101: Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Sarah Sentongo Kisauzi Still Acting At 60!
Written by Derrick Asaba on April 13, 2021
“I’m stopping these media interviews soon,” was her remark minutes before we started this interview. I told her people haven’t known her to the bone a reason to why I hooked her out. To claim my stand, Actress Sarah Sentongo Kisauzi was recently recognized by Uganda Communications Commission and presented to, with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Uganda Film Festival held on April 9. Did you and I know what inspired her to such reputation? Or did we know where and how she started on the ground to the peak? Well, I won her over with such reasons and sat down to respond to these questions here under;
Entering filmography at an old age, how did your husband take it up?
He was very supportive because I used to act even before. When I acted in ‘Deception’, that’s when people got to know me more. But I started acting on UBC radio while attending Mulago School of Nursing and Midwifery in 1972. I chose to do this as a strategic distraction move to keep safe from bad peer pressures which would have distracted me from being focused on my studies. On radio, our drama play was so popular on which I acted with Kintu players. The play was Dr Kidugavu and Marion and I acted as a nursing sister.
When was the very first time you exposed to the world your acting talent?
It was in 1972 while at Mulago School of Nursing and Midwifery but when I turned 60years, I decided to give back to the world because I know that at a certain point in time I have to say bye to this world. I would have decided to study French but I opted to reinvent myself into acting with an intention to talk about people who are oppressed. I had white friends who had an acting group called Rafiki theater. It acted on themes based on nonviolence to help the oppressed in any form. One day I was invited to their stage play which I attended. The initiative acted in different groups that involved women from churches in order to spread the same spirit to communities. When I saw the play being acted, I said to myself, ‘I think I belong here’. Because I listened to my inner person so much, I stood up and went to Claus (owner) who I asked whether I could join them and he accepted because my age was in line with their sole message — for the old people. We used to act in villages and some people would fall into tears because the message spoke to them so much.
How was the experience as you got exposed to the world?
We had a group called Kintu players that consisted of humorous people. I don’t know whether we had enough time then but we could spend most of our time laughing and joking around. Elly Lumala was the group leader, so talented that he could come up with a play in just a space of minutes. They wanted beautiful ladies to be on stage but they had no option of eliminating us because we were talented actors. We acted by God and guess because we had not yet studied film. What helped me is that my dad bought a TV set in our young times so I grew up watching how people acted and this exposure shaped me so much.
How was the experience as you acted in ‘Because of You’?
It was tough… It groomed me. I acted with Mujuuka, Abby Mukiibi, John Ssegawa which made me fearful because I was acting with professionals. I acted as Jajja yet I never knew how to act as an old person. Every time they would stop me amid the way to repeat. I had totally failed because I made a lot of blunders. I even feared them because they were big people. I remember Abby Mukiibi asked me why I was fearing him but the truth was he made me fearful. Again, I am a person who fears to be scared in my life. I grew up in an environment that took me lightly and I was so small. They reached to an extent of asking whether I would be able to make it.
Many knew you after ‘Deception’ where you acted as Nalweyiso. Which other film do you think you nailed it?
Honestly, what most people liked is what I like too. It brought out my intentions of why I reinvented my acting at an old age for I wanted to act for nonviolence. However, it came out differently that I was the oppressor. I wanted people’s eyes to be opened. Leave alone people we used to meet in villages, I saw that even people in big homes go through the same challenges. That’s why we did a pertinent issue that touched many. I also didn’t know that I could do it that way but it was God’s grace. I had always wanted to speak to a bigger audience that’s when the opportunity came by.
How do you then get connected to NTV’s Deception entrance?
When we completed at Mariam Ndagire Film and Arts Performing Centre, we kept up the rapole and everyone would call the other about different opportunities. A young gentleman, Ronnie Nkalubo called me and told me about the auditions which I took on. When I reached, by God’s mercy, the lady spotted and told me that they wanted me to act on a certain role. I never knew they would give me the hardest role that was opposite to my character and what I intended to do in acting.
But are you the Nalweyiso we see or?…
Acting a character that I am not is so riddling but that’s what makes me chosen as among the best. I go deep and deeper. Like we see western movies and even get taken and forget we are watching a movie. I honestly have never quarreled, I don’t know how to abuse and when I find someone being oppressed I feel so bad. At least, they shoot me but I question why things are being done the wrong way. I used to do it in Amin’s time. I could hold policemen accountable whenever I found them torturing people. I don’t where I got the courage from and I believe if I did it two times more, I would have been killed. They thought may be for the bravery I showed, I must have been a spy and they left me alone. I realized that when you use your courage you win much. Many people would fear for my life but I couldn’t throw up the sponge. It is just within me that I find peace in helping the oppressed.
Acting a trait that you don’t have a tinge of, how did you manage to do it in Deception and other films?
We had a film director called George Kihumbah, even those that were behind the scenes who gave us energy to act more. I want to remind you that after the fear I had in Because of You, this was the turning point. I said I cannot fail on this because others were doing it. When I went back home I undressed fear and when I went back the next day, everyone was wondering about my transformation. If I never removed the fear out of me, it would have failed me. Up to now, when I pray I pray uniquely. I just look up to heaven and say ‘Let it be’ and God takes the wheel. By the time I bring my face down, I am another person. That’s a kind of ritual that I perform and has worked for me. Even before this time I was asking myself what I could say for I have said so much about myself.
