Although she was a movie fanatic since childhood, Monica Birwinyo had promised herself not to have anything to do with the local film industry. According to her, Ugandan movies were of very poor quality and brought nothing but ridicule and shame on the actors. Nevertheless, her conviction and destiny have since changed.
"My actress sister dragged me to a movie audition early last year, where we were both tested for the same role," 22-year-old Birwinyo says. She remembers the director instantly noting her stunning beauty and calm demeanour and landing her the job ahead of her experienced sister and 50 other girls, including seasoned actresses. "That was really my turning point."
Though the film, whose theme echoed anti-gay sentiments, eventually never made it to the market, it laid a foundation for what has turned out to be one of the most promising local screen careers.
Today, Birwinyo is one of the most sought-after actresses. She has appeared in over six films in just one year, usually playing supporting roles as a beautiful but troubled girl.
Some of her notable credits include, among others, Pardon, Beauty to Ashes, Quotes After Brackets and the NBS hit series Because of U. Even with all these films, she is better known as the host on Record TV's weekly film show, Movie Digest.
Despite her natural talent and stunning beauty, both important qualities for a successful screen career, Birwinyo acknowledges she's been somewhat lucky to make a name at a relatively tender age.
"I feel so lucky for what God has so far done for me," says the TV star whose popular show is steadily turning her into a celebrity.
Indeed, Birwinyo's rise has been as dramatic as her screen roles. For example, she recalls she was the last to audition for the Record TV job. Surprisingly, she easily beat over 300 other hopefuls, including TV personalities and professional journalists.
"I think my experience on camera gave me an edge," she says, explaining she had to dash from Darling Cosmetics, where she works as a marketing and sales rep, to beat the audition deadline.
Yet the TV princess never envisaged herself this far since she had a humble background. She was born in a polygamous family and lost her father at a tender age.
"My mother has struggled to put me through school," she says, revealing she is set to graduate early next year with a bachelor's degree in Procurement and Supply Chain Management from Makerere University Business School.
And she hopes to make use of her procurement and business skills by establishing her own cosmetics shop in the next few years. Birwinyo also dreams of establishing a film school and charity fund for aspiring filmmakers. However, for now the beauty is bent on building her acting and TV career. She says she is also loyal to her job at Darling Cosmetics because it pays her bills.
"Film is about passion and patience, which I believe I have in plenty," she says. "I hope to get better with critiquing but I am also looking out for bigger projects."
Nonetheless, she acknowledges it's not easy surviving in an industry that is infamous for attracting public attention. She reckons she now has to be cautious about whatever she does in public, seeing as she could inspire tabloid headlines. She also decries actors' poor pay.
The 22-year-old TV host/actress, who is inspired by singers Beyonce Knowles and Jackie Chandiru, says she is "madly in love with someone" whom she wouldn't reveal. She hopes to marry him in the near future and mother three children.