Switching Roles

Polly Kamukama of the 2013 Talent Press Durban interviews NAIROBI HALF LIFE star and last year's DIFF Best Actor Award winner Joseph Wairimu about his career and his directorial ambitions.

Actor Joseph Wairimu at the Talent Campus Durban

After charming audiences with his superb performance, NAIROBI HALF LIFE star Joseph Wairimu has got his mind set on bigger things – he wants to try out script-writing and directing. The NAIROBI HALF LIFE lead character Mwas, a village boy and aspiring actor-turned city thug, Wairimu has decided it is high time he sat in the director's chair.

"I believe there is a sort of symbiotic relationship between an actor and the director. It’s always easy switching roles", Wairimu explains, revealing that directing films was his first love in the first place. But the situation he grew up in instead inspired him into acting. He took to the art, along with a couple of his buddies, for sustenance and to escape crime in his deprived Mathare slum neighborhood.

He headed a guerrilla theatre group which went around holding shows in shanty video halls mainly across Nairobi slums. It's from here that he slowly graduated to mainstream theatre with an established drama/charity group based in Nairobi, from where he landed his life-changing role.

"I had also appeared in two underground films and was working with the One Fine Day foundation at the time," Wairimu says of the credentials that landed him the gig. He has since won four international accolades including Best Actor at the 2012 Durban International Film Festival (DIFF), where Nairobi Half Life premiered to rave reception. Unfortunately, Wairimu was not present to receive his gong; but he is this year, albeit for a different reason.

"I am a starter when it comes to scriptwriting and directing, and that is why I applied to join the Talent Campus. I hope to learn from the experts and my colleague," he says of the DIFF programme that attracts 40 film talents from across Africa.

And Wairimu is convinced the knowledge he will acquire at the 34th DIFF will enable him to kickstart his debut short film project about a state of emergency in Kenya. "It's about a girl called Tambo. She is raped but has nowhere to run to because the whole government system is broken," he reveals of the film that is inspired by recent massive protests by public servants in Kenya.

But Wairimu is not only at DIFF for the Talent Campus; he's also the lead actor in IT'S US, one of the two Kenyan films participating at the festival. And from the look of things, the youthful actor could be poised for bigger things. He has already received offers from top-notch South African producers. But he's not the type to forget his roots.

"I hope to use this God-given talent to transform lives back in Kenya. I am planning to expand my theater mentorship programmes into rural and inner city Kenyan communities," he surmised.