Mumbi Maina was lazing in bed when the unanticipated call came. “How can this even be real?” Startled, she pondered as she gazed at her email’s inbox.
This is mid-2020. The world stood hopelessly, gripped, grieving. The Covid-19 pandemic had held everyone hostage and everyone was fighting for survival. Leave alone dreaming, thinking of such a breakthrough would be equated to abomination, or say heavenly intervention.
“I had heard that the Matrix Resurrection production company (Warner Bros) had started filming. They had called some of the actors from Sense 8, a series I had featured in. I had not been called and since the production had started, I did not think I would take part. I was simply happy for my fellow actors,” says Mumbi, Kenya’s new international acting sensation now starring in the Matrix Resurrections, the blockbuster American science fiction film that premiered worldwide in December.
“I did not want my acting career to stagnate and since starting in Sense 8, I was set to see my star go international. I knew Matrix Resurrections was something I needed and so when I got the mail inviting me to join the production, this was really a dream come true. I left the country on the first week of October that year for the production that took about six weeks,” a jubilant Mumbi says, noting that her faith and hard work has always opened doors for her.
Strange as it might sound, Mumbi had never watched the first instalment of the Matrix series. Even though she is an avid movie lover who has followed major productions like the action-science fiction Avengers and the David Benioff fantasy serial drama Game of Thrones creation, the three previous releases of the Matrix franchise. It was after learning that Matrix Resurrections was going into production that she gained interest.
“I watched Matrix for the first time in 2020. It was mind-blowing. It expanded the way I think and reflected on all beautiful things about life and art. Being diverse in the roles I play in the film, I liked it and perceived this as my next acting challenge,” an elated Mumbi says.
Since stumbling into the professional acting world by accident in 2008, Mumbi has never looked back.
Her sister was going for an audition. She asked Mumbi to tag along. While there, her sister insisted that she would not leave until Mumbi too auditioned. That is how she ended up landing the lead role in the award-winning film Unseen, Unsung, Unforgotten.
“After that big success, somehow, I went back to the corporate world and while there I asked myself what I would rather be doing, the one thing that I would be happy waking up to and that was acting. I used to dance before then and had a bias towards acting, and it was at this point when I decided to dedicate myself to the latter. I think acting chose me and so do the many characters that I get involved in in different productions. Every day is a new learning experience,” says the rather soft-spoken lass whose circle of friends revolve around fellow thespians such as the Nollywood-based Lizz Njagah and reputable Kenyan actress and film producer and director Sarah Hassan.
After kicking off her acting career with the 2008 film Unseen, Unsung, Unforgotten, Mumbi became one of the most sought-after actors in Kenya with a body of work from both the local and international stage.
She appeared in popular Kenyan shows like the soap opera Mali, and Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice nominee Jane and Abel and How to Find a Husband. She went ahead to appear in Kenya’s 2018 Oscar submission Kati Kati and with Nollywood actress Rita Dominic in Gilbert Lukalia’s award-winning film Shattered and Nollywood’s psychological thriller La Femme Aniola.
Her big break came with Sense8, the popular American science fiction drama streaming television series by Lana and Lilly Wachowski and Michael Straczynski.
“I do not believe in luck. I am a very spiritual person who has special prayers with God. Sense8 opened doors. During the auditions, we were like 30 actresses on call, then we were reduced to 10, then down to two. Alfre Woodard (American actress and producer in Sense8) wanted to work with people who understood the vision. She wanted to create a family setting and not just a group that would tell the story. We had to learn everything on set,” says Mumbi of the big production.
Admitting that she has always been viewed as the underdog in most of these mega productions, the one-time office cleaner advises that for an actor, getting roles in movies may not come easy. Patience pays.
“One should practice confidence, self-belief and humility. I am humbled by the likes of Lupita, who set the stage for us, as much as we have never met. When you get consistent, you experience growth. You get deep. A lot of work start coming your way,” she says.