In 1991, a young Ramsey Nouah walked into the Surulere, Lagos audition venue of Ralph Nwadike’s now rested soap ‘Fortunes’ and after reading a few lines, got Nwadike screaming ‘This is the guy I’m looking for. This is the guy I’ve been waiting for.” And so began his journey to stardom.
He made his debut in the Nigerian home video industry shortly afterwards. 21 years later and still going strong, Nouah’s performances in movies like ‘Dangerous Twins’ and ‘The Private Storm’, continue to wow his teeming fans. ‘The Figurine’ earned him the Best Actor in a Leading Role award at the 2010 African Movie Academy Academy Awards (AMAA).
Born to a Lebanese-Israeli father and Nigerian mother, the actor has starred in over a hundred movies and still has his eyes on the big picture. In a rare interview, Ramsey Nouah opens up to NEXT on matters close to his heart.
You have not been granting interviews and you’ve been out of the public radar lately. Any reasons?
It is for my absolute peace of mind. The media makes life for everyone in the fame line very unbearable. Just because you are an actor, people feel you have to live your life like Jesus Christ with no blemish and when you do make a mistake the people who are quick to point accusing fingers at you have far more sins than you. I try as much as I can not to do wrong, and when it happens and gets out there, everyone wants to crucify me.
You know bad news fly around like wild fire, so that was why I refused to grant interviews for years because everything that came out at the end of the day was all speculation. My peace of mind means spending quality time with my kids and family and not having to bother about what next I’m doing or where I am.
What was growing up like for you and did you want to be an actor?
No. I wanted to be an aeronautic engineer or pilot but God has a way of changing your destiny. I have no regrets whatsoever. My mum took very good care of me. At age 10, I realised that I had two bikes to myself and then I will fly my kite. Back in the days when boys were using newspapers and ‘eba’ to make kites, my kites were as big as a mini house.
Then at some point everything went down, so I kind of like tasted both sides of the coin. I am happy with where I am today, that God allowed me go through that phase. It gives me room to become very good and versatile, hence I can comfortably play a prince or a pauper.
Lately you have been quite selective about roles and taken parts that have deep characters. Is this deliberate?
I have had my fair share of doing movies, and God knows I can’t count the number of movies I have starred in. It has come to the stage now where you have a lot of Nigerians becoming a lot more aware and interested in Nollywood.
Our movies are now cutting across the middle and higher class and these are the kind of people who are more interested in your capabilities as an actor, producer or director. So it’s high time we started making movies that can cut across all strata of the population.
Any plans to go into movie production?
Yes indeed, some time soon. I will want to leave the front stage when the applause is still high and go [behind the scenes]. I may still keep acting till I am old and gray, but at the same time, I want to leave a good legacy behind in Nollywood so that it doesn’t remain just an ordinary industry without base or quality.
In the near future, I want a situation where parents will encourage their children to be a part of it.
Your performance in ‘The Figurine’ has been hailed as one of your best. Was it your most challenging role?
My most challenging role is yet to come. I have quite a few but for now I will say one of my most challenging roles was ‘Dangerous Twins’; and I liked ‘The Figurine’ a lot. You need to internalise every character before you can play it properly. I have been acting in Nollywood for over 20 years now, so I think you have to give room as an artist to paint the scenario you want to play out as an actor.
I tend to look at roles which various artists around the world have played that are truly captivating and try to internalise it. If it’s a [regular] character like a lover boy, you internalise the love like as though you truly feel it. This is what I do with all my characters.
At some point you were dubbed ‘Nollywood lover boy’, do you still take up such roles?
It was because I was about the only one around; but now we have the likes of Majid Michael, Van Vicker, John Dumelo, Nonso Diobi, and Mike Ezerounye, so it gives room for variety.
What do you look out for in a script?
I like a situation where I cannot predict a script. I have seen a lot of scripts which have thrilled me such that you are caught unawares by the twist. What we have in Nollywood is simple drama, but it is a good thing because we talk about real life drama while Hollywood [has] almost unrealistic stories. Drama is like real life but with all the boring elements taken out.
Are there any roles you can’t take?
I doubt it. I like a situation where I can play all kinds of roles. In my latest movie, ‘Perfect Church’, I was a homosexual pastor. I didn’t like the role at first but I said, ‘Come on Ramsey, don’t be stupid!’ I did not have any homosexual contact in the movie, but it was evident in the dialogue and mannerism. What I did was psyche myself to see my partner as a guy.
What do you love best about being an actor?
I hate watching myself, it’s so hard because I think I don’t get it right. Whenever I dramatise something I feel it so deeply, as though it happened to me in real life.
Which actors inspire you?
Al Pacino. I like him a lot because I use two of his movies to prove versatility. In ‘Scarface’ – he was street tout who became a don but was still a street tout at heart. Then there was a total contrast in ‘The Godfather’ where he was a totally composed Don; and then in ‘Scent of a Woman’, he played a blind guy.
Here in Nigeria, I see Aunty Joke Silva as a very good actor. I never looked up to a lot of Nigerian actors because many of them did not play the character that sort of groomed me. Fadeyi Oloro – Ojo Arowosafe in ‘Arelu’ – was one actor I used to like a lot.
What happened to your music career?
I only sing in my bathroom and I am content with that. I also want to add that I am not on Facebook. My so-called Facebook page is being run by those boys who scam my fans. I have never been on Facebook and up till now I don’t have a record. My wife knows that about me and anyone who is close to me knows that.
It became an issue last year when some magazine said some girl called them from Europe and complained about giving me money on Facebook to do something about an NGO and then I scammed her. The same journalist who called to confirm went back and wrote that I claimed I was not on Facebook. Now everyone knows that ‘claim’ in legal terms can mean denial.
I am also not on twitter but my names are there because some people are using my name and picture. When I come on Facebook, I will post a video there and on YouTube to let people know my true identity and account.
Any plans to feature in any Hollywood/Nollywood movie?
I am content with Nollywood. Truthfully, I feel we have created a niche so much Nollywood is now on the lips of people around the world, so I don’t think I need an American actor or support to blow.