SPOTLIGHT ON NAIROBI HALF LIFE ACTOR MUGAMBI NTHIGA
Mugambi Nthiga started acting at the age of 5 with a soul-stirring rendition of the Little Drummer Boy at his nursery school Christmas play. He got really serious about taking acting as profession in late 2008. He had been jobless in America for 6 months due to the recession and his roommate at the time (also a struggling actor) helped him put together a resume and headshots. He then attended an audition for a Shakespeare-Zombie play and he’s never looked back. He has then managed to be in movies like Nairobi Half Life and Series Mnet Changes.
Lynne Maingi got a chance to interview this actor who has had a taste of both Hollywood and Kenya and gives us an insight into both these film industries, talk about the gay character he played on Nairobi Half Life and much much more in this SPOTLIGHT ON MUGAMBI NTHIGA.
Lynne: DO YOU SOLELY GET YOUR INCOME FROM IT OR IS ITJUST A SIDE HUSTLE?
Mugambi: I would love to meet a Kenyan who’s making a comfortable living solely from acting. I’d sit at their feet and learn from them. Acting is my main hustle now, which means that it’s what I lend my most time to. However, I also write and direct for stage and screen. Fortunately, actors develop skill sets that enable them to do other lucrative stuff. Emceeing, TV anchoring, radio presenting, comedy…
Lynne: WHAT, IN YOUR OPINION IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT BEING AN ACTOR IN KENYA?
Mugambi: Getting well-paying, personally fulfilling jobs that make you a better actor. It is possible to get one of those at a time. Two if you’re real lucky. To get all three simultaneously is nearly impossible.
Lynne: NAME A COUPLE OF THE PRODUCTIONS YOU’VE FEATURED IN
Mugambi: Nairobi Half Life as Cedric. Many people I have met don’t know that character by name so they call me the gay guy.lol I’ve been on M-Net’s Changes as a rich playboy bad guy called KutaSempele, and on Mama Duka as a farmer with family issues. I’ll be on a show called New Beginnings, coming soon on Africa Magic.
Lynne: YOU PLAYED THE GAY CHARACTER IN NAIROBI HALF LIFE & IT GOT PEOPLE TALKING QUITE A BIT. DO YOU THINK THE AUDIENCE HAS BEEN ABLE TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN YOU AS MUGAMBI THE PERSON & MUGAMBI THE GAY CHARACTER IN NHL? HAVE THEY BEEN ABLE TO IDENTIFY THE LEVEL OF CRAFTSMANSHIP REQUIRED TO PULL OFF SUCH A ROLE?
Mugambi: A huge fraction of them are definitely able to separate me and the character, thank God. If they aren’t able to, they don’t bring it up with me, which is also good. I have gained a level of respect for playing the role truthfully, which I am very grateful for. Cedric will always be a special role.
Lynne: YOU PULLED OFF THE ROLE REALLY WELL, DO YOU FEEL IT’S LEADING TO YOU BEING TYPECAST BY CASTING DIRECTORS AS THE GO-TO GAY ACTOR IN THE COUNTRY?
Mugambi: Why thank you very much! Thankfully, I haven’t been typecast. In fact, I’ve been approached for more challenging roles based on NHL. And I don’t have to audition as often. Oh, and the industry has changed since NHL. More actors can take roles of that sort, so I don’t have to be the go-to anything.
Lynne: WAS IT A HARDER ROLE FOR YOU TO PLAY AS COMPARED TO ALL YOUR OTHER PROJECTS?
Mugambi: Yes, Definitely. I had to be careful not to judge Cedric, or make a caricature of him. Seeing that very real, very human character come out on screen is still a proud achievement. There have been more challenging roles since. I try to apply the same respect and honesty to every character I have the blessing of playing.
Lynne: YOU’VE ALSO BEEN FEATURED IN MUSIC VIDEOS SUCH AS JUST A BAND’S ‘MAKMENDE’ & ELANI’S ‘MILELE’. TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT
Mugambi: Those shoots were fun. Music videos always are. No script, hardly any dialogue, just a simple story that you continue making up as you go along. Both videos have been very successful.
Lynne: WHAT ONE THING DO YOU THINK KENYAN ACTORS FAIL TO DO THAT IS HINDERING THEIR GROWTH?
Mugambi: They’re not learning. They will rush to auditions and ignore the opportunities to make themselves better. There are short courses and classes on offer every year. There are books and articles available easily. I have posted notices aboutshort courses on social media, but the numbers are still small. When I post an audition notice, however…
Lynne: WHICHFACTOR DO YOU THINK HAS PROPELLED YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW AS AN ACTOR?
Mugambi: Working. Actors act. If you look for a way to work consistently, a way will come.
Lynne: WHICH ACTORS DO YOU LOOK UP TO, BOTH LOCALLY & INTERNATIONALLY, & WHY?
Mugambi: This list changes all the time. Internationally, and pardon the cliché, Al Pacino. He delivers moving performances every time. Recently Mathew McConaughey has had me in awe. I ask forgiveness for classifying him as the rom-com token ab guy. He is a force. TildaSwinton and Cate Blanchett’s skills are on some other-worldly level. Lupita is living the life I’ve always wanted. And she is worthy of every accolade she’s receiving. Locally, Helen Keli, Jimmy Gathu, Mumbi Kaigwa, Keith Pearson, June Gachui all had a hand in my decision to act. And I’d be sinning if I left out the stupendously amazing John Sibi-Okumu.
Lynne: AND WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE ALL THE UP & COMING ACTORS WHO’RE ALREADY IN THE GAME, ON HOW TO STAY & THRIVE IN IT?
Mugambi: Learn, always. Watch films. Read. Audition. Even when you’ve been doing it for forever and you have become tired. And when you get hired, be nice. You’ll get away with murder if people remember how pleasant and easy to work with you were.
Lynne: WHAT NEXT FOR MUGAMBI?
Mugambi: I’m currently apprenticing on a set for a cool Africa Magic TV series. I have wanted to be a director for a while now. There’s no time like the present, right?
I’m part of a comedy improv team that presents a live show called ‘Because You Said So’ every two months. We’ve had two so far and they’ve been a riot.Next show’s in August.
I’ll also be involved in a couple of exciting stage performances later this year. Can’t reveal much more than that now. Stay tuned to my social media pages for more.
Watch Mugambi in action in the short film below "one more vote for Obama" during his stay in America.
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