I recently got the chance to talk to Hoji Fortuna about his role as the lead villain in ‘Viva Riva’. Here, Hoji talks about how he got involved in the project in the first place, how he got into acting and what a Hoji Fortuna day usually consists of….
Hey Hoji. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. ‘Viva Riva’ will be coming out on 24th June 2011 to UK cinemas. What is the general premise of the film?
Thanks for interviewing me for your blog, Matt. Riva is a young man who, like many young man in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) flees the country because of poverty. Angola, the neighboring country is usually a good destination for these refugees. So Riva goes there to try his shot and stays there for over ten years. When he returns, he is carrying a truck loaded with gasoline, an item very rare in Kinshasa, the capital of DRC. So, he is the king of the city now. He is also a party boy who loves to live life in the full – alcohol, sex and drugs. The thing is that the gasoline he is carrying is not his. While he was in Angola he engaged in a “commercial” relationship with a gang of Angolan thugs. The gasoline belongs to Cesar, the leader of the Angolan gang and former protector of Riva. That is my character by the way. Cesar goes to Kinshasa in search of Riva and his stolen fuel. What follows you will have to see for yourself from June 24th.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the film….
Cesar is a charismatic, slick, stylish, determined and very, very violent person. He is a force of nature, one of those characters that is so strong as a person it gives you an impression of “here comes trouble” the first time you lay eyes on him in the film. He acts and talks like an 18th century gentleman, but he is really a cool embodiment of the devil. He is a fun and scary character to watch, a very interesting combination of emotions.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
There was an ongoing audition happening in various countries in Africa and Europe. The production was looking for Angolan actors or actors who could play Angolans. I was living in Portugal at the time and that’s where I did the audition, never thinking I was going to get the role. Meanwhile, I moved to New York and one year after the casting, I was contacted by the casting director who auditioned me, telling me that the production wanted to reach me regarding the role of the lead villain in ‘Viva Riva’. Director Djo Munga actually flew to New York to do one last audition with me. He had liked my original audition, but was a bit concerned with the fact that I looked too young for the character he had in mind. After this audition director Djo Munga went back to Kinshasa and I secured the role of Cesar. A few weeks later, I was flying to Kinshasa and a week after my arrival we began shooting.
What was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
I think director Djo Munga did a remarkable job in putting together the cast and crew. We were a very international team composed of highly experienced crew members and a remarkably talented cast. Many of the people involved in the production aspects of the project, mostly the Congolese, were rookies and trained by director Djo Munga, but they too did an amazing job. It was certainly one of the most amazing experiences to have worked on the set of ‘Viva Riva’. Everyone was excited while we were shooting and it was nice seeing and hearing the director and the crew raving about the scenes we were shooting and how great they came out. There was a lot of room for improvisation and the director suggested things to me – both dialogue-wise and action-wise.
Let’s talk about you Hoji – what made you want to get into acting in the first place?
I was always an actor of sorts. I used to perform romantic songs for adults at the age of two and that earned me the nickname of “Nightingale” (Rouxinol in Portuguese). I always loved to mimic the characters I saw in the movies and soaps and even the anchors in the news. But I never consciously thought of becoming an actor until I was twenty-six or twenty-seven years old. Until then I was pursuing law studies and public administration. The “call” came when I did an amateur play in Portugal for a University audience. I loved the feeling of being on stage, even though I’m not sure how good of a performance I did – my girlfriend’s comment at the time when I asked for her opinion was: “I liked your screams”.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in acting?
Man, it’s a tough job. Not the job itself, but the career. Be prepared for starvation and disappointment. It’s part of the business of acting. Lower your expectations, but keep pushing the standards of your craft and the excellence of your performances. Network, network, network! It’s a business based on relationships and your success will depend on the relationships you make in the industry. Always be nice and considerate. If you want to be financially successful, maybe it’s not the best choice, but if you truly believe in your call, then go for it. You only live once and you don’t know for how long.
What has been the most memorable moment or experience of your career so far?
Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I said ‘Viva Riva’. It’s the biggest role I’ve played so far in any project. It also allowed me to return to my native continent and home country after sixteen years of exile; it granted me an acting award from the most prestigious African film academy and I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie gets nominated at the Oscars. Just for the experience, it was indescribably amazing.
What does a Hoji Fortuna day usually consist of?
I’m an early riser and a late sleeper. I spend a lot of time on the computer pitching work, sending resumes, scouting for projects and promoting my acting self. The first thing I do when I wake up is turn the computer on. I jog when I’m in a sports mood, watch movies as an acting research tool, read plays and classic fiction, attend auditions and play the saxophone when I need to hear some noise. I am the chef in my house, but I also enjoy going out for dinner or brunch with my wife or with friends. This is essentially my routine, 70% of which is devoted to my career.
What’s coming up for you in 2011? I hear you’ve just completed a film called ‘Meanwhile’…
Yes, we’ve just finished principal photography on “Meanwhile”, director Hal Hartley’s next project. I’m also waiting for the release of “Festival of Lights”, a Bollywood movie shot in New York and Guyana. 2011 has already been an interesting and productive year for me, and I’m still scouting for more projects to be a part of. I would like to do some work in Europe, maybe in the UK, but let’s see how the tide rolls.
Thanks for the interview!