What you need to know:
- In the Showmax Original thriller series Igiza, Ndanu had to learn how to change from Linda to Nicole in a snap.
- The Kalasha-winning actress took some time off in 2020 to give birth and raise her son with footballer Victor Wanyama.
It’s not every day that you see an actor playing two roles on the same TV show in Kenya, let alone to the level of perfection that Serah Ndanu aka Teshna embodies in the roles of twins Linda and Nicole in the new Showmax Original thriller series Igiza.
The 13-part series is a story of revenge between the two sisters – Nicole, the convict whose life was stolen from her, and Linda, the high-flying fashion designer who’s responsible for this betrayal.
The biggest challenge to Ndanu when she landed the role was: “How do I make these two roles distinct and make them believable individually to the audience watching?”
It was no easy task, especially with her twin characters being opposites in many ways.
“Nicole is very ghetto and very rough, while Linda is very polished,” she says.
And they are even further apart from who she is in real life.
“Nicole is very slow in making decisions. She’s a thinker and she’s also very calculated in everything that she does,” Ndanu explains. “Linda, on the other hand, is a woman who’s driven by so many things. She’s feisty, greedy, and a dictator. And that’s not who I am.”
Eager to reintroduce herself after a two-year absence on screen, Ndanu rose to the challenge. Her preparation process for the two roles included lots of research (especially on prison life in Kenya), rigorous workshops and intense coaching from legendary stage director Dr Julisa Rowe.
Rowe, a Zimbabwean-born Kenyan, has a wealth of experience in theatre and performing arts that spans over 35 years. Her name is often mentioned in actors’ circles with reverence and Ndanu, like many before her, owes her Linda and Nicole performances to Rowe.
“Being an actor is like being a student. You’re constantly learning. It took time for me to comfortably understand the two characters. The workshops and the coaching from Julisa helped so much in preparing for the roles,” Ndanu says.
For two weeks, Rowe trained Ndanu on a variety of acting techniques, even the most mundane, like how to move, how to talk and how to eat.
“These are some of the things that I thought I knew before. But then you sit down with Julisa, and she gives you a whole new perspective,” she says. “I know I’m the kind of person who talks too fast. And she told me, ‘Serah, Linda has to take it slow and she has to be very articulate. She’s a Meryl Streep kind of a person, so you really have to be very slow, and very precise. Your words are your sword.’ So I had to learn all that,” said the actress.
And she had to learn how to change from Linda to Nicole in a snap: “It’s not easy. But I’m so happy that I got those lessons before we started filming Igiza. I think if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Her lessons with Rowe pay off in the way she shifts from Linda to Nicole with such remarkable ease. Even in the scenes where the twins are in together, there’s never a doubt that we’re watching two people who have nothing in common but a face and a tragic past.
An instance is the very first scene they share in the first episode where Nicole confronts Linda after escaping from prison. It’s a powerful moment, one of the episode’s best, and proof of why Ndanu is considered Kenya’s screen queen — just in case viewers needed reminding.
The Kalasha-winning actress took some time off in 2020 to give birth and raise her son with footballer Victor Wanyama, whom she describes as very supportive as she re-enters the game.
Igiza co-star Kevin Samuel, who plays Linda’s husband Reggie, praises Ndanu and her many faces.
“I always have to remind everyone that she’s not playing two characters, she’s playing three,” Samuel says, pointing out that Ndanu plays Linda and Nicole and thereafter plays Nicole playing Linda when the two sisters trade lives.
“And what’s amazing is that on any given day, depending on the character that she’s playing, you see the difference,” Samuel adds. “I can see her walking out of the dressing room, and just by looking at her face, even when I’m not in her scene, I’ll know if it’s Linda or Nicole because she’s internalised those characters so well.”
Blessing Lung’aho, who plays Nicole’s accomplice Dom, echoes Samuel’s sentiments.
“She (Ndanu) is such a giver in a scene. We’ve had to go to some really dark places together, and I’ve never walked into a scene afraid that she won’t go there with me. And I always know which twin I’m talking to when I enter a scene,” Lung’aho says.