He returns this year in the newly released Nigerian series called ‘Shanty Town,' where he is the male lead named Scar in an underground world of crime.
Created by Xavier Ighorodje and Chichi Nworah, the six-part series follows the story of three Lagos-based hustlers who unite to wage war against the biggest and most ruthless crime ring in the state.
The cast includes Nollywood icons like Richard Mofe-Damijo, Ini Edo, Nse ikpe-Etim, Sola Sobowale, Shaffy Bello, Ali Nuhu and Uche Jombo.
We recently got to chat about his remarkable comeback as the ruthless Scar. In this exclusive interview with Pulse Nigeria, Mokeme discusses his reaction to the script, the lengths he went to embody the character, memorable scenes, dream roles and more.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I couldn’t put it down as soon as I opened the first page. After I finished reading the script at about 4 AM, I called the producer and said, “let’s go do it.”
It took a lot of digging deep. I’m always down to play the villain because I think the villain always has the most fun in every movie. The good guy just runs around chasing the villain while the villain is enjoying themselves. For me, Scar was an embodiment of everything wrong on the streets of Lagos. So, I had to find different places where I could dig out those typical characteristics of the terrors on the streets of Lagos, and that’s what I did.
I went straight back to the ghettos and listened to ghetto music. I researched which people were running in the streets as far as music was concerned. My first trip was to Shita in my disguise. I spent about two hours just sitting in one corner taking it all in. There were all sorts of music playing from everywhere, everybody competing to blast their own music and people walking around nonchalantly. It was this whole different world laid bare before me. I took a liking to all the songs that I was listening to, coming out of all those speakers. Next, I went to YouTube and filled my whole environment with these sounds from Olamide, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, Pasuma and King Suny Ade to familiarise myself with the street lingua which differs from the normal lingo.
The toll of his personal life
I spent a lot of time in solitude to take everything in. All through the shoot, I couldn’t afford to go out, there was no outing, no socialising. It was straight from my hotel, to the set then straight to my quiet corner and back because the character just needed to stay fresh. It was challenging but it was worth it. I lived the character for like five months actually.
My interactions were basically with the people that I was working with for the whole time. Even the hotel staff knew. Every time they saw me, it was Scar. They would knock saying, “Hi, Mr Chidi Mokeme” only to hear, “Wetin dey worry you. Abeg, comot here.” I was Scar even when I called them to order for my food asking, “wetin una get for restaurant there?” My last boy got affected the most. Even though he’s all the way in America and has never been to Nigeria, he sings Fuji now because I was playing the songs back to back.
Dealing with the violent and sexual scenes
For me, it was character-driven. In that environment, the only form of reality for me was when I heard 'Action.' Otherwise, I didn’t hear anything else. In my mind, I’m playing scenarios and putting Scar where he needs to be. Those guys on the street have no regard, no respect. If you see the scene with me and Mercy, you can just tell that this guy doesn't care about anything. It was the character driving everything I was doing. I just allowed the character to just be. We did things that normally would be a no-go. Sometimes, the director would even clear his throat and I would say, “that's not me, that's the character.”
Mercy and I had that conversation prior to our scenes. I said, “Scar is gong to unpredictable in the things that he he does in the scene but remember that Mercy isn’t here. Whatever disgust that Mercy is feeling let Jackie feel it." Even I didn’t know what Scar was going to do. Scar was going to respond to what she says based on the way she says it and the way she approaches him. That determines how Scar responses and I just let him be.
The one that stands out now from the teaser is that self-engrossed line where he’s just talking to himself, saying, “Na you be Scar.” It was a defining moment where he wakes himself up and resurrects himself. I love the energy in that line.
There are two roles that I am waiting for, where I can give my sweat and blood for. I have waited all my life for these two roles. The first is Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The second looks like it’s close by; there’s just a little thing going on with the scripting and what the government can allow you to do. But I will wait for some time until I can bring to life the embodiment of Chukwuemeka "Emeka" Odumegwu Ojukwu. I have this beard for some time, waiting for that character to happen.
'Shanty Town' is currently streaming in 190 countries exclusively on Netflix.