Ramsey Nouah: Actor on being passionate about craft, making directorial debut with "Living in Bondage" sequel, 'new Nollywood'

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Ramsey  Nouah

Nouah also shares his favourite Nollywood actors, talks about fashion, the scenes that make him nervous, and films that shouldn’t be in the cinema.

In 1990, Ramsey Nouah kicked off his acting career. He starred as “Jeff Akin-Thomas” in classic TV series, “Fortunes” which aired between 1993 and 1994.

Years after he left TV for film, a lot of people still referred to him as Jeff Akin-Thomas before he would become Stanley after starring as the character, a rich kid, who, out of boredom, moved to Ajegunle to join a robbery gang in the 1996 Chico Ejiro classic, “Silent Night.”

“But then movies started coming out and I was answering different names, so people then got used to my own name, Ramsey Nouah. And that's what all they call me now,” the actor tells Pulse during an exclusive interview.

 

At the time when Nouah made his debut, acting wasn't regarded as a proper profession. They [actors] were calling people to act but received cold shoulders.

“Then if you told your parents that, 'Oh, I want to act,' your mother would look at you and say, 'You must be out of your mind.' You might even receive a couple of slaps for that. But we were passionate about it and we went into it, regardless.”

It's 2018 and Nouah boasts a career that spans decades, with a host of awards and nominations including an Africa Movie Academy Award win, and an Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award nomination.

“I was just passionate. I didn't realize that I was going to be this famous or this rich. Hallelujah somebody,” Nouah jokes. “That's why it's so hard for me to sometimes handle the fame. Usually, I just want to run away.”

 

Critical acclaim and AMVCA nominations (76, The Figurine) box-office record (30 Days in Atlanta), classics (Dangerous Twins, Power of Love, Silent Night), Nouah has, over the years, remained a relevant actor in the Nigerian film industry.

Nouah attributes his relevance to going with the tide, flowing with the demography of the generation that has been from his time till now, and being selective about the movie roles he went for.

Before accepting any role, he considers certain factors: the story, the character and the technical quality of the film. “Then after that, we can start discussing fees, backings and all of that,” he says.”

 

In 2004, Nouah, alongside seven other actors – Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Richard Mofe Damijo, Genevieve Nnaji, Emeka Ike, Nkem Owoh, Stella Damasus and Jim Iyke – were banned by movie marketers.

In his book “Nollywood till November: Memoirs of a Nollywood Insider,” Charles Novia, a veteran Nigerian filmmaker, attributed the ban to actors charging huge fees and then failing to deliver.

Popularly called the G8, the decision to ban these actors shook the industry, infuriated loyal fans, birthed a new generation of actors and invigorated a lost era: the cinema era.

“That's the bridge between the Nollywood that we had and the new Nollywood, which is the cinemas,” Nouah told Pulse.

According to Nouah, the DVD market was beginning to think that they owned it [all] and could decide to turn someone's life around, so they [actors and filmmakers] delved into the cinema business, which he described as an alternative market.

“Now the DVD market is almost dead and gone. There's so much piracy going on there. It's not a regulated market so even if you make your big movies and you want to take it to DVD, it's selling little or nothing.”

 

But, not all films should make it to the cinema

Just like his colleague, Rita Dominic, who recently came under attack for criticizing certain cinema films, Nouah doesn't think every film should make it to the cinema.

“I don't know why she is getting all the backlash. Now, we are thinking about upgrading Nollywood, we are thinking about making it better, [then] why are we encouraging negative forces dragging it back down?”

Nouah believes that the bad films that make it to the cinema affect the good ones. He says that in an era where there's YouTube, there's no excuse to not go through the proper way of filmmaking, cinematography and storytelling.

“We have YouTube now, you don't even need to go to school anymore, everything is right there at your fingertps. What's stopping the others from doing that? They want encouragement? They're not going to get it from me. Encouragement is for those who are making effort to make it right.”

