From Hollywood to Nollywood!
Danny Glover is a quintessential leading man in Hollywood. For three decades and then some, he has excelled in film, theatre and television. He has embodied vibrant lives and characters, told stories that will remain evergreen. His most recent work will certainly be one of them when he joined forces with the best of Nollywood, playing a lead role in the important, historical film ‘93 Days’. Currently showing in cinemas, the film is a game changer for new Nollywood and was recently screened at the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews. The movie tells the story of what happened when the Ebola crisis hit Lagos and how against all odds, we were able to overcome it and get rid of the virus for good. Great measures were taken to achieve this feat and Nigeria was praised by the World Health Organization for a job well done in dealing with such a grave situation. Glover’s performance as a lead character in the film was certainly one to admire as discovered by Style Correspondent AYODEJI ROTINWA. In this piece Rotinwa reports on his career, his role on screen, and his politics off it, affording us all a peek into the life of this accomplished actor.
Art imitating life is one of those clichéd byproducts of any creative endeavor. Sometimes, however, one can’t quite tell them apart. This seems to be the case in ’93 Days’, arguably one of Nigeria’s best productions in a decade.
A docudrama, it follows the war that was fought and won against the Ebola virus and those who heralded the fight, some losing their lives in the process.
One of those who led this fight and lived to have his tale told is Dr. Benjamin Ohiaeri, Medical Director of First Consultants Medical Centre. It was in this facility, the virus first took residence, borne by Liberian diplomat, Patrick Sawyerr.
Tasked with bringing Dr. Ohiaeri’s real life travails to the big screen was long serving Hollywood actor, Danny Glover. You wouldn’t be remiss to mistake one man for the other. In physical construction, their resemblance is uncanny. In bringing the doctor’s experience to life, Glover had to share some of his own. “We met on the first day of shooting. In reality, we are similar in some ways,” Glover said. Both gentlemen have led distinguished careers in their chosen fields and are recognized for it. A match made in lights, camera, action (and good role playing.) Glover has been doing the latter since 1979, in theatre, on screen and in television. For his efforts, he has won numerous film awards, as well as been nominated for leading and supporting roles at the Primetime Emmys and Screen Actor Guild Awards.
His performance in 93 Days is worthy of similar garlands. In the film, he is a man worn by a long career of saving lives. He longs to exchange the white coat in the hospital ward, for a suit in the lecture hall. He is then presented with a choice. A very sick man lies in his hospital. Neither he nor his doctors have been able to ascertain what is wrong with him but they fear it is something very grave and infectious. Glover carries this weight excellently. He depicts Ohiaeri as a man suffering from a great burden. You can almost physically feel how pressed against he is. He measures his breath. His forehead knits itself into worry lines. When the camera pans to his wrinkled hands, in one scene, they limply and eventually with strength, play the piano. Delicate, yet assured. Curiously, Glover was not initially meant to play the Medical Director but after going deeper into the script, he and the director, Steve Gukas, decided this was the one. But, how did a Hollywood veteran come to be involved in this story 5,000 miles away from home and his industry, in the first place?
“Steve Gukas and I are very good friends. We worked on a project together a few years ago and have stayed in touch since. He approached me with the story. When I got the script, I felt it was a very important and powerful story that needed to be told and I was privileged to be a part of it.” Glover while new to Nollywood isn’t new to Nigeria. He is a Chief and a titled man, the Enyioma of Nkwerre. Traditional ruler of Nkwerre town, Eze Dr. Chijioke Jeki Okwara, conferred the honour on him, in 2009. The town reckons Glover’s roots can be traced to it; that his ancestors were some of those stolen from them in the trans-Atlantic slave trade era. If this is indeed true, then Glover is a son of the soil, as we say, it is no surprise then, his achievement in this film; delivering while the tide was against him and everyone else involved with the film. “It was a real experience for me, probably one of the most unique of all my years of an actor. It was incredible seeing firsthand what it takes to get things done, to shoot a film, here in Lagos. It was also incredible to see the team doing everything they could against all odds, to make things work. From moving around within the city to shoot different scenes, to getting permission from the government.” he said. Any Nigerian who has tried to get a project off the ground would testify to this required resilience. Glover also showed some extra resilience of his own albeit for a different matter pronouncing correctly Nigerian names. “’Adadevoh’ was particularly difficult to pronounce. I must have tried a thousand times before finally getting close to pronouncing it right. Struggling with these names, gave me the chance to laugh at myself, and with
When I got the script, I felt it was a very important and powerful story that needed to be told and I was privileged to be a part of it.”
others while shooting.”
In the film itself however, there’s little to laugh at. There’s pain and death portrayed in excruciating detail. The film is also homage to the life and efforts of Dr. Stella Adadevoh, played excellently by Bimbo Akintola. It is with Akintola, Glover mostly shares his scenes. It is both of them who have to decide whether to let Sawyerr (played by Keppy Ekpeyong) go. It is Adadevoh (Akintola) who worries about Ohiaeri, (Glover) his health, while being infected herself (unknown to her at the time), in the midst of everything. Akintola and Glover share great chemistry on screen, that comes from two professionals who greatly respect each other, as they were supposed to depict.
When one considers Glover’s performance and his involvement in this film overall, you may be led to ask why the character’s shoes couldn’t have been filled by a Nigerian actor. You would then likely decide - as this writer did - that it is difficult to see anyone else in the role. For Glover, his politics off screen tie in to why it was a professional and even emotional fit. For decades, Glover has been involved in activist work on the continent from speaking out against apartheid in South Africa, in the 70s and 80s, to calling out civil wars and sit-tight Presidents. He has used his fame and voice, in influencing USA policy concerning African interests across social, economic and political conditions. Were it not for the forthrightness of Adadevoh and Ohiaeri, dealing with sluggishness from the Ministry of Health and diplomatic pressure from the Embassy of Liberia, Ebola may have been politicized to the point of an epidemic. It is something that would have come under his radar in his activist work likely. Thankfully, the role he had to play was only a make-believe one for the camera, and not for the world, telling the Nigerian government to act against a virus that has killed thousands.
Yes, 93 Days - the amount of time between when the virus entered the country and when it left - is an important film. Its producers Steve Gukas, Bolanle Austen-Peters, Dotun Olakunri and Pemon Rami have done a great service to Nigeria. They have immortalized a trying and eventually, triumphant time in our history. For those through whom Glover, one of them - this time was brought to life, by their skill to move and enthrall us, we should also be thankful.
You should go see this film.
THISDAY Style Vol. 21, No. 7837 Sunday, October 9, 2016
DANNY GLOVER WITH DOCTOR BENJAMIN OHIAERI