“Things just don’t happen, they are made to happen,” is a belief that 28-year-old actress, scriptwriter and voice-over artist Jackline Wambui Kaboi holds with passion. She talks about the numerous hurdles she faced and how she rose, against all odds, to become a success story in the local film industry
It is a beautiful and peaceful evening in Nairobi and upcoming but talented guitarist Maryanne Mutuko is well into a performance at an entertainment joint. There is a special guest in the audience today -- celebrity artiste Mark Tumiso. He is so impressed by her performance, he invites her to perform for him in private. The request strikes Maryanne as odd but, because she is excited about the opportunity which could be a big break for her career, she ignores the feeling and agrees to join Mark in his hotel suite.
After a few minutes in the room, she begins to wish she had followed her intuition. Mark tries to force himself on her, and she begs him to stop. He doesn’t and this prompts her to defend herself in whatever way she can as she senses her life is in danger. Afraid for her life, she breaks free for a few seconds and grabs a fork from the room service tray then stabs Mark several times, which leaves him lying lifeless on the floor.
This is not real life but a narration in the opening scene from Bait, a short drama filmed by Kibanda Pictures for the 48-Hour Film Project, a competition where filmmakers compete to see who can make the best film in 48 hours. Directed by Likarion Wainaina and written by Brian Munene, the film won several honours at the 2016 Riverwood Academy Awards, including Best Short Film, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. The film was also shortlisted among the top 15 short films from across the globe to be featured at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016.
At the Awards, the Best Actress accolades went to lead actress Jackline Wambui Kaboi, popularly known as Jacky. Her co-stars were Brian Byaruhanga (who played Mark Tumiso) and Millicent Ogutu (Mark’s wife Jane Tumiso). The drama, about an adulterous man who meets his match, is done in English.
Jacky, who hails from Murang’a County’s Kangema village, is the first born of five siblings from a humble family background. Growing up, she dreamed of becoming an accomplished actress.
As a pupil at Eastleigh Airport Primary School then Kianderi Girls High in Murang’a, she was an active participant in the music and drama clubs, which earned her the nickname, Mwana Sanaa. “Our school won several awards at the National Drama Festivals,” narrates Jacky.
Soon after high school in 2009, Jacky joined a group that toured schools to perform plays based on set books (required literature books for students) and her talent grew immensely. Filled with enthusiasm and determination, she earned her place as a stage director during the plays. “While doing set books in Thika, I met a man named Mwendwa Mutua who convinced me to join his company, Artskills Films, as an actor,” she says. During this time, she also joined the East African Media Institute (EAMI) to pursue a Diploma in Performing Arts.
In 2011, Jacky attended an audition for a major role in a film. Her performance impressed the judges and she secured the part. However, she was initially reluctant to take it up because she was to play a prostitute and this involved “smoking” and “flirting with men.”
“As a girl from a strict Christian background, this was the last thing I wanted to do knowing it could ruin my reputation and embarrass my family. I felt I needed time to sit down with my parents, explain the role to them and get their opinion before I could make any step,” recalls Jacky.
Talking to her parents turned out difficult. They were not only stunned that she was considering the role, they were completely opposed to the idea. “Each time I brought up the topic, my father would quickly switch to another with the hope that I would change my mind and stop bothering them,” Jacky says.
However, after consulting with relatives and friends, her parents loosened up after they understood that it was just acting and that there was nothing more to it. Jacky says that despite her parents’ support, her father never stopped cautioning her on the need to retain her values throughout her acting career. Needless to say, her father was very disappointed with her when she got pregnant the same year.
“I was in a relationship for close to a year before I found out I was pregnant -- around September 2011. I told my boyfriend and at first he seemed OK with the news but later on insisted that I have an abortion. I was scared and had read widely and watched movies so I knew about the complications that could arise from an abortion so I opted not to do it,” Jacky narrates adding that when she communicated her decision to her boyfriend, he said he wasn’t ready for a child and he wanted no involvement at all if she decided to have the baby.
With a baby on the way, Jacky had to find a way to earn some extra income. “I applied and was accepted for a volunteer position at the Kenya Association for the Intellectually Handicapped. I would teach advocacy through poetry and dance to persons with intellectual disability and I would earn a stipend of Sh3500 a month,” she narrates. “Slowly, I started saving for the baby. I worked there from 2011 to mid-2014.”
