In 2012, Kenyan TV series Mali arrived on our screens with the freshness that only a show branding itself as “Kenya’s first-ever soap opera” could have, and boasting a star-studded ensemble cast of Mumbi Maina, Mkamzee Mwatela, Brenda Wairimu, Daniel Peter Weke and Kevin Samuel. When Mali ended in 2015, it was the last time we would see Samuel on our screens.
Fast-forward to 2022, and Samuel makes his much-needed return to acting. First with a small role in an episode of Crime and Justice season 2 in March 2022, and now as one of the lead characters (Reggie) in the just-launched Showmax Original Kenyan thriller series Igiza.
Pitting twin sisters (Linda and Nicole – both played by Serah Ndanu) against each other, Igiza finds its villain (or at least one of them) in Reggie, an ambitious schemer with insatiable greed. Tame as he may look at first glance, Reggie is actually the one behind Linda and Nicole’s bitter rivalry – having swayed Linda to the unforgivable betrayal that lands her twin Nicole in prison for life. In the present, Reggie, now more adept in his machinations, uses his wife’s fashion business to launder money for a dangerous cartel.
But a villain, perhaps, is a harsh description for Reggie, according to Samuel, who doesn’t think of his character as black or white. “Primarily Reggie is conflicted,” Samuel says. “It’s easy to villainise him, especially if you know why things are set up the way they are with the two sisters. But the thing about Reggie is: he always comes from a place of trying to protect the family.”
Throw in a very difficult childhood, and Reggie’s actions become, to some extent, justifiable. “He comes from a single mother household and grew up in a difficult part of town, so he was always aspirational,” Samuel explains. “But unfortunately, that drive has pushed him into doing some very questionable things and has now landed him in a position where not only his life, but the life of his family is under threat.”
Samuel got the role when the world was still in lockdown due to COVID-19. “I got the role as a matter of timing. I happened to be here, and it just fit into my schedule,” he says. He was actually supposed to be in London but that didn’t work out due to the pandemic. He decided to stay in Kenya for a while, and see what else he could dabble in away from his work in psychology. Then came Igiza.
The moment he heard about Igiza, he knew the series had the markings of a hit. It was a show that was “willing to go to a dark place that no show has done locally.” It was also assembling a cast that any actor, even one who’s been out of the scene for a while like Samuel, would love to work alongside. “I heard who they were considering casting. And I’m looking at their work with fresh eyes because I didn’t know all of them back then. And I’m like, yeah, that’s going to be interesting because these are some high calibre actors and high calibre people.”
It was perfect timing that Samuel was cast in Igiza but it was fate that he found his personal connection to Reggie. “I was drawn to Reggie because he’s an addict,” says Samuel, once an addict himself. “He might not be a confessed addict, but he is an alcoholic and he’s addicted to money. And those two things, amongst others, have really brought him to where he is right now.”
Samuel has been clean for three years now, having checked himself into rehab before he hit rock bottom. Reggie is a cautionary tale of what his life could have been. “Reggie is a reminder of how things could have gone if I hadn’t decided to take that step. So that has been the most profound thing for me,” he says.
There was also that sense of responsibility Samuel felt for the world around him. His role is a critique on what he’d seen spending time in Nairobi, a fast-paced city full of characters like Reggie. “You see a lot of men in their mid 40s, who are basically just trying to string one day to the next. And a lot of them are drinking very heavily. Although it might not be seen societally as an addiction, Reggie, to me, is a way of presenting the picture and saying, actually, it is an addiction. This is what addiction looks like. Just because you’re going out to fancy places and drinking expensive whiskey doesn’t preclude you from being an addict,” Samuel says.
Catch Kevin Samuel on Igiza now streaming on Showmax, with new episodes every Monday.