by Ella Bakare
Kelvinmary Ndukwe is an actor, writer and theatre director who started his professional career with Wole Oguntokun’s Renegade Theatre back in 2006. He is now known as Fregene on Africa Magic’s latest telenovela Riona. In this interview, he tells the Film Rats club all about this new journey.
Film Rats: So, first of all, congratulations on AMRiona. The series has been gathering quite the momentum. How does it feel being a part of what is on everyone’s lips? Has anything changed?
Kelvinmary: Thank you very much. Riona has been more than a working experience. It has been a journey to self. A period of balancing properly a process of truth. It’s not my first telenovela. However, it’s the first one I have had to consciously immerse myself into becoming something totally different from not just myself, but every other character I have ever played. To be very honest, a lot has changed. I’d always wanted to make a conscious cross to the screen and working with amazing directors have helped ease the transition. Other projects I’ve done while filming Riona have benefited from the growth and experience.
Film Rats: Interesting. I’m glad you mentioned that Fregene is different from any other character you have played. I watch him sometimes and he is something unusual. From his mannerisms to the natural mischief. What did it take to get into this role? How did Kelvinmary become Fregene?
Kelvinmary: First was to know Fregene. From reading up the character bible to having conversations with the directors and some other key production team members about the defining elements that helped inform decisions on his behavior. The character, like others, is a fully fleshed human simply existing in another realm. It meant he would have to think, live, process information, love, hate, be afraid, show excitement. It was up to me to find how to express those emotions in novel ways. I also asked myself, ‘Do you want the audience to hate him, or love him?’ I ended up choosing to make the audience love to hate him and hate to love him at the same time.
Film Rats: And how have you found the audience reception so far?
Kelvinmary: Overwhelming. They have been very kind with their words. They have such great admiration for Fregene. They love to hate him and hate to love him. As planned.
Film Rats: Lovely. Back to an earlier response about transitioning. You mentioned wanting a smooth transfer from Stage to Screen, is it too early to ask which one’s your favorite?
Kelvinmary: It’s hard to choose. Both mediums have different things to love about them. I love them both. The stage is a beautiful place to be though.
Film Rats: A lot of people know you from the AM Series, but have you ventured into film? If so, how do you find the contrast between television and film?
Kelvinmary: Yes, I have. Film experience in Nigeria is almost the same as television. Television affords you time to live the process I love. Film doesn’t quite go beyond it. But acting is acting. No matter the medium; Television, Film or stage.
Film Rats: Speaking of film experience in Nigeria, I have noticed that the state of Nollywood and the Nigerian film industry in general is often discussed in terms of “what directors need to be doing” or “what screenwriters are getting wrong” What, in your opinion should be the role of actors in getting the film industry to where it needs to be?
Kelvinmary: Act. Be more. I know that it is tempting to recycle because there is not enough time to process becoming a new person and there are bills to pay. However, excellence is key. There needs to be a higher level of intentionality to the work. Actors need only raise the bar. Show new dimensions to the work. Alter the looks, voice and even general appearance. Research some more. Read. Do not be afraid to find the soul of the character you’re playing. Give the characters depth. You see those things you see and admire in Hollywood actors, find it. Retrain. Take breaks. Go to the theatre. Take difficult roles. Stretch. Read, read and read. I know we like to unwind a lot and it is necessary for our minds, but there should be more effects put into being informed and learning and relearning. And basically, the role of the actor is to interpret. Just be a better actor than you were. And find a way to balance commercialization and artistry.
Film Rats: That’s the thing, the atmosphere of the industry does not favour those who want to be authentic and “be more” in their deliveries like you said. How do you personally overcome the pressure to be mediocre especially because you need to be done with one so you can move on to the next and make ends meet?
Kelvinmary: According to Denzel Washington, ‘when you drink water too much, you drown’. Every actor needs to know this. There should be a period to just refuel. When you go to fuel your car, you do not leave your engine running when you refuel. The big paying jobs don’t come because you are everywhere, ask OC Ukeje. Pick the right projects, be intentional. The right jobs will come. And when you are not working, do minor refueling. Relearn. Then push. You need to show up brand new every single time. James McAvoy, Daniel Day Lewis… just raise the bar for excellence and of course, your asking price every time you show up.
Film Rats: In a New York Times interview Viola Davis said “Acting is servicing the writer and transforming into a fully realized human being that is completely different from yourself. Not just a character, a human being”. Do you agree with this definition?
Kelvinmary: Absolutely. She could not have said it better. There’s the actor. There’s the character. There’s the character as written and there’s an elevation that the actor brings to the described character. This elevation is in the fleshing, in the movements, in the speech, in the subtle and exaggerated nuances. Acting is beyond giving life to a character, it is living a character’s life, and the character is never the actor. Never.
Film Rats: Beautiful. Finally, any upcoming projects you feel like telling us about?
Kelvinmary: Some pretty amazing works I can’t speak about as the non-disclosure agreement wouldn’t let me. But amazing works!! Webseries, film and stage.
Film Rats: Exciting! Looking forward to seeing more of your work. Thank you so much for your time.
Kelvinmary: Sure, anytime.