*‘Our close shave with armed robbers during noodles commercial shooting’

David McKenzie, secretary general of Actors Guild of Nigeria, Lagos State chapter, has featured in several movies, documentaries and television commercials. He was the one who played the judge in the musical video-‘Oruko Jesu lo mu ori mi wu’. He is the bearded guitarist who like the Pied Piper of Hamelin draws kids with his music and Indomie noodles meals in the product’s commercial on television. He and Emmanuel France were the first black“Father Christmas” created by Coca Cola last December. He speaks, in this piece, on his productions and experiences in the industry. Excerpts:

WHAT was your experience like when you participated in last year’s Christmas project of Coca-Cola as the first black Santa?

The experience was marvelous. Initially, the magnitude of the whole project did not dawn on me. It was when we mounted the stage in the presence of the crowd that it dawned e on me that it was an achievement worth recording in the “Guinness Book” of records. I mean it was a black man representing the age long Father Christmas.

You performed the role with Emmanuel France?
It was actually the two of us who were involved. Regardless, what, I think it was an achievement.

You wear a beard. Mr. France is also bearded. Did you anticipate this kind of project?

Let me tell you that before I started wearing a beard, I was clean shaven. But that was unmarketable. There were too many good looking guys and I was just hanging in there. Jobs were coming in trickles. Later, Mr. France advised me that I should change my looks – probably wear a beard. Then I started wearing a beard. It looked very strange on me and then it put a lot of years – about 20 years – on my age. But if you weigh the options, to get a job with the new face or to wear the old face without a job, I think any sensible person will go for the looks that bring in money regardless of whether it puts more years on your age or it scares people. But then, I have grown to love it.

Do you scare or attract women with the beard?
The women come in categories. The elderly women love the beard when they see it. They love it especially when it is grey; they associate this with wealth and dignity. As for the young ones, it’s like ‘what’s this you’ve got on your face?’ The younger ones don’t like it but the elderly ones love it.

What about your head? You are clean shaven.
Yes, that was a decision I took many years ago. Believe me, while thinking of the implication or the causes of AIDS – especially when one thinks of the tendency to get infected in the barber’s shop with the low skin thing– I decided to do it myself. Doing it myself means scrapping the whole thing. And I started shaving the head in 1990. I love shaving it myself too. I shave anytime of the day, even in darkness.

You took part in the Indomie noodles commercial as the bearded old man who played the guitar. How did you get into that?

The Indomie noodles commercial was something else. I had to go through series of audition. Initially when I started, I was auditioned by a South African, I have forgotten his name now. The whole thing was put together by a team of South Africans who came into the country through TWA. TWA is an advertising agency and with Jungle Productions they knocked the whole thing together in collaboration with the South Africans who came with their technical equipment. It was remarkable. I went through series of audition and the white man specifically said he was impressed by the beard because he had a concept and the picture he saw in the concept was me.

He said he wanted an elderly man who went all over town with his guitar and he played at street corners with people coming out to drop coins and he picks the money to the orphanage. In the concept of the television commercial, on the day the old man went to the corner, a little girl happens to be having her birthday. While she was waiting for the mother to attend to her, she heard the old man playing in the street corner, so she dragged her friends to join the old man to sing, then a lot more people came in and the mum then cooked the food which happens to be Indomie noodles and they gave the old man a taste of it.

The experience was wonderful. I remember when I went for the audition, the white South African asked if I could play a guitar. I said I could but not very well. He asked if I could mime it, I said why not. Then he gave me an umbrella to mime as the guitar and he played the song on a CD and he said I should sing along. The man kept staring at me. Then he said I should do it again. Mid way into the second attempt, he stopped me and said but I said I didn’t know how to play a guitar and I said; ‘yes I don’t play the guitar very well’. Then he said; ‘you’ve got the job, and it was exciting. I didn’t know the import of it until we went on ground to shoot. We shot in FESTAC town. The first day, after some activities, the man said we were not in the right tempo for the job and the equipment was not responding.

He brought a lot of technical equipment. I think they said we were having problems with the weather. But whatever the reason was, he decided we should forget it and come the next day. When we returned to the place the following day, we saw a team of mobile policemen. They were many. We were wondering if the president, governor or a top shot was being expected there. We later found out that no sooner than we left the day before, armed robbers descended on the area where we were shooting and terrorized the people.

We were there at the place the previous day recording. You can imagine what could have happened if armed robbers had met us on set. But, somehow, God intervened and made the white man stop the recording because of the weather or that we were not getting it right. We give God the glory. We were not armed and only God knows what could have happened if the robbers had descended on us.

When you walk on the street, do children react and follow the Indomie man?
Oh yes. Children have come to identity me with Indomie noodles. Sometimes I got embarrassed when kids come my way and say: “Uncle, give us our Indomie noodles now?” If I had money on me I would buy a big pack and give to them. If I don’t have money, I will promise them I would come back some other time and it’s a sincere promise. I usually went back to give them especially the needy ones.

Lastly, can you give an insight to your other performances?
I have done several jobs that I cannot remember their titles. Besides, most of the jobs we shoot are given tentative titles because of piracy. Nobody puts the final title on the script while we shoot because somebody could steal it and go and release the movies.

You won’t know the title until it comes out and somebody says he saw you in a movie. What kind of movies? And he brought the title and you cannot place it. But when they tell you the role you played, then you will remember or the producer tells you in confidence.