Today on Man Around Nairobi we feature Actor Brian Ogola. Like most actors in Nairobi, Brian Ogola’s acting career started out on stage; in church plays and musicals as a college student. Slowly but surely, his passion for the craft led him to pursue a career as an actor on a full-time basis. And after leading roles in shows like ‘Jane & Abel’, ‘Love 101’ and ‘Lies That Bind’ to numerous TV commercials, Ogola has become a familiar face on our TV screens. More recently being in the cast of ‘Katikati’; A film that premiered at The Toronto International Film Festival 2016 and went on to win the FIPRESCI Prize. It also won the AMVCA Best East African Film 2016 as well as Best Film at the CinemAfrica festival in Sweden. Also part of the lead cast of ‘NEOPHOBIA’ a short film that was shortlisted to screen at the Festival de Cannes 2017 in France. It was the only African film at the festival.
Ogola is 27 but he feels like he is just getting started. With a vision of pushing the boundaries when it comes to Kenyan and African films as a whole, Ogola’s passion and drive to be better with every project he is involved in has been key to his growth as an actor. He is always ready to work with like-minded individuals who wish to see our film industry soar. Brian Ogola is currently working on ‘The System’; a political drama TV series slated for release later this year. He is also part of the lead cast of ’18 Hours’; a feature film about the state of our nation’s emergency healthcare system set for release in October 2017. Away from the screen, Ogola will be part of the cast of ‘Too Early for Birds’; a storytelling experience of its own kind to be staged on the 29th and 30th July at Kenya National Theater.
Did you grow up in Nairobi?
I was born and raised in Nairobi. I grew up in Eastlands; Greenfields near Donholm and later on in Umoja. So I am a proud beast from the east. I was brought up in a family of 14 children which came with its own challenges but it also brought along with it moments of great compassion, joy, and strength as a family unit. Moments that are now epic memories of our collective childhoods. I always had someone watching my back in the form of a big brother or sister and so I never got bullied. Not in the neighbourhood or any playground I ever stepped foot on. There was always a world of hurt promised to anyone who touched an ‘Ogola’. So, there was always respect for the Ogola. We rolled like a pack of wolves since we always had the numbers to play all the fun games.
Being child number 11 was tough. Especially when it came to expressing grievances and just being heard generally. Even though our parents did their best, we all had to learn pretty early how to be okay with not always getting what we wanted. So I turned to the tube in our living room. And thanks to the help of my brothers and sisters, I learned at a pretty young age how to listen to and follow storylines from the many shows that we would watch as a family. The tv was how I refused to feel bored or ignored at home and soon it was all I’d do. Not just for the action and complicated story lines, but also because it brought us all together in one room as a family and that made the viewing experience so much richer.
For many nights as a young boy, I prayed with what felt like all my willpower to become Superman. The Christian indoctrination I was going through at the time misled me to believe that it was possible. I just had to keep praying. I had initially wanted to be a journalist like Lois & Clark from my favourite TV show; Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman, but deep down I wanted the red cape and the superpowers of a Kryptonian. It was on stage at our family church that I one day felt like Superman. It was the applause of the congregation after a Christmas skit that I was a part of. It was overwhelming and seemed to last forever. Everyone was clapping and smiling; including my parents, brothers and sisters. It felt like I had finally become Superman. I had found something that I was good at from the many hours of tv I had been watching. I was 14 years old back then and didn’t or couldn’t comprehend the significance of that moment in my life. The day that I became Superman is the day that I became an actor. So to some degree, the prayers worked; God helped me see and become my own Superman. I’d still like the Kryptonian powers though.
What do you love about Nairobi?
I love many things about Nairobi. The weather, especially between September and December. The sun and our city make sweet love to each other during these months in my opinion…hehe. The art scene. The food; all things considered. Our wildlife. And most importantly our people. And to be even more specific; our women. I love our women, not just the ones in Nairobi because variety is indeed the spice of life.
