Interview with NTARE GUMA MBAHO MWINE | My Creative Process
It is fascinating how diverse and unique our Universe is and as part of it, we are as well. We walk through our existence taking in everything, continuously building up a personal perspective of what our life is and our role in it.
No matter what our situation is now, we always can find the joy in hoping that things will get better; the joy in knowing that life is always changing, and what is happening now could be different tomorrow; the joy in seeing the opportunity of growth and clarification of what we want in every challenge expressed in many creative ways.
Actor Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine who can be seen as Ronnie in the Showtime series The Chi, says: “A lot of times in my creative process the greatest thrill is facing what appears to be an insurmountable challenge and finding a creative way to overcome it.”
In this interview, you will discover Ntare’s exciting life journey and the impact of his role on the series The Chi.
- Please introduce yourself briefly. Who, in your own words, is Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine?
I am the son of Frank Alfred Mwine and Patience Peace Sabiti. Two Ugandans who came to the United States for their higher education in the turbulent 1960s. My father was still an undergraduate when I was born on the campus of Dartmouth College. The same campus he invited Malcolm X to come to speak at a month before he was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom. My formative years were spent in Cambridge, Massachusetts while my father was attending Harvard Law School.
- How would you describe your path to consciously becoming an actor and embracing your own vision of life?
I have been drawn to a number of interests and creative pursuits that have led me down different paths. There was a time when I first came to LA that people thought of me as a photographer. I was exhibiting my work at off the beaten path galleries to places like the Fowler Museum. One time I was hired to photograph a bowling birthday party the President of HBO Chris Albrecht was throwing for his kid. I just did the gig and never bothered to tell him I had received my MFA in Acting from NYU and would love to star in an HBO show.
Interestingly enough, years later I landed my longest running show to date on HBO where I played a recurring role on Treme. And now I am starring on their competitor’s network Showtime, which just picked up The Chi for a third season. I am hoping it will be my new longest running show in the years to come.
- As a dual citizen of Uganda and America, you have studied, taught and filmed across the Globe. How does being exposed to so many cultures impact your sense of self?
I am actually sitting on a plane traveling from Los Angeles to Entebbe, Uganda as I type these words. As far back as I can remember I have lived in multiple worlds, navigating my way through different cultures around the globe. My parents would often repeat to me the Runyankore proverb “Abagyenda bareeba,” which means “Much traveling teaches how to see.” It was my parents as well who had the biggest impact on my sense of self. They instilled in me a great love and pride that has been the wind to my sails in my globe-trotting.
I am the first child from my family to have been born outside of Uganda. They made it a priority to keep me connected to our homeland and would remind me how our family tree traces back to the 1500s in East Africa. But my family now teases me because I have spent so much time outside of Uganda that I can barely get by in my mother tongue and prefer a vegan diet. It’s fair to say that being exposed to so many different cultures has turned me into a hybrid of sorts. I am comfortable in many different worlds and cultures but never feel at home in one place for too long.
- Did your creative pursuits within the entertainment industry in any way contribute to your personal growth? If so, how?
I feel really fortunate that my creative pursuits have played a major part in my personal growth. Coincidentally, my wife Asha recently gave birth to our second child as season 2 of The Chi was airing a few weeks ago. Our first child was born April 13th, 2017 and I received the offer to star on The Chi the following day, which was Valentine’s Day. It’s remarkable how my personal and professional life radically changed during that 24-hour period.
On so many interesting levels, working on The Chi has exposed me to worlds I didn’t know before, which has enriched me in ways that I am still digesting. The same goes for my previous film, TV and theatre gigs that have provided windows into worlds I never knew before.
But now that I think about it my creative pursuits even back when I was a student at the Moscow Arts Theatre in Russia, The Royal National Theatre in London and at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville all played a major part in my personal and professional growth.
- The entertainment industry is comprised of many artistic expressions and acting is one of them. As a creative, how do you feel your way through the process of becoming someone else?
There is a famous quote from Frederick Douglass where he says “A man is worked upon by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances but his circumstances will carve him out as well.” In a way, I feel like working in this industry inherently embraces this sentiment. One can easily get typecast, pigeonholed or told to stay in one’s lane. But as a creative, I believe our mission is to challenge that status quo and to challenge one’s self.
