The image of Richard Mofe Damijo (RMD) looms so large in the Nigerian movie terrain, better known as Nollywood, and justifiably so. This is a man who has been on ground from the 90s when the movement began and is still widely regarded as Nollywood’s leading man more than two decades after. In this interview with ADEDAYO ODULAJA, he speaks on his career progression, aspects of his childhood and more.
Is there any striking feature of your childhood although it was far away in today’s Delta State that you struggle to find around now?
I think if anything, it would be more of respect. We might not be Yorubas who also thrive on the respect culture but growing up, respect for elders or constituted authority was everything to a child.
You knew exactly what you were supposed to do and at every time and it was communal as well, because of course the way life was designed. My father was a landlord and we had tenants, every child under that roof was his child and so if you misbehave and your mother or father tells you that ‘I will report you to landlord then you are dead, which was like the highest authority around. You don’t find that communal lifestyle anymore.
We lost it, that age of innocence we had at that time, we have completely lost that. And these days, a child can walk past you and not even blink. People are now very disrespectful and they call you by your first name, it’s all part of the culture that we have all imbibed. It is very difficult for me to see people who are older than me and call them by their names, it’s just not something that I am able to do.
When you became a part of the fledgling Nollywood then, what were you looking forward to in terms of expectations?
My aim was just to get myself out there and get to work, do good work. You know that money was not what drove us, money didn’t drive me at any point; money still doesn’t drive me and I thank God for that.
My values have not been completely polluted by the economy or whatever it is that is happening, my values are intact. I just wanted to be able to have a chance to exhibit the talent that God has given to me and in the process make a difference.
That was basically what it was, do good work that would stand the test of time and that informed the choices I made, the kind of films I did. I looked for redemptive values that were not too far from my personal values, that is what I did.
I asked that because of some great things you did in your university days, including leading an award winning production that went on national TV and being a star of sorts already?
Yes but don’t forget that before Nollywood, there was television and one had been lucky to be involved in that and being a part of that. It was a mixture of my stage life and of course television life. I had started been on television quite early, from university and then when I got out I was part of Dalandi Bako’s Spark.
There was one other one we did called Legacy, so by the time Nollywood was evolving it was a question of another platform and getting on that platform as well and making your impact felt.
So by the time I agreed to do Flesh and Blood, which was my first Nollywood film, it was with a view to getting a bigger platform to exhibit my talent. Of course in the process Violated came along and it was the game changer.
A lot of people talk about coming into Nollywood by accident and many have issues with that, on the pro-fessional front. For someone like you, who studied Theatre Arts, what is your story of getting involved like?
Like I said, it was just a natural evolution for me. I mean if you are an actor on stage, it is a matter of time before you get on television. If you are on television, it is a matter of time before you get onto film.
Nollywood was born out of the foundation that television had built so it was not like it needed new people to populate. No, the people that populated it were people who were already on ground and practicing.
I have nothing against people who came into the field accidentally, it is what you do thereafter that is important. Professionalism doesn’t have to be about studying that core course. There are many people that are Theatre Arts graduates that lack the requisite discipline when it comes to professionalism or that are very unprofessional, it depends on who is defining what.
But there is a universally acceptable standard and you don’t have to be a Theatre Arts graduate before you are able to comport yourself in a way that is dignifying of the position that you hold or conduct yourself in such a way that you do not in the process of doing your work, breach other people’s access to their own work or upset the cart as it were.
So I evolved, it is a natural progression and anybody who is a theatre person and that wants to pursue a life in the theatre would overtime touch on these things and settle on what he wants to.
For me, I am always very restless so being in one place at a time doesn’t do it for me. I am constantly trying to express myself within the area that I operate so all the communication fields around me, be it media, as in electronic media or print media or even corporate communications, I have dabbled in all sorts of things. Even being a life coach and so it is all about the process.
What fears did you harbor at the point of returning to Nollywood after your stint as a commissioner in Delta State?
Let me illustrate from the point of view of an actor. As an actor, I step on a stage, either before a camera or a live audience, I usually would have butterflies; anxiety and such and I had those when I wanted to come back knowing that I had been away for sometime, longer than eight years because it was not just the eight years. I had gone to Law School as well and because in Law School, you stop everything that you are doing, which meant that in the one year that I was in Law School, I stopped.
In the years after, I became a lawyer, I was called to the Bar, I didn’t just want to compromise all that hardwork so I stopped practically. And then politics came and I went into it in 2007 so it was indeed like a really long spell, if anything, it was, say from about 2004 that I more or less like hands off regarding Nollywood so when I was coming back I was anxious of course and hoping that I could still put it together.
That I succeeded, I was accepted made everything fall into place easily. So I had that anxiety, thank God that I was able to ride it. What I do is I usually convert my fears to an impetus to conquer it; I ride it and try to master it.
Having been a huge part of some of the stellar films in Nigeria through the years, which do you consider most physically and emotionally demanding of all?
Everything movie has its own grip on you in a different way and I say this without trying to be cunning but every movie has its own peculiarity and challenge. In terms of physicality and all that, Oloibiri that I did recently, was very challenging because I needed to be in good shape for the role.
The good thing was that I had started to lose weight in the process so I looked a bit smaller than normal. I did the same thing for Violated. When Violated was written, Amaka Igwe said to me that she didn’t write Tega for me. She wanted somebody younger and I said I was going to be younger.
She said: ‘How are you going to be younger?’ and I said: ‘I would wear earrings’ and I wore earrings. I read out to her and I said ‘Nobody in the world can play Tega but me.’ That kind of arrogance and Amaka knew there was no way I would read it and then I won’t insist that was the role I would play, we had this relationship where she would write something and send to me to critique and I would edit. I think I am gifted with editing so I would put my comments and send back to her.
So she brought Violated to me and she said I should just read it so I read it and wrote a note back to her that nobody in the world could play Tega but me. I said I was born to play Tega and it turned out to become the game-changer.
Which movie would then be atop your list on the emotional side?
Emotionally too, Oloibiri had a lot of emotions even though it was short. But the back story of it and also being from the Niger Delta meant you would just be propelled by anger. Throughout the shooting of Oloibiri, I was just propelled by anger, it was a lot of anger at the failure of government, not just from the federal level but at all levels. From local to state to federal to ourselves, we are all complicit in this entire matter.