THERE’S NO BASIS FOR COMPARISON BETWEEN MY LATE WIFE, MEE, AND JUMOBI–MOFE-DAMIJO
Star actor, Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD) tells the incisive story about his life as an artiste. He also speeaks about his love life in this interview with OLUMIDE ODUNTAN
You have a programme called “Made in Warri,” what is it all about?
“Made in Warri” is a music and comedy concert that we started in December 2004, as a charity work. It's not an NGO but it's not meant for profit as well. What we do is we go to Warri, organise auditions and identify talented young boys and girls. Then we try and give them opportunities to perform on stage.
How many shows have you done so far?
We've done four shows now. We've done three shows in Lagos and one in Warri. Now we are going to do the fifth one in Abuja this February.
Why “made in Warri” and not made in somewhere else?
Because this is a place where most of the present young comedians come from. And most of the other comedians who are not from there, always make references to Warri. Warri has become like a source of materials for comedians. So we said to ourselves, “since the original boys are there why not go back home and bring the people who really are the originators of all these jokes that people tell and that's what gave birth to “Made in Warri”. So what we have done is to add musicians to it. Even further than that, because of my own calling as an actor, I have had to also include actors for audition.
There are lots of people in Warri, who if they are given the opportunity, like the Lagos boys or the Ibadan boys, would be able to perform and make something good out of his life. It is the lack of opportunities to do any other thing that lead them into carrying guns and stuffs like that.
So since I and some others are from there we say why not go back home, look for these boys from there, give them an opportunity and let people know that good things also come out of Warri and not just fighting, crises and hostage taking. There is a lot more to Warri than all of that which is why we now decided to say it is “made in Warri,” so that anytime you hear that name, you would not be thinking only of crisis, but you would be thinking of quality entertainment, good entertainers, be it comedians, be it actors or musicians. So “Made in Warri” is just an umbrella name to be able to organise people in sectors into productive unit.
But for you, is it a way of paying back to that society?
That's what it is. This is where I was born and grew up. So I look back and say how can I contribute towards the peace process, how can I contribute towards the rehabilitation of the entire area. We had an audition in Warri and people were coming from as far as Asaba. So “Made in Warri” is actually like a pilot project for the whole of the Niger Delta. Over time, we are going to replicate this, we are going to have “Made in Niger Delta”. So that with time we can begin to launder the image of the area from that of negative to peace loving, fun loving and creative people.
Could it be that you have time for this programme because you were banned?
I was never banned. There has never been any communique from any producer or Actor Guild that I was banned.
Why then have you not featured in movies for a long time now?
I was in Law School for a whole year. And in that one year, I was not even coming to my office to work on a regular basis not to talk about acting. I served a notice to the entire industry when I was going into Law School in 2004, that I was stopping work in September, which I did. The ban thing is as a result of people who are practising in the industry who do not fully understand what they are supposed to be doing.
Otherwise nobody would use a cowardly word like ban for actors. A producer can decide who he or she wants to work with, but to pronounce the word ban on certain actors, I think it was a sad period in the history of Nollywood. And I would hate to be a part of that dark period. I challenge anybody that thinks he can ban anybody to come out and say it.
Some people in the industry say that you are arrogant, is that true?
How does an actor become arrogant? My works speak for me. I made bold to say that I'm one of the most disciplined actors in this country on and off set. I would not be arrogant and be sitting where I'm sitting today. I don't walk around with a chip on my shoulder.
I'm a professional. If I see something that is black, I'll say it is black. I don't care whether the producer is from Nnewi or he's from Onitsha or whatever it is. If you are not doing it right I would tell you, you are not doing it right. If that makes me arrogant, fine. I would not mind to be labelled as that. I don't think anybody has given more integrity to this industry than I have given. Everything that I have done in my life up until this stage is to give the work that I do more upliftment. I don't think anybody can fault me on that.
Have you always wanted to be a lawyer while you were growing up?
No, my parents wanted me to study law but I had other plans. I thought I could make a decent living with doing theatre, which was what I did. Now having done that and done it satisfactorily to a point where I could take a break, I decided to opt for something that would also expand my horizon. Education is never a loss.
I think it's a beautiful thing to rediscover yourself or go back to school to increase your knowledge. Besides having been called to bar now, there are things that I know about my profession now that I probably would never have known. Now I can sit back and look at right issues as they affect my industry and be able to protect, not just myself, but other people within the industry.
Does that mean that you would veer off acting in order to practise law?
I am not going to veer off completely. For the next two years or so, I'm going to do more behind the scene work, which is what I'm doing now. I'm a restless spirit I like to explore. Right now, I'm doing a lot of consultancy in copyright matters. And that's what is giving me a kick now.
Don't you think that behind the scene work would make you die in the eyes of those who want to continue seeing you on TV?
I would never die in the eyes of the audience because I have work that would always be there. Even if I don't act a day more in my life from today, the audience will never miss me because I have enough materials out there for them to see if they want to see. Fela is dead but anytime I want to hear what he represented I'd just pop a CD on and I would hear him.
How was growing up for you?
