CHIDI Mokeme is a popular Nigerian actor, who has made a name for himself on and off screen. His popularity rose after he hosted the Gulder Ultimate Search reality TV show many years back. Known as one of Nollywood bad boys, this 50-year-old indigene of Oba in Idemili South LGA of Anambra State, Nigeria has been off screen for a while. In this interview with The Nation’s ASSISTANT ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR GBENGA BADA, the father, show host, entrepreneur, and actor opened up on why he has been away from acting, his new role and the psychological effects it had on him.
You haven’t been around for a while, what’s been happening?
Talking about not being in the country, I have always been in and out of the country. I think circumstances like COVID made it look like I haven’t been around for a while when you do extended stays outside the shores of Nigeria. My family has been out of the country for like 12 years now, so I have always been in and out of the country.
You are returning from your hiatus to take on the role of a vicious character, Aboderin, and Scar in the new Netflix show, what does it feel like for you?
It feels good, you know it’s my comfort zone, playing the role of a villain. I like to play the antagonist villain and Scar is the ultimate villain, so it was a really good experience and I loved it. I had orgasms playing Scar from scene to scene, day to day, it was like a kid in a candy store, so creatively for me, as an artist, Scar just brought the opportunity to lay it all bare and say this is why we do what we do, I loved the role.
So, why did you take the role, and what was your reaction like after getting the script?
After coming back from a hiatus, you know due to COVID-19 that put the world on a standstill and you come back to get a script written by Xavier Ighorodje and Chichi Nworah, I got the script for Shanty Town, but when I read it, I exclaimed like what, are you guys really ready for this? Really, that was my first reaction when I read the script because I just thought about it and said to myself, these people have come again, they will write this humongous script and when they get on set, they won’t be able to pull it through, so that was my first question. I asked if they were ready and the producer responded affirmatively saying they have notable practitioners like RMD, Sola Sobowale, Ali Nuhu, Shaffy, Zuby, Nse, and Ini Edo and I said well, if you are ready as you said, then let’s shoot this today. That was how I felt because prior to the day of getting the script, I had plans to go for some functions, so when the script dropped on my phone, I said, okay, let me just read one page so I can convince those on the project that I have read it and before I knew it, it was 4 AM and I couldn’t put my phone down. I picked up my phone and called those behind the project at the same time that you gave me a script that couldn’t make me sleep, so, let’s go and shoot this right now.
What can you tell me about your character?
Shanty Town as a show is very interesting and Scar was a character that was more interesting such that I could have done it for free for the depth of the story.
What were the extra things you had to do to get into character and get it right?
I just went back to the streets. As an artist, what I do and I do well is observing people. Anywhere I am, I am observing everyone around me, the situations, how they talk, their reaction, and more because that’s the pool of knowledge we draw from when it is time to play some of these roles.
For Scar was like the ultimate area boy, the area boy of the area boys so I had to go to the ghetto, I went to Shitta in Surulere, it was an area I was already familiar with growing up in the neighbourhood, so I went there in disguise and after spending two hours, I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to wake Scar up because I could see different elements and components of Scar in people walking around, the way they were walking, talking, things they were doing, the kind of music that was blasting from all of the speakers and from there I took my next inspiration because I knew I needed to pick all of these sounds that they were listening to and saturate my mind with all these languages.
So, I went to Naira Marley, Olamide, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, King Sunny Ade, Pasuma, all the boys, and all the local stuff. I dug out all the music and listened to everything they had put out and listened to them on and on. I did this because I needed to be in a particular mindset, these boys pick slang from nowhere, slangs around them is manufactured per second billing and when a new slang comes, the next person understands right away, so you need to be in a certain frame of mind and mindset to be able to open yourself up like that especially an old school like me feeling accomplished and arrived, so I had to remove the garb of Chidi Mokeme and put Scar on and as soon as we put all the components together, cooked it, we had a good soup in Shanty Town.
Psychologically, how long did it take you to drop the whole character?
Scar took pretty much five months of my life because actually, it took some time. Withdrawing myself from the regular things I do. I remember that the set I went to after shooting Shanty Town suffered from Scar’s character because the director had to say I needed some time to get back into the role because I was supposed to be a loving guy, a nice loving husband but I was treating the woman badly and he wondered if it was still the last character that I played, so Scar took some time for me to crawl out of the shell. It took some time.
Shanty Town is majorly anchored on Scar’s character, did that put any form of pressure on you?
No, I think the only pressure that I have is one of a performer which is welcomed. A performance pressure that expects you to make sure you have dotted your Is and crossed your Ts and I always say as a performer when you hear the action, you get that butterfly but that butterfly rather than anxiety for me that butterfly was making me remember all the points that I want to make on set or a particular scene.
So, from that point of view, that was the only pressure, hence, the pressure was from me on me to be sure that the work that I thought that I have done that I can put out here and say director, here you go. Other than that, there was no pressure from anywhere, I had seasoned actors left right, and centre, it was healthy competition, so are you ready, bring your A game. One thing I remember I used to do was that I never go to set with my script, I had no script on set because I had everything in my head, everybody’s line, in fact, the whole story in my head after I had convinced myself that this story is all about Scar, so if you miss your line, I give you your line. So, the pressure was self-imposed to be sure that I delivered on the job.
Playing Scar, there were some raunchy scenes and probably never seen before scenes of you grabbing women’s bums and boobs, tell me about all those moments on set
Basically, at that moment, I was not thinking about doing that, I was focused on fulfilling the expected mannerism and characterisation of Scar, hence, it was no feelings or thoughts. After the scene, then Chidi gets to remember that Scar did all this and that because Chidi would never do that. So at that moment, you have given yourself totally to the character and I can tell you that Scar was actually crazy because those things have never been done on Nigerian TV.
As I said in those scenes and during those moments, it shows how deeply engrossed I was in the character I played, even the same thing Jackie, played by Mercy Eke. She understood that this was not Mercy but Jackie who has found herself in this situation and this kind of touches helped Jackie to be in her character because at that time she was wondering is this the kind of life I want to live because what Scar is doing is to announce that as long as she or any of the girls remain in Shanty Town, he owns them and it’s either you are there or not and Scar finds the most demeaning ways to let the girls and everyone know that he’s in charge.