Moshood Fattah has nothing to prove and an industry to conquer

By: Uche Chika Elumelu

 

FREEDOM PARK: Beneath the noonday sun, on a slightly-worn park bench, I wait. Bare-faced, scantily accessorized with the twins breathing freely underneath my flowery jumpsuit. I seem to blend in quite nicely with the peaceful scenery, but wait – how could nature’s chorus on a fine Saturday afternoon be so rudely interrupted by all that honking in the surrounding streets? Well, Eko l’awa. Little wonder Moshood was particular about meeting up here; their common traits are hard to miss. With him, the paradoxes hit you every day on a whole new level; what’s not to love? What’s not to hate? What’s not to marvel at?

I do not have to look up to sense his presence. That deep, rich timbre rings through the air, filling up the yards between us. If Moshood’s voice were a person, it would have a much higher body-count than him. Amolegbe (meaning ‘The purest of his peers’) is his middle name, originally his late grandfather’s – it’s ironic that he expunges the name at every opportunity, although I find that he somehow lives up to it. His outfit today is a white T-shirt on vintage damask shorts (which I found out later was in fact re-cut from his grandfather’s Sokoto) paired with similarly patterned sneakers. Not only is Moshood’s style undiluted by current trends, he looks and smells fresh too. When I try to point out how these facts connect to his grandfather, he is dismissive at first but gives it a moment’s thought and grudgingly agrees. On several occasions, Moshood has endorsed my fashion choices so it’s scarcely surprising that today we both have matching accessories; his wrist band and my earrings are both adorned in cowries and we so happen to have pimples on the same side of our noses! “It was a gift from Evaezi [Ogoro],” he says when I comment on the wrist band. “My ex gave me these earrings” would have been my most natural answer but this is not my interview. Or is it?

Nigerian actor, Moshood Fattah is a graduate of Performing Arts from the University of Ilorin. As an acting and directing student there, Fattah was closely tutored by ace actor, Ayo Akinwale. The 28 year old is taking no prisoners. In 2016, he bagged his Master’s degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Lagos, specializing in New Nigerian Cinema. Not one to rest on his oars, Moshood continues to hone his creative skills in film, TV and total theatre practice through extensive research, workshops and collaborations. Those who know him can attest to his penchant for reading; making conversations with him is nothing but absolute joy. Before long, his adventurous spirit led him to experimenting with short films – Acid Test (2012) & Rage Age (2014); both of which were written and directed by him. In his burgeoning acting career, popular Nigerian film actors such as Wale Ojo, Femi Jacobs, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Osas Ighodaro Ajibade, Uru Eke, Femi Branch and Kalu Ikeagwu to name a few, have had the pleasure of working with this talented individual. Critically-acclaimed directors such as Bolanle Austen-Peters (BAP), Najite Dede, Niyi Akinmolayan, Editi Effiong and Charles Inojie (The Johnsons) have also worked with him.

Work aside, the felinophile prides himself in being a passionate environmentalist, pro-African thinker, “practical feminist”, and fashion enthusiast. These converging interests seem to serve a purpose much higher than him – “to rouse a new wave of African thinkers and push the continent forward by playing intellectually inspiring characters, writing and producing insightful stories that question society and challenge culture.”

“Stop it jooor! I feel so vulnerable,” he laments in his signature nasal tone. It’s about my constant jotting, so I stop – for a minute. Public Announcement: Dear Reader, kindly note that ALL puns herein are fully intended. Moshood does not toy with his breakfast so we take a stroll to the food court. He orders some chicken wrap from a guy who in Moshood’s words has “good skin and bad teeth.” Under the tent, I watch his 5ft 7-inch frame descend into the seat opposite me. “This wrap is really good! It just looked Jewish to me at first,” Fattah remarks amidst a mouthful. I would naturally have tackled him in my signature “trying-to-be-politically-correct” tone but I don’t. Why? I’m still focused on his lavishly oiled legs! He quickly apologises and explains that he meant the wrap looked “righteous… I mean very lean and without junk. Oh shit, you’re not going to write that down right?” I jot again.

