HOW IT ALL BEGAN – RMD
Dashing and debonair actor, Richard Mofe Damijo, shares some of his success secrets with AZUH ARINZE. Enjoy…
What is your own definition of acting?
Acting in one word is make-believe. But for many actors, it differs from one person to another. For me, it has become a way of life. It is trying to win with the closest realistic interpretation of somebody’s imagination or somebody’s world view of a particular character.
So, what does it take for somebody to really succeed as an actor?
I think it takes flair, intuition and dedication and of course studying the various techniques as it were. It is important to have some techniques. It is nice for it to be innate, for it to be inside of you, but it is also very important to have techniques. And to have an idea of the various worlds that are existing also helps.
What actually influenced your choice of career and the course you eventually studied in the university?
I played a lot as a child. I was a very shy person and I still am. I played a whole lot and it just got better in terms of going to school, doing drama in secondary school and HSC, heading the Dramatic Society, etc. You just get persuaded into that area of life and I also discovered that it was a lot of escape for me as a child. I always got lost in drama, make-believe and trying to make people laugh and all that. It was the only time I was bold enough to do the things I wanted to do, pretending to be somebody else.
Your going into acting, how did your parents react to it? Positive, negative?
My parents didn’t really object in the sense of the word. My mum would have loved for me to be a lawyer. In a way, that is why, perhaps, I studied Law. She wasn’t educated and the closet thing I could describe to her as what I was going to do in the university was to tell her I was going to be on television and I was lucky to do that in the very, very first year I was in the university. I did a play for the then Bendel Play House called The Wraths of the Gods or so. Incidentally, the play was written by Bobby Ejike, the guy who did Change The System and it was an extremely popular play at that time. I played the character called Emeka. Until mum died, most people still called her Mama Emeka. So, for her, it was now like this is what my son told me he was going to do in school. She was happy for that because it gave her instant popularity. Television in the early 80’s was something novel and for you to have your child being seen on television, it was something else. I guess I made her proud.
So, what attracts you to a script?
It is the character, the depth of the character that I’m going to play. If the character has no challenges, then I usually don’t go for it.
May we know your best and worst outing so far?
I always shy away from that question: my best and my worst characters. I think that every character comes with its own challenges and appeal and as an actor, when you are in the business, you get to do a lot of things, sometimes there are extraneous factors that force you into doing a particular role – but on the whole, I think I love the character of Tega (in Violated) and Voke (in Out of Bounds) because as at the time we did Violated, home video was still new and Violated was like a hallmark. It was something very different. And till today people still call me and tell me that they like it. I like Tega too because he was a nice guy. The women liked the character of Tega. I also like Pastor Voke because people call me till today and tell me ‘oh! Of all your films, I love Out of Bounds most’. It is a joy to me because that’s a film I did, I wrote it myself and I played in it too. It is a character that was very real, very humanistic and not given to a whole lot of things. A character that I could empathize with in a whole lot of ways, because in him I found a human being, in him I could see a man falling and getting up again. When Clinton was going through his problems, we made a joke about it. Voke reminds me of Clinton. In a way, it is a kind of thing I will readily do, confessing my sins and moving on again.
I like that. What are your views on the industry. Is it truly growing or is it stagnant?
The industry, I think, is growing. I think we necessarily need to go through the processes that we are going through to be able to get to where we are going. I think that what is absent now is that we have not been able to put some form of standard together and that will come with time. Also, I think that it is time for directors, producers, actors and actresses to come together, pull resources together and do the real thing. Like work on celluloid. But that has not happened yet.
Your tenure as the NANTAP president has been described by many as a total failure. What do you have to say to that?
That was a very sore point in my career. And a lot of things accounted for that. It was a time when associations in the country were down, on hold, because you find that people don’t submit to the collective and you have an association where nobody is bound to be responsible to the association, to answer to the association. So, you find that in a whole lot of ways, there was a case where one wanted to do a whole lot of things, but the members were not there to do it. What you now find is the younger ones who are looking up to you for direction coming more to meetings whereas the people who are the leaders in the industry, they all are busy doing the wrong things and there was a time too when everybody needed to make a choice and a lot of the officials abandoned ship. So, at a point it was just me and the secretary. It was hard to be able to move forward, it is not an association that is funded in anyway. I got tired of running the place with my own money. To keep the office open, I was paying and at a point, the secretary-general was also contributing. After a while, it was just a question of the person waiting for the next person to come in and take over. It was just a sore point because I really would have wanted to do a whole lot of things, but when I didn’t get the kind of support I should get, everybody had to abandon ship at some point. It is a failure that I have accepted. It is something that I can’t blame anybody else for. I was the president and since I didn’t do much then, the blame comes to me. If it were to be the other way too, I think the credit would have also come to me. My prayer is that whoever is there now should be able to do his own.
Tell us how it feels to be on top in one’s chosen career or field?
