ONE ON ONE WITH SUSAN WANJIRU
The question on many people’s minds as they watched Something Necessary was, where has such amazing talent been all this time? Susan Wanjiru is the first actress in Kenya to re-enact the horrors and struggles of the 2008 post-election violence.
The film has seen her reputation as a skilled actress grow by leaps and bounds. In an incisive interview with the rising star, we get to draw parallels between the personal battles of Anne, the lead character, and Susan’s own trials in getting the role and portraying it accurately.
My sources tell me that you are an accountant.
Umm, I take part-time jobs. I did CPA-K because I love math. So I thought that was the way to go, only to work in an office and realise that was not the way for me. So nikadecide, let me follow this dream. I completed my CPA in 2005. I worked for three years and in 2010, just decided I could not do it anymore.
So you started acting in 2010…
I am supposing you started in theatre?
Yes, I started with Friends Ensemble. They had shows at Alliance Française, Nairobi. And then in 2010, I started pursuing acting fully. I did another show with them (Friends Ensemble) then I went to Mavuno.
What roles did you play while in theatre?
I played a woman geek who gets transformed. Then I played a mother, a seductress, and Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, in a Mavuno play.
Have you ever tried getting a role for a film before Something Necessary?
Yes. I did so many auditions but I never got through.
Tell me about the audition process
There was Judy Kibinge and a few camera people. I went there and found all the people you have ever seen on TV. I was 29 and they were looking for someone 30 and above. I was like, “I don’t know if I should do this.” And then I got in and I decided to give it a try. I went back home and forgot about it. Two-and-a-half weeks later, Nini Wacera calls me and tells me I have been shortlisted. So I went back and found so many other women.
Were they over 30?
Most of them were. We auditioned and I went home. The following day I was called and I was like “Yaay!” But now I had to audition and battle against another Anne. It took us a whole day and I was like “God if this is mine then sawa…”
Was this your first time on screen?
Was it tiring?
Oh. It was very tiring. You shoot for a whole month and you barely get sleep because call time was mostly at six. We had night shots. You finish at 12am, 1am, or 2am. You sleep for three hours and you have to go on set and get into character. But I loved the whole process.
Tell me about Something Necessary. Was it challenging being the lead character?
I would not call it a challenge because I was very excited when I got the role. But getting on set and learning was a different thing altogether. Here I am, used to screaming on top of my voice in theatre, then I get to this role where you have to internalise the character and live that person’s life knowing also that she tells a story of what happened in Kenya in 2007. That for me was like, “Eh, okay, this is a bit heavy.” And it was also emotional, even in other edited parts that are not there; a lot of crying. Like, I dug a grave while I was crying. But that scene was not in the movie. It was a very emotional process but at the same time I grew as an artist.
Just to deviate a bit, are you married?
No. (giggles) Not yet.
How was Germany where you went to promote the movie?
It was amazing. We were taking it round on a theatrical release. We did 12 cities and the reception was amazing. We had two premiers in Berlin and Cologne. I can tell you the audience appreciates talent. They appreciate film.
Were you signing autographs?
Yes. Even random people would research on you before coming to watch the film. They would print out photos and information. Then they would come asking questions and requesting autographs. We did a lot of interviews with radio stations, newspapers, college film schools, and TV.
Was it your first time in Germany?
Yes, first time out of Africa.
Would you consider yourself a celeb now?
Um. Not really.
Ok. So, when you watched yourself acting, what went through your mind?
I was shocked. Because the movie is very emotional, I think they did a fantastic job to let us watch it first before it premiered. I did not see myself in that movie. I saw that woman and I was like “Oh my God, she went through all that!” Anne and Sue are totally different people. I could somehow relate when I go back to what happened in Kenya, but I did not see myself in her.Getting out of the character is not easy, so having an amazing director like Judy helped.
Which was the most challenging scene to pull off?
The abortion scene… I knew this was coming.
Did you need extra convincing for that scene?
I knew it was there, but I did not know it was very… I do not know if you can understand this, but from a woman’s perspective it is very difficult.
Did you ever consider not doing it?
I actually did and in my head I really did not want to do it. Judy was like, “It’s okay. There’s a body double.” But I went and thought, it is not Susan acting in that movie, it is Anne telling a story; one that has happened to so many women in Kenya within and even without. So I just decided to pull Susan and just play Anne.
Have you had any experiences with people who said you expressed something they went through?
Yes. It was difficult. We had one woman in Germany who told us Something Necessary, apart from the rape and the abortion, is her story. She was in Kenya then and was almost raped. She has a son and the movie was like her story. She took over the Q & A and talked all about it. It was very moving because she went into details and… it was very sad.
What are the lessons you learnt as an actress when you did Something Necessary?
You just let go. Forget about yourself and live someone else’s life. That is a plus for you. After people watched the movie some would come and hug me. Just seeing that they were convinced and moved, that for me was what film should be about.
Story by dooko