Shiru, a rising star

By: JOSEPHINE MOSONGO

Nice ‘Shiru’ Wanjeri never visualised a future beyond primary school, but acting has opened a world far beyond her imagination. Josephine Mosongo spoke to the breakout star of NTV’s hit show “Auntie Boss”.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an actor?

I would be a journalist; a news anchor. That was my dream in high school; I wanted to be like Julie Gichuru and Lilian Muli.

Did you study journalism?

No. I come from a humble background; actually, I didn’t know I would make it to high school, so I didn’t even bother to work hard in primary school. My uncles saw me through high school but after that, there was no money for college. My first audition was more about me wanting to feed my family. But in good time I shall go back and pursue what I want.

Is “Auntie Boss” your first TV show?

No, I’ve been an extra in “Mama Duka” and KBC’s “Merimela’s House”, which I did with my daughter when she was just four months old.

People didn’t recognise me then; I think it wasn’t my time yet.

How has it been transitioning from an extra to a main character?

It was scary at first because I didn’t think I could do it and people wouldn’t believe in me. Reading the script the first time I felt like it was too much and people would judge me. But after two days I got the hang of it. Even now when my lines are reduced, I feel I should do more. I’m used to theatre where the reaction is immediate, but with television you have to wait for it. I was nervous waiting, trying to find out if people would love or hate me.

You’ve talked about lines being reduced; does that mean your character is no longer needed or is it not as important?

No, it’s about giving another person a chance to shine because you have had your turn. It’s easier when you help other people because it’s not a one-man show and you have to make your co-stars look good.

So it won’t breed contempt?

Not at all; we all get opportunities at the right time. When I see someone struggling, I like to help because if I didn’t get that help from someone I wouldn’t be where I am today. Somebody else had to take a back seat for me to rise. If I hadn’t been given more responsibilities by my producer, he would never have known my capabilities.

In a past interview, Eve de Souza talked about actors hating on each other in the industry; have you experienced that?

I’ve heard people say I’m Teacher Wanjiku’s sister.

Is that a bad thing?

No, I like Teacher Wanjiku; we’ve performed together in theatre and she’s really good. I don’t feel bad when people compare me with her because we are both artistes. But when people start criticising my craft on the basis that she hit a rough patch, then it means they are not really seeing my skills; they are judging me by her work, not mine. Some people have also told me that I overact, but I have learned not to listen to every criticism coming my way because others just want to pull you down.

Do you necessarily have to make the move from theatre to television to make it as an actress?

In a way, yes. It’s been eight years since I started acting and I haven’t seen anyone who has just been exclusively in theatre. They go to television, make money and then go back to theatre. Honestly, theatre doesn’t pay that well, compared to television where the audience is bigger.

Do you exclusively live off acting?

Yes, it pays my bills; that’s my job. A while back I would tell my cousins that I’m an actor and they would ask what else I do because they didn’t believe it could sustain me. But this is all I’ve ever done since I left high school. It pays if you save though.

What is it about theatre that makes actors go back to it, even established television stars?

Theatre is freeing, more expressive, it’s challenging. There is no take two. Once the show starts, there is no room for error. In television, you only get to see the perfect scene after numerous takes.

What is your memorable real life househelp story?

I had one who was older than me and that made it so difficult for me to give instructions, because this was someone with four children, and old enough to be my mother. One day I bought juice; she didn’t know it was supposed to be diluted, so I come home and she tells me: ‘Mama Tasha, the juice you bought is bad, because Tasha didn’t manage to finish a whole glass’. The next day my daughter woke up with swollen eyes, and I couldn’t blame the househelp because she didn’t know. Oh, and sometimes she would change the channel without asking just because she got bored of what was on. I would be hesitant to change it back because she is an older woman; sometimes it felt like it was her house.

Do you think you are appreciated as an actor?

Not yet, Nigerian and South African actors are living comfortably while actors here call themselves hustlers. And even those who have made it have other jobs on the side. The government and corporates should appreciate us more. Of course, I’m talking about money.

You have been nominated for a Kalasha award in the best actress category. Being the first time, has it sank in yet?

Not yet, but to be among those nominated was a life changing moment I thought I was a nobody but now I feel better that I’m one of those thought to be good at what they do.

Did you finally join Twitter?

Yes I did but as Shiro, not as Nice.

Why not as Nice?

I feel I’m not there yet. I can’t teach myself how to drive a car if I know I’m not getting one any time soon. I don’t see the need for me to be on Twitter as myself because people don’t know me yet.

But that’s how they will get to know you.

Yes, but not yet.

Are you afraid of putting yourself out there?

I think you stop being you and start living life so that other people can see you. I want to live life as me, as Mama Tasha, go out of my house in pyjamas with a wrap on my head without make-up. I want people to know my characters more than my personal life.

What else are you doing?

I’m working on two Kikuyu programmes, “Mwithua Wene” on Njata TV and “Micii ni Ndogo” on Inooro TV.

Are you calmer in real life?

Yes, but I’m talkative; I’m a good storyteller.

How does it feel working with Maqbul and Eve de Souza?

Amazing. I’m privileged. They weren’t there the first season so when they came in the second I was careful of what I would say. When Maqbul found out I did the “Wagithomo” remix to Juliani’s “Utawala”, he was so happy, and I thought that was cool.

I’ve always watched Eve’s career, but I didn’t know she was the show’s executive producer. I was scared and awed at the same time. We took selfies and I had to show off to people that she is my boss, and I had her number too! I still get goose bumps that I work with her, but you wouldn’t believe how humble she is. And Maqbul is great, he will give you direction when you need it.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION