At 25, Sheldon Shepherd has already established himself as a triple threat: gifted actor, skilful performance poet and fearless leader of the acclaimed music/spoken word group NoMaddz that is busy these days invigorating the Jamaican live music landscape. But Shepherd’s excellent performance as a tough yet charismatic gangster in Better Mus’ Come is sure to win him new admirers who are sure to recognize not only his courage for tackling such a demanding role (which essentially carries much of the weight of the film) but also his capacity for fully inhabiting a character and staying committed to the part. Here he talks to TALLAWAH about finding inspiration for the new role, violence in Better Mus’ Come and why he wants to impact people.
Looking back on the filming of Better Mus’ Come and comparing it to the finished product, what are you most proud of?
The fact that it is all Jamaican. The cast, the director, the writer, the crew. And as Jamaicans we have come together and really used up our motto in making this film. Now people are loving it.
Your character, Ricky, is very conflicted and has huge responsibilities as a father and as leader of a gang. Where did you find inspiration for the portrayal? Did you pull on anything from your own life?
You have to, because as an actor even though you are playing a character you have to make it you. Me and Ricky share similar backgrounds in terms of experiencing life in the inner-city. I grew up in Franklin Town. And I know what it is to have no running water and things like that. But I guess Ricky’s hardships are much tougher than what I experienced because I never had to take up a gun.
Speaking of guns, how do you feel about the film’s enormous violence content? Do you think it’s too much?
The movie is fantasy but it is also a reflection of certain facts, and to tell that you have to be honest. We are just representing the events, and it was a very trying time in Jamaica. In the movie, [the violence] is tastefully done. It is poetic. It is not done to glorify violence. What we were trying to present [with the movie] is a means to an end.
We haven’t seen you on stage for a theatrical production in a while? Do you still love the theatre?
Yeah, theatre is still a passion, but at the same time we have to keep exploring new passions and stretch the tentacles to new things (Laughs). We want to be known for other things. We take our work very seriously, so whenever we do a work we care very much how it impacts people.
Your spoken word/music group NoMaddz recently released an album called The Trod. How have people been receiving it?
Ah dat dem love! People love the album, and we are glad that the freshness of the album is running hand in hand with the release of Better Mus’ Come. It’s just a great season for us in terms of artistic expression.
What do you hope to accomplish next as an actor and performance artist?
I don’t really plan my life; I just the Almighty run things. You just have to have faith and wisdom. We troddin’ the road and people realize that they can expect to be entertained by NoMaddz, and it’s a very great feeling. We have to glad for the gift of music and being able to influence people with positivity and happiness.
ABS APPRECIATION: Shepherd enjoys a quick congratulatory rubdown from Sharon Manley at the Better Mus' Come release after-party at Devon House on October 7.