PHARO THA GR8
2 SIDES OF A RISING STAR
Som Aidoo is a budding Ghanaian-born actor and musician based in Atlanta, Georgia. He has a broad range of talents, ranging from acting to writing and producing his own films and music. He has featured in a number of A-list movies, from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, to Fast and Furious 7 as Tyrese’s stand-in and body double, to Kill The Messenger. Som says he fell into acting by chance. Design233 recently caught up with this young, driven, self-managed artiste, with his infectious smile and positive outlook on life, to chat about his acting and musical alter ego, PhaRo Tha Gr8. Som is a breath of fresh air in an industry that is tough to break into and definitely one to look out for on the big screen in the very near future.
On Differences Between Acting in Stage Plays and Films:
“There’s been a greater sense of gratification doing stage plays because it takes more to do them. There’s instant gratification from the audience, from their applause, congratulations and compliments. I get an adrenaline rush from acting in plays. If you can memorize a script and present it convincingly right there and then, that is amazing and not anything to be taken lightly.”
Som Aidoo (August, 2014)
Design233: ”Acting is Fun-Da-Mental” By Som Cheadle’ is the quote I have come to associate with you because it appears at the end of your social media posts. What does that quote mean to you and what inspired it?
Som Aidoo| PhaRo Tha Gr8: It started off as a joke. It was a spin-off of the pop phrase ‘Reading is Fundamental’ . When I started acting in 2011 and folks asked me ‘Why now’?, that would be my cheeky response. It had a ring to it and it stuck.
D233: Why the name Som Cheadle?
S|P: It’s an acknowledgment to Don Cheadle because a lot of people seem to think I look like him. It evolved on the set of The Hunger Games, where one of the stunt guys I was in a scene with was so convinced that I should be playing Don Cheadle’s stunt double and that one day we would be working together. I didn’t think anything of it then. After that, every film set I am on, either another actor, crew member or director would say to me, ‘You know who you remind me of?’. It has become almost a daily occurrence. I can’t remember exactly who christened me that but once again it stuck. (Laughter). I am starting to believe more and more we will work together soon though. I still don’t see the resemblance too much but it’s a good comparison because he’s a pretty dope actor. So I receive it.
D233: How did you get into acting?
S|P: It wasn’t a conscious decision. I stumbled into it. What happened was, I was parting ways with a shady business partner and closing down a car lot I had and I was having a yard sale. The first client that stopped by, whilst packing his truck, asked if I’d had ever done any acting to which I said no. He gave me his card, saying he was one of Tyler Perry’s writers and to call him. A week after that conversation, I was in the library researching on how to be an actor when a lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked me the very same question. I thought she was reading over my shoulder, but it turned out to be one big coincidence. Long story short she asked me to audition for a stage play, ‘When Vengeance Falls‘, she was casting for. I went for the part and that is where it all began. I ended up going to audition for the first guy I met as well but didn’t get the part. However, these experiences sparked my curiosity in acting and here we are.
I was into music prior to this, looking at different avenues to market my songs, specifically scores for independent films. I ended up doing the theme song for the play ‘When Vengeance Falls‘. On another occasion, I went to a casting call for the independent filmBreaking Point, based on the Brian Nichols Saga, not as an actor, but to submit music for the film. The producer thought I was there to audition. When I said no, she told me to try for one of the roles, as a pastor. I guess these three events happened around the same time and sparked the beginning of my life today. That was my first film soundtrack I produced, or should I say my alter-ego PhaRo Tha Gr8 produced.
D233: So at this point you hadn’t had any kind of formal training in acting?
S|P: Nothing serious. In GIS (Ghana International School – high school back in Ghana) I had done a play, The Importance of Being Ernest, a pretty popular story. I played a butler in it not because I wanted to, but my mom wanted me to take part in it because her friend was the drama teacher. So here I am! I guess I owe my Mom my first huge paycheck. (Chuckle)
D233: How did you train to become an actor?
