From her breakout role as a maid in Imani to acting as a mother in Downcast, a pastor in The River and The Mountain, a prostitute and a wife in Seekers Unlimited, a former child soldier and captive wife in Haunted Souls, Rehema Nanfuka has proved her versatility as an actress.
She has also starred in NTV’s series, Kakibe Ki!, a lovely deceitful murderer in Jean Paul Sartre’s critically acclaimed play No Exit, a church lady in Angella Emurwon’s The Cow Needs A Wife and she has recently been cast to act as Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth.
She says acting has always had a place in her life though destiny let her wait till high school for the opportunity presented itself. The lack of enthusiasm for acting by fellow students drew her to prove to peers that it was something honourable.
Her passion earned her a major role as a queen in a school play. “I did brilliantly and I got my first best actress certificate. Since then, I have never looked back,” she says.
Even then she did not consider acting as a career option. To her, this was a hobby. When Nanfuka had to make a choice for a degree to pursue at university, she settled for one in international business.
But as fate would have it, she discovered that she was not passionate about business as whatever she did was half-hearted, which was different when it came to the arts, which she gave her all.
She landed her first professional role as an actress, in 2008, with Maisha Film Lab. She auditioned and was chosen to act in one of the films.
“I had an amazing acting mentor from Canada called Maria. She was moved by my performance and she encouraged me never to give up acting. Every time, I have doubts I remember what she said to me and I hang on,” Nanfuka adds.
Her work made an impression on other people also and she was given a role in a film called Imani, which was directed by Carol Kamya.
How easy or hard it is for her to fit in a role. “I sit down with the director or writer and we analyze the character. I get to know my character well, their history and it becomes easy to act like that person. But I must add that sometimes there is a toll on emotions especially if the person I am portraying has extreme or complicated highs and lows,” she explains.
One of the hardest roles she has taken on was in a movie titled No Exit, an existentialist French play by Jean-Paul Sartre.
“I acted as Estelle Rigault, a deceitful murderer. The hardest thing about it was I had to have an accent and I had to act fake. I mean fake emotions of innocence. The play is long and has only three characters. It was challenging because there was limited rehearsal time. But I remember telling myself that if I pull it off, I will be proud of myself and I was and still am,” she says.
A bone to pick
Her best role was playing as a maid in Imani, the movie which introduced her on a professional set. “I was given a chance to step into these huge shoes, I loved every moment of it and more so, I won awards for it,” she recalls.
She won the Best Actress Award at the Tarifa African Film Festival—now the Festival de Cine Africano de Córdoba— in 2010 in Spain and The Most Promising Actress Award at The African Movie Academy Awards in 2010 in Nigeria.
She is tickled when asked to portray a character that has depth in a well written story though put off by shallow characters.
“Writers sometimes just piece up stories, forgetting that the people in them need to have a background, a history, reasons why a person is a hero or a villain in a story. You can’t just be bad, you got to have a reason. Script writers neglect this when writing for film,” she argues
Nanfuka has a bone to pick with most Ugandan film makers. She says they are very unprofessional when dealing with actors.
“That is why only actresses that truly love their craft have stayed in this business. Directors don’t value actresses as much as the technical crew guys on set, they have this foolish idea that actresses are easily replaceable,” she points out. “They replace good actresses for looks and nothing stands out in film more than trashy acting.”
She adds, “We have many limitations in film, like equipment, cameras, but we don’t have limitations in talent. We have plenty of talented youth. Film makers shouldn’t cast looks, it’s shallow and unprofessional.”
Nanfuka belives it is high time Ugandans begin supporting the local film industry through she will not blame them entirely since the quality is not good yet. This, in turn, affects her earnings as an actress.
Recognition and respect
“That is why you find that some of us turn to international projects because they pay well. Although, I must add that acting is itself spiritually very rewarding. The biggest amount I have been paid is Shs400,000 a day. The lowest I have been paid is none. I have worked without pay before. Payment in film depends on the project budget and how the actress or actor is valued,” she explains.
To be run better though she suggest that film makers work together before government can fully recognise the industry.
The arts need to be included in the national budget and the television stations should provide 60 per cent local content instead of Latin American, Filipino and Spanish telenovelas.
For now, as an actress, Nanfuka dreams of gaining recognition and respect all over the world so that she can be able to influence change on causes that she holds dear.
“I want to win awards, the Oscars you name it, but particular favourites of mine are the Best Actress Award at Durban International Film Festival, the Prix d’interprétation feminine at the Cannes in France, Best Actress Award at Sundance and the Silver Bear Trophy For Best Actress at Berlinale, when I win get one of those, I know I have the nod from the world. I will keep going,” she adds.
She looks up to film makers like Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen because they have managed to act, direct and produce. She also loves Christopher Nolan work for his cerebral, often non-linear storytelling.
But at the end of the day, her role model is her mum. “I want to tap into her never ending well of optimism and resilience. I look at what she has been through and I think, I would have given up already, but the fact that she is still pushing, it’s amazing and inspiring.”
Apart from acting, Rehema loves writing poems, short stories and reading books, poems and newspapers.
“I love watching good movies, and I love taking care of dogs. I love this because, when you give love to a dog and it is returned in immeasurable quantities,” she says about her other hobbies.