Ramsey Nouah's face is better known around the black and African world than the face of the president of Nigeria. Born in July 1973, his face has sold many Nigerian home movies at home and abroad. Ladies melt with love for him, especially for his numerous “lover boy” roles in romantic movies.
This writer has chased him across three continents just to have this conversation. Ramsey was in the US at the inauguration of the Filmmakers Association of Nigeria, USA, and that gave Naijarules.com editor Sola Osofisan an opportunity to sit him down. Now, let's unwrap the Ramsey Nouah you have never seen.
Sola Osofisan: Mr. Nouah, I see you here in the gym. Do you work out regularly?
Ramsey Nouah: I try to.
S.O.: And what does it do for you? Is it to keep the belly in (laughing)?
R.N.: Oh yes. Absolutely. You have to like stay fit to be an actor actually. You must. In our profession, you can't have (a) port belly or a paunch. It's not good for the profession at all.
S.O.: The staying fit aspect of it… Do you need energy to be an actor? Why is staying fit important aside of the looks and the physical fitness part of it? Why is it important?
R.N.: As an actor, there are so many things you can be called to do. In Nigeria, we're not big; the industry is not big enough to have a body double in doing some of your stunts and all that and some very dangerous parts. But if you're fit, then you will be able to go through it. And then if you have the heart too of course.
S.O.: What's the wildest stunt you've done?
R.N.: Oh, I can't remember…
S.O.: Just tell me one or two that you've done.
R.N.: I've done quite a few. I actually tried… Zach Orji directed that one. It was in Ghana. I jumped from a story building down. Then I tried to like save a woman from an oncoming car and it was pretty risky. It was pretty close. And then in “My Lover”, I was thrown in a 15ft deep well, artificially dug well. What else? Can't remember… I've done so many stunts: jump, fall, break, bruises and stuff like that.
S.O.: Its all so risky. Do you think actors should be doing their own stunts?
R.N.: I like to do my own stunts.
S.O.: You love taking risks apparently.
S.O.: Is taking risk an outlook of yours to life? Do you take risks in things that you do?
R.N.: Well, life is all about risks. In business, physically, however you wanna put it, it's all about risks. You take risks sometimes you don't even know. Sometimes you do know. The ones you know, you fear. And if you don't fear, you go ahead and do it.
S.O.: And do you fear anything?
R.N.: Yes, God.
S.O.: What role is God playing in your life?
R.N.: The role that he made me what I am today and who I am and whom I will ever be till I die.
S.O.: Your name, Ramsey… You're Ramsey Tokunbo Nouah, Jr. Where is the Tokunbo there from? In addition, explain your name.
R.N.: Yeah, Ramsey is my father's name. He's the senior. I'm the junior. That's why you have Ramsey Nouah, Jr.
The Tokunbo was… Of course my grandmother gave it to me. That's my mother's mother. I adopted the name when I was having problems with Nigerian government because they needed – for me to get a passport, certain business registered and all that – they needed to know if I was a true Nigerian or a foreigner because of the name. So I had to adopt Tokunbo.
S.O.: But you know you look more foreigner than Nigerian.
S.O.: Has that worked in your favor?
R.N.: Em… I wouldn't know. A lot of people believe that colored guys are highly highly endowed as in God… It's a mixture of two races and it shows that they're always very very healthy and strong. Even scientists said so. Now, it's helped me, yes, in that aspect of life. I hardly ever fall sick. I don't know, but I hardly ever fall ill.
S.O.: Has it helped you in your movie career? I mean the mixed race now…
R.N.: Em, would I say “help”?
S.O.: I really mean has it been useful. I don't mean help in the actual sense of the word.
R.N.: (HESITANTLY). Maybe. Just maybe. As a light skinned fella, you sort of like cut across somehow very quickly amongst the black race, you know, in Nigeria. Because I'm light skinned, in everything people quickly get to notice me. I mean if I walked alongside most of my colleagues, I'd be picked out by fans from a distance (before) they will ever pick my other colleagues like Emeka Ike, Jim Iyke… Because they are dark you know. Because I'm light skinned, I'm walking along – ah, that's Ramsey Nouah. They quickly know me. So, sometimes, it's good. Sometimes it's not.
