By Ogova Ondego
Published June 26, 2016
Queeny Wambui Mwangi is not just a fast-rising screen performer in Kenya’s coastal city, Mombasa, but is also one of the most searched for people online in the East African country. Mwangi speaks candidly about the high and low points of being a screen star in Kenya.
Hello Malkia. When we last carried an interview with you the TV series in which you starre—ALMASI, SUMU and NIRA—were running on local television. And you said you were studying at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). That was almost two years ago. What are the latest developments in your life?
NIRA is currently airing on the Maisha Magic East (channel 158 on DStv) and channel 4 on Gotv from 8:00 PM during weekdays. I am currently studying Public Relations at University of Nairobi (UoN).
What is NIRA?
Nira is a soap on family, power and money; it shows the extent to which people can go to wield power. I play Maria, a domestic servant who falls in love with the first born son of the powerful family I work for. However, things turn nasty when the second born son of the family gets into the mix.
What’s Maisha Magic?
Maisha Magic is a Kiswahili channel that screens movies from East Africa.
Why are you studying PR and not a course that is directly connected with performance or screen arts?
It’s because I am out to turn ‘Queeny Mwangi’ into a brand and household name. I want to have an academic certification related to image-consulting so I can apply it to my own career. We artists usually don’t know where to start in terms of branding ourselves for the big league that I am aiming for. I took it upon myself to get more knowledge in this area.
Please describe your typical working day, Monday-Friday.
My day usually starts at 5:30 AM when I rise to hit the gym for an hour and a half before I return home to prepare for the day’s hustles.
Please take us through your weekend; how do you spend it?
My schedule for the weekend depends on whether I am reporting to work. If I am not, my weekend begins on Friday night when I hook up with a friend or two for dinner or something to just catch up on developments. I stay indoors on Saturday to watch movies and catch up on what’s happening online. I attend church on Sunday morning after which I visit my mum and spend the afternoon with my family.
What place do dressing and grooming hold in a career like yours?
My style is defined by my authentic modern African woman; l usually make sure that whatever l choose to wear is in line with this brand.
Please explain “authentic modern African woman”
l mean being true to the values that were passed down from ours mums about how women should dress; in respectable outfits that also incorporate some modernity in them. So it’s authentic in terms of upholding the values of how an African woman should present herself.
How often do you work on weekends?
My schedule is unpredictable. I am on call 24/7. However, I make sure l have at least a weekend off in a month to get my house in order.
So you moved out of your parents’ home?
Yes, I moved out almost 18 months ago.
What challenges do people in the acting sector face?
Honestly, this industry seems to be very stagnant at the moment; and this is pretty unsettling. Three years back, the industry was growing very fast. Lately, things seem not to be going as they should. It’s a growing concern among as artists.
Being in the public eye is one of the toughest things about being a renowned actress. I am a very private person. l love my peace and quiet afternoon strolls on the beach but l don’t really get to enjoy that anymore without people coming up to me to say ‘hello’ and to ask if they can take a picture with me. I appreciate the love my fans give me but it also has an ugly side to it.
Another thing is that fans always want to see you looking good even on days when you just want to get into a T-shirt and a pair of Jeans trousers and hit the road. I guess people don’t understand that we are human and that we, too, have good and bad days. We struggle with the same things other people do: style, weight and even finding love. But since I am in the public eye, my life is constantly looked into and it could be quite frustrating at times. We practically don’t have a normal life.
You chose a public career; that of a media personality, a star, a celebrity.
I miss being a normal 21-year-old girl.
Do you do Shisha, Weed and alcohol?
I was raised in a Christian home by a single mum; this is what guides me on how I conduct myself. So, in-line with this, l don’t do any form of drugs. l don’t smoke anything.
I may take some wine but I don’t go for the liquor indulged in by some people. I stay away from that.
Not just because of my principles but because the brand I am building doesn’t allow it. Being a role model for young people in Kenya comes with a responsibility that demands that I carry myself around honourably.
What are the highs and lows of being a star; the thrills and the hiccups; the dreams; the hopes?
One of the negative things that have been highlighted about me, and let me admit it, is the struggle I have with my weight. I am on and off diet; I am at times forced to lose weight in order to play a certain role. Lately however, it’s been under control.
Are you bombarded with proposals for marriage? How do you keep yourself away from alcohol, flirting and sex that screen people are surrounded with?
The women in the entertainment industry have been viewed as being loose for a while now. At times it’s overwhelming when men just keep approaching you all the time with dinner and lunch dates. They may have good intentions. However, it’s difficult to differentiate those who mean well from those with ulterior motives. That is why l have issues with ‘trust’.
Why are ‘women in the entertainment industry . . . viewed as being loose’? Are they, really, loose?
Yes, some women are loose; no doubt about that.
What makes them ‘loose’? Are there no ‘loose’ teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, journalists and preachers?
A woman in the entertainment industry is different from say, a teacher, because the former is more exposed to all sorts of people and freely mixes with men.
We in entertainment are constantly invited to high profile parties and stuff and this makes some women behave in ways they shouldn’t. Another factor, of course, that makes women in entertainment vulnerable is that most of them abuse drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse gives them a ‘don’t care’ attitude.
I have heard some women who’d started off well on both screen and stage say they gave up after their producers or directors demanded sex from them; have you ever faced this problem? How do you, or would you, handle it?
Producers and directors demanding sex is something l have never experienced. However, it’s there and it’s something that has affected the industry for years. I am glad to say the frequency of the practice is decreasing. Gone are the days women would be asked for sex in return for a role in a film.
What is your relationship status?
I am single but hoping the right man will come along.I prefer not to dwell so much on whether I have a boyfriend because it’s kind of complicated.
Oh, what sort of man would be ideal for you?
Firstly, like every other girl, I am looking for a man who can be a best friend and a support system for me. He should be ambitious, outgoing and, of course, be the man who can bring out the best in me; a man who takes his time to understand me. He should look good, too. He should have the ability to make me laugh after a really hard time at work.
What is your view on same sex unions?
Though I don’t support same sex marriages, I don’t judge people who are caught up in such relationships.
Which TV series that you have starred in are currently running?
Currently there is none on air, though repeat episodes of ALMASI, SUMU and NIRA are running.
Do you have bodyguards?
I have never felt the need to hire bodyguards. l don’t mean to put myself down but I am not where l would feel the need for bodyguards. However whenever I go to event that I know are going to be crowded, l usually take along my male friends for protection.
Do you have any political inclination or, put another way, do you like politics?
No, l don’t; l believe politics is a dirty game.
Are you involved in any youth group, for instance in church, school or neighbourhood?
I pulled myself out of the last youth group because l didn’t support their ideologies and methods of doing things.
What advice do you have for the up-and-coming actresses?
Entertainment is one of the toughest industries around. You need a tough skin, a focused mind, passion and, above all else, Jesus Christ by your side. You can’t do it all by yourself; only God can help us in handling certain burdens. Never give up. Even when you feel you have hit rock bottom. Keep believing. Keep going for auditions. Keep sharpening your skills. You will get your dream project. At the right time.