It’s not always easy to feel one’s way through this process. It was certainly a challenge for me to do so on The Chi because I had started to get pigeonholed for certain types of roles. But getting the chance to play Ronnie shattered all of these expectations across the board.
- Ronnie is the character you portray in the Showtime series The Chi, which is airing its second season now. Have you gained any new insights and perspectives by playing the role and being part of this project?
One of the most interesting things to come from playing Ronnie is how it has changed my nature of creativity. Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography that he discovered how clothes make the man when he and his compatriots were forced to stand naked together while in prison on Robben Island. I know this may be a stretch or may be my poor way of trying to get Mandela and Malcolm X mentioned in this interview but this story sort of reminds me of how I’ve felt while playing Ronnie. There are external pieces I’ve literally had put on to help me make the man Ronnie, without them, I feel naked.
- In the beginning, you thought you weren’t right for the role of Ronnie. What was the moment that made you changed your mindset and brought, as a result, brought critical praise and recognition of your performance?
The thing that was the most helpful in changing my mindset is something I have embraced as my motto, which says; “Sometimes when you let go of expectations you can experience the divine.”
- How did you fill instep into Ronnie’s shoes to make him real – both for yourself and for the audience?
I drew from the real lives of several different people who I thought had insight into Ronnie. One key person I drew from is Curtis Toler who served as a creative advisor on The Chi and also plays the role of JB on the show. He is a former Chicago gang leader who turned his life around and is now mentoring at-risk youth from the South Side to help them turn their lives around. He is someone I leaned on heavily to help me fill Ronnie’s shoes.
- Ronnie seems to be very different from who you are in real life. But as an actor, didn’t this enrich your professional skills and the character itself?
Playing out of my comfort zone has enriched me in ways I never could have imagined. It’s had a profound impact on me and hopefully, that has translated into the way I’ve brought Ronnie to life on screen. It’s easy to take things or people for granted when they are close to you. But because this role wasn’t close to me I found myself working harder on it than I have ever done before for a TV role.
- What do you hope viewers take away from watching The Chi?
First of all, I hope that anyone who is reading this who hasn’t seen The Chi will now feel compelled to do so. For those viewers who have already been watching, I thank you! This show is a window into the heart of the South Side of Chicago. As a newborn finds comfort in the beating of its mother’s heart I hope that viewers will keep leaning into our show week after week and that the show will continue to grow and surprise the viewers in ways they may have never imagined for years to come.
- How is your emotional reality interwoven with your physical experience?
They are one and the same.
- Are you involved in any charity organization or humanitarian cause you would like to mention?
I have been working with communities at risk in more than a dozen African countries for decades to help use the arts as a tool for advocacy and growth. I would love to continue to do so in Chicago. In particular, I would love to work with some of my local Chicago heroes like Theaster Gates, Chance the Rapper, my boss and co-star on The Chi, Common and the recently elected Mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot. She is the first black female and first openly gay leader of the city, which will now be the largest in US history to have an openly LGBTQ mayor. This is a very exciting time to be in Chicago!
- The spirit of The Hedonist Magazine is The Essence of Joyful Living. How does Joy during the creative process affect your own experience and in consequence the final manifestation of your actions?
I would have to say that joy isn’t always part of my creative process and that is ok. When I think of the artist I have most admired Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Ornette Coleman, Nina Simone, Rebecca Solnit… They were all using their craft to work through complex times, feelings and emotions.
It’s interesting that you chose to have me in your magazine because I probably need to practice more pleasure seeking in my life. I have been more of a moth to a flame. I have always been drawn to risks than to simple pleasures. I have always been drawn to the road less traveled. A lot of times in my creative process the greatest thrill is facing what appears to be an insurmountable challenge and finding a creative way to overcome it. It’s not always a joyful process. I would say it’s a labor of love.
- When you hear: “You can be, do and have anything you want,” words from the Abraham-Hicks teachings, what is your take on such a statement?
This reminds me of the Runyankore proverb my parents taught me “Enjojo teremwa mugobora gwayo,” which translates as “No elephant fails to carry his own trunk.”