At some point in her pregnancy, Jacky says she felt shunned by friends and family — in particular her parents who were disappointed in her. “My father and I had been close but he became very distant. He seemed guilty and embarrassed by my pregnancy. He was probably worried about how family, friends, and neighbours would react. It took a while for us to patch things up but, eventually, he and my mother stood by me,” Jacky says.
True to her boyfriend’s word, he did not support Jacky in any way -- neither emotionally nor financially. In March 2012, she gave birth to a baby boy who she named Adrian Roy Kaboi after her father. “The initials for his name make up the word ARK, like Noah’s Ark -- because he was and still is my saving grace and strength. My son is my first love,” Jacky says.
For five months after her baby was born, Jacky quit school as she juggled motherhood and volunteering. That December, she joined University of Nairobi to study towards a Diploma in Community Development.
Still, her love for acting bursting out of her. She would attend acting workshops and spend a lot of time preparing for auditions. Eventually, this left very little time for her studies. “I enjoyed acting more than studying. It affected my performance as a first year student. Before I knew it, my grades started to drop and, at some point, I was forced to join a remedial study group so I could catch up and improve my grades,” Jacky says.
In 2013, she moved to screen acting and landed herself a major acting role on the movie Tamed by Artskills Films. The following year when the nominees for the Riverwood Academy Awards were announced, her name was on the list for Best Supporting Actress but when the big day came, she did not win the title. Despite her disappointment, Jacky held her head high and, later in the same year, got a role in the movie Switch, which earned her recognition for Best Supporting Actress at the 2015 Kalasha Awards.
Jacky, who goes by Jacky W Vidzo on Facebook and Jacky Kaboi on Twitter, has featured in a number of TV series, among them Boda Boda (KTN), Arnold and Bundi (Switch TV), and Nyumba 10, Fihi and Jane & Abel (all on Maisha Magic East). She has also made special appearances on comedy show Mafundi (NTV). She currently features on the soap opera Santalal which airs on Citizen TV. Besides acting in films and plays, Jacky has also done a variety of voice-overs for documentaries and advertisements. She also continues to work with people who have intellectual disabilities.
Her filmography includes Murder Mishaps (Maisha Magic East), The Bachelor (Maisha Magic) and most recently Free, written and directed by John ‘JJ’ Jumbi under Chatterbox Studios, which was filmed for submission to the Machakos Film Festival, 2018 edition. “My fans should watch it on the YouTube Machawood Machakos channel,” Jacky says. She has also been on several TV advertisements and billboards.
Left with no choice but to accord her the much-needed support, Jacky’s parents are today her biggest fans. “You should see how proud my mum is whenever she introduces me to her friends who have watched me on TV,” Jacky says.
Despite her on-screen success, Jacky mentions that she has faced a number of challenges off screen, the main one being earning a living out of acting. “As much as I love acting, I am yet to get to the level where I can solely rely on it to pay my bills. I am forced to take up side hustles such as selling ladies handbags and jewellery in order to make ends meet,” Jacky says.
She points out that she is grateful for the Kenya Actors Guild (KAG), which was formed to look into some of the issues that actors face. The guild was established in 2008 by veteran actors and was relaunched in 2012. “KAG introduced a rate card for actors but there is still a challenge because it has given leeway to a number of people who aren’t professional actors to make quick cash by taking up acting gigs for less pay,” Jacky says.
Jacky adds that earlier in her career, she could not deal with criticism and this affected her a great deal. “I would end up feeling rejected and lonely for weeks on end until I learnt to cope,” Jacky says.
In addition, finding a balance between family and acting, especially when parenting alone, has not been easy. “There is this feeling of wanting to be with your children but at the same time you have to work,” Jacky says.
Having been in the acting industry for five years, the single mother of two boys, aged 7 years and one and a half years, says she is glad to have achieved her dream of becoming a successful actress despite the challenges she went through during the initial stages of her career.
“Winning an award for Best Actress during the 2017 Riverwood Awards is an accomplishment I will live to cherish. It not only elevated my career, it established my name as one of the most sought-after actresses in Kenya,” Jacky says. “I believe better is not good enough. The best is yet to come. My fans should brace themselves for more surprises in the future,” she says.Should a man give his wife an allowance even when she is working?