Introduce yourself and tell us about your acting journey
My name is Nyokabi Gethaiga. I’m a Kenyan actress, based in Nairobi, Kenya. I wanted to be an actor from when I was a little girl, as far back as I can remember. I have a vague memory of the first play I did when I was in primary school. I didn’t have any lines, all I had to do was sit and look sad (I was playing the role of a street child). I don’t quite remember what the play was about but I do remember wanting to be as convincing as possible! All through my childhood I knew I wanted to be an actor or a singer. One of the first ‘downs’ I encountered was beginning to realize that it wasn’t possible for me. Acting and singing for me were never career options, so I didn’t pursue them as such. So I went and studied biology at Manchester University in the US because I wanted to go into Public Health. But soon after I graduated I had what one might call an epiphany. I was at the crossroads trying to figure out my next move and reached out to an acquaintance to help me get some sort of direction. As we were talking, that person asked, “What really makes you happy.” I knew the answer right away. So, when I got back to Kenya I joined Phoenix players and was able to do my first play professionally. It didn’t pay much at all, everything in the beginning was a struggle. I owe a lot to my parents, they were unbelievably supportive even when things seemed bleak, which was often. My mum drove me to my first audition for a film called I Am Slave (she even helped me put together my costume). I had never done anything on screen, nor had I ever auditioned for anything on screen but, as fate would have it, I ended up getting the role. This gave me a good amount of motivation to keep going. I later applied to acting school, and I was accepted to join the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and in addition offered two scholarships. In order to raise the rest of the fees, I decided to stage a small play. Long story short, I didn’t raise even close to what I needed to raise, so I didn’t end up enrolling. On the brighter side, I met my husband (who was the other person of the two characters in the play I staged), and he introduced me to a short, intense actors course run by Hollywood veteran acting coach, Jack Garfein, in Paris. With the money I had raised and a bit more help, I was able to get the acting training I needed.
Which projects have you worked on so far?
I have worked on several film projects like I Am Slave (2010), Nairobi Half Life (2012), KatiKati (2016) and Love Lives Here (TBA) . I’m especially proud of KatiKati, which won the FIPRESCI awards at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and Love Lives Here, which is a South African production set for release later on this year. I have been nominated for two awards; Best actress in Film at the Kalasha Awards and Outstanding Achievement in Film 2017 for the African Pride Awards in the UK.
Why do you love acting and what motivates you?
Acting for me is a process of creation; building a person from nothing and coming up with something completely unexpected in the end. Sort of like an abstract painting, where you add colors upon colors and eventually you have a picture that will stir up something in the person looking at it. My motivation comes from the fact that there’s nothing else I’d rather do.
How do you pick acting roles and how do you prepare for roles?
It’s difficult to say, I’m only getting to the point where I have the liberty to say yes or no to roles, before, I just took whatever came my way because, let’s be honest, at the beginning of an acting career, you have less freedom of choice, you jump on as many opportunities as you can because you never know which ones are stepping stones or which ones are piles of crap, you just hope it’s the former. Presently, I’m interested in roles that, after reading the script for the first time, leave me wanting to get to know the character better, roles that are layered and really capture what it means to be human, not just one dimensional roles. When it comes to preparation for an acting role, I’d say it’s a long process, I don’t think I would be able to adequately describe it. I work using the Stanislavski approach which I learned with Jack Garfein, one of the creators of the Actors’ Studio. I usually don’t know what the outcome will be, I just sort of let it ride itself out. I try not to control the process, but rather let it unfold.
In your opinion or based on what has worked for you, what makes a good/great actor?
A good actor is one who works hard. What has helped me grow as an actor is practice and observation.
What’s your advice to upcoming actors and established actors, as well?
Work hard and get comfortable in the struggle. Don’t chase the money. Do everything from the depths of your soul and a lot else will fall into place.
What’s your take on the Kenyan film industry, based on the role played by all stakeholders; filmmakers, the government and the audience?
I think we need to re-evaluate our objectives regarding film making. We might have gotten stuck in a ‘get-by’ mentality, where we make films just to have some content, or make films to make films. (This doesn’t include everyone, there are a good number of people in the industry that are doing phenomenal things.) We need to steer clear of that. We could be sitting on a gold mine and not know it because we’re not willing to put in the work. So, perhaps we need to partner more with other countries that have a more substantial film industry and see how they do it. Then we’ll see how much work is put in. Sweat and tears. That’s what we need to give, because that’s what will bear good fruit. (This is to actors especially.)
What other areas of filmmaking are you interested in pursuing in the future and why?
I would like to pursue Directing. I’m not sure why yet, but I’m sure I would like to.
Who are some of the filmmakers who motivate you here in Kenya, Africa and Worldwide?
All the filmmakers that are working to tell unique stories in their own voices and all the ones treading their own path.
Anything else you’d like say?