Undoubtedly, Nick “Nene” Mutuma is a gorgeous young man. Tall, fit and with just the right combination of boyish good looks and an aura of inner mystery, Nick looks like he has the world at his feet. And those good genes and obvious charm have served him well. He’s had a remarkable career in TV, film and brief stint as a brand ambassador for an international fashion brand. Currently working as an Events and PR manager and radio VJ, Nick is also pursuing a career in music. It is therefore surprising to learn that he feels a little restless.
“I still haven’t figured out who I am. All I know is that I’m driven by passion for the Arts and the will to be successful,” explains Nick. The first-born son of Kenyan Diplomats, Nick grew up in Tanzania where his love affair with performance art began. “I started acting in third grade but really took it seriously when I was in the sixth grade. It’s like I had a ‘coming of age’ moment,” he says. By 2002, his family had moved back to Kenya and Nick was enrolled at Braeside School where the continued to exploring acting.
But it was when he joined USIU that Nick bagged his first professional gig. Cast as the fresh-faced toyboy of an older woman in local TV drama, Tabasamu, Nick soon became a household name, especially among the ladies. At 19, Nick was having a blast. “That was the happiest time of my life,” he recounts. He stayed on the show for one-and-a-half years learning the mechanics of a set and bonding with the rest of the cast.
His acting skills caught the attention of the producers behind Changes, an East African soap that broadcasts on MNET, a pay-TV channel available on DSTV. In 2009 he was cast as “a young man who was stolen from hospital as a child, trying to find himself”. He confidently slipped into the role with his character’s storyline still developing as the show continuous to air. The same year, when MTV’s Shuga casting team rolled into town, Nick was among the thousands who auditioned for a role in the film. It took three weeks and three callbacks to secure the lucrative role of Leo--and the full attention of a rabid fan base.
Nick explains, “That’s when the fame checked in. I wish [the Shuga team] had explained it to us. I got over 4,000 friend requests in a week! I was under a lot of scrutiny [but] it was a wasted opportunity.” Naturally shy and reserved, Nick was now all over the papers but with no idea how to capitalize on the media hype around him. However, he did graduate a year later and within the span of a week Nick landed the post of Event and PR manager at a local radio station.
That was also when he made a friend who changed the course of brand “Nick Mutuma”. Ian Mugoya is the suave, confident and sharply-dressed brother who could not understand why Nick was so laidback considering how famous he was. Their friendship quickly grew. “That guy was a superstar. I wanted to be like him,” shares Nick. Adding that Ian taught him about “swag” and how it was a way of life. (Cue the complete wardrobe change in late 2010.) “I became conscious about how I looked and started hanging out with ‘the cool kids,” he says. Thankfully, it was around the same time that he secured a deal as a brand ambassador because Nick soon learned that swag doesn’t come cheap.
“It was a very expensive lifestyle. I felt like I was living beyond my means. I was partying, drinking and living up to the hype. I was this guy that society wanted,” he confesses. Nick lost many friends along the way, they simply could not relate with the man that he had become. Within a year he was fed up with the charade. “I came to realize that everybody has their own ‘swag’. It’s not about what you wear or how you talk,” he says.
Enter “Nik”, Mutuma’s rapper-alter ego. “I’ve always been inspired by Camp Mullah so when I mustered enough courage, I got into a recording booth,” he says. The resulting track “254 anthem” was produced by Ulopa and featured singer Lyraoko. It was a catchy modern Kenyan Hip-Hop track that garnered a lot of attention because Nick was smart enough to capitalize on the media hype around the second season of Shuga. In the new edition of the series, Nick reprised the role of Leo who was now embroiled in a deadly love triangle.
But he was playing the pretty boy/ladies man combo, yet again. “Any actor wants to be challenged but I always seem to be the ‘ladies man’,” he says. Nick, whose favourite actor and film is Denzel Washington in “Training Day”, has vowed to fight against an industry that seems firmly focused on his physical attributes. “I’m looking for a rich story with depth. One that doesn’t typecast me,” he asserts. Nick has turned down several projects that kept to that vein although he admits to “missing [acting] terribly.” At present he is juggling his responsibilities on radio and events promotion the best way he can. He is also working on a new single with producer Tim Rimbui called ‘Right Words’. “It is a song that is relatable to your life,” he shares.
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By Wanjeri Gakuru