You most likely know her as ‘Dede Mwenda’ from popular web series “This Is It” and if you are sucker for love stories then you will agree Chy Nwakanma did a fine job in the delivery of her character. Apart from the web series, she has also starred in quite a number of major Nollywood productions, most recent being ‘The Wall’ which was previewed under the Accelerate project at the 2018 African International Film Festival (AFIFF).
Over the weekend, we caught up with Chy and as well as share with us how she started out in the industry, she lets us in on her upbringing- her transition from ‘tomboy’ to the girly-girl we see on our screens; her thoughts on feminism& female empowerment and then lots more.
Hi Chy, it’s great to have you on LLA. So how in your own words would you like to introduce Chy Nwakanma to the LLA community? (you can share the goofy stuffs too)
I’m an actress currently based in Lagos, Nigeria. I’m a home-body most times. However, I love adventures; that’s the only way to get me out of the house. I have a very obnoxious laugh. I like to believe I’m fun to be with. I’m pretty versatile, a little mix of street and sweet. I love acting.
Great! So let’s talk about your childhood and growing up generally. What was it like? Were you the introverted-I love my space/Intellectually curious but would rather be left alone girl or were you the guns blazing, nails popping, weaves flipping, extroverted, bubbly life of the party girl? More so, how did your childhood experiences impact on the woman you have become today?
I was actually shy growing up! When we moved to the US, I was 11 and we went straight to school. I was the shy new girl from Africa with an accent. I decided to join the dance troupe in my Middle School to meet people. I made friends there and slowly started to break out of my shell. I don’t want to be cliche but I truly found my voice when I joined a community theater- Freestreet in Chicago. I was about 16 then. We had this exercise that we would do where we had about 30 minutes to write in silence. It didn’t have to make sense, we were encouraged to not even edit, just write on paper how you feel, whatever comes to mind. After we were done we will read it out loud in front of the group. It was a safe space where no one was judged so that made me open up more. And that was when I knew I wanted to act full time.
It’s quite funny that I’m girly now. I grew up with 3 brothers so I was almost a tomboy! My mom bought me my first handbag, coach to be exact, when I was about 13. I took it to church and forgot it there, when i went back into the church it was gone. I wasn’t used to carrying a bag so I forgot it. That was how much I wasn’t into the girly things. My mom had to put makeup on me for one of my school dances because I was going to go barefaced. She would buy me heels and dresses.
To think of it now, my mom made sure that I became a girly girl! Lol thanks Mom!
Great! So what informed your decision to act and how has the journey been?
I felt that I could express myself unapologetically without being judged, in a way. When I first started dabbling in the arts it was an escape for me. I looked forward to going to the theater after school. I learnt to put my feelings down on paper and turn it into art. You can take the most ugly things and make it beautiful and inspiring. I know I sound like I’m writing a poem or “corny” lol but it was and still is almost like a super power.
When I discovered the arts was when I truly realized how powerful the mind is. It opened a whole new world of possibilities for me and I’ve been hooked ever since. I honestly don’t see myself doing anything else outside of film and entertainment.
My journey so far has been rewarding! More mentally and spiritually than physically. It’s like everything else in life. You have your highs and your lows, days that favor you and days that don’t. There are things that are out of your control but I’m constantly working on myself to be better, I’m in charge of that!
What do you think helps you interpret a role, bring a character to life and act it out so well it is believable?
The first thing that I remind myself of when I get a script is that the character is a real person, with real emotions! Play to the truth of that character. The most important thing is doing your character breakdown. Once you really know your character, you then apply YOUR truth to it.
Do you have routines that help you get into character?
I usually do my character work at home before I get on set. While on set however, I use music to set whatever mood needs to be set! I connect so much to music so whenever I need a specific emotion, I turn to it!
Still on acting, there is a common misconception that actors are shallow minded individuals; when you prefix Actor with ‘female’ people have varying thoughts and at the peak on the list is the assertion that female actors use their sexuality to court favors from the big (wo)men in the industry. How do you deal with myths like this? More so, have you ever been in a position you had to work a bit harder just to prove yourself/ ‘fight’ to be taken seriously?
