Introduce yourself and tell us about your acting journey
My name is Naomi Mburu, an actor and aspiring producer based in Nairobi, Kenya. I am 23 years old. My journey as an actor started when I was a little kid. My parents saw talent in me and sought to see it grow. They took me for Vocational Trainings, most of which happened in churches, where I would do stage plays and compete for awards. However, my journey as a professional actor began in March 2015, when I did a cameo in the popular TV drama series Mother-In-Law. I have always loved acting and to be honest the motivation to join the film industry came from within. There was a certain force from within that drove me to begin.
When I started out, I did not know it would get tough along the way. I decided not to go into the corporate world despite holding a degree in commerce. There was a lot of pressure to get a white collar job from family and some of my friends who did not understand what I wanted. But when I joined the popular TV drama series Tahidi High, the pressure somewhat subsidized. The journey was not very smooth, but I got my encouragement from my mentor, Pst. George Macharia and my mother. From the beginning, I decided to surround myself with people who take filmmaking seriously.
It was during my first feature film, The Parable of Judas, that I met some iconic people in the film industry. I got to work with Director L. Biko Nyongesa of OFl films and producers Wangui Ngunjiri and Winnie Njoki of Legit films. This was my first time doing a feature film and I took it as an opportunity to work and learn. The team from OFL films and Legit Productions had studied film, I had not, hence I made a decision to learn everything they knew. I especially spent every opportunity I got, with L. Biko Nyongesa, Frank Oyosa and Akwa Odhiambo, asking questions and learning. I also worked with director of photography Victor Ombogo, another iconic filmmaker. I found his work authentic and I wanted to be associated with it. He introduced me to other people who shared my drive. One of those is film director Jesse Kyalo of Jesse K Films.
Jesse is keen on quality and good stories, characteristics that made me want to work with him. For my first project with him, we worked on a testimonial against bribes. This was followed by an upcoming political thriller series dubbed The System. The System was a major project for me as I got to work with film legends like Raymond Ofula, Oliver Litondo, Kenneth Ambani, Mumbi Kaigwa and Muthoni Gatheca, just to mention but a few.
Which other projects have you worked on?
I have worked on other projects like Baba Njoki, a short film, shot for the London Film school and the GSM short film which was nominated for several film festivals including the Poland Film Festival and Machakos Film Festival. I have also worked with Spiel Works Productions on Sumu la Penzi and Urembo. I have been on Maisha Magic’s Varshita series. At some point in the year 2016, I started hosting a business show on KU TV, The Budding Entrepreneur.
I credit Tahidi High as the stepping stone that introduced me into the Kenyan film industry. It was during the filming of the series that one of my colleagues, actor Michael Okoth, introduced me to casting director Isaya Evans, who has played a major role in most of the projects I have been cast.
Why do you love acting and what’s your motivation?
It fulfills me, gives me untold joy, and knowing that I can impact someone’s life by giving myself to tell a story is irreplaceable.
My motivation comes from within. There’s a higher power, that I tend to believe is God at work within me. I have made a few strides at only the beginning of my career and this gives me hope for the future. I cannot stop now, my dreams and goals are too Gigantic. I have also realized with time that people start to look up to you. I am already mentoring a few ladies who are becoming forces to reckon with. If this isn’t motivation enough, I don’t know what is.
How do you prepare for auditions?
When I attend auditions, I like to bring all of my energy with me. I always say confidence in the skills I have will secure me a role because, truth be told, you never really know what to expect during an audition. In solitude, however, I keep doing monologues in case the auditions I attend require me to do one. I am particularly comfortable with emotional roles. Those come easy for me. I look forward to a time when I will play a character that will challenge me to the core. A character that will drain and empty me of me, and I’ll have to work hard afterwards to go back to me.
How do you pick acting roles and how do you prepare for roles?
How I pick my acting roles is dependent on the story. For me it ceases to be about the money, (I ask to be paid, don’t get it twisted) and it begins with the story. I tend to think I am a method actor and any role would work for me as long as the story is worth it. I can disguise as an old person or a sassy diva. Any character, bring it I’ll give it life.
I like my scripts in advance before the principle shoot so I can have ample time to do my research, mostly browsing to see similar roles played before, either in films or documentaries. For example, on The System, I played the role of the Vice President’s aide, who later on becomes the President’s aide. To prepare for this role, I researched on the job description of an aide, how they dress, their deliverables, and needless to say, I repeatedly watched clips of political thrillers like Designated Survivor.
On set and during rehearsals, I follow the director’s vision and help actualize it. I like to make sure that the vision that I have of the character I’m playing is in singularity with the director’s vision. Thus, in as much as I do my research, I also ask for the director’s vision.
In your opinion or based on what has worked for you, what makes a good/great actor?
In my opinion, a good actor is one who isn’t concerned about how a role will make them look, but one who seeks to connect their character to the audience. The body of an actor should be developed, but my greatest desire is the mind development. Say for a foolish role, it cannot be played by a simpleton. The actor must learn to grow his mind, develop his body , voice and his language.