 

Missing the Nollywood of the 90s

Nouah misses the passion of the 90s. He misses those who truly loved the industry and gave it their all, their sweat, tears and blood to build it, and make it become what it is today.

“Today, I only see people on the surface, they are not as deep,” he says.

However, he doesn't blame the younger actors for this lack of passion. He blames the system, which demands that they take on more than they can handle.

“They are very very talented. It's just that the system won't allow them maximize their talent. Because now, there's so many things they ought to do at the same time because they want to remain relevant.”

There is also the pressure they face from their fans, who expect them to be as rich as they appear on the screen. They have to make ends meet to meet up to the status they are trying to build as actors and superstars.

“Everyone sees them on TV and think they should be rich or put up the appearance of a superstar. So they have to live up to it, and then they do and bite more than they can chew.”

According to the actor, being everywhere at the same time and going on several media rounds takes away the art in an actor. It's not their fault, they simply can't do all at the same time, the actor says.

 

The scenes that make him nervous

When asked about the scenes that make him nervous, the actor, who with roles in films such as “Power of Love,” “Fugitive” and “True Love,” became one of movie lovers' favourite on-screen lover boy, says he doesn't remember any.

“I mean, I have never gone as far as the kissing scenes being explicit. It has just been on the surface.”  But he recalls one. It's a kissing scene from an upcoming movie.

“I don't know how they edited it, but I just hope… It's a scene between myself and a Ghanaian actress.”

 

Influence of Hollywood on career

Nouah remembers watching Hollywood while growing up. A learning curve for him, he cites action heroes such as Sylvester Stallon and Arnold Schwarzenegger as an influence. If he is given a chance, he would love to collaborate with Al Pacino, an actor he describes as “spontaneous.”

He says that with “Godfather,” “Scarface” and “Scent of a Woman,”  Al Pacino portrays three distinct characters to show his 'versatility' as an actor – something he considers important as an actor.

He loved their work, and when Nollywood started making movies, he hoped that the industry would one day, be as good as Hollywood. Not just in acting, but also with the production quality.

There was no YouTube in the 90s, so Nouah sought out write-ups that would help him understudy how best to upgrade the Nigerian film industry.

“So I am one of those people that you could say flew the New Nollywood flag. You know like, 'let's do it right, let's get better,' 'let's move the industry forward.'

Movies he would love to wipe off his IMDB

Just like several other actors, Ramsey Nouah has featured in movies he isn't proud of. But he wouldn't mention any titles, he thinks it would hurt the producer if he did.

Most times, he accepts a “bad” role based on sentiments. His friends come up to him and say they want to make a film and they need his help. So he helps.

“We learnt and got burnt in the process. Now I don't allow friendship and sentiments in work anymore. Because my face is out there and it's just going to mess up all the stuff I have built all these years.”

So these days, when they come and say 'ah Ramsey, just do it for us,'  he refers them to his manager.

It [having a manager] takes away the sentiments and emotional blackmails.”

 

“76”

Nouah was nominated for a best actor AMVCA on the strength of his outstanding performance in Izu Ojukwu's 2016 well-made historical drama,”76,” in the role of Captain Dewa.

For the role, the cast was trained for 21 days by the Nigerian Defence Academy. It was a long shoot for the cast, who had a contract that was supposed to span just 30 days, but ended up spending months on set.

A lot happened on the set: a couple of his friends celebrated their birthdays and his co-actor, Chidi Mokeme, got married on that set.

“It was fun in the beginning, but it almost became a thorn in the flesh because we were just there. Sometimes we could go three days without even filming one scene. Sometimes we shoot half or quarter scene,” the actor recalled.

After a while, they got fed-up and gave the production a timeline to finish, or else they would leave.

After over four months on set, principal photography was concluded in July 2012, and the film was released in November 2016. It was one of the best films of the year.

