CONTINENTAL RECOGNITION. Mathew Nabwiso, popularly known as Gilo for his role in The Hostel series has done this and that, been here and there. From judging Uganda’s auditions for the Tusker Project Fame, singing in live bands, to starring in Ugandan movies, he is on the path to the top of his game. He has been nominated for the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award in the Best Male Supporting Actor category. Ivan Okuda sat down with him.
First things first. How did you find yourself in the movie industry?
I happened to go to Namasagali College, a school which promotes the arts for my A-Level. We had an annual school drama productions event and we would bring our works to the National Theatre, but I was not into acting as such. I was more into dancing and singing.
Yeah! I was even the Music Director at Kansanga Miracle Centre for eight years. Along the way I got involved in theatricals and that is when I ventured into film.
I understand Dr Frank Nabwiso, a prominent scholar and politician from Busoga region is your father. How did he react to acting as your career path of choice?
Oh! He approved of it. You know I had finished school and completed my Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) from Cyprus University (by correspondence) so he backed me full swing. He even compliments me when he watches my stuff and reads about me in the newspapers. I had an interview with WBS TV recently and he called me after to say, “I am proud of you, you are articulate.”
So when was your first time on stage?
It was in a play at church where I acted as God. Being my first time and given the role, I found it challenging. But I was surprised when I moved people and made some cry. After the drama, they said they felt like they were in Heaven before God. That episode marked the start of my journey into the movie world.
And when did you go professional?
In 2006. I had heard that Matt Bish was looking for talented people to feature in a TV commercial. I went to him and he was so impressed that he auditioned me for his movie, Battle of the Souls where I played the lead role.
What role was that?
I acted the life story of Roger Mugisha, an innocent character facing challenges and a broke guy trying to make ends meet. In his effort to look for solutions, he meets someone who exploits his despair and naivety and introduces him to the occult world.
No doubt Battle of the Souls was a firm entry point for you into the industry, what big stuff did you do after?
I did a number of other movies. For instance with Maisha Film Lab I starred in The Perfect Cemetery, The Pardon (about the Rwandan genocide) and The Lost Dreams. I also acted in the State Research Bureau, which is about Uganda’s dark days of the 1970s. I also acted in A Good Catholic Girl, which earned me nomination for the AMVC Award.
What is the movie about and what was your role?
It is about two Muslim and Catholic lovebirds whose families clash. I play the villain; a Muslim butcher who regularly supplies the girl’s family meat and therefore the dad finds me the most suitable guy for his daughter. No one wins at the end of it all.
A colleague in the newsroom was wondering why you always act as the villain. What’s up, are you naturally a naughty chap? Why the villain all the time?
(Roars in laughter) First of all I wish to confirm that your colleague is right and spot on. Many people expect me to be this nice, charming and cool guy in the movies. You know what I choose to do? Disappoint that impression by acting as the villain! I can assure you it has worked wonders.
Tell us about The Hostel. How did you get there?
I actually received a phone call inviting me for auditions from Fast Track Productions. I don’t know where and how they got my number. I was auditioned to play Odoch’s role but I was not successful. However, the director didn’t dump me, he found me suitable to play Gilo, the villain.
The Hostel has been away for sometime now…
We are coming back very soon. We had to sort out a few things here and there. We shall be back very soon.
Anyway, how did you find your time there?
Great! There was still a lot to learn just like in any other film project. By and large, it has been such an amazing time.
You speak so passionately about this; I am tempted to imagine that has something to do with how and why you got your fiancé Eleanor, an actress in The Hostel…
(Laughs shyly) Homeboy, what do you mean by how and why? Anyway, I said amazing because I love to work in a good movie project with good production, good scripts and good directing. I will say it again; I really had a good time at The Hostel.
I suspect “good time” had everything to do with you hooking up Eleanor. Let me soften this for you. Had you been searching when you met her?
I can’t really say I was searching. The very first time I saw her, I liked her. I first stopped at that but the more I interacted with her, the more I appreciated her character. She is very open minded. Eleanor is not a hypocrite at all. She is also funny and playful, the type of character that keeps you going and leaves no room for sadness.
I see. So do you get theatrical in the house?
No, we don’t do any acting at home. We watch, comment on and criticise films a lot. We easily relate with each other.
Let’s switch back to careers. Is it true that you resigned from a ‘fat job’ at Uganda Revenue Authority?
Yes, I was a Revenue Assistant in the Tax Education section. One time my boss saw me reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad and said I might resign soon. True to his word, that book inspired me to hand in my resignation and venture into private business. I started a stationery and gifts centre near Kampala International University. It collapsed after two years because thieves kept breaking in till I had no more capital.
So what do you do outside acting now?
I do music as a hobby. I play in live bands like Soul Beat Africa and Barbed Wired Thong. I am also the Sales Manager with Balton, an engineering firm.
I read a post on your Facebook wall where this female fan was openly praising your voice and looks. She actually thinks you are a musician wasting your talent away….
I actually used to think along those lines (of music). As I told you earlier, I used to sing and dance a lot at Namasagali. The trouble is, I like to do World Music but Ugandans don’t seem to embrace it. That is the only reason I stick to acting which is embraced locally and internationally. I don’t want to flop with my World Music.
Last month you were nominated in the Best Male Supporting Actor category by the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award. Have you been nominated for an award before and how does this make you feel?
No, this is my first. It is what I have been waiting for. I feel for all the time and effort I have put in acting, Africa is finally recognising me. You know there is that credit that comes with it unlike our own local awards here.
What is wrong with our local awards?
Man, you can’t be sure you deserved it. Sometimes you are not sure if it is because you were favoured or someone personally liked you. I have not met anyone from AMVC Awards, all I did was submit my work. Out of the many submissions, I made it to top five together with three Nigerians and one South African. I am proud of it.
Congrats in advance. Can you weigh your chances of winning?
Thanks. I must say I am anxiously looking forward to getting hold of that accolade on March 9 in Lagos, Nigeria. Back to your question, as long as Ugandans stand by me and vote, why not! Though I would have preferred our fate to be decided by a panel of judges, I am still very optimistic. You will appreciate that Nigerians and South Africans are good at voting. I call upon fellow Ugandans to vote me before the March 3 deadline. They can go to my Facebook pages, Nabwiso Mathew or Mathew Nabwiso or visit the DSTV website for voting options. Alternatively, they can vote via sms through +27839208406. One can vote as many times as after every hour.
What is your dream in the acting career?
I want to become an international filmmaker and not just stop at being an actor.
What is your take on Uganda’s film industry?
When I look at it from its childhood, I see high prospects; more like where music was 15 years ago. Man, we used to go to Sabrina’s Pub and watch karaoke and we saw no future in our music. Today these guys are bagging millions. So give film some time, I am sure 15 years from now it will be where music is. There is a change in mindset across the board, including the corporate sponsors, especially after the success of The Hostel.
As someone familiar with the terrain of the industry, what challenges encumber our journey there?
We lack technical knowledge about film production; we don’t even have film schools. We need them otherwise we are doing guerilla acting here. The second comes back to the budget constraints. Some guys have very good stories but are compelled to compromise them because of budget limitations. We still lack sponsors in the film industry.