S.O.: Have you ever felt like you're in competition with some of the other big name actors in any way?
R.N.: Competition, yes, possibly. Rivalry, no.
S.O.: Okay, maybe competition is for the heart of the ladies? (Laughter).
R.N.: (Laughing) I really do not know.
S.O.: They call you “Lover boy”. What does it feel like? Even right here, there are ladies hanging around looking at you, waiting for a chance to talk to you… What does it feel like?
R.N.: Its just the same way they would like to have a chance to talk to Jim Iyke, Emeka Ike, RMD and the rest of them. We're TV personalities. I don't think there's anything special to it particularly (smiling as the ladies around freak out) that they're really interested in or something.
S.O.: But it's very flattering?
R.N.: (Playfully modest) Maybe (Laughter).
S.O.: He's being very modest. (laughter). Ramsey, back to your name briefly, there are different spellings of it. Give us the real spelling of your last name.
S.O.: So there is a “U” there.
R.N.: There's “U”.
S.O.: Good. Let's wrap up this issue of the mixed race before moving on. Your mom is from where and your dad is from where?
R.N.: My mom is from Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria – and my father is Isreali.
S.O.: And you grew up in Nigeria or where?
R.N.: I grew up in Nigeria, on the streets of Nigeria.
S.O.: What streets specifically? Maybe we can go to that area to pick up the talents that you have…
R.N.: Ebute Meta for a start. That's where I started. Then I moved on to Surulere.
S.O.: Surulere… I grew up in Surulere too. I never met you.
R.N.: I was inconspicuous at the time. (Laughter).
S.O.: You walked into this Ralph Nwadike soap opera and you just walked into the lap of stardom. And over the years you have grown as an actor as you got more experience. Tell us the story of your evolution from that soap opera – was it “Palace”?
R.N.: No, it was “Fortunes”.
S.O.: I saw that episode when you came in. I saw the beginning and I see you here today as a different person. Tell us the story of that evolution please.
R.N.: Alright. Em… I had this fan… I still have the fan. She looked at me and said… We get to talk and laugh a lot and Jill can crack all kinds of jokes. And then she looked at me and said “Ramsey, you're just an actor”. She's always saying that you know. Sometimes I go ahead and I tease her and I look at her and I laugh. She said I could act in one of these soaps in Nigeria. And I said “me, Ramsey? Why would I want to act in Nigeria? Abeg. If I was going to act at all, let me be in Hollywood, let me look at my idols at the time you know: Stallone, Schwarzennegger and the rest of them”.
She now said something that really motivated me, something that actually changed my point of view, which was “Ramsey, charity begins at home”. Now, that's a very normal phrase and line. Apparently, it worked perfectly well for the scenario at the time and I looked at it and I said to myself, “that's true. If you're going to do something at all, you have to start from somewhere. You have to build it from somewhere”. Like Johnnie Walker says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
I went over to see her again and said “this soap opera thing, let's go”. Alright. We went and we did some few things and all that and that was in 19990. In 1991, she took me to Ralph Nwadike's – then, it was Zeb Ejiro's office somewhere in Oyekan Street, in Aguda. And then we walked in and there was this soap going on for “Fortunes” at the time. It wasn't running. We we're about shooting the pilot. And they said okay they wanted this role and I performed and Ralph Nwadike just screamed like “this is the guy I'm looking for. This is the guy I've been waiting for”. Well, I laughed.
S.O.: I can picture him saying that.
R.N.: And so that started my fame, my stardom, what I am and what I've become today. So we got into the soap. The soap… We shot a pilot in '91 but the soap didn't get to go on air until like '93. It ran for just a year due to logistic problems and all that, and then it became defunct. And then, about two years thereafter came the advent of home video. And then I was in (some) home videos.
