Vanessa Obioha spends a leisurely afternoon with award-winning actor and Nollywood’s poster boy, Ramsey Nouah,
who recently took giant strides by going behind the camera of one of Nollywood’s big projects
Ramsey Nouah still possesses the inspiring aura that endeared him to the Nigerian audience over two decades ago. He still turns heads wherever he goes, even if his screen appearances are not that ubiquitous like in the past. On this sunny Friday afternoon, not a few guests at the lobby of De Lankaster Hotel in Lekki raised their heads to look at him when he walked in. With dark shades on and wearing a t-shirt with the inscription, ‘I Make Epic Sh*t’ (the third letter of the ‘Sh*t’ is blank) over blue jeans, Nouah looked every bit like Nollywood’s poster, just like in the past.
Born to a Yoruba mother and Israeli father, Nouah is a sight for sore eyes. His fans know that too and they don’t hide their admiration whether on or off-screen. This was why on this particular day, they couldn’t help but stare at the actor who was among the pioneers of Nollywood. He was first beamed to the Nigerian audience in 1993 when he featured in the TV series ‘Fortunes’, where he played the role of Jeff Akin Thomas alongside Pat Attah. The soap opera fetched Ramsey his first fame.
But nowadays, Nouah is more consumed by a new passion, directing. He has cut his teeth as an actor over the years, starring in movies that are rife with compelling romantic themes, thus earning him the moniker, ‘Nollywood’s lover-boy’.
For long, he was the best choice for a romantic male character. A role he interpreted with acute precision, owing to his good looks. But he is not in any way stereotyped. He takes on any character and still delivers a peerless role. He was the best choice for a lead character for Izu Ojukwu’s ‘76, the historical thriller about the 1976 coup that led to the assassination of the former military ruler, Murtala Muhammed.
With directing, however, Nouah discovered that it is not an easy task. His lifestyle is totally altered. He spends more time on set, ensuring that the end-product has a clinical touch. Being his directorial debut, Nouah is throwing all in the ring for a perfect movie. The movie is special to him in a way because it is a sequel to the acclaimed movie that gave birth to Nollywood, ‘Living in Bondage’. He serves as an actor, an associate producer, and a director in the production. Due to the enormous role on his shoulders, Nouah admitted that he is seen as a slave driver on the set.
“Being an actor, director and associate producer is draining. It’s so draining you have no idea. I’m still a no-nonsense guy; they call me a slave driver on set because they don’t know the pressure I am under. I just want to make sure the work is done. I don’t understand why they are tired if I’m not tired,” he said.
His phones were buzzing. He excused me to pick the call.
“I have to prepare the crew’s visas for the trip to South Africa, where we are shooting a scene. I’m in charge of getting the right props and getting partnerships. We already have a deal with Hennessy brand. It is a very taxing role,” he continued.
Yet, directing is a dream that the actor has nurtured for long. As an actor, he often wondered what it was to be in charge of a story visually.
“Sometimes as an actor, I wished I was the one handling the interpretation of a character or the entire story visually because most times you could see the direction in your head. You always want to do your own stuff and see how it happens in the end. It happens to most of us an actor, that’s how we see things. It is the same with directors; they share their imagination with people, with viewers.
“For some actors, it is the passion, some are what you call ‘condition make crayfish hand bend’. You know we are not doing too well as actors so you delve into producing movies to get enough extra for yourself. For me, it is passion. I just want to share my imagination with viewers, so they can see it, not just my performance now but telling the entire story,” he explained.
To prepare him for the big role, Nouah tried his hands on some short films, including making a short for the DStv channel, Africa Magic. However, handling the big camera opened Nouah’s eyes. He was able to identify some of the technical deficiencies of some of the movies in the past.
“Back in the day, it was more of the actor’s performance. What I discovered is that most directors don’t realize that the camera is also an actor. They think it’s just about the actors performing; it goes beyond that. The camera needs to capture the mood and everything you are trying to portray. Instead of the camera being static, sometimes it requires some movement. So there are certain cameras that require certain moods of an actor. Now those camera works we didn’t have them back then but right now, we are getting them,” he said.
“However, we still don’t put in the work. We just want the camera to do everything. You need the camera to work with the actors. For instance, if you are broken-hearted or receiving shocking news of the death of a loved one, when the person who broke the news to you is walking away, you are there, you will see the camera tracking out of you, dulling on you, it shows the mood of desolation, you are shattered. So the camera needs to do that, to show you are completely broken. Back in the day it wasn’t like that, it was more of overacting. Those are some of the things I can say are beginning to show in our movies these days.
Usually, when actors delve into making content, the prominent choice is romantic comedies, mostly for commercial success. Nouah for his own debut chose to make a sequel which comes with a huge risk, particularly being a drama thriller. But he is not deterred in any way.
He explained: “If you live in fear you will not be able to discover things beyond your horizon and the universe. It is always good to give it a shot and find out what it is. I don’t think we had ever done a remake of a flick in Nollywood; this will be the first of its kind. Moreover, if you place a finger on an expectation, it becomes easily readable. It’s better to be unpredictable so that people don’t have a stereotype of your kind of movies. For me, I prefer to be versatile, to do every other thing and still be able to do it very well. It means that you are good in your art.”
Waxing philosophical, he bemoaned the lack of dynamics in storytelling while pointing out that collaboration is the way to go for Africa.
“Collaboration is the best thing that can help Africans. It is about unity. It is mostly looked upon from a business angle but I see it as a unifying tool because there is this saying that if all the spider webs should come together they will hold a lion. We Africans have a major problem with unity. It’s almost like saying it’s in our DNA not to appreciate each other, always to envy,” Nouah stated.
That has been our problem with moving forward. Nigerians always think they are too smart, rather than putting that energy together and making things work. We are always eager to outsmart each other. For every front in Nigeria, collaboration will make us stronger and far better.”
Now that he is wearing a director toga, Ramsey is in no way departing from his first love, acting. He is featured in some of the soon-to-be-released movies such as ‘Merry Men 2’ and Chika Lann’s ‘Millions’. He will always be known as an actor, even if the bills are not rolling in as the public usually envisaged.
The celebrity actor said, “Acting is taking care of a few things but living up to the status of what people expect of you, no. It can’t in all honesty. It has to be like a double standard –being honest means that I live far above my means.”
I tried to find out from him if he in any way missed being the charming prince of Nollywood.
“Of course I miss it,” he admitted. “Accolades go a long way to make people feel better; at least it makes you feel good that people appreciate what you do. I miss it; I love the moments, the times. Fortunately, it’s still there and people still appreciate my work.”
If you are trying to figure out what the missing letter in ‘Sh*t’ is, the intrepid actor said: “You have to interpret it yourself. You can put an ‘i’ or an ‘o’ on it, it still makes sense.”