Ufuoma McDermott has managed to stay relevant in Nigeria’s film industry for over two decades, while keeping her family. To make things interesting, every now and then, the onetime beauty pageant contestant brings up new innovation like The USM Show and the USM Kids. With titles like actor, model, filmmaker, wife, mother, among others, the Nollywood star has become a name to reckon with in Nigeria’s film space. In this interview, she speaks about her role in AY Makun’s ‘Merry Men 2’, which has been a box office hit in the last six weeks, among other things.
In the role you played in Merry Men 2, we saw you do a lot of action films that made you look like a superwoman. How did you achieve all that?
I think working on this project made me understand the importance of having the right crew members. So, we had martial artists on set. Believe it or not, those were some of the hardest acting I have had to do in my life. I am such a drama actor that the way I was taught in film school is to go in, give emotions on the face, do what I have to do and be out. But when I have to get physical, it’s hard for me. I was so scared. At a time, when I was directed to hit someone, I kept saying I didn’t want to hit the person. Even the other character had to beg me that it was okay and that I could hit him. I think that the beautiful thing was having people who understood what martial arts should be and then mixing it with filmmaking so that it is make-believe enough for me to come close to someone’s face without hitting him, but you would think that I hit him. It was an amazing combination. It slowed down production in all honesty, we have gotten through those scenes faster, but because it was martial arts, we had to do it over and over again. That is because if we take from just one angle, it would show that I am not hitting the person. So after you take it, you have to go to another side and take it from a different angle. It was a lot of hard work. I honestly give AY a lot of credit on this one, that’s a lot of money that a lot of people would not have spent, because, after two takes, he can simply say he has shot the film and we don’t have to take seven takes just because we want to have an action film. So to achieve it, I had a lot of help and I am glad that it came out well and it looked real.
Were there any accidents on location at any point?
With my own martial arts scenes and fight sequences, no. However, I wasn’t with the guys when they shot theirs because they had a lot of fight sequences. AY may be better equipped to answer that question. My own had no accidents, but maybe it was because I was too scared and they would encourage me to just let my hand come close to someone’s face. And then when I ask how close, I would still measure the distance to ensure that I didn’t have contact with anyone.
From what you say, it seems like your role took you out of your comfort zone. Why did you accept the script in the first instance?
The role did take me out of my comfort zone, but what is life without a challenge? In all honesty, I make bold to say that I am a darn good actor, and at every point in time, you want to make sure that you are crossing a bar that you have raised for yourself. I say to people that my own competition is with myself, so I look at myself and I say that I have done this much, how about we do better. So when the script came, I saw that my character had to frown all through the movie. But in reality, I am such a laughing, happy person. So, if you are lucky enough to see behind the scene footages, I was so much trouble on that set. They would say, “Ufuoma, stop laughing,” and I would say “sorry, let’s do it.” It was crazy, it was challenging, but I think it is what every actor looks forward to; something to move you out of your comfort zone.
Would you say Merry Men 2 has been your most challenging film so far?
In terms of my physicality, yes. I had to be very fit; as fit as a fiddle. The emotional journey, in all honesty, was maybe not as challenging. But I give it to Merry Men 2. The film took me to a place that no other movie had taken me to. It might not be the most challenging, but it took me to a place no other film had and I am really grateful for that.
Do you plan to explore that aspect of acting, or would you return to your safe haven?
Honestly, no. I’ll be honest with you, at the premiere of ‘Merry Men 2’, I already had two offers for action films. So, I guess everyone has realised that Ufuoma can be a superhero, like a sexy superhero. I got two offers and I’m looking forward to doing them.
What is the next thing we can expect from the Ufoma McDermott brand?
For now, I am preparing from my show, The USM show 2020. Of course, in between that, I have the USM Kids, a children’s channel that I set up, so we are filming for it. I also have other film projects to work on as an actor.
We saw ‘The USM Show’ last year, and I remember that it was an electric performance. What can we expect to see this year?
Truthfully, what we just want to do this year is to burn the fire bigger. I’ll be honest that I am scared. The project manager is pushing me, and I keep telling her to take it easy, but she just wants it bigger. I know that sometimes if those dreams don’t scare you, then maybe you shouldn’t be dreaming them. So I am ready and I am up for the challenge.
Will there be a theme like last year’s ‘The Magic of Dreams’?
With this year, I don’t know. I know she wants to do something around drug abuse, but I don’t know what the theme is yet. All of that would become known as time goes on. We will just throw people on the stage and get their adrenalin pumping, that’s what we want to do.
Looking at how you have evolved so far, how would you describe your journey?
I think it has had every rhythm that you want it to have in the lifecycle of an entertainer. I have the ohs, I’ve had the ahs, I’ve had the oh my God! I’ve had all of that. But all of that is a recipe, as far as I am concerned, for a good career. I can’t complain. February this year would be my 16th year since I first shot a film, so I am grateful.
Are there other areas you would want to explore in your career?
Yes, definitely, there are many areas I want to explore. But then, can you explore all of them? I think that should be the most important question. There are many things we all want to do. I want to be Dangote, hello, but can someone else be Dangote? So yes, there are many things I want to explore, but then I also have to ensure that I am ready and prepared for them, even if I have to go get schooled for them or get training for them so that I can be ready for them.
If you hadn’t been an actor, what other profession would you have chosen?
Maybe I would have been a French teacher, I read French.
You are a mother, wife, a successful actress and you make doing it all look easy. To cap it all, you maintain a fantastic shape, what’s the secret?
I got a new nickname after the movie. Part of the first set of people who saw Merry Men actually gave me a name. You know there was a scene in the movie where I took off the hijab I was wearing. After the screening, someone walked up to me referring to that scene and said, “I just saw ‘Merry Men 2’. Ufuoma the Body McDermott, well done o.” The next thing, someone else said it and it went on like that. Williams Uchemba then walked up to me and said one of his friends called me Ufuoma the Body McDermott. So it became like an in-house joke.
I think that with everyone’s life, there are challenges, but at the end of the day, you just decide you want to be happy wherever it is you find your happiness. Wherever you have to go mentally to find your happiness, you do it. I always say to myself, ‘las las, we will all be alright.’
How did your kids react when they saw you in all the action scenes in ‘Merry Men 2’?
My kids haven’t seen it. In all honesty, I don’t know that they would let them into the cinemas to see it. As a mother, I don’t know that there are things I don’t want them to see. Yes, there is profanity in the film, but my kids know that these are words that are not to be used. They know those words, but they know that they are not allowed to use them. My son is seven going on eight, so I don’t want to hide too much and let them discover it themselves. I am fine with my kids watching ‘Merry Men 2’, but there is an age limit in the cinemas, so probably when it is out of the cinema.
How did your husband feel about you as an action movie star?
He was super excited. When we saw the film, he didn’t say anything. When we got in the car and I asked him what his opinion was, he just said, ‘hmm’. When we got home, he told me it was awesome!