In the studio he goes by PhaRo Tha Gr8. On sets, he is affectionately called Som Cheadle by some of his cast & crew associates. I know him as Som Aidoo, co-alum of Ghana International School (GIS), a private school in Ghana known for challenging students in a rigorous academic environment. When Aidoo left Ghana to start college at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, he seemed well-groomed for academic success and life in the straight-laced corporate world, then he stumbled into music and acting. In a no holds-barred conversation, Aidoo explains his detour into the limelight.
AB: I got to know you when we were both students at GIS, It never struck me that you would become an artiste. Was this always the plan
SA: I always liked music but growing up in Ghana our parents programmed us to be doctors, bankers, lawyers etc. So when I started Lawrence University, I decided I was going to major in Economics but I was an RA in a dorm where almost all my mentees were musicians and I often found myself giving them ideas on how they could enhance their craft. Being around these creative people sparked something in me and I started taking classes in music. Of course the fact that I had crushes on a few girls at the conservatory of music was a great motivator…(He chuckles mischievously before continuing) Later on, when I got a gig at the college’s radio station, I really got into music and the funny thing is people started to assume that I was a hip-hop artist although I wasn’t.
So when did the transition to music happen
One summer, a guy came up to me to and said he had heard I was an artist and he wanted to do music with me. So we did a demo and started distributing it around campus. After that I knew I wanted to pursue music. In fact, I wanted to drop out of college and do music full time, but I couldn’t because I was in the US on an F1 student visa – dropping out would have jeopardized my immigration status. But at the same I had been living in Wisconsin for 2 years and I wanted to move to Atlanta because all my favourite artists, Outkast, Goodie Mob, JD, Babyface, Toni Braxton, Usher, were all from Atlanta. I was convinced there was something in the water so I came up with a plan that would help me complete my education and pursue music simultaneously. I transferred to Oglethorpe University, in Atlanta, took as many credits as I could and graduated in 3 years instead of 4. To make ends meet, I accepted a job in the financial sector but I hated it. As soon as I got to work, I would start counting down the hours. But on the flip side, when I was in the studio producing beats, writing songs or doing shows, I did not even look at the clock.
What genre is your music
My foundation is hip-hop but I am genre blind. I love everything from hip-life to pop, reggae, rock and even country. Lately, I have started experimenting with relaxation music because I am just fascinated with sound.
Is there a particular time during the day that you are most inspired
When I am sleeping I usually pop up with an idea and I wake up to it in the middle of the night to write. Sometimes, I am not even aware until I see the scribbling on a piece of paper the next morning.
You came to Atlanta to pursue music, but you are also an actor. In fact, when I googled you, I found and IMDB profile which credits you with a respectable amount of work. Which art has your heart, music or acting
Both. One side of my heart is the artist/ songwriter and the other half is the screenwriter/actor. To be honest, I must update my IMDB site because apart from Kill the Messenger, Last of Robin Hood …there are projects that are not even listed like Hunger Games, Vampire Diaries, Fast and Furious VIII as well as some independent SAG films that are not yet listed.
Atlanta has now become a quasi mecca for actors but Hollywood still holds the appeal. Do you have plans to move to LA
Ideally I would like to be bicoastal because there’s work leaving LA for Atlanta. My acting coach, GregAlan Williams, who used to be based in LA now finds a ton of work outside Hollywood. Vampire Diaries, the first TV show I appeared on as a featured extra, was shot in my neighbourhood. I worked on Fast and Furious VII for 3 months without moving to LA. I think the ‘filmscape’ has shifted such that you no longer have to move to LA to make it.
How do you deal with the emotional and financial roller coaster that comes with pursuing a dream
Acting is like the stock market. If you want to be successful, you have to be in it for the long haul. There are people who come into the industry for the glitz and quickly call it quits because they realize that it is hard work. If you don’t have the passion for it, you will run out of steam. I save a lot. Every dime I get, I save it for when I hit a dry spot. Thankfully, because of the work I put in over the last few years and the relationships I have built, work has been kinda consistent. But I always plan ahead.