S|P: I met Elle Richardson, an actress, who cast me in the independent film “What About Us?”, starring Jasmine Guy. Afterwards, we developed a rapport. She was teaching a Jump-Start Acting Program which I got into. It was pretty cool. I learned a lot of stuff about auditioning techniques, which prior to that, I had no clue about. It was in that class I wrote my first short film’ No Turning Back’, for my final class project. Following that, I auditioned and got accepted in The Actors Breakthrough Master Class with Greg Alan Williams, one of the best acting curriculums in Atlanta and the south-east region. It’s intense and it really sharpens you.
D233: I think there are overlaps between music and acting, right?
S|P: I agree for two reasons – It was partly through music I got into acting.
With my last video, #summerjam, that I directed, I pretty much wrote the treatment, being very specific with the storyline. My co-director, Luis Rodriguez, who has worked with artists from Beyonce to Aerosmith to name a few, kept saying ‘This is not a film, it’s just a music video so you can just jump from different plots, you can do whatever you want with it’. But just because I have been around film so much I was approaching it from a film directorial stand point. It wasn’t even a clash. It was an interesting difference in creativity. There’s a correlation between film and music absolutely. In film you need music for soundtracks and with music scenes are brought to life with the videos that promote them so they compliment each other.
D233: Which actors have you enjoyed working with?
S|P: I would say Michael K. Williams. I worked with him as his stand-In and one of his goons on Kill The Messenger which is in theaters now. You might spot me in a few scenes. Also one of my scene partners from class Christina Karis has been great to work with. To do a scene with her is to bring your A-game. She plays the love interest of Don Cheadle’s character inMiles Ahead, an upcoming Biopic about jazz legend, Miles Davis as well a love interest of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, in his upcoming biopic, Bolden!, which I worked on behind the scenes as well. Google her; she’s phenomenal and will be even more phenomenal soon.
D233: Which actor or actress would you want to work with?
S|P: Actor, I would say Robert De Niro. There’s a screenplay I have written which I envision him playing a part in. I hope to work with him one day. It would be really cool to work with Don Cheadle. Seeing that I have been compared to him, we could probably play a father-son role or I could play a younger version of him. I haven’t met him, though, but it’s going to happen soon. I stay optimistic. I’ve seen so much stuff and been a part of so many great films, I would not have imagined two years ago, so now nothing surprises me.
Actress, Charlize Theron – There is another screenplay I have written which needs a strong character and she fits the role. She would be my love interest, If I should be so lucky. (Laughter)
D233: You’ve acted and appeared in Kill the Messenger, The Good Lie, The Last of Robin Hood, The Hunger Games Catching Fire, Let’s Be Cops to name a few, and some Ghanaian movies. What has been your most challenging role?
S|P: It’s a role in a movie that never came out. It was an independent film called Burkely High and this was around the time I had just started acting. I was nervous and my confidence wasn’t top-notch. My character was a 22-year-old drug dealer with a 16-year-old girlfriend. In the movie, he rapes her. I had to reenact a rape scene with lights and cameras on me. It was very disturbing. I was traumatized for two weeks after doing that scene. My co- actor thought I did well. What do you say to such compliment?
‘Err thanks?’ (Laughter)
It was ironic that she (my co-actor) had to console me afterwards asking me ‘Are you alright’? even though she got raped.
What I got from that is, in acting you have to enact real life situations and that sometimes requires having to go into a dark place to play the role. With certain roles taken, you may have to go full 360°. These are things we discuss and work through in class.
D233: How many plays and movies have you acted in? Is there a difference between being on stage and being in movies and which of them are you more comfortable in?
S|P: I have been in 4 plays. With movies, maybe about 16, from cameos to full roles. I think it takes more confidence to do plays. You have to memorize a whole script and present to a live audience.
