the changed me.
How did you meet your late husband?
I was made the matron of his theatre group. Then, I always assisted them and whenever they had their anniversary, I helped with arrangements and invitations. I can’t really remember how it happened, all I know is that we got attracted to each other and got married. We did not stay together for long before he died. I lost my husband in 1984 and sometimes, I think he just came to this world to work for me because I am reaping from where he had sown.
What led to his death?
He was sick for about two and a half years and we tried everything possible to get him well but no luck. Whenever he was tested at the hospital, the doctors always said they could not figure out what was wrong with him. Till now, I don’t understand what happened but God knows best. My husband told me in several dreams that all those involved in his death would die and it happened.
When last did you see him in your dream?
There is no time I don’t see him but it is not as frequent as before maybe it is because our children are all grown. He mostly comes when I am bothered about an issue. If I cry to bed, he comes to console me; he would say everything would be fine. I usually tell him that if he did not die, I would not be so stressed up. It is not easy to raise five children alone. If my children need something and I am struggling to get it for them, he comes to me in a dream to relax my nerves. My husband was a great father and lover; he took care of his family.
Why didn’t you re-marry since 1984 when you became a widow?
I didn’t re-marry because many men are liars and I don’t like that. They come to your house, feel comfortable, you cook for them and probably have sex with them and then they say ‘I would see you tomorrow,’ but you will never see them again. I don’t like that. It is better for someone to carry one’s cross. It is just that it is not easy to raise children. I advise widows to walk in my footsteps, I know it is not easy not to re-marry but with prayers, God would help them. For instance, if I had re-married, I probably would have had other children and I would be the one to see them through school at my old age and the man might even leave me. I thought about all these and I decided to face parenthood.
Didn’t you have suitors or a man you had interest in?
They came but they later ran away. I don’t want to mention names but there was a man who came to my house to visit me, he was my suitor then. When he came, he saw my husband’s group members eating and playing in my house. He asked me if they were all my children and I said they were. He said, ‘okay, I am coming.’ He left and that was the last I saw of him. Instead of him to have asked if I gave birth to all the people he saw, he just assumed I did and left. He must have considered the responsibility and felt it was too much for him to bear, so he ran. That was what they did, they ran away when they saw the number of my children.
Since 1984 that you lost your husband, haven’t you had sex with anyone else or how have you been coping?
Then, I did not even remember that I am a woman. I pray no one goes through what I went through. Then, the only time I remembered that I am a woman was when I wanted to ease myself. There were times I would be home and for three days, there would be nothing to eat. I would just be crying. I have a child in London now. When she was in secondary school, her friends had rich parents who always bought them provisions but what I did in our case was to stuff my daughter’s bag with newspapers. Then I would buy a few things and put them in the newspapers, so people would think the box was filled to the brim. I am just blessed with good children who are content with what they have. Seven of us used to stay in a one-bedroom apartment and when we drank garri, my children would be using toothpick in public as if they ate rice and chicken. I thank God that now, we are able to eat rice and chicken. When things were very hard for me, people like Oga Bello stood by me, he is like a father and husband to me. There is Araosan; whenever he came to the National Theatre, I would dip my hand in his pocket and take any money I found there. No matter the amount, he never complained. Yinka Quadri was also of great help to me and Tajudeen Gbadamosi. I can never forget these four men and my mother too. She stood by me and looked after my children whenever I was on location.
Were there times you felt like quitting acting?
Of course, I thought of calling it quits and go back to my nursing career when I did not have money to eat. When I acted in the movie, Aje ni Iya mi, I was paid about N150 and I was fed up. I used the money to cook soup for my family once. Things were very rough with me. When I wanted to quit, Baba Ogunde called me and advised me against it. He assured me that things would still get better. I would never forget his advice and it has come to pass. I have children that are graduates. I live in my own house and I have cars and I can afford whatever I want to eat. What else do I ask God for?
Not many people know that you are into real estate. How did you get involved in the business?
It belongs to the late Alade Aromire. When I was facing problems in my life, I met Aromire and he introduced me to the business. There was a December that I was so broke. I leaned on a car and got lost in thought and started crying. When Aromire came to where I was, he asked why I was crying and I explained to him. He asked if I could help him advertise honey and I agreed. He took me to his office and I advertised the product for him. When I was leaving, he gave me N25,000 which was a lot of money to me then. The Christmas was very memorable. Two weeks after, he called me and asked if I could advertise plots of land and I agreed. Some people said I was a fool to agree without inviting lawyers to draft an agreement but the condition he met me was not one that I could be bargaining for anything. I helped him and he gave me N70,000 on the spot and promised to put the remaining money in the bank. That money was like N70m to me because things were very hard for me at that time. That is how we started. It was when he was planning for us to go to London to advertise his property that he died. My passport was with him till he died. On the day he died, he wanted to give me some money. He said that I should wait for him in the office that he wanted to get to his estate. I waited for a long while and when he did not return, I went home. Nobody told me he had died, they were scared to tell me until I learnt about it. To say that I was devastated is an understatement. That was when he just bought a SUV for me and Mama Efunsetan. That is why I promised that I would not leave his business. One company had approached me with an offer of N10m but I declined. They went as far as saying they would give me a Range Rover SUV but I told them that I could not betray Aromire. If he were alive, I am sure that I would be better off.
What were the challenges you faced as a widow?
After my husband’s death, his relatives did not know where I was; they couldn’t be bothered but I did not blame them because everyone has their own problems. Anytime my children had to pay their school fees, I was always troubled. I stopped buying clothes and shoes for myself; I was concerned about my children.
How many of your children are involved in movie production?
All of them are involved in movie production and I am happy about it. I did not force any of them, it was their choice