Celestine Gachuhi on three years of Selina!Watch full episodes
The actress who plays Selina in the hit Swahili telenovela talks about making sacrifices, finding love along the way and revisiting her first love.
Celestine Gachuhi has had to make a lot of sacrifices, both for herself and her character, Selina, in the hit Swahili telenovela of the same name from Maisha Magic, also streaming on Showmax.
Her character Selina has always given parts of herself to other people and sees the best in others even when they let her down over and over. In real life, Celestine has made sacrifices of her own, like no longer being able to go to certain places freely without a fan following her, or grabbing her.
Watch our interview with Celestine
“I meet different kinds of fans. There are the polite ones, but then there are those who will just grab my hand, and those who will follow me around and stare without saying anything,” she says. “Sometimes it’s too late when I notice them. Like, say I’m in a supermarket and it hits me that someone’s been following me for a while. That’s scary because when I’m running my own errands, I don’t think that I’m Selina.”
With this lead role, she’s had to put school on hold. “I can’t do this as a part-time job. This is what I do from Monday to Saturday. I’ve had to turn people down when they ask to meet on Sunday because that’s when I can rest and do my stuff.” She also hasn’t taken a proper vacation since Selina kicked off production in 2017.
But such things come with playing one of Kenya’s most beloved and prominent characters for three years – especially in a show that has remained the most-watched on Maisha Magic East and maintained its spot in the top 10 most-watched shows on Showmax in Kenya since it premiered in 2018.
Currently in its sixth season (all six seasons are on Showmax), Selina follows the tortuous romance between two star-crossed lovers (played by Celestine and Pascal Tokodi).
According to Reuben Odanga, Selina’s director and producer, they [the audition panel] were getting frustrated that they couldn’t find the right person for the role when Celestine arrived. “She walked into the audition room, and she killed it,” says Reuben. “When she left the room, all of us unanimously agreed that we had found our Selina.”
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And that is how Celestine, only 21 at the time, barely known in the industry, and with only one TV role (in a vernacular station) to her name, landed the role that many young actors can only dream of.
Selina has catapulted her to fame and earned her two consecutive Kalasha Awards nominations for Best Actress.
She admits that the show has made her a much better actor, especially since her character demands so much range from her emotionally. “As an actor, you need to be diverse. And Selina has many up and down moments. It has really enhanced how I view my acting, knowing that I need to do better and better.”
Her character Selina has had quite the journey. She was “sold” off by her stepmother to work as a maid immediately after she completed high school. Then she fell in love with the boss’s son (Tokodi), was jailed for a crime she didn’t commit, was forced into a loveless marriage with a sociopath (Peter Kamau), “murdered” by a jealous crazy wife (Brenda Wairimu), and kidnapped and drugged for months by a scheming family (Daniel Peter Weke and co). And yet, she endures, wearing her resilience, good heart and naivety like a badge of honour.
“She doesn’t give up easily. She might be hurt but she still stands because she’s not broken easily. She might be emotional, but she will do whatever needs to be done,” Celestine says.
On the scenes that broke her
But some scenes have broken her, so much so that she cried for days after filming was done. She recalls a particular scene in season 2 where she’s being kicked out of the Mackenzie house. “She went through so much in that scene that it really affected me as Celestine. I cried for two days, and I couldn’t stop,” she says. “I felt so angry at Selina because I couldn’t understand why she was still letting this family (the Mackenzies) do this to her.”
It was a heavy scene, perhaps one of the most emotional scenes in the telenovela’s six seasons, and one that Reuben (Selina’s producer and director) also singles out as one of his favourites. “She (Celestine) was on top of her game when we needed her to be,” he says.
“I felt like my world was being shattered but I think I gave it justice,” Celestine says. She felt stressed for a whole weekend after reading the script for this scene, she reveals. “We were shooting it on Monday, and for the first time, we finished a whole episode in one day because there was no way you could take that emotion to the next day.”
Celestine has learnt to cope with these heavier episodes by leaning on the people she loves. “I call the people that I love, and talking to them makes me come back from that place. But sometimes, I just sit silently in my own space, not thinking about anything.”
On most days, she also copes by listening to music, which is actually her first love. “My mum and I used to sing together,” she reveals, adding that she started singing from a young age, in primary school then high school. “I’ve also performed set book plays that required me to sing.”
She only recorded her first song in 2020, Nena Nami, a collaboration with her fiancé, gospel singer Phil Kimemia.
Watch the music video for Nena Nami
It was fun singing together with her fiancé, she admits. “You always have jitters when it’s your first time because the song is going out to the world and to your fans. You can’t be mediocre, and Phil really helped me,” says Celestine. “He’s an amazing vocalist and I learned some nitty-gritty stuff that I didn’t know about music. Listening to us together was amazing.”
She hopes to kick off her singing career once Selina ends. “That (Nena Nami) was my starting point. I took a break but I’m coming back very soon.”
All episodes of Selina S1-6 are available on Showmax.