As revellers strolled into Uganda National Cultural Centre, many passed him by without noticing who he was. Morocco Omari, one of the lead actors in television series Empire, stood by the guest counter, alone, scrolling through his phone, waiting to watch comedy outfit Fun Factory’s weekly dose of hilarious skits dubbed ‘Comedycine’.
In an African print shirt and fairly faded brown jeans, he could have passed for another towering ‘dude’. He spotted a visible brush-level hairstyle. A few fans could be seen pointing fingers, butting their eyelids in uncertainty if he was who they thought he was.
Television drama series’ fans will identify Omari as Tariq Cousins, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent whose eyes are set on taking down elusive music empire top executive Lucious Lyon, played by celebrated actor Terrence Howard.
When Richard Tuwangye, one of the lead comedians in Fun Factory, announced Omari’s presence, he attracted a loud applause from theatre patrons among whom he was seated. He waved and smiled.
Trust the jesters; they wove jokes about the Empire cast which Omari took in with bouts of laughter. The Chicago-born actor arrived in Kampala on Thursday, at about 1pm. He stood at the plane metallic staircase, closed his eyes and took in a long inhalation of the fresh tropical breeze.
One of his first impressions of the country was the daunting traffic jam. “Oh the traffic jam from Entebbe to Kampala was so heavy. Mehn, it is like choreographed chaos man. New York and LA gat traffic but the traffic jam here is heavy. At some point, I slept off,” a smiley, free-spirited Omari said.
But for the while he managed to keep his eyes open, he optically appreciated the green lush that lines the roadsides of the Entebbe-Kampala highway, coupled with Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest fresh water lake, and the beautiful landscapes.
Hannington Bugingo is taking him around and the two got into contact through a mutual friend, Allan Tumusiime, a Uganda-born actor based in Manhattan, USA with his wife, Katori Hall, an American celebrated playwright.
Our conversation is severally interrupted by fans who request the cheerful star for a photography opportunity. “I love Africa. Media in the west show Africa in negative light but I always knew that there was more to it than those stories because I have researched about Africa. The people are warm, welcoming. I have been a couple of hours and I have enjoyed fresh fish and chips and strong, spicy and tasty African black tea just the way I like my women. I will be heading to a place called Big Mikes, who knows I might meet my future wife here. Lord, this country has beautiful women!” he exclaimed.
Never mind that despite his seeming love for women, he has recently been arrested on charges of domestic violence. But during the interview, though not responding to the said charges, Omari says it is not good to always believe what media reports.
He says that he got the name ‘Morocco’ partly because he traces his roots to Africa, and has thus always felt the ‘gravitation pull’ back home. Before coming to Uganda, he had spent six days in Kenya.
He is here for about a week for purely relaxation. He will be heading to Rwanda and Tanzania as part of his one-month travel holiday. It is not his first time visiting Africa or East Africa at that.
“I first came to Africa in 2006 and it was still on holiday. I went to Mombasa,” he says. He is a father of two daughters. On life growing up, the 46-year-old actor says he was raised in a western suburb of Chicago, by a single mother.
“By 18, I walked around with two loaded pistols in my pockets. I am glad that I am one of the few that made it out of that neighbourhood. That is part of the reason I went on to become a Marine. At college, I met a professor (Dr. Stuart) who changed my life,” he recounts.
One day, the professor asked Omari what he was planning to do after school. He asked him what he wanted to do with his life. “He asked me if I was going to party, drink and chase women for life. He told me ‘Son, you have potential but you have no discipline’. When I thought of discipline, I immediately thought of becoming a marine because it was identified with discipline,” Omari further recounts.
After serving as marine, he got a few deals as a model- casting for commercials. He got a chance to interact with artistes on set and out of curiosity asked them what they earned. They earned thrice what he had been earning. He asked his agent to search for opportunities for him to joining acting.
He landed his first acting role in a theatre production in 1995. 22 years later, he has evolved into a producer, writer, actor and film director whose fame is boosted by films like; Hope, Kubuku Rides (This Is It), Half Past Dead 2, and more.
Sharing a film set with Howard has been a humbling experience. He describes Academy Award nominee Howard, who has headlined casts in movies like Pride, Dead Presidents, Hustle & Flow, August Rush, as a master of the acting craft.
“Working with Howard is educational. I have been watching his works for years. I have learnt that to work with him, I have to have my A-game on because he respects work and puts time into it,” Omari, who shares set with Howard on the Empire series set, explains.
Of Taraji Henson who stars as Cookie Lyon, Omari says she is a strong character and a lot of fun working with, adding that she is a brilliant lady who is adaptive and can easily improvise when in character.
To his admission, acting is a lot of work so he will want to slow life down and does so by travelling, tasting different types of food wherever he goes and listening, and sometimes recording people’s accents. He also enjoys live theatre and cinema as well as listening to different types of music.