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On a rather mundane Monday afternoon, I find myself on the phone with none other than Mumbi Maina. I am not shy but I expect to fumble through my words. It’s Mumbi Maina after all, the screen sweetheart who has played an indomitable character in almost all her roles – How to Find a Husband, Jane and Abel, Mali and most recently the defiant Zakia Asalache in her biggest role yet, Sense8. The call doesn’t last that long, we establish rapport very quickly – she’s happy to hear that some of her shows are currently available for streaming on Showmax, I’m just relieved that she called me back.
- What attracted you to begin a career as an actor?
I sort of stumbled into it. Or I’d like to say it chose me.
- Two of your shows, How to Find a Husband, Jane and Abel and your movie Kati Kati are currently available on Showmax. What opportunities do you think streaming platforms like Showmax offer to content and story-telling in Kenya and Africa at large?
It’s great exposure for Kenyan artists. We have the content, all we’ve ever needed is the right platform.
- In How to Find a Husband, you play Jackie, a woman who is afraid of commitment. What did you enjoy most about playing this character?
She is very self-aware and unapologetic about her convictions.
- How much of Mumbi Maina is in your character as Jackie?
Well, I certainly have learnt the gift of being unapologetic about things I believe in. I can be very vocal as well.
- If given a chance, which other character would you play on How to Find a Husband, between Lizz Njagah’s Abigail and Sarah Hassan’s Carol?
I think I’d enjoy Carol a little more. Just because Carol wasn’t the saint everyone expected her to be. I liked the twist in her character.
- What about your role as Cecelia in Jane and Abel – how challenging was it to take the place of a woman who’s constantly fighting for her husband’s attention?
One thing people watching will never realise is that it’s a lot harder to play the “good” character than the villain. At least that’s how I feel in my experience. It was an extremely emotional role to play and pushed my boundaries. Which is what every actor craves: a challenge!
- Tell us more about your role as Jojo in Kati Kati?
Jojo is the “resident DJ”, so to speak. She is just as lost as the other characters in Kati Kati but at least she isn’t as lonely as the rest because her love interest is with her. It was a great experience being in the film.
- In your opinion, what is the most appealing factor of this film?
It’s completely out of the ordinary from anything produced in Africa. The mystery behind the story and every character is thrilling.
- You also had a role in Shattered, which is coming soon to Showmax. Tell us about that.
Shattered was my first Pan African project as I worked alongside Nigerian star Rita Dominic. My character Mumbi had a very significant role to the main character (played by Rita Dominic) and she brought light and hope to what seemed like a hopeless situation.
- How did these two characters in How to Find a Husband, Jane and Abel (and even your previous roles in Shattered and Mali) prepare you for your role as Zakia in Sense8?
I believe in order to play a character well you must have a high sense of empathy. The previous roles I’ve played in Mali, Shattered, Jane and Abel, How to Find a Husband, among many others taught me how to walk in another person’s shoes and be believable. But also for this to happen one must be drawn to the character. I fell in love with the character Zakia the moment I read the script!
- Did you have any reservations playing Zakia?
Every role has its challenges, but when you know this is for you then you know there’s no turning back.
- How do you prepare for a new role?
It’s not easy jumping from one role to the next. However, I’ve been blessed with great directors who make it a lot easier to cope. I am very picky with the roles I take because I have to feel drawn to the character. I have to feel there’s something I’ll be learning and that I’ll be growing as a person. My motivation comes from how much the character touched me and in the hopes that it’ll touch the audience the same way when they watch me.
- Are there any new projects your fans should look forward to?
Yes, there are! I can’t get into too many details about them but the one I can talk about is the first major Pan African series called Mascara. It’s coming soon!
- Which iconic actor do you look up to?
There are so many but Meryl Streep is definitely high on the list. She can literally play any role! Any role! So convincingly and authentically, it’s uncanny.
I confess I haven’t watched Insecure yet, but it’s on my agenda. I am a great fan of Gabrielle Union, so of course I love Being Mary Jane.
You can also find Mumbi Maina on the movie 29 on Showmax where she plays Terry, a woman living the perfect life, or so she thought, before her world begins to crumble. She stars alongside Olwenya Maina (Nairobi Half Life) and Peter Kawa (Sumu la Penzi, Lies that Bind and Shattered).
Cover image: Emmanuel Jambo
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