Footprints on Canvas
It no longer news that Richard Eyimofe Evans Mofe-Damijo, popularly known as RMD, a Nigerian actor, writer, producer and lawyer recently celebrated his 60th birthday.The former Commissioner for Culture and Tourism of Delta state is an award winning actor, and also a recipient of the Life Time Achievement award from the African Movie Academy Awards. The super star who also proudly describes himself as a Warri Boy recently had a superlative birthday celebration with friends, family, business associates and Nollywood industry colleagues.
Hollywood has Denzel Washington, Nollywood has RMD! Tall, dark and handsome, both actors have mastered their craft with age and experience. This makes Richard even more irresistible when it comes to leading roles in most Nollywood blockbusters. Till date, no male actor holds the same appeal or are as captivating on screen…several decades after! RMD remains one of the most respected and celebrated actors in Africa.
The graduate of Theatre Arts from University of Benin has featured in a lot of movies, stage plays and TV series that has made him a household name with fans worldwide. Mofe-Damijo was married to Nigerian journalist/publisher, May Ellen-Ezekiel (MEE). After her death in 1996, Richard Mofe-Damijo married TV personality, Jumobi Adegbesan, who later left TV for the corporate world. They are blessed with six children:
RMD spoke to AZUKA OGUJIUBA about his new book “The Portrait Of A Warri Boy”, his newly launched perfume called Timeless and his journey so far to the 6th floor.
The entertainment industry has moved in leaps and bounds over the past few years so much that is has provided a robust means of livelihood for the major players. In music for instance, some well-known artists have been known to make hundreds of millions within a short space of time, especially during the festive seasons. Same applies to comedians and even MC’s. But what we find odd is that the Nollywood industry, though immensely popular, cannot command the same level of fees. For instance, there’s still no actor who can command N10million for a movie, even a Triple A-list actor, like you. Why is it so?
I think that question puts me in a spot, but I’m 60 so it gives me wings. I don’t know about other actors and I don’t think that’s quite true. But again, acting is an art form that is different from music because it takes a village to do though not a big village in some cases. God takes a very long period of time to also put together. Because of all the moving parts, the Film/Theater industry is still not an area that investment can be defined. It is not an area that is clearly understood. So, in return, investment is pretty slow. People are slower to respond to that. And so yes, comedians make a lot more. I recall, Alibaba was shocked when we were doing Wedding Party 1. He came to me about the amount he was offered. He said “Bros, na so? I go make this money in one hour doing MC, so wetin dey make you still dey do am na?” Now, you understand. It is the love of passion. I tell them as well, there are occasions I would be called to MC and for two hours, I will make five million.
I will do a film but it is the brand work I do that is the payoff really, so it’s sort of a delicate balance. You do some of these things to get out there and then you’re noticed. You then build your brand around what you do. So your body of works guarantees that you get endorsements and brand influencing work.
You’re like an enigma who can do no wrong in the eyes of your fans especially the ladies. How have you been able to still maintain a strong sex appeal even with the flux of much younger men on screen?
Oh, it has to be Grace. I mean, I’m far from being perfect. I am flawed, and as broken as the next person, it has to just be immeasurable grace of God upon my life and also on the flip side, I have been around for such a long time. I have been working in the creative space pre and post graduation and youth service for 37 years. If I was a civil servant, I would have retired by now. I’ll be retiring this year.
You we’re extremely jubilant on your birthday celebration. Dancing the night away with so much energy.
I had said in an interview before that none of my parents made it to 60 and it was only now, that the interview came out, that I’m now reading about other stars, film actors and celebrities that have had such fears. There are people who genuinely have fears where the specter of death just keeps hanging around them because of what is happening in their personal space or what is happening to their families. So when you are getting to that age where probably your father died, you start feeling maybe the same will happen to you. I mean, I crossed all the lines my parents didn’t cross. So for me, getting to 60, was one of gratitude and expressing that with my dancing! Outside of that, there’s no time I hear good Nigerian music, especially with my favorite band on stage, Vintage band that l will not dance!
When I woke up the next day, I opened my phone as I had tried not to oversleep so I could thank all my well wishers on my page. The first thing l saw was a video of me dancing. I opened other handles and they all had more videos of me dancing all over. I decided to go back to bed. When l woke up again, I just went straight to my page, thanked everyone and left. I would do more later tonight. I still have messages from my birthday that I haven’t opened.
