INTERVIEW: Elsaphan Njora from Kati Kati
Kenyan star Elsaphan Njora gambles with the afterlife in award-winning film Kati Kati.
There’s more to Elsaphan Njora than meets the eye. For instance, he hangs out at my local joint every Karaoke Thursday and keeps a low profile. He’s easy to miss in the crowd. I assume this is how he likes it, otherwise he wouldn’t choose the most inconspicuous table in the bar.
Normal as he may seem, he’s been to places you can never imagine, like the afterlife. In the movie Kati Kati (available on Showmax), Elsaphan plays Thoma, a man stuck in the afterlife with other souls including Kaleche (Nyokabi Gethaiga), King (Peter King), Timo (Mugambi Nthiga – also in New Beginnings) and Jojo (Mumbi Maina – also in How to Find a Husband).
A 2016 TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) award winner, KatiKati, directed by Mbithi Masya, poses the toughest question: What happens when we die? Elsaphan tells us more in an exclusive interview.
The movie Kati Kati is currently available on Showmax. How do you think internet streaming services like Showmax can change the future of content in Kenya?
I am glad that people now have a chance to watch it. I am excited about what Showmax will mean for the industry. Kudos.
Tell us more about Thoma, the character you play in Kati Kati. What do you like most about him?
I like Thoma because he is so layered. His life/death is so complicated. I loved delving into his complexities and Mbithi Masya really guided me well on the journey. Thoma is also a breath of fresh air in comparison to some of my previous roles because he ventures into the emotions that I was dying to portray. I am so glad that I was cast to play Thoma. So so so glad.
Any challenges in playing the role?
The challenge was the joy. Seeing that I was so excited to play this role, of course I came with my own ideas. Well, safe to say that not all were as brilliant as I had thought when the epiphanies hit me. It was humbling to put some of those ideas aside for the sake of the director’s vision and it worked. I can’t overemphasise the importance of having Mbithi as a director.
Kati Kati is a 2016 TIFF winner. How did you feel to be part of this achievement?
I was proud. Being recognised internationally and especially by TIFF isn’t a small achievement but for me I am rarely satisfied. Later it became an affirmation that we need to do more movies and we need to do them yesterday.
It is for your role in Kati Kati that you were also nominated at the 2017 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards in the Best Supporting Actor category. Do you have any sentiments on this?
Yes, I have sentiments, I was not a supporting character. But that aside, I can’t thank the people enough for voting for Kati Kati and for me. My heart goes out to all of you who braved that long and tedious process of voting. Thank you so much.
Tell us about working with renowned producer Tom Tykwer.
He is a delight. Though we didn’t interact much, I have seen his work and now I have experienced his work ethic.
You also had a role in Briefcase Inc (available on Showmax), one of the most successful sitcoms in Kenya. Tell us more about the show and the role you play?
I play the role of Ben. He is a street-smart but not book-smart kind of hustler whose philosophy in life is “live and let live”. What I liked and didn’t like about this character is that people didn’t understand him and instead chose to refer to him as stupid. But to me he is anything but stupid. He is a kind and willing soul, ready to drop everything for the sake of his friends.
I play Ledama, a young, shy and impressionable musical genius who is trying to fit in a world that requires one to be bold and outspoken. This was the constant conflict I had in playing this role and it helped me guide the character.
The transition wasn’t hard because I was involved in many musicals at the time. However, it did take some adjusting, especially because Groove Theory gave me my first studio recording experience. I learned a lot. One of the biggest gifts was learning how I sound and what I could work on musically. This has helped me a lot.
Overall in your acting career, what was your most challenging role to date and why?
Playing Thoma in Kati Kati, because he pushed me to confront myself. He made me look into my own charade, insecurities, fears and strengths all at the same time.
You are also a spoken word artist – tell us more your art and how it fits into the bigger picture of who Elsaphan Njora is.
I am a spoken word artist before I am an actor. I started writing poetry in 2003 after reading The Ballad of Squire Curtis. Something about the way the author used his words moved me so much that I decided to be a poet. In 2006 we started an event called Eve of Poetry that happened every third Friday of the month. I have traveled to Ethiopia to perform poetry, I have performed in front of important businessmen, dignitaries, you name it. I am currently working on a series of anthologies called 51. Poetry and spoken word is huge in my life.
If given a chance to act beside a famous actor, who would it be?
There are so many famous actors that I would love to work with but since you have asked for one … Tom Hardy.