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Not always a “big-eared cartoon”: Deep words from Martin Githinji, who plays Jonnie with Sue

Sue na Jonnie. Craziness upon craziness, right? The “cartoon” who plays Jonnie in the programme that runs on Maisha Magic East is called Martin Githinji, a man who has had an illustrious acting career. But as he told Media Critic Kenya’s DAVID MWENDA, it has not been a very easy road for him. He had to abandon pursuing a degree in mathematics and business statistics for a degree in theatre and film technology. He thinks the gamble has paid off — though there isn’t enough to boast about.

He has appeared on so many sets and directed a couple more. He has been on Machachari, Autie Boss, and Sue na Jonnie which won him a Kalasha Award in 2017 for Best Male Actor in a TV Drama. 

If you were to re-live a childhood memory, which would it be?

Enjoying every single holiday without a care in the world. Right now, holidays are so hard to enjoy and or demand for, since I discovered that they have cost implications when I had to pay for them. Wah!

 Are you happy with the actor you have become right now?

Happy? Yes. Could I be happier? Definitely. It’s a growth curve. There are things I see and know I could have done better. There are moments I should have interpreted differently, for sure. It could be better, I could be happier.

Do you find yourself second guessing yourself on set?

Sometimes there are moments when you are unsure of what you just did or what you said. Especially on how it translates the director’s vision of the scene or story. Good thing is, the said director is there to offer guidance in those moments of uncertainty. You can only be so confident in a performance, unless you are the writer, actor, director and producer of the show where still, a word in from your crew members or fellow cast members will greatly improve the idea of the scene and overall performance for sure.

In an interview I read a while back, you talked about having had to risk it all for your acting career. Do you feel like the gamble paid off?

Definitely, but not absolutely. It paid off; I am somewhere in the industry. But I am not at the peak of it. It’s a journey I clearly will have to be patient with.

What was the biggest risk you have taken?

The risks have been many. One was changing courses in my third year of campus where I was pursuing a degree in Mathematics and Business Studies to a course in Theatre Arts and Film Technology. Another one was quitting an office job as a creative director and producer, to go back on set as an actor on a starting out production, whose longevity was uncertain.

 You consider family time a very important time for you. What are the things you have learnt about yourself from the time you spend with your family?

I learnt that I can be insufferable at times; that not all my jokes are funny; that I over-compensate my failures with what I am good at sometimes; and that I have a lot of love to give. That will never wear off.

Actor Martin Githinji with his family. COURTESY

What is the one thing that you would change about yourself?

My bank account balance. But I am on the journey to changing that. About me physically or physiologically, nothing at all. I am a sum total of my experiences, my interactions, my mistakes and my famous joked-upon ears. I would not change any of that for the world. Unless the world really begged, then I’d reconsider. 

 Have you watched the Plan B film trailer?

Most definitely.

Do you normally watch yourself on TV and wonder: ‘How did I pull that off?’

In more occasions than one, it is more of what was I thinking at the time to do it that way or say it that way. I am never impressed by myself on screen. I am my own worst critic.

Do you think being your own worst critic makes you avoid being arrogant and keep you grounded?

I only hope so. But my background keeps me grounded. I have always understood the need to work hard to get what you need and want, and keeping humble for it can all go in a second. 

You have played a huge role in some of Kenya’s biggest productions from Machachari to Auntie Boss to Sue na Jonnie; do you think you are at the peak of the career?

You keep doing what you do; you learn as you grow. I shall never reach my peak, I believe. There will always be another level to attain for me.

Which will be the highest level to attain?

I will know when it happens. Remember this is the industry with no requirements in entry and or retirement age. You can act from when a you are a foetus to when you are in your grave. It is the one career that mirrors life as it tells the story in life. How great is art!

Apart from award ceremonies, what would you say needs to be done to make acting a rewarding career in Kenya?

The powers-that-be could probably help us by not demanding for unnecessary licensing fees for an industry that is not receiving enough support financially and in terms of policy as it has problems in financing itself already. 

A lot of people are constantly having problems with most of our government film bodies — or what you are calling the powers-that-be — and calling them out but we are not seeing any policy changes coming in. Do you think there is laxity in them or is government just not caring?

I cannot give reasons for them. I only know what we need and will keep equipping ourselves with the right tools to keep campaigning for a better industry.  

 If you were to have dinner with three actors, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

Will Smith, Priyanka Chopra (hope my wife won’t see this) and Pearl Nthusi. Why them? Why not? Plus I’d want to see how they’d look eating spicy nyam chom ribs, would they still look fabulous? Lol.

 Describe how you envision yourself at 53.

Alive and well. Alive and very well!

No fanciful goals?

I purpose to keep my goals to myself. Three life lessons I learnt: number 1, don’t tell everyone everything you know and/ or hope to achieve.

Actor Martin Githinji. COURTESY
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