So its safe to say dancing is something you thoroughly enjoy doing?
I’m an honorable man. I’m very cultural, I love to dance. There was a colloquium that was held in my in my honor three days before my birthday called Real Man Can Dance hosted by lot of my personal friends across America and here. A lot of people who knew me from my University days know I love to dance especially for what we used to call dance drama in those days. The Americans call them Musicals. So I’ve always loved that. Anytime I hear good traditional music, I Just dance. I can’t sing to save my life though! (Laughter)
Stage drama is actually globally recognized as a more raw craft because there are no retakes even though movies are more commercial and perhaps more profitable in terms of earning power. When last were you on stage?
I’m a graduate of theater, I was trained basically for the stage first. The last stage production I did was actually a musical drama in Abuja called Agbaro The Musical. That was shortly before the pandemic. So yes, I’m looking forward to more of that.
Joke Jacobs and I have tried to do one or two plays for some time now but we haven’t been able to get the right sponsor or the right mix for it. I’m hoping that when the pandemic is fully over, I’ll have a chance to go.
As actors mature with age, there is an invisible ceiling for female actors as opposed to the male actors as there usually is less demand for women. This is a global phenomenon where the men can still play lead roles even with much younger female actors. Why is the case different with females?
I don’t think that is true. I think that it is a question of the body of works, I mean Meryl Streep is still performing and that’s at the highest level, Judi Dench, to name a few, they are all performing at the highest level.
Women practically control Nollywood today. It’s your pedigree that that determines whether you’re going to keep working for the longest time. Men might seem more advantaged but that’s not the case because for them, it’s also a question of the pedigree. I’m trying to choose my words carefully so they don’t come for me. (Laughter)
So how do you choose your roles these days and how soon do you know what you connect with? Do the story writers have to have earned their stripes before you even glance at the script?
Oh no, the story writers, don’t have to be known. In fact, there is less pressure when you are not known because you work your ass off to be known! For storylines, I look for the ‘redemptive element’. The characters have to have a curve, people like to be able to relate to a character that is as broken as they are, and can rise up from the brokenness and achieve something. So you start off with a straight line, it curves, but you’re able to wake up, get out of it again and stand up. It’s not about how many times you fall. It’s about how many times you can rise up.
Marriages of public figures are viewed much closer than the average person’s which can put undue pressure on the union, sometimes, even the premature death of it. Your wife shies away from limelight. Is there any reason why?
My wife was in the limelight and she is the architect of the survival of this marriage because she stepped back. She said to me, “One person is enough”. Amazing sacrifice!
I say to her all the time, “l don’t know what I did to deserve you”. She’s been the glue that holds us all together. I feel also that my life is in transit. My life is about trying to be better every day.
Marriage is a journey you can never really predict but if the partners are committed to it, you do everything within your power to make sure it works. We are very close. I’m an only child of my mother and was brought up in complete love. I don’t know how to dispense anything else. My father had five wives and l grew up in a polygamous home. My grandmother was around, so was my auntie and cousin. Okay, father had 18 of us and five wives buy I’ve learned to live with people, learned to love fun. My parents didn’t make 60. My mom was 59. My father was 57. So at 60, l feel so blessed, I feel that nothing can stop me now.
How do you cope with the unwelcome attention from public especially when it comes to your private life. How do you draw a line with your privacy while still staying connected with your fans?
It’s a long time. Now I have learned to live with it. I embrace it. I think my approach to life is that whatever is thrown at me or whatever I’m going through, l embrace it and own it. There are fans that will break through and get you angry. But for the most part, I also try to be in their shoes and forgive them. I was at the airport one day and this lady looked at me and said “RMD, come take a picture with my kids”. I smiled and after the picture session, I told her that was rude, no regard or anything, she apologized.
You get all kinds. Some people just come drag you and put a camera in front of you and snap away because some of them get too excited and don’t know how to conduct themselves properly. So you make excuses for them. Sometimes though, you have to be firm. I’m polite, but I can also be very firm.
As a public figure what is your take on domestic violence?
