We all want that big break once in a while. That is what Paul Ogola got when he landed the role of Jela in Netflix series Sense8. He hasn’t looked back after that. He has had a lot to learn and has done more than most people in the film industry. He also played a role in Nairobi Half Life among other productions. What scares him? What makes him happy? Media Critic Kenya’s DAVID MWENDA asked him about these and so many other things.
A lot of people saw you on Sense8 for the first time. Would you call it your big breakthrough?
Sense8 was more than just work. I always view its after-effects as a revelation, to more art and more interesting stories! So, art-wise, yes; it was a breakthrough in my journey.
It was a very interesting how the thing was shot: Different cities, different points of view. What did you learn from interacting with so many cultures at the same time?
I learnt and expanded my sensitivity and compassion. There much to be understood about humanity, politics, religion, traditions and cultures; the roles they play shaping a certain way of life or life itself. It is sad to follow or live in a certain pattern that you do not understand but agree to be the piece that makes it complete.
What was the most interesting scene to shoot?
I loved shooting the first bus explosion scene. It was a one-take because we only had one bus to blow up; we had to get it right. You can imagine the pressure on set.
What did you learn from Jela and your role?
It doesn’t take much to be a happy person. Just be contented with what you have and who you have; and protect them jealously.
Interesting you pointed out the after effects. It sparked a lot of conversation on LGBT rights, don’t you think?
Yes it did.
OK. Should the Kenyan acting space embrace this discussion?
Kenya needs to embrace life, from storytelling to everything that comes and lives. It sounds simple but trust me, storytelling isn’t just a matter of waking up and writing something then shoot and air by 7pm. There are basics that have to happen for everything else to make sense to everyone.
Funding is also an issue to telling those stories, isn’t it?
Funding is an issue, I agree. However, there are bigger problems that must be addressed sooner and I believe that it will ripple on funding.
What is the biggest problem according to you?
Just like I said, storytelling.
Are Kenyans and Africa in general appreciating their stories and telling them to change the perception of Africa in your opinion?
Kenyans need to be very authentic in their storytelling. Storytelling is just that; in all levels of production. The audience really appreciates what they can relate with. Well-told stories will never go unrewarded by Kenyans. I learnt that from Nairobi Half Life days. The ball is on the storytellers’ court. We have to do a better job and I would specifically challenge the script writers to write in a way that would challenge directors, editors, actors and everyone to step up their storytelling game. That’s value-adding.
Okay. How has your acting journey been?
Steadily growing. Since I came back from my master classes in LA in 2017, I have been on stage with Heartstrings Entertainment. That’s where you will find me most of the time; if not at home watching more acting classes.
What big thing did you take home from the master class?
The essence of art.
Sounds interesting. Please explain.
If you’re doing art, you better speak it’s language, and it’s called life! If you aren’t doing that, then learn the language first before you ‘speak’.
Speaking of art, Heartstrings hosted a comedy special featuring Dr King’ori. Is it a sign of more to come?
It was the first of many.
How is the Kenyan comedy scene in your perspective?
I really can’t talk much about comedy; all I know is that Heartstrings Entertainment with Dr King’ori are setting a standard.
What’s scares you most on set?
And in life?
Because it’s the most powerful and lethal weapon used to end life.
Interesting. What keeps you ticking?
Conversations. They inform my path to sail.
What’s the most interesting conversation you’ve had?
I have a lot. I would probably exhaust your page if we start counting my interesting conversations. But I find myself every day talking about modern people, mostly female.
Speaking of women, do you think they are getting better spaces in the film industry today?
Yes! Most of the producers are women in Kenya. We have more international award-winning female directors than male.
Should men be part of the conversation when it comes to women empowerment?
To have a progressive, happy and successful society, you must have women. To have such women in the society, you must start by empowering boys so that they grow up knowing the reason why we must have women.
What book are you currently reading?
The Art of Acting.
Interesting. What is it about?
Stellar Adler’s technique on acting. It has really helped me be a better writer. It’s all about the process and studying how to be a believable storyteller.
You sound like you were a really great story teller as a kid?
I was a very talkative child because I was compensating for something. I do not remember actually having any qualities of a good storyteller but, man, I spoke a lot; just so that people cannot forget that I am around. Confidence, passion and commitment is all I had.
What are you feeding your mind with now?
I am feeding my mind with life, positivity and common sense. It has been the greatest way to achieve an efficient way of life.
What projects are you working on now?
I just wrapped shooting a series for Netflix from Bollywood, watch out for that. Just to tip you, watch Sacred Games season 1 on Netflix. What I am working on as we speak is myself! (Laughs). I am in serious prayers for my future as an artist; so watch me to see God’s answers.
What would you tell a 19-year-old Ogola?
Go back to basics, understand the essence of who you are and everything you are doing you’re or up to. Then proceed because everything means something, including nothing.
Money or power?
Money is cheap.