S.O.: Which was the very first one you did?
R.N.: Well, I did a few which were not like major roles (before) I now hit my major, which was “Silent Night”. After “Silent Night”, I now shot another major which was “Blind Trust”.
S.O.: A lot of people remember “Silent Night”.
R.N.: Yeah. It was a fantastic story and movie.
S.O.: Over the years, you have exploded in terms of your acting capabilities, range and depth. How did this come to be? Is it that you have had more experience or you were able to dig deeper to become characters? What happened?
R.N.: Fortunately for us, we shoot movies like no man in the world, you know (laughing). We churn out movies and that gives you very quick adaptation to professionalism. I shot quite a number of movies and with each movie, I grew, became matured and got professional. Now, within all these times, I learnt along the way mannerisms, gestures, eye contact, lines, modulation and several other things that makes you a good actor and makes you deliver properly. That is how I have come to become what I am.
S.O.: I look at you and I feel envy. I mean you have everything: fame, you're well paid so you have some fortune, you have a family you're happy with, and you have all the girls. (General laughter). What does it feel like to have everything?
R.N.: (Laughing). It feels good to have everything. But sometimes, it's usually not always good to have everything. Trust me. If you walk a mile in my shoes, then you would probably hand me back my shoes. (Laughing).
S.O.: Is there anything else you'd like to have that you don't have right now? Something you would like to be able to do that you're not doing right now?
R.N.: Well, I wish that I could have my privacy, my life back without the fame. Yeah, I wish so.
S.O.: Why would you want that back?
R.N.: Well, because… I don't know. Somehow, I'm not enjoying the life of stardom. You have no life. You live for the people. You live for everybody. You live for everybody. Nobody thinks about you. Nobody cares about you. They just want from you. Particularly where I come from where we do not have enough money and fortunes to take care of certain needs and stuffs, it's a bit difficult. Some people might enjoy it. Some of my other colleagues might like it, but for me, it's not really rosy. I just wish I was an ordinary… Maybe a businessman, a pilot, engineer, whatever… Who gets his salary, does his work, has his family, and lives a normal life without the fame.
S.O.: Ramsey, there's a whole load of people out there who would like to be what you are today.
R.N.: Oh yeah, like I said, I would like them to walk a mile in my shoes.
S.O.: Is this like what… The price we pay for fame?
R.N.: You could say that. You could say that.
S.O.: Are you happy?
R.N.: Yeah, I am. I am. I try to be. (Laughing). I mean I have no choice. If I think about… It's not as if its that bad. No, its not as if the fame is so terrible and all that, its weighing me down, no. Its just that I wish, I just only wish I could have my normal life back without the fame. There's something about we humans, alright? I long for my life without fame, but at the same time, if I go out and I'm not being recognized at certain times, I feel bad sometimes. It's just the human nature, but deep down in me, I wish I wasn't recognized sometimes in places.
S.O.: So fame is a lot of hard work?
R.N.: Yes. I mean in Nigeria, yes. From where were starting from, the recognition we have supercedes what we have as a financial base. It supercedes it absolutely, so the fame is a lot much more than what we have.
S.O.: An initiative like this, the Filmmakers' Association of Nigeria, USA, event that brought you to the US hopefully will help repatriate some of the money spent on Nigerian movies here to the producers in Nigeria who will now be able to pay actors better. Is that how you also see the FAN event?
R.N.: Oh yes, I see the FAN event without a doubt creating a new avenue, you know… I mean this is a new horizon to the Nigerian home video. I wanna thank them most profusely for the event, for taking this step, the Nigerians who got together in America to try and make our community and our industry and culture grow. It's a big thing. It's very very big. We're hoping. We're not looking right now at what we will get from it like financially. We're not looking at that. We're just looking at expanding our horizon away from the African continent and beyond. That's what we're doing. If it does increase the artistes' fee, to God be the glory.