There’s been a greater sense of gratification doing stage plays because it takes more to do them. There’s instant gratification from the audience, from their applause, congratulations and compliments. I get an adrenaline rush from acting in plays. If you can memorize a script and present it convincingly right there and then, that is amazing and not anything to be taken lightly. So if I were to choose between the two, I’d say the stage, even though I haven’t done any plays recently. I have been more involved in film. With stage plays you are rehearsing for a month or month and a half, even two months before performing. At some point though, I’d like to take a step back from film and go back to my stage roots, if you will so I can stay sharp, because to be honest, you get spoilt on film. When you are thrown on stage you better remember your lines. Who knows maybe one day you will come see me on Broadway eh? (Chuckles)
D233: What have been the best or most profound roles you’ve played?
S|P: I would have to be biased and say the short film I wrote, produced and directed,’ No Turning Back’. I play the role of a friend and confidante of the lead character Dala. Obviously, I am biased, but it is a good story about someone who has been in an abusive relationship in her household her whole life and tries to escape and my character Gideon helps her plan her escape. Unfortunately, the videographer disappeared with all the footage so I am re-shooting it. I will see him in court though. It’s a great adventure story. It’s action-packed, romantic & suspense-filled all in one!
In my opinion though, my best performance so far was playing a Sudanese King wooing an Egyptian princess in Moments of Love in Ancient Egypt. I feel like I came into my own as an actor on that stage.
There’s also an independent film which premiered in September called Dawn of A New Day. It’s set in 1901. It was my first time playing a real life character, as Paul Dunbar. He was a friend of W.E.B. Dubois. It’s a period piece and getting to play someone else has challenges of its own. The thought that kept running through my mind was, “Am I doing justice to this role?” because Paul Dunbar was a person who actually existed.
D233: Apart from the script you were given, did you do research on the character you were playing?
S|P: There were books I read on him prior to getting that role. I had never heard of Paul Laurence Dunbar and the more I read the more impressed I became. The challenge was, he died young at the age of 33 . There aren’t any videos or audio of him available apart from his writings. Visually, I had nothing to reference, just what had been written about him. I would imagine his speech patterns and what his mannerisms could have been and bring that to life. That was tough, but I gave it my best shot.
D233: How do you separate yourself from your role character at the end of a shoot? Particularly with dark roles, how are you able to separate yourself from them and still be yourself?
S|P: I think it boils down to mental discipline to be able to turn on and off your acting switch. Some actors are method actors and I guess prior to getting into their roles they take on their characters fully and for the duration of the film, they stay in character. I don’t think I do that to an extreme degree. That being said, I still try to do the research I need to on the character and make the portrayal as convincing as possible. Once the director yells CUT!, I go back to being myself. However, sometimes depending on what the role is and how attached I get to it, it could be harder to transition to being myself.
D233:What lessons have you picked up from your directors and fellow actors/ actresses?
S|P: I have learned a whole lot. It’s been cool working and watching different actors and directors from up and comers (such as myself), to big Hollywood stars, trying to understand their methods and work ethics. I just try to draw on the best qualities of everyone and make them my own. Like in any profession, you run into people who are down to earth and some who are mean. The most important thing for me is having respect for others, being humble and having a solid work ethic. I got the chance to work with James Wan – he directed Fast and Furious 7, which I worked on behind the scenes as Tyrese’s Stand-In and body double. James Wan is the most pleasant, easygoing director I have ever met. He makes the job look easy. He’s always calm under pressure. I’d like to handle pressure the way he does because it inspires and instills confidence in the people around you. He made a great impression on me. It is actually through watching him I got the confidence to direct my first short film – No Turning Back. We were on set the last night Paul Walker filmed before he passed away(R.I.P) I was telling James about my short and he looked at me with a smile like ‘Dude shoot it!’ This guy is a legend from directing Saw, to The Conjuring to Insidious to name a few, so for him to give me the green light, was very encouraging. With the hold up, I thought of giving up on the project but I remember our conversation that night and I tell myself , ‘No Turning Back‘.
D233: What inspired the storyline of No Turning Back and in re-shooting it are you doing anything differently?