The many faces of Moshood are, as you would find, markedly unique. Whether it’s Gwanza, the blond-haired rogue in Butcher & the Bridge; Adimogbia, the happy-go-lucky lad in HeartBeat the Musical; Babankowa, the stern policeman in Fela & the Kalakuta Queens or Jeffery Jaja, the cocky creative in the soon to be released short film And the Winner is, you’re in for a surprise at every turn. After years of knowing and working with him, I realise now that the genius of Moshood as an actor is not so much in performance but in the thought process that inspires the personality traits, line delivery and aura of the characters he plays. Film actor, Femi Jacobs, a mutual friend of ours, attests to this fact too. I seem quite generous with the compliments, don’t I? Well, it all started with a compliment; our friendship I mean. It was the day we honoured our first call backs for Heartbeat the Musical (there were about six audition stages in all), his very artistic pair of pants caught my eye. I complimented him and well, look where it has gotten me.

Heartbeat the Musical was our first gig together and my first musical after graduation. In the bid to play ‘Eseosa Njoku’ to perfection and distinguish myself on the Lagos scene, I didn’t seem to pick up on the signs that Moshood was going through a lot at the time. “It was a very, very eventful 2016; my mind and body had been through a lot. I was just concerned about not dying. Finally, I was advised to get a distraction; preferably work. So, I started auditioning for roles and got to play Adimogbia.” From a huge health scare, multiple muscle spasms and plummeting self-esteem, I saw this young man rise above it all. I remember seeing him bounce back after one weekend, bursting with new energy and owning the role. I was like, “Yes, someone’s got a new vibe.” He says a phone call with his ex was the nitro that pumped him back to full speed, but when I try to inquire about this certain ex, he shakes his head and sips some water. Nonetheless, I learned an important life lesson from Moshood – people might be there for you in tough times but only you can take the life-changing decisions. Once he got his confidence back, petty issues like people preferring his double to him or insinuating he wasn’t good enough, fell flat. We went on to play opposite each other in over 30 exhilarating shows. Gosh, Moshood and I make memories for a living!

A cat who appears to strut around Freedom Park with a Destiny’s Child track playing in its ear pops by our table. You can be certain of who reaches out to the animal first, “Survivor! What an interesting name.” I am extremely uncomfortable at this point. The dark-furred feline relishes Moshood’s constant stroking a little too overtly, as though trying to spite his not-so-friendly companion – me. Isn’t it funny how different Moshood is from the archetypal cat-lover? I’m not one to easily put on labels, but if you’d once again excuse my pun, he is quite the cool cat himself. Freddie Mercury, whom he absolutely adores, was also a cat-lover. “Apart from being a huge fan, I actually feel a deep connection to him. My late uncle gave me a jacket that looks a lot like one piece Freddie Mercury once wore. Fuck, I am never giving that shit away.”

When my friend booked a role in Fela & the Kalakuta Queens, I was very happy for him. I, on the other hand, had just been cast to play a role on the Africa Magic hit TV show Ajoche, and although I was sad because it meant we weren’t going to be hanging out as much as we used to, I chose to be happy for the possibilities these gigs would open up for us. Bolanle Austen-Peters (BAP) placed so much trust in his acumen that she gave him the freedom to blossom in a way that almost made him unrecognizable. Moshood would later be cast in another BAP production as Ela in Moremi the Musical. Unfortunately I couldn’t see the latter last Christmas because I was playing Queen Amina of Zazzau in Legends the Musical and he hounds me for it till this day, although he is happy that the reason why I couldn’t see it was because of work. Our industry is a fickle one; the jobs and the people, so these days of work and recognition must be cherished. That said, his performance as a police officer in Fela & the Kalakuta Queens was so impeccable I couldn’t shake off the feeling I had that moment when he as Sergeant Babankowa makes his first appearance, coming up the stage with a swagger that is half feline-half gangster, without saying a word – he had the audience in his grasp.

