HOW TO SUCCEED AS AN ACTOR – RMD
Richard Mofe-Damijo, obviously, has surpassed some of his wildest imaginations. Arguably Nigeria’s most successful actor, the dashing dandy is currently the Commissioner for Culture in Delta State. The father of Brume, Kome, Tega and Mena, RMD, 52, trained as a theatre artiste and a lawyer. Born and bred in Warri, he attended Roman Catholic Mission Primary School and St. Patrick’s College, both in Delta State. And thereafter, the Universities of Benin and Lagos. Married (in 1999) to Jumobi (nee Adegbesan), whom he met at AIT (Africa Independent Television), even his parents – Onadjeria and Florence Damijo – will be smiling in their graves because of the way he has turned out. At the Silverbird Galleria, on Victoria Island, Lagos, on Friday, October 31, 2014, YES INTERNATIONAL! Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, got him to speak on what stands him out, how to shine in Nollywood and more. Much more. Enjoy…
What makes a good actor?
His ability to connect with any audience – whether it’s on TV, on stage or on radio. Any medium that he’s interpreting a role, it is his ability to connect to the audience, to the listener. Once you make the connection, that’s it!
What do you like most about being an actor?
It’s the ability to be able to get to sink into a new world each day. Reality is boring. So, for me, it is that ability to just enter into a world, immerse myself in a world and just be in it. Till today, Azuh, I still cry when I watch movies. I’m a softie, I cry. I watch cartoons, I cry. I connect, and if you can’t connect, then there’s no use. So, for me, I enjoy it. It’s no longer work for me. The minute it becomes work for me, I leave it.
What don’t you like about being an actor?
Nothing really! Nothing! I like everything about being an actor. I haven’t seen a downside about it. Maybe you cannot separate what I don’t like from how present day society relates with the actor. But I think even all that perception is changing. So, it’s that earlier perception of when we just came out of school, where you cannot be compared to your class mates who went into banking or went into advertising. That era has passed. Today, they all want to be like us. So, there’s nothing I hate about acting.
What is the greatest thing that being an actor has done for you?
It has given me untold access. Something surreal happened to me recently. I can’t mention the name, but somebody huge in this country, who is revered was visiting us in Delta State and I heard my name. So, I thought it was my governor that was calling me. I turned and it was him. And my governor said ah-ah, he’s calling you. Then, I went to him and he was reminding me of when I used to come to his house to work, to act films and the things that we shared then and all my colleagues were tongue-tied and they were just looking at me like you know him (Demonstrates it). And I said no, he knows me (Laughing). So, it’s that kind of access that anywhere in the world, you are known. I went to Trinidad and Tobago for the carnival and the first day I was mobbed right there. I would have said no, no; this is Trinidad (Laughs again). Not knowing that our films…actually, I should have known, because when I stopped in Barbados to transfer to another airline, to take me to Trinidad, at the airport, people were screaming. And these were Barbadians and I didn’t know that the Islands used to watch our films. It was when I got to Trinidad that they kept telling me that our films are like the next big thing. Today, there are talks about me coming to…where’s that place where they hide money? (Thinks) Cayman Island. They want us to come there and teach their people how to do films to launder their image as a country; that it is not for keeping illegally acquired wealth. But a country that has a good tax regime. So, that’s the kind of access that it gives to you. You can’t complain about something that gives you that kind of access.
What is the commonest mistake that most actors make?
I wouldn’t know if my opinion will count for the commonest mistake, but I think one of it is that fame gets to them and you have to have a good head on your shoulder to be able to hold fame because it can run you mad. Practically mad! I mean, you can lose it. I was listening to M.I (The rap artiste) today and he said something really profound. He said after a while he needed to stop; that when he first came to Lagos, his biggest dream was to drive End of Discussion (a brand of Honda car) and that today, all of that is gone and that he needed to pause to re-assess himself. I think that was one of the most profound things that I’ve heard among these young people in a long while.
What distinguishes RMD as an actor?
It’s the God-factor, and I say this with all modesty. It is the God-factor. People call it X-factor, people call it the ish-factor. But for me, it’s the God-factor. It is something that is deposited inside of you and you are more blessed when you find it and you begin to express through it and God begins to bless the work of your hand. The day you find the work of your hand, you will be distinguished.
Most people attain success in acting, but they are not able to sustain it. Where do you think they normally get it wrong?
