Richard Mofe-Damijo, …still the king of the screen

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For years, I have been privileged to meet great personalities either at events to speak, emcee, sing, recite my poems or even in my line of work and I often overcome the butterflies flying in my stomach almost immediately I start speaking to the person but in this instance it wasn’t so. I am always on top of my game in interviews but with my personality for this week it wasn’t that easy and I have come to know why, he is someone that ‘grew’ with me and by that I mean it was while I was maturing gradually into a young adult that I started watching him on the screen and as I matured fully, his metamorphosis into the enigma that he is today grew with me and on me. From marrying to being a father and now a grandfather…hmn…hope you now get my drift?

I remember clearly many years ago, I came to the balcony of our house and I saw him driving in his red car, I ran in to call my siblings to come and see who was driving by and suddenly my mum (of blessed memory) ran out to come and see him also, she was even more excited than we were. I took a look at her in amazement and said “mummy, easy o…” after which she replied “you people think you are the only ones that know RMD?” she then went on and on and I surrendered… “ok mum, you win, you know him too” I said back then.

Back to my ‘butterflies in my tummy’ they really gave me away, so much that I said to him before the interview began “Sir, there are butterflies truly flying in my stomach now” to which he helped knock it out instantly saying “Kemi, shoot! Just go ahead…” and I felt like I was on a movie set and just got cued in by my director to get into character and play my role and yes it worked because the interview became seamless.

From the titillating soap opera called Ripples in the late 80s, to Out Of Bounds in the 90s, to Keeping Faith in 2003 (Only God knows how many times I watched Keeping Faith…ever green) to 30 days in Atlanta in 2014 and so many others I can’t even mention all, he truly has been an authority in his field and an icon of his craft. Crown him the King of the screen and you would not be contested or challenged in the court.

A legal Luminary, a former Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Delta State, a mentor to many and one of the foremost actors in the Nollywood industry, welcome into the fascinating world of Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD).

Though raised in a polygamous home, RMD was an only child of his mum and he was brought up under the strictest moral codes which he tells me is responsible for what he is today. “I grew up with my dad and mum who were both strict disciplinarians and I am one of those who at a point had to decide between good and bad. My mum’s voice will always ring in my head so going wrong wasn’t an option” he says.

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You will agree with me that right from when RMD hit the screens decades ago, he always got effortlessly into character, little wonder we all love to watch him. I asked how he has sustained his mastery and delivery of scripts and his answer says it all “I am a trained theatre person and I graduated on top of my class, it will be a shame if I left school and my training as an actor or as a theatre person fails to reflect in everything I did and still do. However, I attribute this feat to God who is the source of all things.”

“I have tried to keep practicing my craft, to keep being responsible to my own. The minute people begin to appreciate what you do as an entertainment person, then you need to improve every time you have an opportunity to stand before your audience. I hold my audience in the highest regard and so anytime I have the opportunity to stand before my audience, it’s a privilege. It is my 32nd year in the business, I am still relevant because my audience believe in my craft, I treat every opportunity to perform in front of the public with the first class regard. For some people, after the first hit, they tend to take their audience for granted. I never take my audience for granted.” RMD states.

Taking a cue from his opinion that some people take their audience for granted, it brings to the fore the importance of mentorship to which RMD responds “I am a teacher, all my life I have mentored people. From comedian to actors to fashion designers and all…anywhere I have a chance to help people I do and I love to work with varieties of people.”

Certainly RMD’s views on an industry he holds dear to heart -Nollywood, is of the essence and in his words, “Nollywood will always be a work-in-progress. Are we trying to get it right? Yes! Are we trying to make sure that we do it better? Yes! There is an injection of new blood now, young boys that went to school in New York, London, in Russia and so on…there are graduates who are coming in, there are all kinds of collaborations now between us and other film makers from countries of the world. Such patterns will change Nollywood in the next 5-10 years.” He foresees.

Having been into acting for so long, you will agree with me that RMD doesn’t feature in just any kind of film. You think he’s being selective? Again he elucidates “I don’t do anything that does not have any value. For me, stories have to have retentive values. They have to promote humanity. They have to show that every human being having gone far should be remorseful or there will be poetic justice or natural justice when wrong has been done. For me, I love stories that have values.”

“Human beings change. What hasn’t changed is that I stay very true to my character. Whatever character I play I try to be true. So the closer it is to true life the better.”

The types of challenges RMD faced starting off his career aren’t completely different from the ones he faces today. According to him, “Challenges will always be there. There will always be insufficient funds, insufficient time, and insufficient roles… same statement producers made since 1984 when they call you to come and work is the same language they speak today.  For me the passion is what moves me. The day passion fails to drive me, that is the day I’ll stop to work. I’ll just face business. I have opportunities to do oil and gas, I am a lawyer, I have the time to write opinions once in a while, I do a lot of I.Q work. I write for television stations and I have enough to make me wealthy enough not to make me act for one day in my life but it’s the passion. It is the love for it. We are paving the way, building a form of legacy” RMD says.

He mentioned it and I had to plunge further. RMD went back to school to read Law after a first degree in Theatre Arts from University of Benin. I sought from him what inspired his decision and he says “When you become a lawyer, a new world opens up to you; I began to see the world from different angles. Time is too short to recount everything but some of the money I made in my life I made them because I am a lawyer.”

RMD was a former Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Delta State, Nigeria and he shares with me his experience and lessons learnt. Hear him “I had challenges. Due to how politics is done and played in Nigeria, development or civil service, the instrument of governance has not separated for political office holders so it makes it seem like people come in to do something to show that there is power as opposed to coming in and continuing with whatever development programmes that are there.”

“No matter how good the development programme is, when a new government comes in, there is the possibility of a change or complete overhaul sometimes to the detriment of the people they are supposed to be serving so the challenge I found is that democracy is slow. The kind of politics played in Nigeria is slowing development in Nigeria that is why even 55 years later, we are still where we are. Hopefully, with the present government, things will get better…again I hope it does” He strongly hopes.

And to the million dollar question which I believe is also in the hearts of many, How does RMD manage to look this good despite his age? Again, he speaks “Three years ago, I met a lady that changed my life. She is a trained health person. She knows some nutritional things. She put me under a strict diet and exercise routine. I love to stay healthy. I love to eat healthy and eat nutritional and natural food.”  Now you know, for those who wanted to know his ageless secret, there you go…It is sure time to cut down on the nkwobi, egusi made with assorted meat and the likes. Not easy though but like the saying goes ‘moderation matters’ at least have his picture in mind and let it inspire you to look this good when you are at his age and even beyond.

RMD ends the interview with his parting shots of what life has taught him “Life is simple, life is not as complicated as people think. What God said to us is just to believe and because I believe I get everything I want and life is easier. I believe that Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of my life period. The ones I can’t deal with I hand it over to him.”

Kemi Ajumobi

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