After the show, he introduced me to another cast on the show, the famous actress Osas Ajibade as his “very intelligent friend”. I felt that tug at the heartstrings you feel when you sense you’ve been replaced. Osas was very warm and pleasant though. His friendship with fellow cast member – film actress and producer, Uru Eke is another relationship I admire. I know they have a project in the works to be released later this year and in it Moshood plays a gender-fluid character. The character was originally written as a farcical one; the stereotypical feminine/gay man at the gym trying to get the trainer’s attention but Moshood hated that idea. “According to Denzel Washington, your first three roles determine your trajectory in the industry. I didn’t want this to be my first major film role neither did I want to lose this opportunity, so I spoke to Uru and thankfully she was open to hearing me give my opinions on the character and how I intended to weave things into the fabric of the movie. I asked if the character could be more Prince or David Bowie and less Bobrisky. I also wanted the character to be seen doing some serious work. I just didn’t want to promote that negative stereotype but more importantly I wanted the character to show that you can be and do whatever you want to be and still be responsible. I was listening to a lot of Madonna at the time. Express Yourself!” I heave a huge sigh and then it clicks that I may have seen a picture of the character on his Instagram page. I scroll through his interesting collection of pictures. “Are you wearing sheer?”

A couple of months ago, our paths crossed again and you can imagine my excitement when I found out we were set to make art together! I was fresh off Ajoche and neck-deep in rehearsals for The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives when Debola Ogunshina called. After I read the script, he asked me whom I thought the Jeffery Jaja character could have been written for. It was a no-brainer, really. After a number of rehearsals and rewrites, principal photography for And the Winner is (ATWI) was upon us. I literally never saw Moshood stop. That night, seeing him give it 100% challenged me to give ‘Folake’ my all. You just knew that he was born to do this. Actually, Moshood was going to be a lawyer. He would have followed in the footsteps of his father and uncles. It wasn’t until his re-enactment of the famous Gold Circle Raincoat advert in his parents’ living room at about 3 years old that the dice were thrown. “I was watching that commercial on YouTube some weeks ago and guess what – the character I mimicked was played by the iconic Tunji Sotimirin who is a lecturer at the department of Creative Arts, Univeristy of Lagos where I did my Master’s… That’s some full circle shit, I screamed. He lit the fire in me!” All thanks to Uncle Akeem, who was quite the family Lothario. Well, I guess he did follow in one uncle’s footsteps after all.

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(NB: This clip is cut into three parts, view the rest on my page) 3/3: The camera was not supposed to leave my face for the entirety of that monologue. We shot it twice- and after the last one I walked off the set and got on my way to Lagos. At rehearsals later that day, I was given a new song to learn. I wasn't paid to give excuses so I nailed it. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. But really, I'd only take such risks for friends. Thanks @deblasanta for casting me just by watching me behave at a party. Thanks @teefos2 for letting me rehearse 1000 times with you. Thanks @uchechika_e for being such a consummate professional. Didn't you also have rehearsals for another play in Lagos that morning? 🤣🤣🤣 #actors #indiefilm #nigeria #film #blackactors @ronyamanarts @ishayabako @bolanleaustenpeters @najitedede @auditions.ng @ebonylifetv @topeoshinfilm @genevievennaji @davidoyelowo @johnboyega @officialosas @lalaakindoju @glazedlens @omonioboli

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After my relationship ended in 2017, the Hero Syndrome lurked. Moshood was always there to listen when he felt I wanted to talk. It has always been our thing – words. We have sarcasm for breakfast, puns for lunch and shade in between meals. There’s a strong No-Dinner policy, though. (That’s true. Guy, how’s that coming?). Talking to him always felt like a mindless binge somewhere in the middle of a strict diet plan, and at some point I wanted more, but I’ll never forget the honesty in his eyes as he fed me some hard truths. If there was anything I didn’t need then, it was a rebound. Now, I’m two years wiser and thankful that it didn’t spoil our friendship.

