Rachael Nduhukire (Melissa in Sanyu) opens up on career, continental recognition

Briefly tell us about yourself.

Rachael Nduhukire upon winning the Africa Monologue Challenge

My name is Rachael Nduhukire Peace Keturah and I am a 21-year-old Ugandan actress, musician, and violinist. I am a student of International Relations and Diplomatic Studies at Victoria University, who is passionate about impacting change and telling stories through film. My hobby is reading!

Many people out there have only known you through the TV drama series Sanyu. When and how did you start your acting career?

I started acting in 2010, when I was eight years old. My mum found a casting call and took my sisters and I to an audition. None of us had ever acted before, but my parents are very artistic, and fervent believers in the arts, hence they have always been open to us trying out new things. After taking us for the audition I got called back for the role and was cast as Margret in a movie called “Journey to Jamaa”.

Do both of your parents have a background in the arts?

Not exactly. I would say that my parents are talented, but they didn’t pursue the arts. My mum is into Human Resource Management, and also pursued International Relations, while my dad is a Pastor. During her youth, my mum played the violin and guitar, and I think she passed that on to my older sister and I. My older sister plays the guitar, and I play the violin. So, that is the musical aspect. None of them ever pursued the arts, but they are talented in that regard.

I understand you are a student of international relations at Victoria University. Why did you opt for this academic programme when you could pursue something in line with music, dance, and drama?

I would say that as much as I am passionate about music, dance, and drama, I am also passionate about humanitarianism. I have always wanted to change the world, and I know it is a very big dream. So, in order to do that, I wanted to gain knowledge on the systems that currently help operate the world we live in and how I can apply myself to those systems to impact change. That is why I opted for a course like International Relations because it is very broad and can help me exercise my knowledge in diverse fields. It also exposes me to information I don’t have but need.

Is there a way you hope to use the knowledge gained in international relations classes to further your career?

Yes, I think something I am really passionate about that I have been exposed to in international relations is the impact of education on growing society and then also mitigating conflict. In that regard, I hope to create systems that give children in Uganda equitable access to education, so that they have exposure to information. I believe that our perceptions in life are shaped by what we know, and if you don’t have access to information, you don’t know. This also springs from the fact that when I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher, so I have always been passionate about education and educating others. This is something I hope to achieve during the course of my International Relations career.

Would you say your role Melissa in Sanyu has been the best role in your acting career so far?

Yes, I would definitely say that. This is because the role is very dynamic and allows me to showcase my versatility as an actress. It has challenged me, pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me things about myself. In the beginning, I had a lot of self-doubt about my capability to execute the role because, I am a pastor’s daughter and was afraid of the church’s scrutiny concerning the character and because I’m also somewhat conservative. With hindsight, I am so blown away by the fact that God enabled me to do it, and people actually like Melissa and enjoy her tantrums. So, it’s the best role I have taken on as an actress so far.

Melissa, the character in Sanyu, is a young, privileged girl who is a brat. Do you sometimes feel bad about the role, maybe off camera?

To be honest, in the beginning, I did. In season one, I felt so bad because I thought this was going to become my brand and that it would precede me, and people would assume that I am like that. However, now I don’t feel bad about it because I have come to understand that acting is not just for me but to tell relatable stories of people out there. I know there are Ugandan children who relate to Melissa or are like Melissa, and through her, they have seen things and learnt lessons. I am grateful to play a character who conveys the reality that life is one huge learning curve, and people relate to that. So I did in the beginning, but my perception changed along the way.

What motivates you?

Firstly, it is God, because everything I do is for His glory. This is actually a verse in the Bible, in the book of Colossians 3:23–24, which says: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ."

The second motivation is my family. My family has done a lot to ensure that I am educated and have access to certain platforms for exposure.

Lastly, another thing that motivates me is the desire to impact lives and create change. I believe that a life well lived is one lived serving others. So impacting change and lives is my motivation.

You recently participated in the Africa Monologue Challenge. Honestly speaking, most of us didn’t know what this was. We were just voting. What was this challenge about?

I will start by defining what a monologue is. A monologue is something that an actor presents to show their versatility in emotions and delivery of lines because acting is not about speaking; it’s about emotions. So, how you convey those emotions or how you say those words should make people feel a certain way. The idea of a monologue is to give an actor a minute or less to convey as much emotion in a given context, to make something believable.

Therefore, the Africa Monologue Challenge was basically about that. It was about Africans in Africa and the diaspora, expressing their artistry through monologues of 1 minute to 1 minute and 30 seconds on a given topic. This inspired us, the artists, to write our own monologues and express ourselves through our own words.

The foundation of this challenge is Pan-Africanism because we believe that, as Africans, we can change the African narrative by telling our stories. We no longer want an Africa that is depicted as a continent ridden with sickness, starvation, and so on. There is so much more to Africa, and as storytellers, the onus is upon us to tell these stories. The challenge was quite competitive, but I am grateful for the experience.

I understand you emerged victorious. How do you feel now that Ugandans have returned the love, as most didn’t understand what this was about?

I was overwhelmed, grateful and truly humbled. I felt hopeful because it’s very hard to find Ugandans rallying for something they don’t understand. To be honest, the challenge had not been well explained to Ugandans until voting came, and I was surprised that even without knowing, people voted, mobilised, and supported. This really humbled me to the point of tears and when I was announced the winner in Ghana, despite being the only Ugandan in the theatre, I knew that I had a whole country behind me.

How do you think winning the challenge will help you in your acting career?

I think it has given me more exposure. I have been acting since I was eight years old, and people only got to know me when Sanyu started. I think that says a lot about the amount of exposure I received between the ages of eight and when I started acting in Sanyu at eighteen. The challenge has given me exposure. When I attended the film festival, so many people approached me and told me they were proud of me. Producers, actors, and actresses I look up to

Have you won any acting awards before? If so, which ones are they?

No. I have been nominated for best female child actress in the Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Awards, and I think that was like 2014. I received a special mention award from the Uganda Film Festival. Besides that, I have never won any awards.

Your views about the Ugandan film and movie industry

I appreciate how far the Ugandan film industry has grown. I saw the industry in its crawling stages. We used to do films pro bono just because it was a good story, hoping that it would get you a better story. Getting paid for acting was not as easy. Today, this has changed. People are making careers in acting.

What would you tell someone outside the industry who wants to join the industry as an actor, producer, writer, et cetera?

I would tell them that patience pays and that following your dreams is not easy, but it’s worth it. After my first movie, I experienced a drought in my acting career. Besides landing a few minor roles in one or two movies, the next time I acted was at about sixteen when I was cast as Charity in #Family.

I would also remind them that practice makes perfect. During the drought of my acting career inasmuch as I didn’t have access to the big screens or stages, I spent time trying to improve my craft so that incase an opportunity presented itself, I would be the best candidate for any role. I used to record videos of myself acting and show them to my parents, who were very encouraging and supportive.

The last question is one I think my audience would be interested in. You are a young woman who is now in the limelight, and perhaps you have started catching the eye of some men. Are you seeing someone?

(Laughs hard.) Yes, I am seeing someone.

So do you hope to marry some day?

I hope to get married, but I want to do that after my degree because I know that marriage is a whole different ball game and I will go there when I am prepared enough. I will do this after school.

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