At the risk of sounding or coming off as a fisi, let’s be real, all men are fisis until they’re rehabilitated by a good woman. Most of us fisis don’t get it right the first time or even the second or 3rd and some of us even get lost in life. But at least we’re all on to the curve. We’re just missing the point. I say our women because of their strength. Because of their grace and their beauty. It wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t speak about how nice it is to look at them. Evening strolls wouldn’t be the same without them and I’m a sucker for the little things in life. They’re always a sight for sore eyes in an inherently beautiful city. They reflect the best parts of us; of any people and I love me a Kenyan woman.
I also say our women because of my mom. Because I have never before been more aware and understanding of all the great sacrifices she made for me and my siblings. Great sacrifices by all our mothers. The presence of a strong woman in my life greatly improved my odds and I will forever be grateful for this.
That said, I hope I inherited enough of my dad’s charm to someday convince a good woman or any woman at that, that I’m worth my words and their time. So, a huge shout out to our beautiful Kenyan women; may they keep the fisi – rehabilitation agenda alive milele na milele. We as team mafisi shall keep trying hehe. Until then, the affair continues.
What would you change about Nairobi?
Many things. The traffic of course! It is without a doubt the most frustrating thing about our city. Our littering habits also need to change. Nairobians should also stop eating fries in a jav full of people. It had to be said.
I’d like to see more artistic expression in our structures and monuments in and around the city as it expands. I’d also like to see more trees, better drainage, and more eco-friendly products.
However, what I’d most like to change is Kenyan tv; most of which is shot in Nairobi. I want to change what Kenyans and especially what Nairobians are watching. I feel we’re ready for more genres other than soap operas and comedy and you’d be surprised how many like-minded individuals in Nairobi agree with me on this. I would like to capture their collective imagination, help them appreciate and watch our own and win back some self-respect for ourselves on the airwaves.
As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
I love what I do because it brings me great joy and fulfilment but being an actor in Nairobi is tough at the moment. Our budding film sector has been receiving positive impetus in both inward investments and training initiatives. But a lot more needs to be done to harness the true employment potential for our youths in this sector. The sector is in dire need of streamlining both film policy and investment. This will go a long way in guaranteeing and stabilizing demand for Kenyan content, and maybe then there will be enough opportunities for the Kenyan actor. Until then it remains a challenge for most actors to make ends meet; myself included. Most of us are forced to be practical and take up 2nd and even 3rd side hustles.
The demand, general enthusiasm and appreciation of good quality Kenyan content, especially in the recent past have been very encouraging. Our actors/writers/directors are still shining in the international markets and festivals despite all the challenges they face. This is also very encouraging. formation and growth of an actor’s guild (Kenya Actors Guild) are also going a long way in getting the right conversations with the right people started. A singular body with the legal mandate and goal of improving the working conditions for all actors across the country will be good for the industry. So I would strongly encourage all actors out there to join the guild if they haven’t already and let’s push for change together. So it’s clearly not all bad. There’s a lot to look forward to.
If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting?
Nairobi is a perfect city for any tourist because all the best places are not too far off from it. Which makes road trips that much easier and simpler to plan. Nairobi is the perfect place to live if you love random road trips and quick getaways or ‘mini vacays’ as we like to call them. A weekend away is too easy a temptation for Nairobians. A weekend away is too easy a temptation for Nairobians; kwanza with this new train of ours. And I absolutely love that about our city. And the variety of places you could visit makes all the road trips worth it. The Mara and Tsavo National reserves are some of my favourites. These places are perfect filming destinations first of all and are always magical no matter how many times you visit them. Turkana has to be by far the most beautiful place I have been to in all honesty. It may be far from Nairobi but the sheer beauty of the place is something we should all experience.
Nairobi has a very vibrant art scene. There’s always an event worth checking out by a multitude of both professional and aspiring performing artists. From poets to spoken word artists and lyricists just to mention a few. The Alchemist, Alliance Française and the Kenya Cultural Centre always have something to offer.