If you’ve been paying attention then you’ve probably seen Kenyan actress Brenda Wairimu’s captivating Monica billboards in some major highways in the city. The drama series Monica follows Brenda as the titular Monica, an ambitious social climber who will do anything to get to the top.
Even though first released in 2018, the idea for Monica was born in 2015 by producer and director Scolly Cheruto.
“I had the idea to create this show in 2015, from then the creative process was a personal journey of improving gradually. In 2018, I got together with a couple of writers and sold my idea to them and together we developed Monica,” says Scolly.
Like other female filmmakers transforming the film industry in Kenya, Scolly’s production house Cheruscopic Productions has an ambitious vision for local content, not only for Kenyans but for the international audience as well.
Scolly shares more about creating Monica, and the passion it took to make it the hit show it is, even one year after its initial release.
1. Did you already have Brenda Wairimu in mind as the lead actress when you started this project?
Not quite. In fact, the lead role in the first pilot was done by someone else but I wasn’t quite impressed. I knew exactly what I wanted as I had already pictured Monica in my mind. When Brenda was suggested to me, I wasn’t too sure she’d pull the ghetto. I needed someone who could play the two sides of Monica – ghetto and urban sophisticated. After a long search, I was only left with two actors, Sision Torome and Brenda Wairimu and I ended up with both, Brenda taking up the Monica role. She pleasantly surprised and impressed me. Sision is great too; she played Annie, Monica’s competitor.
2. You worked with some of the biggest names in the industry in Monica, did you find it challenging to work with a such a star-studded cast?
In my experience, it’s interesting that the most talented, most gifted and popular actors are the most disciplined, understanding and cooperative in comparison to the new comers. They would shoot late through the night and show up early the next day and still give their very best. I was particularly very impressed by Brenda Wairimu, Raymond Ofula, Fidel Maithya, and Joyce Maina who despite challenges we faced, were very patient. I guess this explains where they are now in regards to their career and certainly where they are going. Talent is great but it’s certainly not enough.
3. Sometimes big stars overshadow the plotline of a show, how did you ensure that was not the case with Monica?
I believe that with or without the big actors the show would have been a success. The story and the script are everything in any show, and while the stardom factor is a good boost, that alone will not get you so far. There are plenty of shows that die down as soon as they begin despite the big names.
4. Other than producing Monica, you also starred on the show as Raymond Ofula’s love interest. Any challenges starring in your own production?
The funny thing is I didn’t even cast myself, it was Lucia, my script writer’s idea. We were auditioning for this role and we just couldn’t find a good fit. While I was demonstrating to one actor how they should bring out the character, Lucia was like ‘Wait, what are we beating ourselves up for, Scolly you are perfect for that role.’ I tried to get myself out of it but it didn’t work, and I really enjoyed the role.
5. You’ve worked with Neil Schell, the director of Monica is other projects as well, any lessons you’ve learnt from him over the years?
Neil and I complement each other. We understand each other and get along very well. He has introduced me to more ‘non-Kenyan’ ways of handling business and people. Transparency, honesty, integrity and calm are languages I now speak confidently compared to five years ago.
6. A lot of fans on social media have been asking if there’s going to be a season 3?
I am very excited for the coming seasons. In fact, I’m already working on it. The story just unfolded in season 2, this is only the beginning.
7. Any future projects from Cheruscopic Productions that we should be looking out for?
We have major shows coming up; content meant for ordinary Kenyans as well as high end audiences. This is a unique talent we have as a company and we proudly ride on that. We are also going international and we already have a couple of co-productions on the way. We are keeping it on the low for now.
8. Which female filmmakers do you look up to?
First Shonda Rhimes, she does it for me; I like and relate to her style. Charlize Theron is also brilliant, and then there’s Nigeria’s Funke Akindele who brings in humour, life and fun to her stories. I love her content because I am a comedian too, and something really funny is cooking.
Lastly, our own Dorothy Ghettuba has done such an incredible job leading the way. She is an icon and an inspiration.
Catch Monica S1 and 2 on Showmax.