Newcomer Vanessa Okeyo is having the time of her life playing the role of Sinde Lang’at, the lead character in Showmax’s telenovela Second Family.
Sinde is the illegitimate daughter of Leo (Ian Mbugua), who inherits her father’s lucrative milling company after his untimely death, pitting her against Leo’s ruthless widow (Dora Nyaboke), and everyone who wants a stake in the company. Fresh from the comfort of her farm life in Uasin Gishu, Sinde is thrust into a world where victory belongs to only the most ruthless schemers, even if it means betraying your own kin.
She may be a fish-out-of-water, but don’t let that fool you: Sinde has what it takes to fight the great war. “She may be naive but she’s not stupid. She’s very smart and she’s a go-getter,” Vanessa says “She will do whatever she sets her mind to do, and that’s what I love about her. She doesn’t give up. I am rooting for her to win, just like everyone else.”
We caught up with the young actress and she shared more about her role in Second Family, acting alongside some of Kenya’s finest, and what it means to land her first lead role ever.
What do you like most about playing Sinde?
She challenges me; it’s not every day you wake up and find out you are the heiress of a company worth billions that you had no idea existed. What I love about her is that she doesn’t give up; she is a fighter, and she is not scared to fail because she will stand up and do it again.
Second Family is your first lead role; how does that feel?
It is a very big jump as an actress. I didn’t know I was auditioning for a lead; I just knew it was a role like any other. So funny story, when I got the call, I didn’t pick up, not intentionally though. I had a very rough day, and I didn’t know if it was good news or bad news. My head was all over the place but when I called back and got the news, I was over the moon. I could not believe it. Till now I am just like, ‘Slap me, please; this cannot be real.’ Part of me was like, ‘Am I going to meet people’s expectations? Are viewers going to love me?’ Because Showmax is huge, and the fact that so many people would be watching the show made me so nervous, especially being a new face in the industry. But so far so good; I can see people love it and it makes me happy.
You’ve shared scenes with some great actors in Kenya like Mumbi Maina, Brian Ogola, Dora Nyaboke, Ian Mbugua, and Helen Keli, who are also part of Second Family. What’s that like?
I’ve learnt a lot from them, and I usually study how they do their craft, watch their performances whenever we are together on set, and pick up a few things. Once in a while, I seek advice from them career-wise.
As the majority shareholder of her father’s company, Sinde has been pretty naïve, and Evangeline has succeeded in using her to do her bidding. Would you say Sinde is way in over her head in such a cut-throat world?
I don’t think she’s way over her head. I believe she knows what she’s doing most of the time. The problem is she trusts the wrong people. She’s just very confused in this company that she now owns, and that she didn’t even know existed before. Becoming a CEO in her very first job, she makes the choices that she believes are best for the company to be successful.
Does it ever get frustrating for you to see her so easily manipulated and used by Evangeline?
It does get frustrating because I’m like, ‘For a 24-year-old girl with a master’s degree, you are this gullible? What is going on?’ Sometimes I just laugh, and I get through it. Sometimes I get mad, but I have come to accept Sinde for who she is. She is just a fictional character, so whenever I’m reading the script and I see some parts that make me go, ‘Don’t do that girl,’ I pinch myself back to reality and remind myself it’s Sinde. She has something to teach all the young ladies out there.