S|P: As I mentioned previously, it was my final project for my Jumpstart acting class. The rules required the finished work to be humorous, suspenseful, action filled, romantic with a shift in momentum at some point. After presenting it, my teacher Elle Richardson said, ‘I can’t wait to see it made into a short film’. Mind you prior to this I had no plans on becoming a director, just an actor. She created a monster without even knowing it. (Laughter)
Regarding the re-shoot, it’s going to be done better because there are a lot of things, such as the lighting and sound, that looking back on could have been done better. I went back to rewrite the storyline and spice it up a little. It’s still short but I’ve added a few elements. The cast is still small and I’d like to recast the same people because I like to stay loyal to the people I work with. Unfortunately, my lead actress went A.W.O.L recently, another challenge I have had to deal with. So I am recasting the lead role. Originally, the movie was supposed to be submitted for the Bronze Lens Film Festival Oct 2014 but I missed the deadline for obvious reasons. I still attended so it was bitter sweet for me. I had met one of the organizers earlier this year at a screening of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun‘ . She had nothing but encouraging words for me after I told her what happened. In conclusion, like my film’s title , there is ‘No Turning Back‘.
D233: How is the production coming together- sourcing for funds?
S|P: I have two main investors, “ Me & Myself ” for now. It’s a conscious decision. There are only a few people who keep their word and fully offer financial support . There’s a lot of lip service so early on in the process, I made the decision to fund everything myself. That way, when I’m able to pull it off, I won’t owe anyone. It’s a tougher route, but it will be more satisfying in the long run. Once this project is done successfully, I will have a tangible product to show potential investors and then they will be more inclined to help fund projects through my production company, Sphinx Philms LLC. However, all contributions are still welcome. (Laughter)
D233: Let’s talk about your alter ego PhaRo Tha Gr8, the artist. Who is he and what drives him?
S|P: He is the more confident of the two of us? Som is the gentleman, the quiet and reserved one. PhaRo is the more hip personality with swagger (Laughter). Som is the one who would be at home on Friday nights watching TV or on a quiet date; PhaRo would probably be at the clubs or a venue performing or being the life of the party. But, they both love Kale. (More laughter)
With my new project, I am looking into launching a lounge tour with some other uber cool musicians and artists, perhaps a college tour later. I put out a record called #summerjam toward the end of the summer and shot a video for it. The response to it was good and now I just have to make time to finish up my long awaited SphinxTape: I AM THE AFRICAN DREAM.
D233: Do you see overlaps in these two personalities, Som Aidoo the actor and PhaRo Tha Gr8, the artist and careers or are the two experiences separate?
S|P:They both like kale and they actually get along pretty well. Both of them are creative. They work together on occasion. There is a Marvel fan film, Deadpool & Black Panther: Back in Red & Black, which will be premiering on Machinima, one of the biggest channels on YouTube. In this film, Som plays Simpo, a ruthless African mercenary/warlord and PhaRo supervised the score and soundtrack for the film. It’s awesome when they work together (laughter) You can find PhaRo on twitter as @pharonomics and Som on Instagram assomaidoo. I have to admit they both need to step up their social media game. (Laughter)
D233: Where do you look for material for your lyrics?
S|P: All around me. Personal life experiences, other people’s experiences. Topics vary from parties to politics. Speaking of #summerjam, it’s inspired by Will Smith’s Summertime, which is still relevant and fresh today and one of my all time favorite rap records. It’s a fun, clean record and he painted the picture of summertime so well. When I first heard the beat for my record #summerjam that is where it took me; the storyline just rolled in. After recording it, everyone who heard it said I should shoot a video for it. So at the last minute, before summer was over, I decided to bring together some friends one day, got on a party boat and we balled so hard and everyone that came out had fun! (Laughter)
D233: Let’s talk culture and roots? From Accra to Atlanta, how do these places inspire your work? Where do you place yourself within Hollywood and the African entertainment industry?
