ONE ON ONE WITH RISING ACTOR SHIRLEY JAMES LANCIVA
Shirley James Lanciva is a young up-and-coming actress. A fresh new talent frequenting the audition circuit for both theater and film. She has been spotted on the KTN series STAY, Short films like moonwalk and insight and the movie “pearls of Africa” and also in the movie Fundimentals. She is also a fashion designer with her label called Charm by Shirley. She is also a Voice Over artist. She has a diploma in Performing Arts from the East African Media Institute. Her hobbies include: Public speaking, watching movies, Reading novels, Travelling.
Beauty and brains is what defines Shirley.
Nadia Darwesh had a chance to have a one on one and brings you this interview into the life of Shirley and her journey into kenya’s acting industry.
Nadia: Who is Shirley James and what makes her click?
Shirley James is an upcoming actress who is also a simple yet sophisticated person—very open minded, creative, passionate about things that are close to her heart, and very protective of those she loves and what she believes in. What makes me click? My love for anything creative, different and challenging. I love a good challenge.
Nadia: Actors and actresses usually cite a movie as the one that inspired them to follow this path. For example, Lupita Nyong'o has said in numerous interviews that hers was The Colour Purple. What would you say your movie to beat all movies is?
Shirley: That would be Pretty Woman which got me incredibly obsessed with Julia Roberts.
Nadia: Is there a scene from Pretty Woman, or any other film for that matter, that has stood out to you over time?
Shirley:Winnie Mandela. The entire movie was a trip for me.
Nadia: I know you've worked on a few local series such as Stay and an upcoming one called Once and Again. How would you describe this acting experience, putting it in the context of a serious job rather than a hobby?
Shirley:Acting is like any other job. People should not view it as a hobby. You wake up in the wee hours of the morning and work tirelessly throughout the day. Unlike the 8-5 jobs, acting knows no time as you could be on set from as early as 5AM and leave as late as midnight.
Acting on Stay was quite a good experience. I got to be on set with Mkamzee Mwatela whom I admire greatly, and learned a lot too. Once and Again is still in production but so far so good. I get to work with an amazing cast and also be part of an awesome crew because I am doing the shows' wardrobe too.
Nadia: You've appeared in a few short films as well as an international film, Pearls of Africa. What would you say are the main differences between being on a film set and acting on a series?
Shirley:There is no difference really. Being on either set is basically the same—maybe the fact that one is a film and the other is a series but everything else is quite similar.
Nadia: So, moving onto the less glamorous side of acting. Your first audition was...?
Shirley:My first professional audition was for Pearl’s of Africa in February 2011. I remember being so nervous that I almost bailed out during the audition but my boyfriend at the time encouraged me and saw me through the whole process. When they finally called me back I was so excited and immediately called my mom!
Nadia: As a woman who aspires to boost our local film as an active practitioner, what would you say are the biggest challenges for a newbie looking to join the industry?
Shirley:The biggest challenge would be getting your first big break as an actor but the key is to keep pushing and never give up. There is nothing like ‘kujuana’ anymore. If you are good at what you do someone will definitely notice you; but before that big break comes networking and working on film projects here and there (even if they do not pay), because at the end of the day you are sharpening your skills.
Nadia: I've noticed that these days there are so many agencies for actors, models and the like. What advice would you give someone looking to join one because I imagine that not all of them are as genuine as they claim to be.
Shirley:I would actually discourage anyone looking to get signed by these agencies. It’s easier for you to land a gig by yourself than waiting for an agency to get one for you especially actors. Attend workshops, auditions, screenings and so forth to network and build your exposure. As it stands only models can benefit from agencies but not actors.
Nadia: In Kenya we have such different brands of celebrity—musicians, reality show stars, anchors, video vixens, and those referred to in online gossip sites as 'socialites'. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rank local actors based on the amount of recognition they receive in the press?
Shirley:I would rank actors at 5. Actors are known but are not given a lot of the public spot light like the rest. We only shine in our platform and not beyond it; we don’t see many actors getting endorsement deals or hosting gigs. Even very few journalists appreciate actors—the likes of Steven Muendo, Bob Nyanga, Nadia Darwesh—it’s (literally) a hand full. I wish blogs would write more on local actors and the film industry at large. As much as socialites’ stories are juicy, local actors' stories could be juicer plus it would not hurt to promote and support your own.
Nadia: Most aspiring actors I've met have a belief that you can't pursue acting as a career without backing it up with another job. How true is this?
Shirley:Well! This is debatable. When you work with a good production company who mind you as an actor, the pay is always good enough to sustain you. But we all know that some production houses take advantage of their actors hence the reason why as much as one would love to do it full time they have to look for a side hustle. However I believe this trend is slowly fading with actors knowing their rights.
Nadia: Now, bringing things back to you. Any actress or performer who particularly inspires you?
Shirley:Locally I would pick two: Lizz Njagah and Mkamzee Mwatela, (I) love them to bits. I am also growing fond of Serah Ndanu. As for internationally...wow! I have a whole list! Taraji .P. Henson inspires me a lot, Julia Roberts, Charlize Theron, etc.
Nadia: What would you say is the best local production in the past decade to have graced our screens in terms of how it moved you?
Shirley:I can’t actually pick one. Kona is good but then there is also Sumu la Penzi, Stay, Mali, Lies that Bind—and oh! How I loved Better Days!
Nadia: I've seen that you have a vested interest in fashion too. Does this have any link at all to your acting career or do you see both as stand-alone projects?
Shirley:Actually it does have a link to my acting career as much as it’s also a separate project. Designers rush to dress the ‘other celebs' and nobody was bothering with actors until recently, but again not as many. As an actor I felt the need to reach out to fellow actors and offer to dress them as it is a win win situation at the end of the day.
Nadia: Any up coming projects you're excited for us to see?
Shirley:Oh yes! Once and Again is going to be a very interesting series and I cannot wait for you to finally see it, and me working as an
actor as well as a wardrobe stylist. Pearls of Africa is also another exciting film. In fashion I am working on a couple of projects in collaboration with an accomplished actress and I really cannot wait to show case this.
Nadia: Finally, how about an inspiring quote or last word for those reading this?
Shirley:Believe in yourself and always remember that Rome was not built in one day.
So that's that! For anyone interested in getting to know more about this fiery lady, follow her on one of her social media links and don't forget to leave a comment down below!
Interview by Nadia Darwesh