24 May 2017
Exclusive interview: Jimmi Gathu, star of State House
Jimmi Gathu talks to us about his life in the Kenyan media, music and theatre industries, and what he loves about playing the President in Kenya series State House, available to stream or download on Showmax in Kenya. Get Showmax now »
You’ve been on the Kenyan showbiz scene since 1991. What do you miss about the early Kenyan music/hip-hop industry, and what lessons did you learn from your early career that are still useful to you today?
What I miss most is innocence in the industry. It wasn’t really about the glamour because I knew that’d come anyway. It was really about my love for the music and at the time we were introducing a new sound which, for me and my band, was exciting. The discipline we put in everything we did from writing songs to preparing for a gig whether big or small are tenets I still use to this day.
You are obviously comfortable on stage and in front of the camera. How does acting in a fictional series like State House compare to hosting live TV shows?
They’re both similar as far as preparations go. Acting in the series State House was obviously a lot more challenging in that I had to completely change my mannerisms or the person of Jimmi Gathu and be the Head of State. For TV, I still take every moment on screen as if it’s my first so I prepare aggressively. Being a political commentator helped a great deal in preparing for State House.
Why is it important to nurture the local theatre and TV industries? And how does a production like State House fit into that?
Kenya is a massive pool of talent. Unfortunately the industry hasn’t been supported as much as we would like, although I must say government has done quite a bit in improving it, but a lot more needs to be done, especially in legislature and infrastructure. Infrastructure within locales like social halls equipped to handle theatrical presentations is one move that can nurture theatre and TV productions simultaneously. State House helps a great deal in showcasing the ability of the industry to churn out both quality acting and world-class production capabilities. We need more of this, to not only show ability but also create job opportunities for our youth, who make up the biggest participants in this industry.
In State House, you play incoming President Kajana. How did you prepare for the role?
I watched a lot of movies based on such studying the many actors who played such a role. I also studied past and sitting Presidents, looking for something unique about them that I could incorporate into my delivery. That, coupled with my own concept of what a President should be, got me ready for the part.
You once interviewed President Uhuru Kenyatta when you were a TV anchor. Did you take any inspiration for your role in State House from this interview? What is one detail about the President that you remember to this day?
His demeanour! Cool, suave, approachable, funny yet not losing the essence and aura of a Head of State.
One of the questions that comes up around State House, which has some powerful female characters including the President’s PA and the First Lady is, who really wears the pants in the house? So who do you think the most powerful character on the show is?
Both the characters of the 1st Lady and the PA, played by Chichi Sei and Kaz Lucas in that order. They each command such presence in their roles that gives the show its credibility.
What would you say are some of your character’s weaknesses or flaws? If you were the President in real life, would you do things differently to how your character does?
I was too fat then! Anyway, I think based on the strength of the script I think I delivered it as I would’ve if I were a real-life Head of State. I wish there were more scenes where I had a lot more dialogue or interactions with my cabinet or members of my political party or citizens. I’m a people’s person owing to my years in the media and I love politics and the oil that runs it. Maybe if we had another season to develop the series in that direction …
President Kajana is seen as quite radical. What would you say are his greatest strengths?
His tenacity. He knows he’s the new kid on the block but is aware of the many wolves in his periphery who wouldn’t hesitate to bring him down. He knows what he wants for the country and will do whatever it takes to get his way done. He’s no pushover, as witnessed in the episode where the Comptroller pushes for a different financier other than the one he wants for his project.
Let’s talk about your TV-watching habits. What’s your favourite current Kenyan show to binge-watch on Showmax?
What’s your favourite Kenyan show from your childhood or teenage/early adult years?
Wow, I had many: Family Affairs, Tushauriane, Vioja Mahakamani …
Who’s your favourite international actor, and what is your favourite film of theirs?
Denzel Washington: practically all his movies!