Are you built for this industry
Yes! I have had the opportunity to meet and speak to legends like Avery Brooks, Samuel Jackson, Michael K Williams and they all say the same thing – stick to it cause that’s what separates the winners from the losers – the least I can do is listen. I am hardly ever late to a set and I am usually one of the last to leave. That being said, I can’t wait to get to a point where I can emulate the people I admire, not just for their lifestyle, but so I can also give back.
Who do you look up to
Avery Brooks – I met him at 8 and he was the first celebrity I had ever seen in my life. My acting coach, GregAlan Williams, because he’s been a working actor for over 30 years and his passion for what he does motivates me to be the best I can be. Of course, Don Cheadle. Samuel Jackson. Need I say more? He did not get his big break until he was 43 yet he has at least 90 credits to his name and his movies have grossed the most out of all the actors. The first time I got to hang out with him, I just loved listening to him talk shit, yet in between talking shit, he was dropping jewels of wisdom like “it is not about when you get your big break, it’s what you do with your big break that matters”.
Have you ever been star struck
I’ve met a good amount of big name celebrities and I was not over the moon about them but for some strange reason meeting Michael K Williams was different. He is best known as Omar in the HBO series the Wire and Chalky White in the hit HBO series Boardwalk Empire. We met when I played his body double for Kill the Messenger. On the outside I was acting cool, but inside I was screaming like a cheerleader!
What do your parents think of your career move
At first, they thought I was crazy. In fact, when I told my dad that I wanted to go into music and acting he said “ You mean, we paid 60K in tuition for you to become an artist?” Like most African parents, initially, they were very worried, but this last Thanksgiving they came to visit and we went to watch The Hunger Games. You should have heard my mum screaming on top of her lungs when my scene came up. My dad was equally excited, taking screenshots on his iPad.
You are in an upcoming movie Selma, which is about the Civil Rights movement, how was that experience.
I was cast in a riot scene where there was a stand-off between Martin Luther King Jr and the racist police chief, Officer Clark. It was a non-speaking part, but as we were getting ready for the scene, I found myself standing next to this lady whose presence was causing a stir. I turned when she said “hello young man” and found myself face to face with Oprah. It was a great experience. The director Ava Duvernay was phenomenal.
Dream girl: Charlize Theron
Favourite food: Red red ( a local Ghanaian dish made with fried plantain and black-eyed peas)
Favourite car: Audi A4, Cabriolet 2006
Favourite saying: You know it
Favourite Vacation: Trinidad and Cyprus
Dream Vacation: Cayman Islands with Charlize Theron
Biggest disappointment: hmmm, I have had run-ins with producers and videographers who have held on to my material even after they have been compensated. It is sad when you work with your own people and some of them screw you over
Relationship Status Single or complicated: It’s not complicated, I am single, but I am interviewing prospects.
Any children: None that I know of
Do you think you have made it: Not yet
When would you say you have made it: When mama got the beach house in Malibu.
Who are your best friends: Mark Korbieh and Marvin Larbi Yeaboh. Mark and I were roommates when I first moved to Atlanta and I developed my confidence being on stage by watching him do improv. Marvin and I have been tight since high school and although we don’t talk as much lately, we have always had a good relationship.
Last time you cried: 11, my mum was whopping my ass.
Not even a teardrop since 11: No it’s one of the few areas I have not been able to conquer. I have cried on the inside like twice, but no tears down my face. Even when I acting I cannot cry. I have been told people win Oscars by crying. I have played a rapist, priests, and other emotional roles, but I just could not shed a tear. Once I can lock down crying I am done.
When was the last time you had a good hearty laugh: Pretty much all the time. A few days ago, Michael and I were going over a script I wrote in the middle of the night and we laughed so hard…
What’s the next thing you are working on: I just wrote a jazz record for an upcoming independent period film called ‘Dawn of a New Day’ which is set in 1901. I’m also supervising the soundtrack for an upcoming Marvel fan film ‘Deadpool, Black Panther, back in Red & Black’ both of which come out in September. Of course my long awaited SphinxTape: I AM THE AFRICAN DREAM will see the light of day before the year is out. It will be my re-entry into music after a challenging hiatus. Be on the lookout for my single #summerjam