No matter how good his work is, Nouah feels uncomfortable watching himself on the screen. “Sometimes I think that my performances are not good enough. I see a few places and I am like “Ah, that didn't go down well.”

 

Favourite Nollywood actors 

When asked who his favourite Nollywood actors are, the actor mentioned Richard Mofe Damijo, Olu Jacobs, Joke Silva, Genevieve Nnaji and Rita Dominic. He is also a fan of younger actors like Daniel K Daniel and Gideon Okeke.

“Why I really like them is that you could tell the tenacity in their performance when they perform. It's real, it's genuine, they are not there for the fame, they are there for the art.”

 

Making his directorial debut with “Living in Bondage” sequel

A follow-up to the 1992 cult drama thriller of the same name, the upcoming “Living in Bondage: Breaking Free” will be Nouah's directorial debut.

When they wrote the story, they felt it was lopsided. They were trying to catch the demography of today who go to the cinema and those who have not seen the original movie.

Trying to use the original to create the same feel for the sequel was not an easy task for him. “That's why it took so long,” Nouah said about the sequel which was first announced in 2015, after Nouah and his entrepreneur friend, Charles Okpaleke, acquired the license to write from Kenneth Nnebue, who helmed the original film.

The cast for the sequel include originals Kenneth Okwonkwo, Bob-Manuel Udokwu and Kanayo O. Kanayo, and new additions such as Ramsey Nouah, who would be taking up a villainous role, and Enyinna Nwigwe in an unknown role.

“We are going to roll out principal photography in July. We have on board too one of the top directors in Nigeria, Steve Gukas, who directed “93 Days.” But he is now an executive producer and producer.”

There's no release date for the “Living in Bondage” sequel, but  depending on the availability of windows in the cinema, Nouah hopes to capture the December market.

 

Living a private life and joining conversations on social media

Off screen, Nouah possesses a persona that is considered private and charismatic. On social media, he is active with over 780 thousand followers on Instagram, yet, for most part of his career, Nouah has successfully kept his private life private.

In his opinion, he has given all his life to TV and movies and deserves to keep a part of his life private .

Also, the social media world just feels unreal to him: he can't reach it, he can't feel it, he can't touch it. “I I'm more of the real world. I'm more of me and you, the physical .

He doesn't want to be there, but he doesn't think he has a choice. So he still finds a way to make sure he 'touches base and reach out to certain people.”

 

The social media world is ever buzzing with controversial topics. Recently, it was a conversation about Yahoo boys. Several celebrities joined the conversation, but not Nouah. He rarely shares his opinions online.

According to Nouah, issues such as fraud should be dealt with in a comprehensive manner that takes a lot of things into consideration.

“So if I wanna talk about issues like this, I want to tackle it from the roots and not just tackle it from the stem. If you want us to find ways around it then let us look it from the roots, take it out from there then we can work it out to the stem.”

Nouah is of the opinion that, apart from sharing views online, Nigerians should come together to look for ways to tackle the situation.

Style inspiration 

Nouah describes his style as simple and sophisticated. He believes one could be sophisticated and simple at the same time.

He doesn't want to be all in the place. He loves fluidity and doesn't love to be locked down in so many costume.

“I don't like to come out looking like a mannequin. I like a situation when I talk, I still have the freedom of movement and gesture, and all of that.”

“I flow all ways. I could do hip hop, but not saggy pants. Moses Inwang does saggy pants,” he jokes about the director of his latest film, “Crazy People.”

 

In an industry where becoming an A-List actor is a difficult task, Nouah believes there's no structure to becoming a Genevieve Nnaij, Rita DominiC or RMD.

“Most of all these people that were mentioned weren't concerned about the money behind it or the fame. They were just concerned about the work and the art.”

When they started, they loved the art and gave it everything they had, irrespective of the money.

For 28 years, Nouah has steadily made an indelible mark on Nollywood by carving out a great career for himself in front of the camera, which provides him all the experience to cement his legacy with a stint behind it.

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