2 December 2019
Diana Nderitu embraces controversy, money and fame in Socialites
In 2015, Diana Nderitu landed her first real acting gig playing Joed Kariuki’s lover, Lexi, in Philippe Bresson’s drama series New Beginnings. “He (Bresson) took a chance on me before I even knew I could act and he helped nurture that talent.”
An obsessive, sociopathic character, Lexi was a tough and emotionally draining role to play, admits Diana, who is a lawyer by profession. But it was also a role that opened her up to the complex and emotive world of acting. “Playing Lexi made me dig deep, it made me think beyond just acting and how to really try and be another person on screen,” she says.
Now, in the comedy-drama series Socialites, Diana plays Cici, a character who is nothing like Lexi. Socialites, which follows the format of a reality TV show (a la Nairobi Diaries) follows Cici and her two friends (Our Perfect Wedding host Angie Mlay and Ruena Kiarie) in their quest to be rich and famous, no matter the price they have to pay. These women, or “socialites” as Kenyan society has labelled them, have no qualms about chasing money and rich men. And they’re willing to pay up because, at the end of the day, “it’s all about survival”, says Diana.
Tell us more about your character, Cici.
Cici is a bubbly, almost happy-go-lucky, slightly naïve young woman navigating life and womanhood in her mid-twenties. But she hasn’t always been that way. She’s gone through her fair share of troubles, teen pregnancy and a strained relationship with her mother. She’s also from very humble beginnings, and life hasn’t always been kind to her. I think this is what helps her keep the attitude she has. In a way, her naivety cushions the emotional traumas she’s had to endure. And that, ironically, makes her resilient. All in all, she’s the quintessential small-town girl in a big city who, with her best friend Tina’s help, has been able to survive.
What did you enjoy most about playing her?
Oh, to be young again. She reminds me of who we all were at one point. She still believes in a fairy-tale love and Prince Charming. But she’s also a survivor. One way or another, she’ll find a way out. And I like the fact that she’s a free spirit.
The issue of socialites and having a sponsor is a very controversial topic. Why did you decide to join this project?
I joined for two reasons. The first being that I really liked the concept of the show. It was something new that had yet to be made into a scripted comedy/drama. We’ve seen the reality shows but Socialites being an actual acted show opens the bounds for creativity. We could really play with the characters and their stories without the feigned drama of reality shows.
My second reason was curiosity. I was curious to delve into the lives of these supposed socialites who have no qualms about having a couple of sponsors, even though I tend to differ on the actual definition of who a socialite is. And it’s always been a question I’d ask myself or be asked – whether I’d ever be one of these girls and if I personally would have an issue with it. This was the perfect opportunity to actually be introduced to what that kind of lifestyle entails, instead of being the outsider guessing what it’s about.
Do you have a particular socialite in Kenya that you had to channel to depict this role? And did you have to do any research on the lifestyle to help you get into character?
No. I actually tried to google socialites in Kenya and realised that I had never heard of most of them. I also think press on some of the presumed socialites is usually pretty shallow, there’s not much information to gather. So, most of how I portrayed Cici was just me. This whole having a sponsor thing started with our generation. Or rather the exposure of it. We’ve seen people around us live this lifestyle. In a way, you can sort of gather nuances of personalities that helps when building such a character. Watching reality shows like The Real Housewives of Atlanta also helps in understanding these women’s value systems. But at the end of it all, you still have to make the character your own by picking some things and fusing some of you into it.
Does it bother you that Cici keeps making the same mistakes over and over?
There are times I’d find out what she was about to do and I’d think “Oh honey, no. Have we learnt nothing?!” But to be fair, I also empathise with her. I feel like we have all been Cici. Love is confusing. We have all made very silly mistakes over a man or tolerated too much. And sometimes, despite our best efforts and judgement, we choose heart over mind.
Cici’s decision to let go of love with Michael and choose Edward instead, did that surprise you?
It’s all about survival. I joke. No, it didn’t surprise me. The real question is: how sure can we be that what she had with Michael can be reinvented? He broke her heart too so is it a risk worth taking again?
On the other hand, in as much as Edward maintains Cici’s life and takes care of her financial needs, she genuinely loves him and wants a future with him. She still chose love but also chose provision. Let’s face it, a woman wants a man who can take care of her. Given Cici’s past, she wants someone who’ll also unburden her by showing her love emotionally and materialistically and that’s what she chose.
What will Cici say about Michael coming back to the picture but as her best friend Tina’s lover? Will this cause a rift on their friendship in future?
I’m sure it will definitely cause some drama. It will all hit the fan. The saving grace could be that Tina doesn’t know he’s Cici’s ex and Michael doesn’t know who Tina is best friends with. I guess we’ll know once it all unfolds.
We see Cici leave the show in season 2 episode 4. Have we seen the last of her?
Oh Lord, I hope not. Cici will be back.
Was this (leaving) because of other commitments or was it naturally part of the story?
Other commitments which couldn’t be delayed any further.
After playing a socialite and having to look at the world from their perspective, do you think our society judges them harshly?
Hmmm… Yes. I think we are the ones who define socialites with such a negative connotation. It’s not the same definition say in the West. But yes, it’s harsh. I think it’s easy to assume the worst about these women. What Socialites taught me is that everybody’s story is different, what led them there and why they do what they do. Sure, some of it is simply face value perks like the money and lifestyle. Some enjoy it but for others, it’s a way of survival.
Cici is very different from Lexi, the sociopathic character you played in New Beginnings, which one would you say you enjoyed playing the most and why?
They are both so different, opposites really and I enjoyed playing both of them. But if I had to choose, I’d pick Lexi. She was unpredictable, bold, vulnerable and yet volatile. She took viewers through a myriad of emotions. You never knew whether you should hate, pity or love her and I think there was a lot of intrigue with that.
Catch Diana Nderitu as Cici on Socialites.