S.O.: Talking about expanding your horizon now, how far do you want your acting to take you?
R.N.: Oh, take me? (Laughing).
S.O.: I think you've already conquered Nigeria and Africa. So what else would you like to do as an actor?
R.N.: Okay, as an actor, I think I've gotten to a point where I'm satisfied and sufficed with what I am and what I've become. As a director, no. I want to direct movies. I want to make impressions, you know, pictures and do stuffs like Mel Gibson did with “Passions of The Christ”. He's an actor and now he's directing and he's a great director. And he directed “Braveheart” too. It was a fantastic movie. Tremendous movie.
S.O.: Is this always a natural progression - for the actor when he gets to a particular point – to want to become a director?
R.N.: (Laughing) I do not know. I really can't speak as regards that. Now, like you (know), Denzel Washington too has directed too, you know. Its just that as an actor, if for you, you're lucky to have a bit of directorial ability in you, as an actor you see certain shots from particular points of view that some times, whoever is directing you will not see and you wished you could ask for that shot, and you wished you could make that shot possible. Do you understand me? So, given all these indices, you now look at it and say ah, alright, let me do it. Let me see if I can do it myself. With my contribution to the industry in all these years, I've been able to learn things and tricks along the line. I can very well say when I do go into directing, I'll probably become a success.
S.O.: So when will you go into directing?
R.N.: When God calls.
S.O.: And when God calls, what would we be seeing differently from your directorial perspective? What would you be doing differently from what they are doing right now?
R.N.: Well, as it were, virtually everything is done. What would probably be different would be your story…your storyline. Technically, I mean God! What else? Except I want to go sci-fi. (Laughing). And we don't have that yet in Nigeria.
S.O.: Ramsey, you speak Yoruba?
S.O.: Say something to us in Yoruba.
R.N.: Ba'wo le se wa? Ki lo n happen? (General laughter)
S.O.: Your new movie, Tade Ogidan's “Dangerous Twins”, is hyped all over the place. I hear there are huge billboards all over the place. I hear they've already spent 4 million Naira at least on publicity alone. Tell us about it.
R.N.: Tade is one hell of a risky businessman and director, but I like him. He's a fantastic director. In fact, I could say categorically, that he's the best director in Nigeria – technically and artistically. It's very rare for you to get a mixture of both in a director in Nigeria. They only have good technical director or a good artistic director. But having a mixture of both is rare and Tade is one of those directors that are like that.
And he's also a very risky businessman. Tade is putting so much and everything he has in that movie. We've always known him to be like that because even when he did “Hostages”, he sold his father's cars and he almost sold his father's house under him too to publicize the film. But one thing I know about him is that he believes so much in himself, which of course is a stepping stone, which of course is a great way of putting yourself in confidence that “yes, I know what I've done. I know if I even take everything I've got, I will get it back because I've done something good”.
“Dangerous Twins” is an awesome movie. It's off the hook. Its beyond the Nigerian imagination, beyond the Nigerian movies that you've already seen and all that. I'm not boosting this movie out of its proportion in any way. I'm saying it categorically that even when some of maybe Hollywood's very good, technically strong director sit down and watch “Dangerous Twins” and they hear its from Nigeria, Africa, they will probably stand up and give it an applause because its quite a good movie. It's the first movie of its kind in Nigeria where you see two characters – I mean two guys, the same guys, standing one in one –
S.O.: Yes, the promotional CD was brought to me by some of our guys who came in from Nigeria. How did you guys achieve the effect of Ramsey talking to Ramsey?
R.N.: Well, I don't know. (Laughing) It's Tade's trick.
S.O.: Okay, acting-wise, how did you achieve it? I mean you had to play the other twin, the mannerism had to be different, the acting and expressions, not just the costumes… What was that like for you playing two people in the same scenes simultaneously?
R.N.: That is the most demanding job I have ever done in my 14years in this industry. It was so tasking. It was so so exhausting. You know I was – I don't know if I can explain it to you and you will probably understand. We're talking about you standing on this side and talking to an empty space, right? You have a different costume here and a different make-up. And then you have different gestures and different mannerisms.