Lol I believe Acting is the most mind-tasking job out there. There’s no true formula. Every Actor has to find what works for him or her. You technically have to discover yourself and that’s challenging because no one can teach you that. It’s not math that 1+1=2, so I get offended when people look at us as lazy. You have no idea the amount of work and hours a good actor has to put in to bring a character to life. When it comes to sexual favors in the industry, I can’t really speak on it because I haven’t experienced it directly but I hear about it. Yes I’m constantly trying to improve because the industry is quickly evolving and there are new and talented faces coming out daily so I have to work abit harder so I’m not lost in the crowd. But like I mentioned earlier, there are things that are not in your control so I just keep working and hope the lines will fall into place.
Still on career, what would you say has been the highlight of your professional journey so far? Can you also share some work ethics that has helped you?
The highlight of my career so far would be the response of people to my work. It’s so overwhelming, in a good way and sometimes I break down in tears because I just don’t understand how people I don’t know care so much about me. People across the whole of Africa and even the world at large constantly send me compliments to appreciate me. The love is surreal and it keeps me fueled!
My number one work ethic is to keep working! No matter how small, a step towards the right direction, is a step forward. Tenacity and consistency is key! Those little drops count! Don’t take it for granted.
And the downsides? How do you deal with the grey days?
I can’t think of any specifics right now. But there are some roles that I auditioned for and I really wanted and next thing I see they are shooting already lol. That usually hurts but I try not to dwell on it too long. I always remind myself that there are plenty other productions out there, yet to be shot. On grey days I usually eat and sleep, or call my mom. She always knows what to say to cheer me up.
If you weren’t acting what will you be doing?
I’ll probably be in some company working as a sales rep or marketer lol. I did a lot of that while I was in school and I was really good at it!
How have you been able to maintain your body? Let us in on your skin care and workout routine?
Haha! I’m naturally petite! I’ve been a smallie all my life. I was an athlete when I was younger. I used to run track in high school so I’ve always been physically fit. But the amount of carbs we eat in this country eh! You have to workout so I try to find time to squeeze in the gym. Get a gym buddy or a trainer so on days you don’t feel like it, you’ll have someone to push you. I have this fear on gaining weight and looking like a ball because I’m so tiny lol that’s what gingers me. Skincare wise, I drink a lot of water! I try to avoid sugary drinks as much as possible. Trust me it’s a lifestyle change that makes a lot of difference. I also use sunscreen especially on my face. Find products that work for you and stick to it.
Digressing a bit, what is your take on female empowerment and feminism? Do you think the impact of these movements are felt in Africa?
We’ve taken this feminism thing to another level. I feel like a lot of people who claim to be a part of the movement, have no idea what it is or even stands for. I’m all for women empowerment! I believe women should be given equal opportunities and shouldn’t be deprived of opportunities because on gender. Gender has nothing to do with capability. However, personally I feel we have a bigger problem we should focus on in Africa than “feminism”. We are still in a society where there are no laws protecting women and the girl child. Little girls are being married off, a lady goes to report rape and they’re asking her “what she was doing in the presence of a man in the first place or why she’s dressed a certain way”. Issues like female genital mutilation, costly menstrual pads when condoms are practically given out free are what we need to focus on.
What career advice would you give to a 25 year old girl looking to make a name for herself and impact lives in the African media industry?
Don’t be too desperate! “Wolves” will sense that desperation and take advantage of you. “Dig your roots deep”, work on yourself and your craft! So when the opportunity comes you’re prepared. Know exactly what you want to achieve and have a specific target, that way you can filter opportunities from distractions. Build your network, surround yourself with people that fuel you, not quench and finally leave no stone unturned.
Weaves/wigs or your natural hair?
Both I love them both. Sometimes I want the long flowy hair and sometimes I love my kinky hair. It depends on the level of my sass that day and also the weather lol
Make up on or make up free?
I love makeup! However I love my makeup light. Lol my go to makeup look is always natural. I love the no makeup-makeup look so light foundation and powder, fill the brows a bit, a bit of eye liner, mascara and put on some lipgloss and you’re good to go!
3 African movie recommendations?
Queen of Katwe, The contract, Diamond Ring.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa; an initiative that seeks to effectively mentor and inspire women, with particular emphasis on the African continent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we just might feature her.