AN INTERVIEW WITH NONSO ANOZIE
By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Friday, March 27, 2009.
Over 30 performers, dance, drumming and storytelling; this rare production of a Wole Soyinka’s classic at the National Theatre’s Olivier, should be spectacular.
Nonso Anozie plays the lead role of Elesin Oba (the King’s horseman). The versatile actor has already made a name for himself; appearing in the classics of British theatre (an award-winning Othello; King Lear) and more mainstream work including David Mamet’s Edmond, World Music at Sheffield Crucible and White Folk at the Tricycle. You may also have seen him on the big screen in Cass, Rock ‘n’ Rolla, Happy-Go-Lucky, Atonement and The Last Legion.
Although Anozie’s heritage is Igbo, southeastern Nigeria, he is proud to be portraying the southwest Nigeria’s Yoruba heritage. As part of his preparation for Death and The King’s Horseman - which dramatises the manifestation of an important ritual to ask questions about the human condition - the actor has pored through Soyinka’s memoir, and awakened an interest in other Nigerian authors such as Chinua Achebe.
As opening night approaches he’s not been distracted by strange pre-show controversies over Black actors ‘whitening up.’
He says: “It’s a great opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. Rehearsals have lived up to all of my expectations; and I have discovered new things everyday. I’m really looking forward to opening night.”
The 20-something performer is not daunted by the size of the production either. Joined by co-stars Kobna Holbrook-Smith ( from Playboy of the West Indies), Jenny Jules (Fabulation) and Lucian Msmati (The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency), he states that: “I’m just enjoying working with everybody in the company. It’s an amazing experience.”
He recognises the differences between stage and film work, and his enthusiasm for both media is clear. “I am learning from everything I do. I don’t prefer one to the other. Maybe in a year’s time I will be able to say which one I prefer.”
Comparing theatre - where the performers are in the thick of things for the entire performance - with spending hours on a film set trailer, Anozie describes his feeling: “It’s a bit detached between filmed scenes. You spend only a small part of the day doing acting.” This wasn’t the experience of the Central School of Speech and Drama educated actor in Cass where he played lead role.
He is clearly proud of his portrayal of the infamous 1980s football hooligan Cass Pennant. “It was good; a great part. I realised right from the start that I had to do him justice. I spent a lot of time with him, with his family, getting to know his mannerisms. I got to understand what it meant to him. The audience needed to connect with Cass to show the whole character. As well as to see that he was a vicious hooligan, they needed to also see that he was vulnerable and human as well.”
Although he acknowledges that acting is a tough profession and he has had diverse film and theatre roles, he shares many Black actors concern at the stereotypical parts they are sometimes asked to play.
Underlining the balancing act and dilemma between working and not working Anozie, explains: “With anything I do there are different criteria. By which I have to say: ‘what are the reasons for doing this job and what are the reasons against it’? As an actor, this is the only time you have a choice to decide. If it’s creatively challenging, if it’s something I've never done before. Those are the things I focus on, rather than the issue of race. I do think about the portrayal of Black people; because we so rarely get a chance to be seen in the movies. I will look more at the creative aspects as opposed to: ‘the fate of my people rests on my shoulders’. If I think it’s a great drama, and even if I know that some Black people might think it’s controversial, that might make me do it.”
Outside of his acting schedule Anozie keeps himself occupied writing and developing a film company - Shadow Arts Entertainment.
As with most actors Hollywood is not far from his thoughts. “I do want to work in America; it’s something I would like to do; but it’s not everything. Whenever the time is right I will pop over there for a bit and do work over there, or anywhere else that has got interesting work. I see myself as a man of the world rather than in just one place.”
After the 2004 global tour of Othello for which he won an Ian Charleson Award there’s no reason for any doubt.
DEATH AND THE KING’S HORSEMAN
By Wole Soyinka
Directed by Rufus Norris
Olivier at The National Theatre
020 7452 3000
Previews from 1 April – until 17 June
Travelex £10 Tickets