That’s what I said to you earlier – it’s the fame. They just don’t know how to handle fame. It’s not getting to the top that is the problem, it’s staying there. It is the ability to be a Robert De Niro, it is the ability to be a Denzel (Washington), it’s the ability to be a Will Smith for that period of time. I mean, look at some of the people who could have been bigger than him; they’ve gone to jail, come back. It is the ability to be able to stay focused, like M.I said. Recall, take some time off, re-assess what you are doing and see the next step forward. And of course, I always go back to the divine factor. For me, I cannot do anything without divine guidance.
Your career has been evolving over the years – and very well too. How have you been able to do that? You’ve moved from acting to PR, law, politics and so on…
That’s why I keep saying that I can’t take the credit for it. I mean, I like to work, I like to explore, but I think that the God-factor is so major in my life that at every point in time when I needed to make a switch, it comes to me naturally. At the end of my being called to Bar, when I started to just practice Law, the first big brief I had was to buy content for a sky channel that wanted to start Nollywood channels and I was in charge of purchasing all their rights in Africa. And when it was time to move, politics came. It just has to be divine. I mean, people are asking me now don’t you wanna contest? And I say no! What are you doing after 2015? I say I don’t know…
But sincerely, are you returning to your business, acting career or you want to continue with politics, because once you are in, you don’t want to leave…
I don’t know! When you enter politics, you don’t leave (General laughter). You don’t leave! You can operate at different capacities, but I believe that by 2015 June, what I will be doing then would be revealed; it would be known.
How does it feel to have been invited by His Excellency, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Governor of Delta State to serve your people?
It’s humbling. I mean, I couldn’t have asked for a better thing. It’s just humbling. Outrightly humbling and I’m glad that he made that call because today, I have started a trend – every other actor or entertainment person is going into politics. Somebody saw me at the airport the other day and said na you cause all dis wahala o; all your colleagues want to be like you. But my prayer is that all of them will be bigger than what I have done.
At the end of your tenure, what would you want the people you will be leaving behind, particularly in your ministry, to say about you?
Well, somebody who came and tried to do his best. It’s like a regime of different kind of work ethic. The civil servants have a peculiar approach to work, but what I tried to do all these years was to try to change their perspective; to say that work can be ennobling and dignifying. So, don’t run away from it.
What would you describe as your greatest achievement as a Commissioner in Delta State?
It’s probably to start something in the state that has snowballed into something bigger. I mean, I’m a major part of Delta Beyond Oil. Because today, one of the most ambitious tourism projects in Africa is in Delta State.
What is the most difficult thing about stardom?
It’s maintaining a balance between that and your family; making sure that it doesn’t get to your head and keeping a good head on your shoulder all the time.
Away from work, what do you do for relaxation?
I travel, I travel…
So, where’s the best place you have travelled to?
It’s a little town called Siena in Italy…
You once said something about being in love with watching movies. Which is the greatest movie you have seen?
I don’t have greatest movies. I have movies for seasons. I am a major consumer of movies. Anything that is new, I must watch.
It’s so glaring that God has been nice to you, what more do you want from Him?
More blessings, of course! (Laughter). Has Dangote stopped working? Has Adenuga stopped working?
Let’s re-wind a little. What actually got you interested in acting?
I don’t know what it was, but I think you can’t be a Warri boy and not want to play. You know, you come from school and you go and play. So, I guess at some point when it became like it could be a career, I just played along and I’m still playing (Laughing).
You grew up in Warri, Delta State, what fond memories of your childhood over there can you share with us?
The time is too short to share it. But it’s just a collection of memories; it’s not just one. But I think to summarize everything, it’s the love that we shared. There were no family boundaries. My father was a landlord and a father to every of his tenants or every of his tenants’ children. I mean, children could migrate from anywhere to anywhere and they would be safe. It was the age of innocence – and we have lost it. We’ve lost all of that.
Can you recollect the first time you acted? Your first ever acting role…
It was in primary school. Yes!
Can you recollect what exactly happened?
No, I can’t. But I know that it was the story of Jesus and the disciples and all that.
Which was the first major one that pushed you out? Checkmate?
(Cuts in) – Checkmate was more like Lagos; the icing on the cake. But before Checkmate, there was Legacy, there was Ripples and then Checkmate was the icing on the cake.
What is your general assessment of Nollywood? You are one the biggest practitioners and brands from there…
Sometimes, it’s like 20 steps forward and 10 backward. So, it’s like that. But now, there is the rise of the independents and I’m happy about that. The Emem Isongs, the Lancelots (Imasuen), all these young ones. The producer that created Tinsel…It’s really revolutionary now. There are some young school leavers from New York, from London, from all kinds of places, coming back home to practice their craft. The exposure in TV production today is all part of what Nollywood has caused.
NB: First published November 2014
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