Fred Amugi, an instantly recognizable Ghanaian veteran actor and screen icon, is one of the few troupers who has been able to hold his own on the nation’s competitive movie industry which has for some time now been “very hostile” towards the older generation of actors.
Amugi, well known for playing the villain in movies he was casted in, is still actively, although not very frequently, featured in productions; but he said he finds it difficult to act and hardly enjoys the works of most of the script writers on the scene currently.
Known for his pivotal roles in movies such as The Destiny of Lesser Animals, In the Eyes of my Husband, BBC series Holby City, and about forty other films, Mr. Amugi said the stories their skills were implored to tell in the past were evergreen, well thought out and touched deeply on all spheres of life.
“Mr. Kofi Middleton Mends, one of the very elderly actors I look up to was receiving an award sometime back and said at the podium , ‘a philosopher once said there are three major things you will find in a film, one, the story, two, the story and three, the story.’ It means that you cannot escape that one crucial bit, telling the story,” he said.
But unfortunately many of the modern films don’t tell any story at all, he bemoans.
“For instance, these days almost everybody wants to have a comedy. And I ask myself, is life only about comedy? Laughter? Smiles, smiles and more smiles? That is not how God formed things…Jesus even wept”.
Fashion and Poor acting skills
Mr. Amugi who insists the arts have been adulterated with inexperience, indiscipline and self-serving industry players also said it is disturbing to see that, all that producers are interested in, is flooding the screens with poorly skilled actors who only have the ability to speak impeccable English and make fashion statements that suit the generation’s taste.
According to him, this is hurting the industry largely.
“People are greedy. They think only of what they must get and to hell with the rest .Why would a producer say me I get the beautiful girls, I put beautiful dresses on them, they speak beautiful English and I parade them before the camera and people will buy. Just look at that!” the actor remarked with disdain.
“…just putting beautiful dresses over beautiful ladies and gentlemen does not necessarily mean you have a story,” Amugi stressed.
He also said one of the things hurting the industry is people looking down on the skills of some Kumawood actors because of their medium of communication.
He stated it was about time all film arts synergized to promote a stronger front instead of using language as a determination of skill or talent.
“When it comes to acting, language is no barrier. So sometimes when people say that the English speaking actors are far, far better than the Akan speaking actors I say hey, there are as many good actors, actresses who use that language to perform just like you use the English. Look at the Indians now, they don’t even speak English.”
Producers and Marketers on Veterans
“Quite a number of people within different professions in the industry (producers, directors, marketers etc) are pulling the industry down,” he shares with concern.
According to him, the excuse given by producers and marketers especially, that people do not buy movies that feature most veteran actors is a lame argument.
“The question is, why then do you call yourself a marketer? Because when you are a marketer of any worth, even if the thing is the worse on the market, you must be able to convince the buyers that this is the new trend.”
“There are good films that people are refusing to sell because it doesn’t have a certain star featured in it.”
The death of Theater
The veteran also laments the fact that theater productions are not well supported and patronised like they used to.
He said those productions were usually huge and provided a good source of income for over 90 professionals.
“Talk of the theater, about 99 professions are employed in the theater. You have an electrician in there, a doctor, a nurse, architects, actors, directors etc. But this one has been neglected somehow. Not many theater productions exist. Drama, stage act is nothing to write home about now.
“In May, we did Mothers Tears written by Kwaw Ansah and it was good to be back on the stage,” he recounts.
“The stage gives you a better stance for the screens, whether we like it or not and these modern actors and actresses, some were given scripts for stage and after a week, they brought the script back and said I can’t do it.”
The simple life
Unlike many actors of this generation, Amugi has always had a simple and quiet life and he still does.
The Holby City actor who granted this interview from the compound of the South LA Estates branch of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Kadjaanor in Accra, opened a little window into his not so private life.
Amugi who was there to attend a meeting said he spends a lot of time in church and finds much solace in serving in the house of God.
A chorister who has sung in the choir since his Senior High school days, he leads theEpiphany Echoes – an all-male choir that is usually billed to sing on some of the church’s programmes, weddings and other events every once in a while.
The church elder, husband and father of two says his family and church serve as his support system.
The 66-year-old is also now a pensioner who retired from his job in the civil service where he served for thirty-three years alongside his acting gigs.
He worked as Acting Director of Supply at Ghana’s Ministry of Finance, also pursued lecturing opportunities in Supply Materials Management at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), and in the Ghana’s Police Service, Fire Service, and Military.
But acting is one of the things he did where there is no age limit for retirement.
Fred’s acting pursuits won him many laurels. Some of his awards include Ghana National Award for Acting (Order of the Volta, Civil Division) in 2008; Arts Critics and Reviewers Association of Ghana (ACRAG) Award for Consistency in 1996; and Best Actor Award, Accra Film Festival in 1994.
Stepping into the role of Chief Inspector Darko a week into production, Fred brought a calm professionalism to the production and set a new standard of performance for the many first-time actors who joined the acting profession.
For now, a concerned veteran as he, could only hope things get better in the industry.
“Its high time things changed. But who changes what?” he questions.
“If we all become listeners to wisdom and good advice we can change.
“Because when you belong to the industry and you see some of the things happening in the industry you will ask yourself why?”
But for now, he said he is looking forward to the day he would have many of his veteran colleagues back together on the same production set.
Until that day comes, you favourite villain character would continue to feature in few productions, serve in the church and spend happy moments with his wife, Winnifred and his two sons at home.
This is a script is part of Starr FM’s #GhanaVeterans project, a feature series that takes a look at what happened to some of the biggest headline makers and celebrities of the past and helps give updates on their current social, professional and economic status.