What you need to know:
- Kenya’s film industry has been on a steep arc of growth in recent years and the future couldn’t be more promising.
- Foi admits that being in the midst of this evolution alone is flattering. “I want to tell ground-shattering Kenyan stories to global audiences.
- "Stories about women that impact the world and influence perspectives.”
Every professional desires to see their stars align, and Foi Wambui’s life has been a constellation of career triumphs. Foi is everything she ever wanted to become – an actress, YouTuber and radio and TV presenter. She’s also a brand ambassador for Samsung.
Fierce, gleeful and the archetype of millennial self-consciousness, this woman arches her brow one moment and giggles the next in an effortless shift of expressions.
She’s so natural an actor that it’s difficult to imagine her in a different realm. “I feel lost if I lose sight of the different hats I wear in my life,” she declares.
When she played Lisa in Sincerely Daisy in 2020, it was the culmination of years of effort and practice. It was also a dream come true.
Directed by Nick Mutuma, Sincerely Daisy was Kenya’s first film on Netflix. At home, it caused ripples. Internationally, reception was roundly positive. And Foi had her big career break.
“It was my first role of that magnitude. From playing Lisa, I got a lot of opportunities to audition for other roles in different projects,” she narrates.
Except her presence on stage had begun much earlier.
“I performed in concerts and during drama festivals in both primary and high school. In 2014, I was the best actress nationally. From theatre, I transitioned to film,” she recounts of her eventful journey, noting that each acting role has nudged her closer to success.
Kenya’s film industry has been on a steep arc of growth in recent years and the future couldn’t be more promising. Foi admits that being in the midst of this evolution alone is flattering. “I want to tell ground-shattering Kenyan stories to global audiences. Stories about women that impact the world and influence perspectives.”
The world over, film enthusiasts tend to see actors and actresses through the lens of their past roles. One wonders the extent to which this young actress relates to characters she has portrayed. Foi says there’s a “beautiful” interplay between her actual life experiences and roleplaying.
“The deeper you explore characters, the more innate similarities in behaviour, circumstances and situations you find about them that mirror your own life.”
Has she ever disliked a character she played? Or been obsessed with one?
She says you can’t immerse yourself into a character if you disliked them. “Your job is to play, not to judge them.”
Without divulging details, she says her role in an upcoming project is reflective.
“Karen is fierce, confident and resolute. In many ways, I saw myself in her. But I also saw gaps in my life through her. I can’t wait for the film to come out.”
Film has taught her heaps about herself too. “You have to be aware of certain things in your life to portray a character adequately. I’m more self-aware as a result of acting. I now recognise my emotions, fears and anxieties better.”
Acting, she adds, helps to develop emotional intelligence, and that it should be taught in school, “not for performance,” but to build life skills and values.
There’s the niggling question on whether Kenya’s film industry supports its acting talent as much as it should.
Foi acknowledges that penetrating the local film space is difficult especially for young talent. “The industry is still growing. The few projects available aren’t enough for everyone, but great strides have been made so far.
“We only need to have a common ground on elements like working hours and rate cards. With the right support, we shall definitely do better than we are.”
She tells upcoming filmmakers to just get their feet out the door.
“In the beginning, I got as many rejections as the roles I’d auditioned for. I still get rejections. You have to be ready for an opportunity before it comes.”
Projects come with rewards, whether monetary, experiential or even visibility. Foi’s contract with Samsung, for instance, allows her to try out the company’s latest gadgets in the market and create experiences out of them. For this woman, there’s no such thing as an “ordinary” day.
“Sometimes I’m unavailable for a week working on a project only to have nothing to do in the subsequent weeks. What I like, though, is that my life isn’t monotonous.”
To keep up with the demands of content creation and an ever-hungry audience, Foi creates content for her YouTube channel during her free time. On dealing with pressure, she says she has learnt “to decompress and to do things I like. “You must deal with your fears in the healthiest way possible,” she says.
Turns out, Foi takes her rest days very seriously, sleeping for a minimum of eight hours daily, unless she’s on set.
She adds: “I cancel plans just so that I can rest, but I also spend quality time with the people I love.”
She, like every filmmaker in Kenya, has one wish: That Kenyans could watch local productions more.
On which actors she would cast in her film, Foi easily mentions Sarah Hassan, Nyokabi Macharia, Raymond Ofula and Robert Agengo. She singles out the quartet for their “diligence, passion, experience and diversity of ideas.”