Artist. Actor. Dad. Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine of The Chi on Showtime gives us his two cents on fatherhood, modern masculinity, and the meaning of home for a dual-citizen.
Mwerindebiro. It's your Twitter handle, business name, and title of multiple projects. What does this phrase mean to you?
Beware of Time is a quote from my multimedia solo play Biro, when the character says:
My father gave me the name Mwerindebiro
It means beware of time because it has the answer
If somebody is pissing you around you know mistreating you
You can say:
One time I may be somebody different
Don't just count on the present
You should be conscious that time can change stuff.
That really stuck with me and I have since used the phrase everywhere, from the name of my company, to my handles on social media.
How have your feelings towards home and personal space evolved throughout this pandemic?
I had been living on the road for work with my family for the six months leading up to the March 2020 lockdown. We’d literally been living in hotels and short term apartment rentals in Park City, Utah, in various cities and towns in Uganda, in New York, Portland, Oregon, and in Chicago right through January of 2020. It was an exciting time for us all, but as a family we were ready to be home when the stay at home orders came. We actually felt lucky to be home at that time and had a greater appreciation for the comforts of home and a backyard for the kids to play in.
How does being a dual-citizen affect how you think about the concept of home?
I was born in Hanover, New Hampshire. The first member of my family to be born outside of Uganda. So I’d say my concept of home is wherever my family may be. Another strong concept of home for me is any place that is a source of inspiration or rejuvenation. For me that place is Uganda. Even though I am a child of two worlds, Uganda has been my muse in so many ways.
Los Angeles has been my home base for the past two decades. My two kids were born here. Now that things are opening back up I’ve been taking them to some of my favorite beach hideaways. There are spots at Zuma and Leo Carrillo that really feel like a portal into some other worldly home.
One of the ways you bridge your worlds is through your passion projects. Tell us a little about Kibaate Ssalongo – what about his story speaks to you?
Kibaate Aloysius Ssalongo was a Ugandan studio photographer who, over several decades, documented the people living in his small town of Mbirizi. His story speaks to me because of his incredible body of work and because I could have easily followed in his footsteps had I been raised in rural Uganda. He truly loved his craft and was greatly appreciated for it by his townspeople. Many of whom still treasure the photos he took decades ago.
I’m carrying on his legacy by finding as many of the people he photographed decades earlier and I am recreating his photos with his original subjects in the present day. This is all part of a documentary film that I have been working on over the past few years that gained new wind to its sails when Steven Soderbergh came on board as Executive Producer last year.
Here's a teaser of my labor of love, carrying on the work of the late great Ugandan photographer Kibaate Aloysius Ssalongo.
Ronnie on The Chi, and now a detective in the upcoming The Lincoln Lawyer seem like two characters that couldn't have less in common. How do you unpack these characters, explore their journeys, and make them part of yours?
My current role of Detective Raymond Griggs on Netflix’s upcoming series The Lincoln Lawyer is truly the polar opposite from my previous role of Ronnie on The Chi. It feels a bit like whiplash going from one to the other. But that’s part of what makes the work so exciting—when each new project stretches and challenges me in new ways.
I spent a lot of time on the south side of Chicago researching for the role of Ronnie and basically befriended anyone I could find in his age range that could offer insight into his world. But since we’ve been in lockdown during prep for The Lincoln Lawyer, I haven’t had the chance to have the face-to-face, tactile type of research that I usually love to do to get inside a character. I’ve basically had to go back to the basics of reading fiction and non-fiction books that have anything to do with homicide detectives, which has actually been really insightful and frightening at the same time.
Parenting styles are often hereditary, whether we admit it or not. What's a lesson from your parents that you plan on "recycling" for your children?
My parents instilled in me a sense of curiosity and adventure about the world that I definitely plan to recycle with my kids. One thing I definitely won’t recycle is all the Kool-Aid and Twinkies they’d let me eat!
Dads fall into no shortage of stereotypes – dad jokes, dad jeans.. the list goes on. What's a dad stereotype you live up to? And what's one way you defy conventionality?
One dad stereotype I do live up to is that I am the worst cook in the house, even though I played a chef on the HBO series Treme.
One way I may defy conventionality is that I always want to be around my wife and kids. If I get a gig out of town, the first thing I say is "Who's coming with me?"
As someone who has "been" so many different men on screen, how have your acting experiences shaped your personal understanding of masculinity?
One of the things the various roles I have played have taught me is that there are many different ways to describe masculinity. Masculinity feels like it has literally become a dirty word, such as when people reference “toxic masculinity.” But the type of roles that I’ve had the good fortune to play have really turned that concept on its head or smashed it all together.
What does modern masculinity look like to you? Is there something that unites all men?
One could easily write a thesis trying to answer this. There are a lot of things that unite all men; hunger and fear, women and children, legacy and loathing are a few that come to mind. I would say that masculinity in 2021 is more fluid than it's ever been before and that’s opening up hearts and freaking out a lot of people at the same time. Masculinity is in a very vulnerable place right now and that is actually a great thing for men and women.
The Washable Silk Set was designed to "restore and recharge". As an actor, filmmaker, father – what are some of the ways you restore and recharge?
One of the things I’ve recently started exploring to personally restore and recharge is Transcendental Meditation, the so-called fourth state of consciousness. I am still fairly new to it, but I must say that it’s remarkable how such a simple daily practice can restore and recharge one's physical, mental, and spiritual well being in ways I never imagined possible from just being still with oneself.
At Lahgo, we view our clothing not only as an expression, but also an affirmation, an approach we carry into every day. What role do you think clothing plays in defining you and the characters you play?
One of the many stories that jumped out to me in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, The Long Walk To Freedom, was when he came to understand how clothing makes the man. It was when he and his fellow imprisoned freedom fighters were forced to line up naked in the prison yard for inspection. As he looked down the line at his esteemed colleagues he said he truly came to understand that clothes make the man.
Wardrobe is often the window into the world of many of the characters I’ve played. And if I want to set the mood at home I just put on some Lahgo and everything is good to go!