I’m an advocate for non-violence in the home. Mindsets and exposure is what you work on. How you control your emotions even when you lose it. It’s not just about my wife, I can’t hit a woman, it’s almost like a taboo in my head. I always caution my kids. My daughter was a bit aggressive to her brother the other day and they started fighting. I said to my son “You don’t touch her, you don’t talk to her like that, you protect her!” I also reprimand my daughter for her behavior. My mom brought me up to respect women, to be sensitive and sensible. So for me, with my boys and my girls, my first instinct is to hug and to embrace. I live to protect and serve my family. They mean the world to me. A man’s job is to serve and to protect his family. And so if everybody applies that principle, imagine how every man would feel towards his wife or towards his children through loving and protecting them. We are all commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, right? It’s an incredible message the Christian faith teaches and other religions. We’ve lost our humanity and ability to love, and that is what all of this is about.
When it comes to domestic violence, what if the role is reversed where the woman is the abuser?
If it ever gets to that, I would restrain. And of course the best way to actually dissolve it is to never hit back.
What advice would you give to the younger ones in your field about staying in power in your craft?
The thing about staying power is the ability to adapt. In it’s original state, even in all the madness and the rush of today, we’re still able to pause and recognize the trait as a classic. That is why I’ll always respect the process of building blocks aura.
Whatever is the rush of getting rich, there’s still a process. Stop being consumed by the success of Uber, it took people years to build the App.
Do not envy the success of people’s processes. The result is always a lot more profound than shortcuts. Shortcuts are the results of very extensive work that have been done and perfected. And so these shortcuts are presented by those who know the process of all that long work.
You launched a perfume on your birthday. What is it called?
My wife actually launched it in honor of me, but like I said, she has always loved perfumes. And it’s called Timeless. She would put them in shops for now, if you go to Blends and Blings online, her online shop, there are also house sprays and all kinds of unisex things actually.
Tell us about your book you launched at your 60th Portrait of A Warri Boy.
It’s about 22 or so people from my life. There’s one chapter each about my childhood, Law school, in fact, every facet of my life is represented in this book. But my real memoir is coming out, I’m still writing it. I had planned to give that to my fans but then again, it’s a good thing I haven’t finished it because at least, I’ve about another 10 years now to put that together. I will bring it out on my 70th, in Jesus name(Amen).
Are you involved in any charitable ventures?
I’m one of those who believe that charity is not a thing you publicize. I do that all the time with my wife but we do not announce it so that we get accolades for it.
Do you by chance, think that in future, you might go into politics?
How much future is there? I mean I’m 60.
Unfortunately In Nigeria, it’s not about being liked. I think the political terrain is skewed. It’s tougher than just being liked, it’s run by party structures and if you don’t belong to the party, to emerge for leadership becomes even tougher. And I haven’t seen an unexamined process that has been constituted today, I don’t see myself in the mix, unfortunately. And I’ve also come to realize that not all of us can be in that circle to meet. So I’m leading from my sector, I’m leading by example. In fact, the bigger you are in your profession, the more responsibilities you have to show leadership. So for me, I pray that my leadership in my sector inspires as many people as possible to conduct their affairs with as much moderation as I’ve tried to do mine. Having said that, never say never to being called to higher things. I hope that with technology, with biometrics and FinTech technology, some days soon, electoral processes will be a lot more digitized so the fraud can be significantly reduced, and votes can begin to count based on knowledge, power, ability, sincerity and integrity. Perhaps when all of those elements came to count, and people are able to get into that space, it can be an option to consider but for now, what we’ll do is to lead from our spaces and also encourage people who like to lead in their spaces to be driven, not by the need to make money but to serve, because politics is a call to service, a very strong call and when you’re able to do that well, people will be happy.
You’re one of the respected actors in Africa, lf the opportunity arose for you to work with somebody, who will that be?
One of my most respected actors is Denzel Washington, I would love to work with him, not just for his arts, but also for his off-screen presence and performance. He’s one of the people who inspire me a lot because of how he conducts himself. I would love to work with Morgan Freman as well. I love Will Smith. My wife and I actually joke that if Will Smith comes to Nigeria, I won’t find for a while, and if I wanted to find her, I should just look for where Will Smith is as she’d probably be stalking him! (Laughter). I love his energy as well, though he’s going through quite a lot, he’s such a positive human being and I just love how he is. There’s also Dwayne Johnson, Al Pacino, Robert de Niro….the list is almost endless. In Nigeria, I like to work with the young talented people, I love their energy.