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Mr Wanyama on ‘Tahidi High’; Biko on ‘Selina’. The baby-faced actor Peter Kamau

There is something that makes script writers give actor Peter Kamau roles that show strictness. On Tahidi High, he is Mr Wanyama, the teacher who hardly compromises especially when dealing with students. But, boy, the number of co-stars who who hit on him…!

On Selina, a drama series that runs on Maisha Magic East, he plays the role of Biko, a no-nonsense businessman dabbling in the textile industry and with a drive for romance and filial ties.

Peter, a former radio presenter, calls himself many things. But when he spoke with Media Critic Kenya’s DAVID MWENDA, what stood out was his love for family, his ambition and his belief in good friendship. 

How did you get into acting?

I got into acting through a friend of mine. I had gone to visit her and she happened to mention that she was working at the Kenya National Theatre.  I had an interest in acting and asked if there was a place they could place me. She told me to come for an audition at  10 o’clock that Monday and I went in, did the audition and I got it — doing set books at the Kenya National Theatre like many other actors.

Would you say Kenya National Theatre is like a launching pad for many actors in Kenya?

Yes, I would say so. If you look at the who’s who in the Kenya acting industry, they have a background there. At the time there weren’t a lot of TV and film productions and hence most actors started there. It is not just even actors; even musicians, percussionists and dancers began their craft there. Every time you go back there, it feels right and it feels good. I haven’t performed there in a while but every time I go back there for, be it a play, I tend to feel good about it.

Your first audition I’m guessing was Tahidi High?

No. My first audition for a TV production was a while back for a show on KBC. I don’t know if you were born then. (Laughter.)

Try me (still laughing).

It was called Rosa. That was in 2010. I was playing the role of a lawyer. Rather, a man who was studying law and wanted to get revenge on the death of his parents. We shot from 2010 to 2012 then we wrapped up. From then I moved to 91.5 Hits FM and 97.1 One FM and worked for a short while as a news presenter. 

How did you land your role on Tahidi High?

So funny a story. After finishing my first production on Rosa, I did not get any other production to do. So, I called the producer of Tahidi High — Catherine Wamuyu, a good friend of mine. But she did not know me then. I called her and told her I wanted to join the show and she was like, “No, I’m not looking for old people here.” (Laughter)

That was because of my voice. I was like, “I am not old. I’m actually a very young guy. ”

We did not talk again until March 2014. I asked whether there was space and she told me to stop by at the Nairobi Academy and I dragged my friend along. And we both got roles.

Together with his co stars in Selina

You are talking about Zul Talaksi?

Yes.

So Catherine Wamuyu called you old. Which begs the question: How old are you?

How old am I? How old do you think I am?

(Laughter) I wouldn’t know.

I turned 31 on November 17, 2018.

So in the spirit of personal questions, are you married?

(Chuckles)  No I am not; but I am seeing someone. 

Walk me through the period where you were not working on any production. Did you at some point feel like giving up and moving to something else?

Yeah, there was a period I felt like that. There is a time that jobs are really hard to come by in the industry. You call and ask if there is something going on and people tell you they are not really looking for anyone or doing anything “but if anything comes up I will tell you”. Few months later, you see someone spearheading a production and you are like, “I thought you would call me later?” That is when you realise the business is not so easy as people think.  So, yeah, I have contemplated leaving so many times before getting this role on Selina. I was thinking of calling it a day and being on radio.

Talking of Selina, you guys won best TV drama at Kalasha Awards. How do you guys feel now?

Wow! I think it is an amazing feeling. I think it is a deserved win. I can tell you for sure we as the Selina team put together a lot of work to just bring the show together. To be rewarded for something you love doing is really fulfilling and it means that people are watching and seeing the work you are putting in. I think Selina is by far the best TV show in Kenya.


Peter Kamau (right) with his co-stars in TV drama Selina during the 2018 Kalasha Awards. COURTESY

Social media is changing the way we interact with celebrities. How do you manage to keep your life private?

I don’t think I have reached that point where I have to keep my life private. But I avoid to keep things which are not work-related on any of my social media accounts, unless it is really necessary.

Let’s talk about a personal friend of yours, Kone Nouhoum. How is he doing?

(Pause) He is still in ICU. He is getting better and we are looking for the day he will be getting back on set.  

Do you think we need to do better for artists in terms of remuneration so that actors can afford to have health insurance?

Yeah, absolutely. I think we can do better. If you’re in this for the money, you won’t pay your bills. 

We’ll continue putting Kone in our prayers.

Thank you.

What has acting taught you?

 I am more in touch with my feelings and I try to understand them before passing judgment. It has also taught me to be patient; very very patient and show appreciation to people around you and becoming friends with people who work around you.

Would you call yourself an emotional person?

Aren’t we all emotional people? (Pause) I think the African upbringing has taught men not to show emotions. Rather, I can refer to myself as an emotional person and I can’t be embarrassed of myself. I think that is what life requires us to be — ourselves.

What was the last book you read?

I am actually still reading it. It is called The Mask of Masculinity. I actually got it from my girlfriend.

What is it about?

It is about people walking around with all sorts of masks with them because that is what society dictates. So, this book talks about not doing everything society demands of you, or doing things because people expect you to do them.  I think it is a beautiful book. Every man should read it.

Final thoughts?

To whoever might be reading this interview and you have goals and dreams you want to pursue, I’d tell to you go for it. Mohammed Ali used to say that he used to hate every bit of his training but he knew it was worth it. So, whatever you might be going through,  let it be part of your story and the anchor that holds you together. Someone told me that as we grow, let us grow, yes, but let our egos remain intact. And always pick something out of every situation.  

One last thing what are you looking forward to in your 40s?

Raising a family. That is what I am looking forward to.

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