Pauline Long caught up with Veteran British actor Wil Johnson to find out more about co-producing and acting in the ground-breaking British/Nollywood film “Amina”.
Wil, please tell me about the movie “Amina”.
Amina is about a young woman who was in her hay day enjoying life to the maximum and after a series of trials and tribulations; she ends up in mental health hospital.
I play Dr. Johnson who is trying to help Amina get back to reality. The movie uses a lot of flash backs to unravel Amina’s life before succumbing to mental health problems.
Did you have any other involvement in this big movie apart from acting in it?
I had several other involvements which included co-producer, running around and more. I was hands on.
Dr. Johnson is an interesting part to play, tell me more………
Originally I was to play Michael, Amina’s love interest but as the script developed it all changed. Everyone trusted me to play the big role of Dr. Johnson. We had to make the character interesting. We went away and thought about it. It was interesting shooting “Amina”, as actors in it we were given the freedom to create and fly and so it made it easy for us to get into the character.
I kept thinking about HOUSE. The doctor is brilliant and as opposed to a straightforward psychiatrist, he has issues to deal with. Think of Columbo, he could be troubled himself but he could still relate to people.
Did you have to visit a mental health hospital prior to filming to help with executing the expectations of your character in the movie?
No, we did not have time to do any of that, I just went straight into character however some of our team had worked in mental hospitals so I got some tips from them. When we had the screening for mental hospital in Haringey they gave positive feedback in terms of how accurate my character was.
Leading authorities have been extremely supportive especially when you are stepping in a territory that is not yours and you receive great feedback. For instance because of the huge work load most psychiatrists turn alcoholic.
One could do all the research but the most important thing is that it had to be gripping and dramatic, which is what “Amina” delivers. I got the chance to play a character that is so far removed, although I must admit it is very, very challenging. The story of Amina is deeply emotional and emotional stories are hard to shoot. Hitting the right pitch was challenging as you know there is a fine line between over playing it or underplaying it.
Is it a coincidence that your real surname is Johnson similar to Dr. Johnson?
In fact that did not come to mind until later on when I got into character and realised I was Johnson on and off set.
You are used to playing lead roles, was there any difference in this role?
Not really, it was easy and mainly because I worked with the best cast and crew. A very diverse cast! We have two of Nollywood’s greatest – Ghanaian Van Vicker and Omotola. We also had Vincent (Regan), a British actor who has been in major Hollywood films.
As a British actor, what was it like working with the Nollywood stars?
It was great working with them, we are all actors and what matters is what happens between action and cut. Action was the common denominator. It was a marriage of the British and Nollywood.
Was there a particular reason why Chris chose to do a movie on mental health issues?
Director and writer Christian Ashaiku likes to tell different types of stories, this is the second movie we have done together. For Christian it was just one of many different types of stories that he wanted to share. It was just an interesting subject matter of real life situations.
People can have a series of things that can have a traumatic effect and it only takes that one moment to break it and that’s what mental health issues is about. There are so many people experiencing traumatic breakdowns now more than before, we wanted something moving and engaging and uplifting!
What is the target audience for “Amina”?
We expect “Amina” to attract a varied audience, it is a universal theme of love, loss, redemption. It is a mature story so we expect a diverse mature audience.
What did you learn about being an important part of making this ground-breaking movie both as lead male actor and co-producer?
I must admit it put a lot of pressure on me. I’m still new in producing; acting world is what I know inside out. So in terms of producing, I’m still learning. It is awfully complicated to produce a movie. I was kind of his back up man, it was a big a big responsibility. It actually made me understand how this business works from being in the boardrooms, posh dinners where deals are made, negotiation, sourcing money and more.
Trust me if a man made a movie out of a shoe box I will give him maximum respect. The process of film-making is a treacherous business, a minefield loaded with unexploded bombs that you have not seen coming.
I applaud anyone who endeavours to go down that road, a lot of us do not have knowledge and manpower and they understand with no guarantee that the film will ever see the light of day. It happens even to big boys and small boys in Hollywood or Nollywood or Bollywood or even the British film industry.
What is your most memorable scene in “Amina”?
Hmmmmm memorable scenes… Darling all my scenes are memorable because I’m in them (laughs). Only joking! Actually there is a scene towards the end that I’m very proud of. I’m sorry I cannot give it away; a lot of work went into it…. Come along and see it at the premiere, come and be surprised. All I can say is that it is one long ride ……
Any last words Mr. Johnson or rather Dr. Johnson?
It is the hardest I have ever worked; I was pushed to the limit and beyond but very proud of my involvement both as lead male actor and co-producer. I had to get to the finish line as it was a labour of love and I hope the film will smash the box office. It deserves it.
“Amina” world premiere is at Empire Leicester Square on 17th October 2012.
By Pauline Long