How Lupita Nyong’o became an accidental Ugandan movie star

POLLY KAMUKAMA

Two Ugandan actors have told of their experience on the set of an underground local film that also featured new Hollywood starlet Lupita Nyong’o eight years ago.

Samuel Ibanda and John Wayne Muganza were part of the small cast for Roho, a 16-minute long film that was shot in Kampala back in 2006. A project of the annual Maisha Film Lab, the short movie was written and directed by a Kenyan filmmaker but featured a predominant Ugandan cast and crew.

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POIGNANT: Cajetan Boy shared with us candid pictures of a humble-looking Nyong’o, seen here with Samuel Ibanda, on the set of Roho.

Ibanda plays Judah, a down on his luck slumdog whose radiant girlfriend Leila (Nyong’o) is the daughter of a merciless mobster (Michael Wawuyo). Muganza on the other hand is the mean hitman who executes his boss’ orders.

But like many other Maisha films, Roho never went mainstream. Its only form of publicity has been participation at lowly festivals across East Africa including the recently concluded Euro-African Film Festival (EAFF) in Kampala.

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HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: Nyong’o (R) prepares to shoot a steamy love scene with Ibanda (C) as the film’s crew looks on.

Now, both Ibanda and Muganza have come out to share their pride at having had the coveted opportunity to work with the Kenyan actress whose heartbreaking performance in 12 Years a Slave has since turned her into an overnight global icon and landed her an Oscar nod.

“She was passionate, focused and self-driven, and you could easily tell she was going for gold. I am so proud to see that she has achieved her dream,” Ibanda said, praising the 30-year-old beauty for helping him adapt to his role.

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SUPPORT: Ibanda, seen here in a scene with Nyong’o, has said the Hollywood star helped him adopt to his role by acting as his girlfriend throughout the film’s entire shoot.

Hunky Ibanda’s performance stood out, perhaps given his initial experience in the entertainment industry having been an extra in the Oscar-winning Last King of Scotland, and an acclaimed dancer with the famed Latin Flavor outfit.

But the fashion-forward actress stole the show in one particular love scene where she gets it on with Ibanda. Upon maneuvering a shanty slum en route to Judah’s shack, Leila wastes no time to set the romance rolling. First, she throws off her niqab, then her blouse, then her knickers…

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AS WE KNOW HER TODAY: A glamorous-looking Nyong’o at a red carpet event to celebrate the global success of ’12 Years a Slave’.

What follows is an unsimulated steamy romance which Ibanda reckons was his favorite part to shoot, and that he would possibly retake it over and over again given an opportunity.

“I had never shot a love scene so it was tense. But she helped me get through it by taking some sessions off the set to understand each other,” Ibanda explained, revealing he hasn’t talked to Nyong’o since then but hopes she still remembers the good times they had.

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OSCAR BUZZ: Both Nyong’o and rocker Jerad Leto are up for Best Supporting role Oscars come Sunday, courtesy of their performances in ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Dallas Buyers’ Club’ respectively.

Muganza too spoke highly of the Kenyan star who hails from an affluent family, praising her versatility and hunger to become a film star.

“She wasn’t scared of getting the job done even if it meant kissing and stripping for the scene. There is a lot to learn from her,” says the burly Malaysian-based actor who’s had stints on NTV’s The Hostel.

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ICONIC: Nyong’o (L) joins her ’12 Years a Slave’ teammates to claim an award at the recently-concluded Golden Globes. The film about slavery has been hailed as one of the finest cinematic works of all time.

Both Ugandan actors say they are not surprised that Nyong’o has gone on to scoop multiple international awards and an Oscar nod  for her breakout role as Patsey, a tormented slave and object of sadistic sexual fantasies in 12 Years a Slave last year.

If Nyong’o goes on to scoop the Oscar two days from now, she will be the first ever black African actor to achieve the feat. And Roho director, Cajetan Boy, thinks it is possible. After sharing poignant pictures of a humble-looking Nyong’o on the set of Roho with us, Boy candidly spoke of his compatriot’s impeccable ability to transform into characters.

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BREAKOUT: Before Nyong’o landed her breakthrough role as tortured slave Patsey on ’12 Years a Slave’, she had appeared in Roho and a Kenyan series titled Shuga.

He recalled incidences where Nyong’o would get so sensual with Ibanda during shooting breaks that people around started thinking the pair had something going on. She even offered some directing tips.

“She told me that how a person touches another and (scent) are very important in making a love scene look real,” recalls Boy who cast Nyong’o as a last resort after the original actress pulled out on the last hour.

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NEW GENERATION: Kenya’s Nyong’o and ‘Captain Phillips’ Somali star, Barkhad Abdi, have given African cinema a new face on the global platform.

Back then, Boy says, the Shuga series star didn’t seem enthusiastic about acting – she was only working as a production assistant for Maisha. But then she showed rear ability to succeed at anything she did, he adds.

Boy meanwhile couldn’t share with us his film’s online links because he thought it could interfere with its reignited distribution on Mnet. And although he’s now a celebrated filmmaker back in Kenya, he doubts flashy Nyong’o would ever turn up for him again since he can no longer afford her pay cheque.

But at least he’s proud of her success, just as the rest of Africa is.

kamukamapolly@gmail.com

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5 thoughts on “How Lupita Nyong’o became an accidental Ugandan movie star

  1. Opportunists trying use someone’s shine? this is my worry.This sort of thing happened to leonardo dicaprio in his huge Titanic success days. the overall effect was Twenty years after his first Oscar nomination, he has never won an Oscar.He used his money to buy off all poorly done features that could affect his image…yet from people who had showed no regard for his talent. People will always come up saying ‘i knew you would make it’. Depending on Lupita’s win (and she has hugely taken home more statuettes than any African actor i have ever known in a space of months on the international scene)some one shouldn’t exhibit poorly done material to generate mileage. But If it’s good stuff Why not.

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