I grew up in Warri with a lot of love and in a very lively environment. I was not from a rich family but my mother used to dress me up like we were rich. We didn't have ethnic boundaries in the Warri that I grew up. In my father's compound alone, we had tenants that were Ijaws, Itshekiris, Ibo, Ishan, all kinds. That was the beauty of Warri. It was a cosmopolitan city, where everybody was welcome. All of that is gone.
You must have played some childhood pranks in those days.
Yes in those days, we used to have our bath outside and so most times, those of us who were full of tricks would wait until it was very dark before we take our bath. Or we would take our bath early, then we would start moving from one compound to the other trying to find out when our mates would be having their bath. And when they have soap in their eyes, we would take away their buckets and run off. That and a lot more.
So how did the passion to act come?
I think it must have been from all the playing house when we were young. We used to play hide and seek. We used to sit down and form a circle, then put someone in the circle who would try and make everybody laugh. And if you don't make somebody laugh you would stay in the circle until you can make them laugh. I did a whole lot of that.
I grew up in Warri where they had musical groups, where they had dancing groups. Every street organised itself into a dancing group, so that during Christmas period, every street or area would bring out a masquerade where all the young boys would dance around the masquerade. I couldn't have done something else. I grew up with so much theatrical things around me. And my mum especially was a wonderful dancer. I remember, we would just put on a music and my mum and I would just start dancing. And when I got into school, I got into drama and debating. So it was just the most natural thing for me to study theatre.
It was just an undying passion even after I got into university. God just charted a path for me because everybody I met felt I had something inside of me to give. And so I got encouragement all along.
Among the films that you have done which one do you consider your best?
I don't have a best film. I never had a best film. Every film comes with it's own challenge. Best is a relative term. It is for the viewer to decide which is best. But I get excited when I remember “Bridge stone” for instance. It was the last movie I did in 2004. In it, I played a shoe maker and I played a Warri man, so to speak. I spoke my pidgin English which people didn't think that I could speak. Most people just thought since I came to Lagos I've lost all my roots. A lot of people just saw it and like it because I was this big, huge romantic hero in it. People felt it was different.
But I remember “Violated” as well and I get excited because at the time we did it, it was a classic. Now we can look back to it and be proud of what we did. I remember “out of bounds” because it was the first movie I wrote, produced and acted. But every other movie I have done, all come with their own peculiar challenges.
It's not common for actors to do well on stage and in movies, how were you able to do that?
I'm a trained theatre person and I'm passionate about what I do. My training did not stop at the university. I trained myself everyday. I always look for the next challenge, which is why I'm still here. I didn't train as a journalist, I picked it along the way and when I started journalism, I took time to be among the best people in the business. And after that I founded my PR company.
Among all the things that you have been involved in, which do you really have the strongest passion for?
It has to be acting because that's what people know me for. Most people won't ever see me as a lawyer no matter how successful I am as a lawyer. They would never want to see me as that because acting is what people consider the work of my hand that God has blessed me with. But personally, I love to write. I do a lot of poetry writing.
I guess those must be romantic poetry.
No. That's where I'm an activist. My poetry does not fall into that of romantic categorisation. I do a few of those but I'm a lot more angry in my poetry.
Angry at what?
I'm very concerned about leadership. So most of my poetry are directed at the nation moulders and what I think about our nation and leadership.
May be you are thinking of going into politics someday.
I don't know if I will be able to run for any political office because I don't think we have been able to enthrone meritocracy here. I don't believe, and I stand to be corrected that votes ever counts in this country. The political terrain is too tedious, it is too violent. So I have opted to make my own contribution through my creative talent.
Do you think the government has done well for the arts?
I don't think government has a full understanding of the power of the arts. It's ironic that we claim that we are a lot more cultural as a people, that we value our culture much more than the western world. But the western world spend a lot more money in trying to keep and promote whatever it is that is left of their culture. For us, culture means the gathering together, dancing and doing our masquerade and exhibiting a few of our arts and going back to sleep.
Even the cultural policy is not executed the way it should be. Culture plays a far minion to the rest of the economy. Because we are still in the developmental stage, most of the things that government should look at should be developmental. We should create structures that people can work within and thrive in so that creativity can prosper
Being in your mid 40s, do you consider yourself sexy or ladies' man?
I don't know. I believe that I have been put in that category before in films and in real life. I'm tall and good looking, I'm told. So if the people who cast me in these films consider me a romantic hero, all romantic heroes are supposed to be sexy and fine, so I guess that qualifies me.
Your first wife died a long time now, do you still miss her?
In a sense. When somebody lives in your heart, there are things that you shared and you cannot forget. There are things around me that bring memories of her. She was a wonderful person and you don't wish to erase that kind of person from your memory.
Has your present wife been able to fill that void?
There is no basis for comparison. No two people are alike. What she provides for me is different from what my late wife provided for me. So, it's not something that I want to go into drawing parallel lines or comparing them.
But then having been married to someone that was older than you are and now married to someone that is younger than you, there must be a basis for comparison.
Those are all private issues that I don't want to discuss. My personal life areas should be in my home.
You have been associated with many women over the years, what really is the true position of your relationship with these women?
My brother, I don't brook rumours. I've done far too much work for me to allow people who have petty grudges or petty jealousies to rubbish. The work that I have done speak for themselves. I would not sit here and dignify rumours. I don't do that.