3 May, 2002

Mwine, the Ugandan actor in Hollywood

IN LOVE: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine poses with his Cuban wife Ena outside Ntareís fatherís house in Muyonyo, a Kampala suburb, on Tuesday this week

By Kalungi Kabuye
Hollywood is no big deal. Thus speaks actor Ntare Mwine. And he should know. Since he finished drama school a decade ago, he has been part of that world that many Ugandans see as the ultimate place to be - with the glamour, the lights, and the fame.
But having been there, Ntare is not impressed, and, would rather not talk about it. "Itís all empty, man," he told The New Vision from the verandah of his fatherís house in Munyonyo on Tuesday.
"Itís more than a dream world, but itís mostly hard work. I know, Iíve been there. Of all the people in Hollywood, only about 30% actually get work. The rest all just give it up and try and do something else," he said.
To him, all these questions about which star he has seen or which one he has met are all very petty.
"I donít want to talk about things like that. I know people want to read stuff like that, but they can go read People Magazine," Ntare replied impatiently. "I didnít come home to teach people about Hollywood. I came to do research about my work," he said.

And his work is what Ntare would rather talk about. He gets especially carried away when it is about his latest play, Biro. For the two hours we were there, he spent at least one hour talking about it. He had promised to read the introduction of the play to us, but read more than four pages.
As he told it, Biro is short for Mwerindebiro, a Kinyankore word meaning ĎBeware of timeí. A one-character play, and apparently based on a true story, it follows the young Biro from when he was a little boy in Mbarara, bored with life.
When the NRM bush war breaks out, he thinks life would be more exciting in the guerilla army, and joins up. After they capture power, he is one of the officers sent for training in Cuba. He is also one of the greater percentage of the group who are sent back because they are HIV positive. Faced with that, at a time when very little was known about the virus, he goes into denial and almost drinks his life away, as the disease too eats him away.
But a sister who lives in the US rescues him from his deathbed and takes him with her for treatment. He leads a difficult life in America and eventually ends up alone and homeless, and finally in jail, his dreams shattered.
Ntare is also willing to pay good money for the best househelp story he can get and he is waiting at the National Theatre for whoever has got one.
"For my next project, I intend to explore the lives and times of houseboys and housegirls," he said.
He said: "It is like a different world, but which is typical of Uganda. I intend to tap the myriad of stories as part of my next project. You go to dinner and most of the stories told are about house-help, it is part of our world. It covers a wide range of issues, from comedy to tragedy."
Ntare said the best story will win sh100,000. He will listen to houseboysí stories on May 18, between 12:00 and 5:00p.m at the national Theatre's Green Room. Anybody with housegirl stories should go on May 19.
Meanwhile, Ntare is also doing work on fine-tuning his play, Biro. He wants to work with local actors and actresses to do this. He will hire different people to act the one-character play, and "see what works."
Auditions will be held on May 5, again at the national Theatre's Green Room, 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. He will pick three actors, one woman and three men, and he will work with them, individually, over a period of one week.
"The play is complete, and I have read it before in Los Angeles, but I want Ugandans to act it and see their perspective. This will help me to fine-tune it," Ntare said.
As he talks, he mentioned he appeared on the top-rated medical drama series ER sometime this year. ER is showing locally on M-Net on Thursdays. It is not certain when Ntareís episode will be screened. Ntare would not say how much he was paid for that spot, or how much he makes as an actor in Hollywood. "Enough," he insists.
"I make enough to get by; cover my expenses. Iím not rich. Iím wearing old sneakers and I donít have a private jet," he says, as he smiles.
Ntare is not very Hollywoodish. The car he came driving was not very new and, until he opened his mouth, looked like just another middle-class thirty-something male trying to get along in an uncertain Uganda.
He came with his wife, Ena, who is Cuban, but looks like she is from Bugerere. Until she also opened her mouth, that is.
They are here to rest, enjoy the country, and for Ntare to do his research and fine-tune his play. Away from the pressure of Hollywood, and all the glamour and lights. He loves it here, he says.
"Ultimately, I want to come back and settle here. This is home, and this is where I get my inspiration from," he asserts. "At the end of the day, this where Iíll be."
Really? But everybody says that. But Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine seems the real thing, Hollywood and old sneakers but no jet notwithstanding.

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