Adetokumboh M’Cormack is a well-known actor who has starred in films and TV shows like Captain America: Winter Soldier, Lost, Blood Diamond and many more. Not only is he an accomplished actor but also a brilliant director, who decided to tell the true story of the Cameroonian Leader King Rudolf Douala Manga Bell. We had the absolute pleasure of talking to him about his film: picking his brain about how he came across this story, why he decided to tell it, why he decided to cast himself as the role of Kind Rudolf and how the audience has been reacting to it so far.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. How are you Adetokumboh?
I’m doing great. It’s been amazing getting to travel around the world screening The German King. The audience seems to love it. Really excited about how much attention the film is getting.
Congratulations on making such an eye-opening film. When did you encounter the story of King Rudolf Douala Manga Bell?
I came across King Rudolf’s story about three years ago and I just remember getting chills. I thought, “I have to tell this story.” There are so many African stories that are yet to be told. And as an African filmmaker, I figured it was time we started telling them. I wanted to stay away from the negative narratives we typically see, and instead show our beautiful kingdoms and the richness of our culture. I wanted to celebrate the lives of our African heroes – the men and women who fought hard to bring about major change in the world.
Why did you decide to cast yourself and not someone else for the role of King King Rudolf Douala Manga Bell (you executed that role perfectly, by the way)?
I really felt that I identified with Rudolf. We are both West African. We had similar backgrounds. I understood his upbringing. There was so much of my personal experience that I was able to bring to the character. As an actor, the opportunity to play such a robust, multifaceted character are few and far between so it was something I really wanted to do. I also wanted to challenge myself. Rudolf speaks three different languages in the film – English, Douala, and German. So I started learning German and Douala. I sing the closing credits song in Douala. I had some terrific dialect coaches who worked with me all throughout production.
I am so shocked that I never heard of this story. Why do you think not a lot of people know about his story?
Well, for one thing, his story is not really taught in schools back home. And there are so many other African heroes like him whose stories have never been told. I also think when it comes to telling Rudolf’s story, it portrays many of the colonial rulers in a very negative light. Millions of Africans in the Congo during that time period were killed by King Leopold. There was the genocide of the Nama and Herero people under German colonial rule. Many Africans were put in concentration camps. I think it’s an uncomfortable part of history that many would like to forget.
With regards to the previous question, what can be done to make sure King Rudolf’s story is more exposed?
We are working on the feature-length version of the film right now which delves deeper into Rudolf’s story. We will be showing the many Africans who were fighting on the front lines during World War 1. And I’m hoping this will get more people talking about these forgotten heroes and get their stories put back in the history books.
Tell me about the location of the film.
Since so much of the film takes place in a German Palace and in the Pagode De Douala palace in Cameroon, I figured I needed one location that could double as both. I searched all across America and came across this incredible place called Laurel Court in Cincinnati. It was modeled after Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon Palace in Versailles and built in the early 1900’s. A lot of the original furniture and ornaments are still there so it worked perfectly for the film. We used one section to film the German scenes and we used a different section for the Cameroon scenes. My production designer Stephonika Kaye just did a brilliant job making both sections look like Germany and Cameroon in 1914.
Tell us about the cast.
It’s a Cameroonian story so I wanted as many Cameroonians in it as possible. Constance Ejuma was one of the first people I brought on board. She is a brilliant actress from Cameroon. I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time. It just made sense for her to play Queen Emily. Jude Yong who plays the Sultan is also from Cameroon. He’s a terrific actor out of Juilliard. We also speak a lot of German in the film so I needed actors who were fluent. I cast Markus Jorgensen after watching him in a film where he was speaking German. He grew up in Austria. I cast Chris Lamm who is a German actor to play the Palace Guard. He had spent some time in the military and I wanted him to bring that experience to the role. Scottie Thompson and Raphael Corkhill are actors I’ve known for years. They are both brilliant and great with dialects. I was ecstatic when they both said yes to being in the film.
Who was your cinematographer on The German King? The cinematography is exceptional in the film.
My Cinematographer is Justin Janowitz. We’ve been friends for years. The guy is a genius. We talked at length about the look and feel of each scene in the film, what colors we would use to differentiate the two countries. Some of the scenes were lit almost entirely by candlelight and the result is just stunning.
How have people been reacting to your film?
People have been loving it! Some of the best reactions have been from kids. So many have come up to me saying how much they loved Rudolf’s character and the story. It’s amazing because growing up I never really had African heroes in films I could look up to. So to have this younger generation look up at a screen and go “I want to be like that guy” – it’s just incredible.
How was the screening at BronzeLens Film Festival?
It was amazing. People just kept talking about how epic the production was and how happy they were that it portrayed Africans in a way they had never seen before. Afterward, people kept coming up to me saying things like “I didn’t want the film to end. I want to see more.” (Laughs)
What’s next for The German King? Are there any more festivals it will be screening at?
We are developing the feature-length version of the film, so stay tuned for more updates on that. And we are continuing our festival run. We are screening at Cindependent Film Festival, Classics in the Park shorts and Soul West Film Festival. There are a couple others that I can’t announce yet.
Lastly, what is next for you? Both acting and directing?
Right now I’m starring in a film called “Los Angeles” directed by Mitch Temple, look out for it next year. And I have a movie coming out soon directed by Chris Freeman who was one of the Producers on The German King. I play a Catholic Priest. It’s a really cool, new take on the exorcism genre and it’s awesome and terrifying.
I’m also lending my voice to a couple of animated shows on Netflix. I play Isaac on Castlevania and the character Kofi on the upcoming Gods and Heroes.
And in addition to writing and directing The German King feature, I’m currently working on a superhero project which I can’t talk say too much about yet.