Nonso Bassey: on passion, finding balance between music and film [Pulse Interview]
The 'La Femme Anjola' star opens up on carving a niche in the Nigerian film and music industries.
She had overhead that the singer cum actor was in the studio for a session and wanted to get a hug and selfies to show her sister. After a few minutes, she left with that all too familiar smile.
It's one I have had a couple of times in the weeks leading to my scheduled interview with the fast-rising music and film star. Bassey's artistic persona has that mesmerizing effect on his growing fanbase.
The singer cum actor is one of the few young Nigerian talents to successfully lead a career in music and film, a feat not easily attained.
After emerging as a finalist in the 2016 edition of 'The Voice Nigeria', Bassey promptly began a career in acting, first starring in 'Wurukum Roundabout', a feature-length film shot in Markudi. After which he starred in Africa Magic telenovela, 'Battleground'.
But long before 'The Voice Nigeria' and stardom, Bassey shared in this exclusive Pulse interview that he was a creative trapped in a 9-5 day job as a civil servant.
"Ï worked in the ministry of aviation, specifically in Nigeria Airspace Management Agency. I was a public affairs officer", Bassey reveals. "I did that for about four to five years and even though the corporate world was not the path I wanted for myself, it taught me a lot about work ethic, structure and hard work especially in my artistic field."
Having a full-time career as a recording artist and actor surely has its fair share of challenges. For Bassey, some of the ups was working on his debut single '411' then heading on to Battleground and most recently, Mildred Okwo's crime thriller, 'La Femme Anjola'.
Bassey makes his big-screen debut in the Okwo directed feature, starring alongside Rita Dominic. In 'La Femme Anjola', he plays Dejare, a young stockbroker by day and saxophonist by night, who falls in love with a femme fatale.
For those who have seen the film, it's not long before you notice Bassey and Dejare share some similarities. Both are avid lovers of music and, he agrees on this note, are burdened with a saviour complex.
"What first struck me with Dejare was his vulnerability. From the outside, he is pompous, arrogant and overconfident but deep down, he has a saviour complex and I relate to that on a personal level. I mean being drawn to fixing things."
Recalling his first contact with the seasoned filmmaker, Bassey revealed she inboxed him on Twitter, offering him the lead role on her new project. "I had priory introduced myself to her, followed her on Twitter. Turns out she was a fan of the show I was on, 'Battleground' so when the opening came, she told me she wanted me for the role."
"Working with Mildred Okwo is life-changing as she makes you want to do the work. She makes every actor open up so it's like you are psychologically and emotionally naked," Bassey reveals about his experience with the famed filmmaker.
Then there was the experience of working with Rita Dominic. At this point, Bassey sobers up as he takes me back to his childhood, growing up in Calabar and watching Dominic on his neighbour's television set. At the time, his parents could not afford a TV set so the kids in his block would crowd the entrance of their neighbour's apartment to watch Nollywood movies.
It's 2020 and Bassey has lived almost every male millennial's fantasy- an opportunity to be Dominic's man. "I grew up adoring Rita Dominic so I was very nervous working with her for the first time. I was scared, even about my breath! I had joked about coming on set with bad breath and Rita asking Aunty Mil where she found me."
"Thankfully, Rita is an amazing professional. She put me at ease so working on some of those scenes were not as scary as I thought they would be."
On breaking boundaries and vulnerability, Bassey had to go nude for one of the scenes in 'La Femme Anjola'. It is one of the most intense scenes in the film as Dejare and Anjola cuddle up in bed after a heated bathroom session. Interestingly, Dominic had no idea that Okwo planned to spice up the scene with a naked Bassey and Bassey agreed that he was all in from the moment the director called action.
"I am of the school of thought that if it is worth it, then go all out for it. I knew that there were going to love scenes but when I read the script, I knew I wanted to give it my all if the call came. The director and I discussed it and I was okay with it."
"I mean, I am an actor so, beyond the nervousness, I felt it was for a worthy cause and I don't mind stripping for a worthy cause. I mean if my dad wasn't a pastor, I would have been a stripper. Lol"
With music, Bassey feels things are not very distanced. As an actor, there's the burden to find that vulnerable place and letting out emotions people can resonate with. But he agrees it is no joke as both come with tough demands.
In between long shoots and recording new music, he hardly gets spare time to rest. "In the beginning, it was challenging Still is, but this is something that I love to do and when you love something, it is just a hurdle that you jump and keep going. I mean I want to produce and direct film and music content and that is what I am focused on at the moment."
Ultimately, Bassey feels that the most fascinating thing about acting is letting go of oneself to let another entity exist and this vulnerability is the perfect space for creating music or even writing stories. It is why he switches quite effortlessly.
For the future, the uber-talented star says he hopes to work behind the scenes as a director and screenwriter. With his directorial debut, a short film, already in the works, Bassey says his long-awaited album will debut soon.
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