Still, a part of me sees Moshood as a commitment phobe. I have never known him to be a one-woman man. Could there be a lucky gir… individual? Yesterday, as I reveled in the loveliness of my partner’s company, I stumbled on Moshood’s artsy and highly secretive Whatsapp status updates. His Instagram page (thankfully) doesn’t reflect a quarter of Moshood’s mind and for his own good, I’m glad it doesn’t. His Whatsapp status on the other hand is a riot! “Jay-Z and Beyonce have probably been the most influential figures in my life in the last three years. Lemonade, 4:44 and their joint album ‘Everything Is Love’, is a very personal collection because errrm… it mirrors the things my parents have been through. Beyonce’s Lemonade album articulated the story of my family and Sandcastles is therapy. That experience matured me.” These words certainly sound like music to my ears. It means my friend is capable, if not ready, to give himself to someone soon. Those Whatsapp confessions from a couple of days ago now make a lot of sense, I tease. He already has a smirk on his face. “Love is not because, it is in spite of-imperfections…” So yesterday, I sort of paid tribute to the kind of love that people have had to fight for.” Just as I make to pen down some important notes, he continues; “Then, I broke a promise I made to myself never to have random sex on Valentine’s Day.” And he’s back!

As the cool breeze sends our table napkins dancing in the air, the conversation is itself swayed from St. Valentine to his patron saint, Esu (not Satan but the Yoruba god of mischief; contrary to popular belief, they are different entities). Apparently, Moshood became obsessed with the deity in his third year at university. After delivering an electrifying performance as Esu in Duro Ladipo’s Eda, he delved deeper into the god’s mysterious workings. “I actually wanted to write a paper indicating the place and importance of Esu in African Theatre. Many characters in African stories embody the concept of Esu and these characters are often times catalysts to the story’s progression.” If this theory is anything to go by, Tyler Perry’s Madea readily comes to mind. He admits that Jeffery Jaja from And The Winner is is a tribute to Esu which ultimately informed the red and black ensemble Jeffery dons in the film but I am not done talking about his relationships and this time with people he doesn’t sleep with.

You often hear Moshood talk about his ‘brothers’. What a lot of people don’t know is that he is in fact, an only child. Badeji and Rasheed are longtime friends of his from University, but he immediately corrects me about the latter, that’s my brother, no one knows me like he does, and when I speak to them days later I understand why.

“Moshood loves attention but is not easily swayed by people’s opinions. He can be over-calculative, and doesn’t hesitate to cut toxic people off because his happiness is very important to him. He is genuinely caring; I remember one time in school, I fell asleep after dinner. He actually tucked me in! Then, in my final year he flew to Ilorin to see my final-year performance after giving me the impression that he couldn’t make it. I was very touched.” – Rasheed

“Moshood’s a cheerful giver; he always wants you to make the best out of yourself and even though he doesn’t act like it, he’s really caring. On the eve of his birthday in 2012, I got into a fight and he was very angry at me. He threatened to call off his birthday plans and I was shocked. It made me see him in a whole new light. Our fun memories in school include cold mornings at EDLT, streaming music live from the internet and researching further on things we were taught in class. Good times!” – Badeji

As much as I’d love to tease, I know they’re right. He is a sweetheart when he wants to be. In the autobiographical stage play Sad Pink, Moshood plays himself. It is one of his favourite acting moments. He tells the moving story of his mother’s battle with breast cancer. When she was going to have Moshood’s younger sibling, the family was going through a lot. She terminated that pregnancy so she could focus on raising him alone. Apparently, women with one child or no children at all are more susceptible to the disease. “She took that one off for me! Maybe if she had more children, she wouldn’t have had that issue. Growing up I hated that I was an only child but now ehn, I’m grateful. I can’t even imagine the things I enjoy now being halved because of one yeye sibling.” Ironically Moshood wants to have about 4 kids, when I ask him why…

“Cos I’m an asshole. I think I would have been less selfish if I grew up with siblings. Sometimes I think I don’t deserve my friends.”