S|P: They both inspire me in everything I do. The long awaited SphinxTape:
I AM THE AFRICAN DREAM is inspired by theses two cities. 2010 was the last time I was in Accra and it inspired me musically. Prior to that, I had not been home in 10 years! I performed at a few events there and came back to Atlanta with a newfound awareness of how music, especially Hip-Life, had evolved. The challenge is combing the two worlds. It might seem impossible but that is what the SphinxTape is doing – bridging the gap between the two cities. So some of my songs are Accra Hip-Life heavy (Move Your Body) and others are Atlanta Hip-Hop Heavy (Everyday My Birthday). Sometimes, it doesn’t even sound like it’s the same person but that is what I set out to achieve with this project. So to answer your question, I am heavily influenced by both cities, their culture and music and that cuts across my acting too. I have done a bunch of films here in the US and have also been fortunate to get a few roles in Ghanaian movies shot here. I would like to do more in the near future, not just any Ghanaian film because I’m pretty particular when it comes to the quality of projects I want to be associated with. So if it’s a project with an excellent team, good storyline and budget I’m all for it. I support both the independent film and music industries in both worlds and I am inspired by both of them.
D233: Do you see any positives in the Ghanaian movie industry?
S|P: Absolutely! It’s very entertaining and is its own subculture. The Ghanaian and Nigerian movie industries are growing rapidly. I have been proud to watch Ghanaian and Nigerian films at festivals here in the states. More Americans are increasingly patronizing these movies and love them. But generally speaking, what I think is needed is better quality of the finished product. Investing a little more time in post production to eliminate things like background noise, mastering the sound and doing color correction can go a long way to improve the viewing experience. The objective sometimes is quantity over quality so movies are shot quickly and released. I’ve always been a stickler for attention to detail, which I see on sets of Hollywood films. I think if more attention was given to Ghanaian and Nigerian movies to improve their overall quality, they could be marketed to an even wider audience.
I am not out to criticize but to show by example through my subsequent productions that even with a limited budget quality should not be compromised. There is a short film calledRoutine, directed by Sam Kessie which I co-starred in, about a Ghanaian mother in the United States and her deteriorating relationship with her daughter. I play a dark twisted role. It should be making the rounds worldwide in different film festivals soon and it’s an example of a project I chose to be a part of because I believed in the quality of the finished product, the team involved as well as the good storyline.
D233: Any albums in the works?
S|P: PhaRo Tha Gr8 is finishing up The SphinxTape: I AM THE AFRICAN DREAM.
On Acting As a Career Path:
“The only thing that mattered to me initially was what my parents thought. I have a stubborn side, so I think I would have still stuck to what I believe in. Acting is not the conventional career route that a kid who grows up in Ghana follows...
I have some family members who have been supportive from day one and call me almost every day to check on me, to see what I’m working on and that keeps me on my toes and off course there are others haven’t been. But that is life: I just roll with the punches and gravitate towards those who believe in me. Overall, I’m good, I’m comfortable. I’m living and loving life. You have to reach past the stars.”
Som Aidoo (August, 2014)
D233: What role does family play in what you’re pursuing now?
S|P:The only thing that mattered to me initially was what my parents thought. I have a stubborn side, so I think I would have still stuck to what I believe in. Acting is not the conventional career route that a kid who grows up in Ghana follows. At first, they were baffled, so there were a lot of questions about whether I was certain about my decision and their concern about vices surrounding entertainment. It’s the least of my worries and I guess over time they’ve seen my focus and have had the chance to see me in feature films and also work on my independent film ‘No Turning Back’. They were actually visiting from Ghana when I started shooting, so I didn’t have time to hang out with them as much. However, they were able to witness my dedication first hand. My mum was actually my makeup artist and caterer on set. I put her to work! It made more sense to them being around and they understand ‘the creative grind’ much better now. Bless their hearts. (laughter) My dad also got the chance to read one of my screenplays. Afterwards, he came up to me with his signature smirk and dapped me like “This is ready to take off’. It was cool and hilarious at the same time.
That aside, I have some family members who have been supportive from day one and call me almost every day to check on me, to see what I’m working on. That keeps me on my toes. I just roll with the punches and gravitate towards those who believe in me. Overall, I’m good, I’m comfortable. I’m living and loving life. You have to reach past the stars.
The sky AIN’T the limit!
Photography: Luis Rodriguez, Kimberly Paige Photography, Sweet Spot Apparel.