Ex-BBNaija housemate Diane Russet is a film producer, actress, writer, influencer and businesswoman. While speaking with us, the multitalented creative shares how she went from being uncertain about her next steps to finding her feet in the entertainment industry.
How did you feel when you got Big Brother’s call?
I was weak. My prayer point at the 2019 crossover service was to go for Big Brother that year. At the time, the ‘Pepper Dem’ auditions hadn’t been announced. The fact that I auditioned online and was the only person selected through that process made it evident that God came through for me. Plus, I had always been a fan of the show. And I knew I would one day be on it.
Did anything happen in the house that stuck with you?
A couple. There were people who saw me doing greater things than I saw myself doing. I was mostly quiet and only comfortable with my friends, so I was worried that the public would not like me. But three people kept telling me that I would be great and do exceptional things outside the house. So I unconsciously imbibed those beliefs and found confidence and strength in them.
Apart from the obvious, what other ways did being a housemate change your life?
People think it’s just a vague statement when I say this, but I found myself. I’ve always had talented friends, but I never felt I had any talent. They would tell me, “Cooking is your talent,” but I still felt like anybody can cook. Sure, I love cooking. But I’m lazy at it.
I already had a YouTube channel before the house and my first video, Sephora’s Depression, was inspired by Ms DSF’s adaptation of Paulette Kelly’s poem, “I Got Flowers Today”. Then I entered the house and met the most talented people; I love them to bits. The tasks challenged me and opened my eyes to realise that I wanted to tell stories.
Women in the industry had already shown me that I could make films for my YouTube channel. That’s how Russet TV was born. Going to Big Brother was a turning point for me, and I would do it again for this same outcome.
Your films always address social issues. What inspired this choice?
Life. I think a lot goes on in my head, and I’m there about 60% of the day. When I see something that triggers me, I need to talk about it. But because words can be taken and translated into something else, I decided to take the storytelling route.
Another thing is that I love God a lot, and I’m a firm believer that life is not black and white. So we should give people grace just as God has given us grace. There is always a grey line to things, and I want to explore every inch of that grey line with my stories.
Life and your love of God. Anything else?
Growing up in the North also influences my stories. Bayi, for instance, was to bring awareness to the things going on in our society, even to this day. There are love stories, too. I want people to take something positive from my stories, even hidden gems that I didn’t see before.
I also want to empower women, create a world where women stick up for each other, and show that there can be healthy competition among us. I’m really glad that people can see the vision I have for Russet TV. It means I must be doing something right.
What was your experience like on the set of Brotherhood?
Aww, Brotherhood. Do you know who Jade Osidberu is? I got a glimpse of Jade’s awesomeness and gained a newfound respect for her. That woman works hard. I admire her work ethic. If my head works 60%, hers works 100%.
Do you know how hard it is to shoot an action film? We were doing lunges on the third mainland bridge. There was so much work put into the movie, and so much attention to detail — I’m surprised it hasn’t grossed ₦1 billion. And I’m not saying this because I’m in it. It was such a beautiful film. I saw how things work on a higher level and became inspired to do even more.
Jade clearly inspires you. Who else inspires you in the film industry?
She does. Abimbola Craig is another one of my favourites and has offered me guidance a lot in my journey. I have lots of respect for Mo Abudu and Kemi Adetiba. I’m just glad to learn from many women in the industry. And men too.
Let’s talk about your other businesses. How are those going?
For DRusset clothing line, I wanted to focus on something most people weren’t, which was nightwear. Cooking is something I love to do, and Russet Kitchen was a result of this passion, even before the house.
I have so many ideas, and sometimes I forget that I’m just one person. While trying to build Russet TV to the point where it can stand on its own, my other businesses had to suffer. But hopefully soon, I’ll be able to give them more time in the future.
You’ve talked about returning to school?
Yes. Once I’m able to get my businesses to run without me being present, then I’ll make plans. A girl has to pay school fees, and that ain’t cheap. But before that happens, I have been taking online courses to help myself. But hopefully soon.
What about your work as an influencer? How is it working with brands?
I take my job as an influencer seriously. I turn down brands if I have to, and this can be hard because these brands have the potential to pay you the most money. But when I work with brands, it’s because I use and believe in their products.
I want people to see the Diane Russet brand and know what it stands for. I’ve made some mistakes, like one time I was unknowingly following a brand, and my followers thought I was endorsing them. Or working with small brands that couldn’t meet up with the lofty dreams they sold to us. I’ve learned to be aware of little things like that.
I’d rather work with two to three brands a year that treat me like a queen, and listen to my ideas, than work with every brand that comes my way.
What was your first major expense post-BBN?
My movies o! That’s where most of my money goes. Though I’m yet to see the returns, I’m happy to invest in myself. Africa Magic just bought Ricordi, so that’s a step in the right direction.
What was your budget for your first movie, The Therapist?
Ah! [Laughs.] It wasn’t a lot. This was in 2019 and I spent about ₦1 million. I’m thankful for all the support I got, and I got a lot. My manager at the time got me a house to use. I didn’t even pay Iyanya. God bless his kind heart.
Did you make any money mistakes?
This is why I say filmmaking is a risk. You win some and you lose some. I have reshot scenes, and I’ve also cried. But would I say I regret any of it? Not really; I just take them as lessons. I’m okay with trial and error. Plus, I have good people I can run to for advice.
You’ve spoken about hustling to pay your school fees abroad. Did that experience teach you to be good with money?
I don’t know if I can say that regular people are good with money. It’s financial institutions like PiggyVest that have this strength. But that time taught me a level of discipline. I now make sure to prioritise before I spend.
I love the soft life, but like my aunt taught me, “If you can’t buy something three times, comfortably, then you can’t afford it.” Sometimes I go astray, but most times, my head is in the right place.
What would you advise aspiring filmmakers?
The first thing I’ll say is to know why you want to make films. You need passion, and even then, you can still be tired. I swore that after releasing my next series, I would quit filmmaking. But guess what, I’m already writing another feature film.
Find yourself a film family, a support system that will look out for you, especially on set. They will help rekindle the vibes when they are low.
It’s fine if you can get a film certification, but you don’t have to go to film school to start. You will still learn on the job. Be open to learning and be kind to yourself. The end results are nice but the pre-production part is very tough. Some weeks ago, I quit filmmaking 10 times during a 2-hour call with my writers where they kept scrutinising my story.
Also, try not to spend all your money. There are sacrifices you will make, and you need to know when to make them and when to leave them. It’s a gamble. And you have to be prepared. And I hope you do better than me.
Should we be expecting any new projects from Diane Russet?
Yes. I have a four-episode series coming up on Russet TV. Also, a feature film will happen this year.