Speaking of friends, he says he has quite a lot of great friends and is so in love with them that he isn’t really open to adding more especially “from our industry”. “It`s going to take a lot to break into that inner circle,” he said. I ask if I’m in that circle but he smiles and sips water. I think he’ll make a great father.

Nothing however, gets Moshood into nurturing mode quite like conversations about saving the environment. “The greatest reward for a talent well used is a better world for others.” Some people might wonder why environmental conservation means so much to an actor. “Due to its non-biodegradable nature, plastic waste wreaks a lot of havoc in today’s ecosystem. I read it somewhere that by 2050, there would be more plastic in the water than fish. Without going into technical jargon, I think it’s pretty obvious what the repercussions will be – malaria, water pollution and contamination of seafood, but these are just the littlest of the problems we stand to face.” To this effect, Moshood recently got himself a water dispenser to cut down on buying packs of bottled water weekly. He has two tote bags – a small one he carries around in his knapsack incase he wants to buy anything that would otherwise be packed in a plastic bag and a bigger one for major grocery shopping. He also re-uses his plastic eating bowl. “It was strange at first, but the food vendors are getting used to me now. Because of me, my mother is trying to use less plastic too. I should take this shit to Instagram.” I really hope he does.

Presidential elections are literally hours away. The postponement of election dates from the week before has spread tensions across the country. I wonder if at some point in his career, Moshood would ever be open to publicly endorsing a political candidate. “Celebrities have always been instrumental in presidential campaigns and policies. In the US for example, there was Elvis Presley and Nixon, Michael Jackson and Reagan, Jay-Z and Obama, Frank Sinatra and Kennedy. These alliances are usually mutually beneficial. I could endorse a political candidate but I have to truly believe in their policies.” I hate to admit it but I will not be voting but Moshood will and he teases me for not having a PVC, although he doesn’t sound like he really believes in the process. Well, come 2023 I must be a registered voter. In the spirit of elections I ask him who he’d vote as his favourite actor and he says he can’t mention one but will give me five. In no particular order; Genevieve Nnaji, “she was the first Nigerian I saw act in a very natural way”, Judi Dench: “HER ENTIRE LIFE – her grace, work ethic and humility“, Opeyemi Dada: “because his extensive range reminds me of the late Robin Williams. He can mimic anything”, Edward Norton: I’ve probably seen Birdman over 30 times, and finally, Daniel Day-Lewis: “I want his career. I loved him in My Left Foot and Gangs of New York. His dedication and commitment inspires me. I also like that he’s not about the glitz and glam. He seems very grounded. I don’t want success to change me.”

The clock strikes 7. It means we have been at this for more than five hours. My phone battery is almost flat from all that recording and my mother’s incessant calls. She clearly advised that I be back home before my shadow lengthens. When my boyfriend starts calling too, I know she has served him an award-winning plea. She’s scared of pre-election violence. We walk out of the park to our waiting vehicles- or so we hope. It takes another couple of minutes to contact new drivers. When Moshood’s ride finally arrives, he offers to wait till my ride pulls up. The QC girl in me wants to oblige him but I’ve been in too many Twitter gender arguments for comfort. Tail lights flash before my eyes as I wave to him and my good night’s sleep for the next three weeks at least.

Beneath the half moon, in a midnight blue Toyota Corolla, I sit.

Looking through the rearview mirror, the driver asks me. “Can I start the trip?” I nod. Minutes later I text Moshood, thanking him for being very open with me. He replies with a laughing emoji.

“If you say so…”

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