To grow as an actor, I decided to study a lot, watch and attend a lot of workshops, I developed a reading culture to grow my mind, expand my knowledge and I have seen it work for me. I also took an entire year to train in vocals, not so I can be a musician, but to work on my voice. I have also set apart some time to physically develop my body and understand my body type. Can I lose weight fast and gain it as equally fast?
What does being a filmmaker mean to you and what do you think is the role of filmmakers in the society? What gives you satisfaction as a filmmaker/actor?
Being a filmmaker to me, means being the voice of the voiceless. And I think film as a whole plays a huge societal role in speaking for those that can’t speak for themselves. Filmmaking is so powerful and it is sad to see that this power has not been tapped to its potential. Look at Hollywood, for example, during World War ll, while other industries were being closed, like the vacuum and motor industries, Hollywood was not only left untouched, but it flourished too. The government at the time deemed it an essential industry because, not only did it create a diversion from the war, its help was enlisted in fighting the war.
How much more power do we as filmmakers have especially In Kenya, being the hub of development in Sub-Saharan Africa?
What will give me satisfaction is when we filmmakers set our minds to influence, take a hold of this untapped power and exploit it to make a change, better our society and correct wrongs as well.
What’s your advice to upcoming actors and established actors, as well?
My advice to anyone who wants to be an actor, JUST DO IT! Prepare for it then, prepare for an impact. Never stop preparing; it’ll keep you at the top.
To those already in the acting world, let’s keep at it. Ask yourself what you’d like your legacy to be. Or would you just like to be famous and make this your end goal? What is there after the prestigious Oscars? Is there anything more that you would want to achieve? These are questions that should always run in your mind. If you are in it only for the money and fame, I think you got it all wrong. Redefine that.
What’s your take on the Kenyan film industry, based on the role played by all stakeholders; filmmakers, the government and the audience?
When I think about the Kenyan Film Industry, my heart sinks. What I see is a potentially great industry that is being fought by its own. Starting with us, the filmmakers, who will look down upon anything and anyone that tries to rise, to the government that will impose heavy taxes on us, to the viewers who will prefer to watch American films over an Oscar nominated film like Watu Wote, which is closer to home. As I look at all these, I sigh. I sigh for all the people fighting hard to propel this industry forward.
My comments on the industry are highly reserved as it is. I feel like we should work to improve the face of this industry as opposed to just complain online or elsewhere. We hold the power to change the narrative in this industry. Or at least I know I hold the power. And those that are with me will help change this narrative.
What other areas of filmmaking are you interested in pursuing in the future and why?
Apart from acting I am an aspiring producer with a recently registered company. I will be shooting my first short film later, this year. I am learning from producers who have started the journey ahead of me, with the hope of creating my own beautiful journey. Why I want to be a producer is simple. I am a very compassionate person and I feel every time someone gives me a story, I should tell it in a bid to change at least a single soul. One day I will tell a story about my mother.
Who are some of the filmmakers who motivate you here in Kenya, Africa and Worldwide?
I look up to a few filmmakers in the Kenyan industry but appreciate everyone that is making an impact in the industry. From those that sleep late at night scripting, like Mark Kitana, Rose Njoroge and Abel Mutua, to those that go for long hours on set without complaining, like Victor Ombogo, Ceci Mercy (very resilient), Nancy Alouch (whom I’m very proud of for her recent achievement on the production design of Watu Wote), Grishon Onyango (a sound mixer), to the producers who just make it happen regardless of the hassle, like Wangui Ngunjiri, to the directors who will respect you as an actor and sell their vision to you like, Jesse Kyalo and Biko Nyongesa, to the actors who will work with you till the end, even when things get tough, like Shiviske Shivisi, Brian Ogola, Elsaphan Njora, Maryanne Nungo and Farouk Maina. I appreciate all of the people that make it happen.
In Africa I look up to very few, but one that I cannot fail to mention is the Nigerian story teller and producer Lowla Dee. Beyond Africa, I look up to Shonda Rhymes. Whatever she drinks, I want it!
What would you like to be remembered for as a filmmaker? When all is said and done, what legacy would you like to leave behind?
What I would like to be remembered for as a filmmaker? Whoa! I want to be remembered for a lot of things. I want to be remembered for being the best female actor that existed from Africa with excellent quality being my benchmark. I want to be remembered for changing lives, telling stories of unspoken heroes; I want to be remembered as the filmmaker who strived to eradicate poverty (this includes mental poverty) from anyone she interacted with. I want to tell stories and I know that there are so many stories to be told in the world, but in my time here, I will strive to tell as many as I can. I will impact the world through a lot of biopics. Bring me your story and I’ll tell it.
Anything else you’d like say?
There are so many stories yearning to be told. Let’s, please.
PS: Find Naomi Mburuh’s acting profile and showreel here> Naomi Mburuh