I always shy away from the fact or that statement that I’m on top in my chosen career right now as it were. I don’t know if I’m on top of my career yet because I don’t think or feel so. What we have done so far is to work on a particular medium which is home videos and maybe there isn’t much to do again. It is nice to be the highest paid actor, to have won awards here and there, and people acknowledge you in the streets and all that, but like you know, this is just one phase. Now is the time to move to the next phase which is celluloid, which is also what we need to get international recognition. That is going to be hard to come by because we have not started working in the language of cinema yet. The language of cinema is celluloid and until we begin to work in that language and go for the international competitions and all that, we cannot be on the world stage. And that is what we are lacking right now.
Do you subscribe to the idea that home video has taken over stage productions and as a good stage actor, how do you feel about that?
I think the whole thing is because home videos are cheaper to do in a sense. At least, you can get your money back, but I have been very lucky in the sense that I have been on stage too. Video is on top now because it is the in-thing, it is also cheaper.
What piece of advice do you have for some of our upcoming actors who look up to you, as their role models?
Everybody wants the glamour of an actor. Nobody wants the hardwork. It is a lot of hardwork. It is like being a mechanic or being a pilot, you need to practice, you need to oil your talent, work on it and then pray for God’s guidance.
How do you see yourself. I mean, give us a vivid description of the actor, RMD?
Shy, God-fearing and un-ambitious.
I like that description, but is there anything that you hate about yourself?
Yes. I am very unambitious (general laughter).
Is there anything that can make you cry?
Anything? Yes, I cry. I see a good film, I cry. It is funny that it is only when the serious things hit me, like my mum, my dad, my wife, when they died, I fight it. I fight to breakdown because those are the tests that I have to go through, but when I see a good movie I cry.
Are you rich? If yes, how wealthy are you?
I am not rich. I have a name, but if you compare the name to my money, you will see that I have not even started (another general laughter).
Do you have any regret?
No. I don’t have regrets. I only have situations where you wish you would have done better if you are given the chance again. It is not regret per se, but so far I don’t think that I have done anything so badly that I regret in the real sense of the world.
Which food is your favourite?
Dodo and beans.
I love white. I just combine them. I haven’t really been able to settle down and say this is my favourite colour, but I like the basic black and white. For me, colour is just an accessory.
How do you relax?
I like to travel. Anywhere just to get away.
Tell us about your childhood. What it was like growing up in Warri, Delta State?
Very interesting. Growing up in Warri was one of the most interesting things that happened in my life.
Can you recall one or two things that were memorable to you in those days?
Everybody knew everybody. Every woman in the street was your mother. Every man in the street was your father. It was a very strong communal thing and perhaps that is what we are lacking today. In our trying to be so Westernized today, we have lost all the basic structures that we had in terms of family and caring and all that.
How do you see death now after losing your wife, mum and dad?
I don’t see death as something that will make me want to blame God. It is just that sometimes it swells up a lot of anger in you. And I become short-tempered and all that. But I think that with God, prayers and all that, there is nothing that one cannot conquer.
What are the things that you miss most about these three people? Let’s start with your dad first?
I wasn’t very close to my dad. And you know, that is because somehow, between parents, girls get closer to their dads and boys, their mum. I was just beginning to form a good bond with my father when he died in 1990. There is no particular thing that I miss my father for, just that I miss not having somebody you can run back to, to ask a few things. For instance, if my father was alive today, I know that I will be a lot more involved in the activities of my village. Because he probably would have retired home now and I need to go home more often. I don’t go home as much as I want. And now that my mum is even dead, it is going to be worse. But I also made a conscious effort in my heart when I was burying my mum that I am going to surprise them at home and come as often as I can. For my mum, I miss her sense of humour. She was just my best friend. I used to call her my first girlfriend. I miss her because she always wanted me to be the best and in anything I do, I try to do for her, make sure that she is pleased. If my mum is pleased, every other thing can go to hell. That’s what I miss most about her. She was just beginning to enjoy me as it were. I have always been provided for by her as an only child. As an only child, she made sure that I had all the things I needed. And when it became evident that she wasn’t going to work or trade anymore, I was happy to be able to take care of her. But she just left. I miss her. My wife (MEE) was a great friend and she’s one of the people that really liked my artistic sensibility. She always felt that I was too intelligent to just be a creative person. She always wanted and always told me that I could combine both. My father died at 57, my mother died shortly before she became 60 and MEE, my wife died at 39.
How do you feel now as an orphan?
I don’t consider myself an orphan. I believe the word orphan somehow relates more to younger people.
What will RMD like to be remembered for after this earthly race?
I don’t think I will be capable of writing my own epitaph. I will, however, like to be remembered as just somebody who tried to do the best that he could while he was alive. And for my children to wake up when I die and say that they had a good father, or if my wife – because I hope to die before my wife. I don’t want to bury another one – can wake up and say I had a good husband. That will be enough.
Sorry to take you back again. What was it like going on stage for the first time?
It was the Benin experience that I told you about before. It was very nice. It is something that I will do anything to have again because it was nice. Because before then, a lot of the actors were older people; people in Bendel Play House then were Chief Aja and other older people. I was in second year in the university then (1980) and was just 19. I was too young then and it was quite an experience for me.
Thank you so very much. It’s been wonderful chatting with you.
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