Now, you come back – on the same shot! You do not change the shot – you go change to the other guy, come back here and answer to everything this guy has said. And then you change back to that one… That scene probably takes you a whole day. The scene where the two characters are involved, it takes you like a whole day. So sometimes you have to take a break because it's so so demanding. I doubt if I will ever play a twin again.
S.O.: Someone said to me that you said in passing – and you just confirmed it now – that the role in “Dangerous Twins” is the most challenging thing you've ever done. Is it just because you had to transit from one character to another that makes it so challenging, or the range of the characters now?
R.N.: The range of the characters themselves. Yeah, physically, it was quite exerting, but now I'm talking about the range of the characters because that way of course you show your ability, your versatility as an actor.
S.O.: And you shot scenes in the UK for several weeks?
R.N.: Yeah, we shot in different parts of the UK.
S.O.: Then you shot in Nigeria too.
S.O.: This is the first time you're working with Tade Ogidan. What are you taking away from the experience that's different from what you've done with all the other people you have worked with?
R.N.: I'm taking away another side of professionalism. Tade taught me a lot on set. He is a very very patient director. He is not in a hurry to achieve and get the best. That also goes to say that possibly, you can also say that he has the money to take his time. But even if he doesn't have, he will still take his time. And that's one attribute I've learnt. It's better to be calm, take things easy and get the best than rush and then bring out some rubbish.
S.O.: Wrapping up now Ramsey. There's a lot of crossover work going on. People are doing Yoruba movies, doing this and that. I don't know if you've done any. I've never seen you in any.
R.N.: I've done a Yoruba movie. I was the first crossover actor from English to the Yoruba sector. And it was a tremendous success. I've been called several times after that, but because I saw that it was very successful, I now said to myself, its better for me to shoot my own Yoruba film and make the money instead of me making the money for all these producers. And so I refuse to do other Yoruba movies. That's why.
S.O.: This is your first time in the US?
R.N.: Oh yes. My first time.
S.O.: Have we treated you right? Have you had fun here so far?
R.N.: (Laughing). Well, you could say I've had fun. I'm still trying to adapt to (US time) jet lag and all the rest of it, but I know I will adapt to it. It's fun. America is not like Heaven like most people think in Nigeria. Its everywhere, you know. I've been around… I've been to some parts of the world and this is my first time in America and I could say America is just like one of those other countries I've been to. Nothing spectacular.
S.O.: And the fans here… Are they any different from the fans in Nigeria? Are we crazier?
R.N.: Well, yes. The fans in Nigeria are already used to me, so they don't go “Aggghhhhh!” over me like that, you know (Laughing). The ones here are not used to me and they just see me in the movies and now they see me in life so I expect a reaction. It's okay, yeah.
S.O.: You have a wife?
R.N.: I do.
S.O.: What's your wife's name?
R.N.: Emelia Philips-Nouah.
S.O.: And you have a son? Daughter?
R.N.: A son.
S.O.: What's his name?
R.N.: Quincy Camil Nouah.
S.O.: I know that information is going to break some hearts out there…
R.N.: (Laughing). No, if I had the chance and if I had the money, I would actually marry all my fans. (More laughter).
S.O.: Ramsey, just say anything you like to your fans out there in the international community. Remember that they are all over the world.
R.N.: Oh yes. To all my fans, to all my loved ones out there, I wanna thank you. Like I've always said, without you, there is no Ramsey Nouah and that's a fact, for real. I wanna tell you that you have to believe in something. When you believe in that thing, never give up on it, and that way, you will have a breakthrough. We all need a breakthrough in our lives. Everybody needs a breakthrough. Thank God for me, I have my breakthrough already. I know you will get yours if you just believe in it. Thanks and Shalom!
S.O.: Thank you Ramsey.
R.N.: You're welcome Sola.