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Experience in stage crucial before film adventure – Ufuoma McDermott

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Undoubtedly one of Nollywood’s most admired household name, Ufuoma McDermott’s journey into Nol­lywood began when she held movie buffs spellbound with her delivery in Zeb Ejiro’s 2004 movie, ‘The President Must Not Die’.

Today, she is an A-List Nollywood actress. The former beauty queen is returning to the cinema this September with a new comedy flick, titled ‘What Just Happened’. She throws more light on the project and her career in this interview.

Excerpts:

You hinted earlier that it took you three years to shoot your new movie. Why did it take that long?

Ufuoma: The idea of perfection in this movie was my husband’s. We had spent so much money shooting the movie and when it was ready it wasn’t what we wanted. I wanted to release it but my husband wasn’t in support. I said okay let’s just throw it online and make it into DVD.

He said “unless you want to keep it under your bed. This film is not leaving this house”. To be honest with you it took a toll on me. I was heavily pregnant when we started shooting in 2015. We shot in and out of Los Angeles.

What’s the plot of the movie?

Ufuoma: The story is about a disgruntled professor who goes in search of a man. She takes up her brother’s offer for the position of a visiting lecturer at the University of Ibadan. So, what should have been a one-hour journey from Lagos to Ibadan ends up being a disaster.

Partly, (this was) as a result of her high-handedness and selfishness. The entire movie is a testimony, which is being recounted in church.

Is this your first shot at comedy?

Ufuoma: Well ‘Christmas is coming’ is a comedy but it was a romantic comedy. It wasn’t an entire comedy film as this. So probably yes, this is my first.

Did you write the screenplay?

Ufuoma: I will have to thank Bovi for his contributions especially for all the humour and comedy he injected into the script. Then I did the final rewrite of the script alongside another writer called Victor. I guess we have a great fantastic script. Bovi didn’t feature in the movie but he did a lot of ‘treatments’ for the story.

Can you give a rundown of the cast?

Ufuoma: I played the lead, Professor Ogborgbor, alongside Afeez Oyetoro who everyone knows as Saka. Jude Orhora played Leke; Segun Arinze played Efe the brother to the professor; Toyin Aihmaku played the Usher; MC Abbey played the pastor; Funnybone played the choirmaster. That’s already like a recipe for disaster.

You have a pretty interesting cast…

Ufuoma: I intentionally assembled an unusual cast; you don’t get to see the kind of cast in typical Nollywood films. For instance, nobody can dispute the fact that Segun Arinze is a damn good actor. I say to people that as much as I want people to laugh, I want people to leave the cinema after seeing my film, feeling satisfied. It’s not enough for you to just laugh. I want to be taken for a serious filmmaker. I want to be able to refer to my films many years from now with no regrets whatsoever.

What was it like shooting a comedy?

Ufuoma: I tend to respect a lot of comedy actors so much because it’s so difficult to make people laugh. It’s difficult to make light of your life.

Everything about us is serious now. I have never really played a comedic character. So yes it was a new challenge for my co-actors and I on set. They were so hilarious that it was difficult keeping a straight face on set.

When we were shooting the church scenes, my goodness, we laughed so hard in fact at a point even MC Abbey asked us to regroup and shoot another day.

How will you assess your growth as an actor?

Ufuoma: Before all an actor was only required to come on set with his or her skill set. Right now, it is a little different and I think maybe social media is to blame because right now people don’t just want to see you as an actor, they also want a peep into your life.

They want to see you beyond the character you play but that’s not going to be entirely possible because I am married to a very private man. I think, for now, my experience, as an actor is my ability to balance my private life and my career whether as an actor, director or scriptwriter.

That includes the ability to strike a balance without going against your own principles and not losing focus of what you want from your life or your career.

Today there is this segregation of who is the cinema actor, who is the DVD actor, who is the television actor, really I just want to be an actor alone. You’ve got to learn how to balance all of that. It’s very difficult but you just have to do this.

Do you have a favourite actor/actress?

Ufuoma: I can arguably say Bimbo Akintola is the greatest actress this country has ever produced.

How important is it for an actor to have a background on stage before shooting a feature film?

Ufuoma: I will be honest with you, mine was the reverse. I did film first before I went to stage and I have Bimbo Akintola to thank for that. The stage is a lot of work. It’s not a flash in the pan.

Unlike film, the stage is not ‘Take 1, 2 and Take 7’. The stage is Take 1 and 1 alone. With stage, you have a lot of rehearsals as to when you are shooting a movie.

With stage, you also need to get the whole script into your head and you also need to know your line fast. You also need to know when to improvise because if your co-actor loses his or her own line, your improvisation skills will come in handy.

You also need to know how to inculcate his or her own lines into yours so that he or she can recollect. It is a lot of work; I will be honest with you. With stage, you have contributions to make and if you feel there is something that will make a film better then you should be able to contribute.

When you have a background on the stage, it keeps you very sharp and alert as an actor. Getting my lines into my head is no longer a challenge as I am one of those actors that will give you your lines in your scripts word for word.

This has nothing to do with the fact that I can’t improvise but because acting on stage has made me realise that when a writer writes in a certain way, it is because they are trying to play on words.