The media has branded him a Casanova and ladies’ man, but actor John Ssegawa says he is misrepresented. Edgar R. Batte spoke to the man who considers himself a staunch Catholic and who treasures the relationship with his children.
Describe John Ssegawa in three words…
A free, hardworking man.
How free are you?
I am very free because I don’t let things influence my life. I do what my heart tells me to do as long as it does not affect other people. I am not selfish and when I do something with other people, they have to benefit too. I don’t cheat and I am not a parasite. It is good to be fair to people.
Then how hardworking are you?
The job that we are doing demands a lot from us and you have to be ready to work in order to stay in this job. Sometimes I work long hours without sleep. It is like a sacrifice.
We know you as an actor, when and how did you break your teeth as an actor?
I became an actor as a boy, at home. Our family is big with more than 15 children. We spent much of our childhood on the family farm and it was an isolated place so we needed a source of entertainment and we began entertaining one another. With time our parents picked interest in our acting and singing and they would ask us to entertain visitors. That’s where it all began.
When did you become professional?
In 1994 when I had just finished college at Kyambogo. Abby Mukiibi was beginning Afri Talent and so he called on me as one of the people he wanted to start with. Our first production was titled Order-Kiragilo. It was a commissioned play by the military so we were depicting the life of a soldier and how supreme orders are to them. I realised that in the army orders are orders.
Unlike most actors from local drama groups, you are an actor of a different crop. You have this celebrity clout. Is it your personality or are you fitting with what fame has brought with it?
I am a fan of celebrities and mainly film stars and would like be like them but unfortunately, the opportunities here are slim, I try to live the life of what an actor should be. When you look at our brothers and sisters in the music industry, they are living big and flashy lives. We actors have to match them and live like them.
Society likes us to live like that. It is what the world demands of us. If we are intimidated, we shall lose out. Showbiz can make someone out of nobody, look at Big Brother Africa that makes overnight stars. So living the celebrity life is the order of the day for people in our profession and a trend which I am not to be left out of.
I am sure you have tested the perks that come with the celebrity status and its downside as well.
You know when you are a celebrity you have to grow or have a tough skin like a tortoise and a strong family behind you that will understand when something good or bad comes up.
Have your children been affected by your personality or celebrity status?
I don’t want my kids to follow in my footsteps. It’s a tough calling. Just imagine having to go for parents’ day and you have to care about what you wear because all other parents will be in suits and formal wear and then there is my dreadlocked hair, which a parent isn’t expected to have in our stereotypical society, so definitely they have been affected, but they understand what their father does.
The tabloids have many times linked you to different girls, are you a ladies’ man or just a social guy that’s wrongly judged?
(Laughs hard)…I am not a ladies’ man and I don’t know what that means. Many of my friends are male and the moment I am not with them and seen talking to a female, then hell breaks loose. I am then referred to as the Casanova and ladies’ man.
Are you in a stable relationship?
Not quite. No. It is not stable but what’s important is what we brought to this world. Me and my patners could have misunderstandings, but we have children we want to grow into important people. If we dwell on our differences then we are failing as parents.
So are you saying you’re single?
No. I am not single because that would mean I am searching. May be I should say I am married to my children because they are the most important part of my life.
But you got two women in your life, Mariam Ndagire and Ruth Wanyana. Are they a closed chapter in your life?
They are moving on with their lives, I think. I only come in when the children come calling. I am a responsible father. I cannot ignore that role.
You’re a handsome man and I imagine a target for ladies hitting on you…
Kampala ladies are crazy and it is not about being handsome, ladies are after anything. They will hear that Edgar is a good writer and they will be coming after you so that they can associate with you.
Okay, when they come hitting on you, how do you deal with them?
(Laughs)…I t is challenging because if I tell them I’m not interested in their advances, they will say I am rude, some will say I am proud or that I am mean. You have to be polite, stubborn and a bit proud because the young, old, rich and poor all come hitting on me.
We have this craze of Facebook. Someone can easily look you up and send you a message, telling you whatever they want, so I keep making them promises that will never come.
What is the craziest promise you have made to a stranger?
I told them I wanted to marry them but I am not into marriage because I don’t believe in marriage.
Why don’t you believe in marriage?
Marriage should be planned. It should be about you two not simply a public stunt because I see many people abusing it. It is not about what church you went to or how many people you invited.
I don’t want to be a hypocrite, to lie to my partner that I am going for a funeral when I am going out of town with some beautiful girl. No.
You’ve got quite a busy schedule … when off stage, you run Red Nite Pub, a bar which keeps you busy. When do you ever find time to sleep?
If you know people around me, they will tell you that don’t call John before midday because I will be asleep. I sleep during the day and work at night. When other people are done with their work, they come to us so they are our bosses and we have to wait for them.
When not running your bar and not acting how else do you spend your time?
I love going out, dancing or watching soccer. I love soccer arguments too. Otherwise I like staying home and writing scripts as I listen to reggae and gospel music. It inspires me.
Which football team do you support?
Arsenal and Barcelona. I love good football. KCC used to be my favourite local team but I no longer understand what they are all about.
You have dreadlocks and you say you love listening to reggae music are you Rastafarian?
I am not but I believe in a few things they champion.
Being honest and caring for other people like the downtrodden, the ghetto dwellers, the poor who live with no running water and sometimes no good shelter. If we can champion good causes, then the world can be a better place for all of us.
Do you follow the Rastafarian to the pipe because many feel incomplete without smoking ‘the weed’?
Not actually, but I hear it is a good herb. I’ll ask my Rastafarian friends about it.
Do you follow the news?
I do but I am kind of growing bored because it has been the same for the last 10 years … promises, promises and more promises and nothing comes out of them.
As actors you sometimes play the role of activism…what are your thoughts on the gay bill?
I just don’t want us to talk about this in Africa because I am a Catholic and a staunch one at that and I am conservative but homosexuality is not something that should be debated. It’s against our religions and our nature. They say they have a choice but what is choice? Is it because I have a choice that I will go pee on the streets?
I am writing a play on 50 years of Independence and my biggest disappointment is western media. I have seen interviews with my president by western media and they are always dwelling on the issue of homosexuality rather than putting to him questions like his overstay in power.
I don’t want to preach like the Rastafarian that the chi chi man should be burnt. We could help them.
What kind of family do you hail from?
A very conservative, staunch Catholic family. Many of my brothers have been through the seminary. My elder brother is a priest. We are a family that’s strongly bonded. When things don’t go right, I know my brother or sister will take care of me. We have two mothers at our the home that live together but we don’t use that talk of step brother or sister because we are the same blood.
Whenever we visit our father, he encourages us to read Psalms 133 (which reads, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity”). I have this verse on my bed, in my living room and my office.