Caroline Chikezie

 

 

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Caroline Chikezie

Babymother [1998]
£5.99

 

 

 

 

HOW FOOTBALLERS' WIVES STAR FOUND FAME

By Jane Ridley

MOST parents might raise an eyebrow if their daughter announced she wanted to be an actress, but few would take such drastic measures as Caroline Chikezie's mum and dad.

The family of the new Footballers' Wives star were so appalled by her career choice that they tricked her into leaving the UK.

They were determined she would become a doctor as they'd planned and packed her off to a strict boarding school in Nigeria.

"It was like an abduction," says Caroline, 26, recalling the ordeal she went through as a 14-year-old. "It was very traumatic and I didn't know what had hit me.

"I didn't get the chance to say good-bye to my friends and it was a massive culture shock."

She was told they were going on holiday for a fortnight - but almost as soon as they arrived in Africa she was whisked off to the church-run school.

"My mother and father are religious and thought I was going off the rails," she explains. "I was academically bright and they didn't want it to go to waste.

"I was carrying their hopes and dreams on my shoulders, and to them acting was a joke."

Twelve years on, however, she has proved them wrong. She is one of the country's leading black talents, in demand from TV and film directors on both sides of the Atlantic.

Thankfully, the rift with her mother Monica has healed, but Caroline's father Alfred, 60, the director of a hospital in Nigeria, has found it hard to forgive her.

The distinguished doctor was shocked by the risque roles she has taken and refuses to watch her sexy antics in Footballers' Wives.

"I am worried that word will get over to Nigeria about what I get up to on screen," admits Caroline, who plays Kyle Pascoe's new girlfriend Elaine Hardy. "Dad is a pillar of the community and he would be upset if anybody drew attention to it.

"It is the raunchiest series yet and some of the scenes are explicit."

The striking actress made her debut last night as Earls Park FC's new physiotherapist. Hired to treat widowed former captain Kyle, Elaine ends up nursing more than his injured leg.

"There is a clash of personalities at first and they have a fight," says Caroline. "But they are attracted to each other and romance blossoms."

In one scene, the pair are shown semi-naked in the bath. In another, they cavort in Kyle's candlelit pool.

"It was filmed first thing in the morning, so it was very difficult for me to get with it and feel sexy," recalls Caroline. "But Gary Lucy, who plays Kyle, was fantastic. I know he has a reputation as a bit of a ladies' man, but he was the perfect gentleman."

In any case, Caroline says the sex scenes were nothing compared to her performance in Eddie Izzard's Channel 4 drama Forty.

"It was full frontal nudity, so I was completely naked and I had to fake an orgasm," she recalls. "After that, anything else is easy.

"When you first get into this job, you never plan to get naked. But then you get offered these great parts which involve nudity and you have to justify it in your own mind.

"My mother would prefer that I didn't do those roles, but now that she supports my decision to go into acting she accepts it."

The youngest of four children, Caroline was raised in London by her mother. Her father made regular visits to the UK in between running his hospital in the Anambra basin in Nigeria. It is named after his father, Alfonso, who was also a doctor.

Caroline went to a private Catholic girls' school in Forest Gate in London, but spent weekends at the famous Italia Conti stage school.

"I was always singing and dancing around the house, and in the beginning my parents thought it was quite cute because I'd put on little shows for their friends," she says.

"But when it started to get serious they were not amused."

A contemporary at Italia Conti of Merseybeat actress Josie d'Arby, Caroline was picked to appear in the children's TV series When Will I Be Famous? It was filmed over a summer on the Isle of Wight, and two years after returning to London Caroline announced she wanted to be an actress.

"It was the final straw because I wasn't concentrating at school and was giving my parents a lot of backchat," she says. "The next thing I knew, we were on the plane to Nigeria.

"We had a two-week holiday and then we were told we were staying out there."

She was taken to the boarding school and her older siblings Chukwuemeka, Anastasia, Jackie and Helena went to college.

CAROLINE says: "I went on hunger strike because I was desperate to leave the school.

"There were a lot of tears and I'd left all my belongings behind in London. But eventually I gave in and just got on with it. I joined the debating society, which was an outlet be-cause I was such an exhibitionist.

"Looking back, it was a good experience and my parents did the right thing. I was a grade-A student and a senior prefect. I think if I'd stayed in London I'd have become a brat."

She returned to England to take three A-levels and study medicinal chemistry at Brunel University in West London with a view to taking over her father's hospital.

"I stuck out like a sore thumb because I was so theatrical," she laughs. "My presentations were always over the top, like a stage performance."

Her lecturers could see she was unsuited to academic life. "My tutor phoned Mum and said: 'It would be a crime if you don't let allow your daughter to act,'" she recalls.

"That's when she finally gave in. She was on my side, but it broke my dad's heart."

Caroline's gift was soon spotted and she won a full scholarship to the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts.

In 1998 she won a part in the award-winning British film Babymother, about a gang of teenage girls growing up on a tough London council estate.

"It was a brilliant experience," she says. "But we were thrown in at the deep end. It was filmed on location in Harlesden and the main characters had bodyguards to protect us from the extras. I thought it was a bit unnecessary - until the lead actress, Anjela Lauren-Smith, had her pony-tail set on fire by a gang of girls. After that, we were like frightened little rabbits."

Roles followed in TV soaps such as Holby City, Casualty and a series of adverts. She also appeared in the acclaimed drama Babyfather and the independent film Spin.

HER biggest break was as Sasha in T4 and Channel 4's long-running series As If, a trendy drama chronicling the lives of young Londoners in Notting Hill.

"It was a very intensive three years, " says Caroline, whose working day often began at 5.30am and ended at 8pm. "We did back-to-back episodes and I've never worked so hard in my life."

She coped with the gruelling schedule by eating a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol. She is also religious and goes to mass every Sunday.

"My skin is very sensitive and I have to watch what I eat," she says. "I have soya rather than dairy and I'm trying to cut down on processed foods. This year I'm determined to start exercising and I've given up smoking."

She piled on 20lb after kicking the habit and was much heavier than she is now when she filmed Footballers' Wives last summer.

"Luckily, my character wears track suits most of the time so it isn't too obvious," she says.

"But I started losing weight because after she gets together with Kyle she gets more glamorous.

"In one episode, she wears one of his late wife Chardonnay's tiny dresses. I had to squeeze myself into it."

Last April, Caroline, who split with her property developer boyfriend Jay after four years together, decided to try her chances in Hollywood.

She moved to Los Angeles, where she owns a flat in Beverly Hills, a short drive from her lawyer sister Helena's apartment.

"There are far more roles for black women in the States," she says. "Here I'll maybe get one audition every three months, but in America I am going flat out."

It helped that she won best actress in the emerging talent category of last year's Screen Nation Film and TV Awards, dubbed the Black Oscars.

Her ambition is to star in a gritty film set in Africa, possibly in her second language, Igbo, and to branch out into music. In the meantime, she is busy attending castings and enjoying the relaxed LA lifestyle and sunshine.

She is single at the moment and describes herself as a "serial dater". "I would definitely like to settle down and have children at some point, but at the moment I'm concentrating on my career," she says.

As for her father's disappointment that she didn't follow him into medicine, she is philosophical.

"I am sorry that he disapproves, but he is gradually coming to terms with it," she says.

"I love him and my mother very much. They just wanted to do their best by me and I respect that."

   

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