“Stardom is both a blessing and a curse,” Patrick Diabuah was saying.
Stardom seems already within his reach. After all, featuring in box-office stage productions such as Saro, Wakaa and Kakadu the musical makes him an easily recognisable face in the industry.
He recalled a recent experience in a market. A journalist had spotted him and had tapped on his shoulder, telling him: “Very soon, you won’t be able to go to market again.”
This drummed in the reality of being famous…
But in this large shopping mall in Ikeja, Diabuah might just as well have been another regular guy to the passers-by. Perhaps, only the fact that he was speaking to a journalist would have elicited curious glances.
The story of Patrick Diabuah’s acting career may have started like the usual narrative of a steady climb to fame. But there are a few intrigues to it. One is that his parents are yet to watch any of his famed stage performances while another is that he recently landed himself a lead role in a movie that is yet to hit the cinemas.
Starting with the first intrigue, Diabuah, a native of Asaba, Delta State, has very loving parents who showed their support for his acting career at different stages in his life. Initially, it was his mother who developed an interest while his father, for a long time, remained apprehensive of the son’s career choice and how lucrative it is.
But when their son was featured on a national television because of his role in a theatre productions, they became more interested. This naturally translated to their encouragement.
His mother once came to watch him at the theatre. But, the show was sold out and there was no seat left. Patrick, who was backstage waiting for lighting cues, was not in position to let her into the auditorium. That was how his mother missed what would have been her first view of her son’s live performance.
The graduate of creative arts at the University of Lagos began professional acting in 2011 and had featured in many television series. Before then, he had been an animated child, who loved mimicking some scenes from television drama.
“I was influenced by the BBC series called the Many Wives of Patrick,” he said.
Then, the desire to become an actor burned in him. This was as he was concluding his secondary school education.
“That was in 1994,” he recalled. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My father wanted me to be something else. He was a civil servant. He worked with the British Airways. He wanted me to be successful. But at that point in my life, I was crazy about joining the military. I wanted to be a Nigerian Army pilot but mother must have prayed it out of my brain. She didn’t like it. I wanted to be so many things at the same time. It later dawned on me that perhaps acting was what I should do.”
His father must have noticed that he needed some guidance and counselling. He didn’t spare him any of those. Even when young Diabuah joined a music band, his father was watching from the sidelines. Once, he told his son after one of those rehearsals that they should try some different chords. Being a trumpeter himself, Patrick’s father encouraged his first son to sing. But as for making a career out of singing and acting, he wouldn’t count on it.
Diabuah continued to develop skills that would later come in handy when he started professional acting. Some may argue that acting doesn’t require training since it is much rooted in talent. But Diabuah thought his time at Jovis, a club in Ojuelegba where he honed his acting skills may have paid off.
“There are people who should be actors today but they have been assumed as non-actors because they didn’t seem to have the traits. But after training these ones, you can awaken the sleeping giant in them.”
He believes that acting is worth studying at a higher institution just as music, medicine, law and architecture.
For him, starting off as an actor may not be financially rewarding at first but in time, bigger roles and greater opportunities could change all that.
“I started with Kakadu the musical. It was the first sold out show that I had ever acted in. I played the role of Emeka. Before being selected to play that role, I was losing interest in singing. I stopped going to church choir practice. I shifted music aside. But then, I met Ben Ogbeiwi and I couldn’t sing rubbish before him.
“In Saro, I played a contracted character, according to Anton Chekov. I played an introvert which was a challenge for me. I used to grumble to my director, Kenneth Uphopho that ‘I no like this character wey una give me’ (I don’t like this role).”
Diabuah plays the ghost in the movie, Banana Island Ghost, which is a lead male role. Before this movie, he had played supporting roles such as one of the guards in Tunji Bamisigbin’s Boomerang.
“It’s what you will call ‘waka pass’. In my first year at the university, I went for the audition for Greg Odutayo’s My Mum and I. My course mate got a lead character and in my fourth year at the university, I got a role in the television series, ‘Binding Duty’.”
Meanwhile, the lead role was a pleasant surprise. He met Bodunrin Shasore who gave him a copy of the Banana Island Ghost script to read. After reading, Diabuah learnt he would play the ghost.
“I was excited and at the same worried that I might not pass the screen test. There was this notion that stage actors can not act on screen. I kept going to auditions but I never passed the screen test. I began to think I belonged to the stage only.”
Diabuah had broken the ice with Zone 222, a comedy series by Rogers Ofime and later, 93 Days. It wasn’t easy to switch from stage, which demands a more dramatic approach to acting, to screen which requires some naturalness.
“I used to frustrate my D. O. P. I would move away from the marks made for me at the location. But my saving grace was that I worked with directors who were ready to put me through.”
Other actors that Patrick Diabuah admires are Sean Connery, Johnny Depp, Late Funsho Alabi, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva, amongst others.
When he was asked whether anyone had ever told him he has a rich, baritone voice, his response was humorous.
“I try not to listen. I don’t want it to get into my head,” he said.