Lizz is an international stage, TV and Film actress. She first graced Kenyan TV screens in the Lux Beauty Soap commercial. She ventured further into TV and film, playing the lead character, Nancy, in the TV series, Makutano Junction, which aired across Africa on MNET’s Africa Magic Channel.
Her big break was getting cast as a series regular, Tare Duke, in Season 4 and 5 of MNET Nigeria’s Soap Opera, Tinsel.
What proper training avenues do young actors actually have in Kenya? Do you have any recommendations?
Aspiring actors can get onto local TV shows; few are produced by local TV stations or by independent producers. Some local producers have started to make movies regularly and are often looking for cast. Riverwood producers have screenings at the Prestige Cinema every few months; One Fine Day Films do movies regularly; Lightbox Films are doing commendable work with their short films.
Some great content is also coming out of the Nest Collective. Commercials and voice work with radio stations are great opportunities too. Stage is a good place to hone craft, especially in Kenya where there are no acting schools. Aspiring actors can regularly check the Kenya National Theatre for information about auditions and other acting opportunities. Actors.co.ke also posts audition notices. Aspiring actors can also film their little skits and put them on YouTube.
How does one distinguish between quality training in acting and other mediocre stuff that could be misleading to young actors learning the craft?
You have to know the background and track record of the school/ trainer. Who are their alumni? Are they actors that you know and respect? If the teaching resonates with you and you feel you can learn from them, join.
Find out the credentials of their teachers. Look at their syllabus; compare it with syllabi in international schools. Look at their student films; these days you can find most on YouTube. Basically do your research.
What were the greatest challenges for you when you started out as an actress?
Money was scarce. My mother told me that if I wanted to act, I would have to fund myself. I sometimes had to stay with my sisters in their Chiromo Campus hostels for weeks to be able to walk to rehearsals at Phoenix Players. Also, being an actress then was considered a hobby, so people did not respect it as a profession.
What do you think has changed in Kenyan TV/film from the time you started?
There are more shows being produced; both series and films. The audience is enjoying watching local productions on TV, as a result, more money is being put into producing TV shows.
Unfortunately, the film sector is still in a stall and a lot more can be done to make Kenyan movies available to the wider population. Jitu Films tried to release movies every month at an affordable price; I would like to see another production outfits take up that challenge.
Have you a role that you took up and later regretted?
No, I believe that every role I have ever done has led me to where I am today. I try to explore my different characters and find out what makes them tick.
I regret turning down a role because the director mentioned that there would be partial nudity – he wanted to make a film that would push boundaries.
When the movie eventually came out, there was no nudity. I regretted not taking the role.
Did you go through any acting-specific trainings that prepared you for your career today?
I was a KWAL scholarship recipient at the Phoenix Players. It was an intensive two-year internship course under great acting teachers like the late James Falkland and Ian Mbugua.
While at Phoenix, I participated in many stage plays as actor and director. I also attended many workshops in acting, directing and vocal training.
Basically, I took up all opportunities that I could afford and that would advance my art. I bought loads of acting books and I study them religiously.
There is so much helpful and useful information online these days too, all you have to do is google.
What do you think is the mistake that young actors make (which holds them back) when they are starting out?
They think they know everything. There are some who don’t even want to take direction from the veterans. To be a good actor, you need to be teachable and willing to learn.
Then there are those that believe they know nothing, so they let fear get in their way when they are cast with more experienced actors. Some expect to get rich and famous immediately.
In film/TV, there are peak and off-peak seasons. How would you advice young actors to take care of these financial gaps?
Don’t be in a hurry to move out of home; get on your feet first. Save whatever you can. Finish university/college. Start a side hustle; the side hustle can be in film or out, for instance, my side hustle when I started out was working in the art department. This ensured that if there wasn’t a role for me on a film, I would still get work as a props assistant on set. This is how I ended up working on Constant Gardener. My current side hustle is producing.
What challenges are you still looking forward to conquer in your career?
There are so many untold Kenyan, African stories out there and I would love to put in film; I would love to tap into our diverse cultures and tell our stories.
What are some of the mistakes you made as a young actor? What lessons did you learn from them?
I agreed to work for free for the wrong people. Not everyone is trustworthy, the sector is full of sharks, and many people will promise one thing and do another.
Always do your research on anyone you plan to work with before you work with them. Also, at the beginning, I said yes to everything because I wanted to act in as many projects as possible and make as much money as possible, but the body has limits.