8 February 2018

Kenya: One On One - Award-Winning Actor Justin Mirichii


Justin Mirichi is a seasoned actor who has featured in a number of local productions including Lies that Bind or Skandals Kibao.

He's also been featured in the Oscar-nominated film Watu Wote, starred in short film Broken, and features in the soon-to-be-released Disconnect starring Brenda Wairimu and Nick Mutuma.

His 10-year career has not only landed him notable roles and appearances but scooped him awards such as the Kalasha Award for Best Supporting Actor in the year 2012 and the 48HFP award in 2016 for Best Male Actor.

He's not only an accomplished actor but also a voice over artist. Something not many people know is that he is also a great singer, having been part of Kayamba Fiesta and is the co-founder of Tamasha Beats.

Justin recently added two more feathers to his cap by starting a production company Sanifu Productions and writing his first play My Better Halves which will be staged at Alliance Francaise from this Friday.

Nation.co.ke recently caught up with him.

What do you remember about your first time on stage?

My first time on stage was both terrifying and exhilarating. I remember wondering if I could be heard at the back of the Alliance Francaise auditorium, whether I'd remember all my lines and still give the stage aesthetic required. I didn't want to fail my fellow actors.

Yet I loved it when the audience responded and at the end the applause was heaven. I'm grateful to Mbeki Mwalimu and FCA( Festival of Creative Arts), for pushing me off the 'cliff' and starting a journey I've grown to love in earnest.

In all the plays that you have done do you have a personal favourite? Why?

The 2016 Phoenix Players' production of Fences where I played Gabriel, a mentally challenged man obsessed with the end times. Coupled with the challenge of portraying this character, I was thrilled at the news that Denzel Washington was doing a movie off the same script. This was exciting! I have loved most of the plays, especially those at Phoenix.

You have worked on notable projects and productions some of which have gone beyond our borders. What do you think has gotten you this far as an actor?

It's largely been God's grace, the investment he's made in me. I have a great memory and I'm able to empathise with characters to a great degree. I've read intentionally for what I want to learn and watch a whole lot of performances, mainly movies. Because I learn best by doing I'll often pause what I'm watching and try to replicate it in my own fashion, I have a big mirror for that. I've worked with a lot of amazing people both local and international and learnt a great deal. And of course passion. I'll go hungry before I can quit - wait, I actually have.

What is the story behind the formation of Sanifu Productions?

Sanifu Productions is the answer to my dissatisfaction with work conditions and product quality. I'd like to get treated well, be proud of what I help produce, have more regular work and get paid what I'm worth.

I'm working to build that for other practitioners in my industry, basically initiating the change I want to see. Sanifu is a Swahili word meaning proper and accurate. Our tagline is 'Conformity to Truth' - yet another translation for the word. There's a great vision here.

Is this your first project?

'My Better Halves' is the first theatrical and commercial project fully under Sanifu Productions. We've handled other film and theatre projects where we've offered producing, casting, writing and script supervision services.

We've worked with Ideas Unplugged and Chatterbox on numerous projects. My partner and I have are in full sync on what we want to achieve.

The play My Better Halves is being staged from the 9th to 11th of February. You not only wrote it but are starring in it alongside Joyce Musoke. What inspired you to write this particular story?

I initially started writing as practise for lessons I was taking from the renowned Cajetan Boy (Et Cetera Productions). Midway through writing, I started dreaming of seeing my script on stage then made up my mind that it was going into production. I was not the best student but I hope this project assuages Cajetan's concern for my progress as a writer.

What has been the process like?

It has not been easy. I invested a few months on the script alone, and then there were the financial hurdles that my partner and I had to find a way over. I'm glad to say we did it and it does feel like a worthy investment.

Beyond critiquing my own work to smithereens, I've had a challenge taking the writer's hat off and participating only as a performer, thankfully I have a great director. He's a skilled visionary who has not only helped me adjust but also fix what I missed in writing.

I probably shouldn't be telling you this but I had to rewrite whole sections of the play during rehearsal.

Many in the film and theatre fraternity felt that the closing down of Phoenix was a major blow to our still developing industry. Ironically though, it seems to have inspired even more people to showcase their work. What are your thoughts on this?

This has been a thorny issue. I remember agreeing with Martin that the void left by Phoenix has sparked restlessness and a hungry nostalgia among us. It's sad that the heart of Nairobi theatre, loved by so many, fell - and we could do nothing to stop it.

Maybe we can garner lessons about what path not to take and still keep the spirit of production excellence. I know a few former Phoenix actors working to produce their own work. Nature abhors a vacuum and someone must fill that space. I miss Phoenix terribly.

Why should people come to the show?

Beyond the fact that I put my heart into it I think it's a different and refreshing show. We've taken the time to ensure it's well presented and true; you not only get your laughs but go home with something to ponder.

Imagine a psychiatrist dealing with his own mental illness while trying to save his marriage and stave off his meddling mother-in-law. It might be a recipe for disaster, or not. If that doesn't peak your interest I don't know what will.

Parting shot?

If you have a passion for something go ahead and take the risk. Make it about people and when you succeed you'll be twice rewarded.

My Better Halves opens this weekend at Alliance Francaise from February 9 to 11.


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