People even curse you after watching this movie. What could be your message to such a person?
That one works for me and gives me happiness because that means I have acted and the message has been delivered. By the fact that I change your mind to thinking that it is real, my role is rightly played. And I have that favour.
How do your children take your career?
They always feared that I would ashame them. Perhaps, because sometimes I have to speak in English they were afraid that I could make a number of blunders. Because I am old, they always thought of that. But right now, they are the happiest.
Why were you afraid of this interview by the way?
I was not afraid but rather asking my wits what I was supposed to say this time around for I have been interviewed by and by. But this helps me a lot because I clear the air on anything and everything they wrongly say of me. Even your mother or the person you are born with might not know you well but I tell you the truth.
So what’s your relationship with Mariam Ndagire?
She is my mentor. Like I said, I first met her when I went to her place after hearing the announcement in town. We started doing films about four of them. When I watch them now I wish I acted them after knowing what film is. But of course like every career, you start from the ground to the top. Mariam Ndagire is a very good person. You see that advert of Warid, she was approached but she directed them to me. Every time she sends people to me. Where in this world can you ever find such a person? All the people that attended her school have not been a loss to her.
And Juliana Kanyomozi?
There is a divine connection in between us. I love her so much as a person. She is smart, beautiful and sings well. You can also relate her with Mariam. She is humble, dresses decently; I just love them. As you can realize that all my children are now old and the house is too big, (which we built that way because we had big dreams) people started slowly to come over to do adverts and it has now turned out to a location after doing the Warid advert. It is another income source. Juliana also came over to shoot her ‘Omukwano Ogwedda’ video and that’s how we connected more.
It was announced that you had gotten a role in a Hollywood movie dubbed, ‘Little America’. What happened?
Ooooh… I even feel like as if I went. Getting to audition with Hollywood and go through was something so great. We were given a short time to the shooting time that could not enable us work on our travel requirements which they too, realized and offered apologies. But we are still in touch and even for every award and the newspaper and magazine articles that I feature on, I am requested to send them for further project consideration.
What lessons did this experience leave you with?
To be prepared every time. They reached a time and asked why they would be taking me over the rest. So I had to submit all the awards, the newspapers and magazines I feature in, after the auditions however much I had been selected already. Even currently that I have just been recognized by the Uganda Communications Commission with the Life Achievement Award, I am required to send it too. Because they are looking forward to helping us. Instead of giving you material help, if they take you and you work for a week, you come back when you are richer to lift others.
What or who do you attribute the Life Achievement Award to?
It’s really overwhelming that actually got me emotional. There are things that happen to us in life that you personally don’t know about but are told by someone else. I’m not successful but a lucky and progressing actress because there are so many actors even better than I be. It’s like a favor from God that for instance I have noticed two accidents happen when a mother is taking back her kids to school and when the kids see me, they are fascinated and because of the shock they end up getting an accident. So what I do always is to stop by anyone and everyone that knows me or shows that they know me to appreciate them. Unlike today, people in the past could raise their car windows when they realize a fan or anyone overlooking at them because may be they feared them or possible disturbances. God gifted me and I love people. Even when I travel abroad, I find people know me.
What do you do outside filmography?
I sew clothes. I had a workshop but when I started acting I had to pull out. I could pay money for rent yet I would be in acting most of the time. I had to close but I still make designs. I also am hoping to teach some people so that I can’t go with the whole knowledge under the soils. Also, I’m a home maker. I even get opportunities to make people’s homes.
You have acted with people of all generations, what notable lessons have you learnt in this whole experience?
I thank them so much because they take me for their mother. They also have built trust in me in that even when there is a troublesome incident, they count on me. I also thank God that when I am amidst people, I borrow their character. And I believe they have learnt a lot from me because you find most of them saying that they want to be like me. For this reason, I always tell them to first clean their inside even though I am not born again but I know it’s essential.
Which of young actors does it well for you?
Sincerely, I cannot get glued onto one person not because I fear to say their names out. There is nothing bad, or which is better than the other but there is always one that is up and the other is down. I always like particular verses by different actors but not a specific person. Everyone has a thing I love about them.
Juxtaposing the time you began acting and now, what difference is evident to you of the actors?
I now see that actors are coming up. For the fact that I have knocked on the doors of Hollywood, the future is brighter. But, the important thing is not eyeing money but using the talent rightly for the best lies just right ahead. Even the best countries in Filmography like Nigeria started from scratch but now earn next to big sectors like oil. And the good thing with film is that one can act up to their last breath. More so, with acting nobody questions your intelligence. Today I act as an intelligent woman, the next day as a beggar, no one gets to know whether you are wise or not.
What is your greatest life treasure?
I think it’s people because everything you need, you can get it out of them. Putting money aside and anything else, right now I can go anywhere and I cannot sleep along the streets. Treasure is one’s tongue. How you carry yourself. Life is so easy when I have people. The challenge we have is people putting money at the forefront. It has brought a lot of challenges. Because of that, they miss out the biggest treasure — people. There’s no office that I will need to access and I don’t, but who am I? It’s people.
Why is it that you mostly lean on using Luganda over English even in movies?
It’s because I am directed to do that. But I can speak English from the start to the end. I learnt one thing that when you are among people, before you know who they are or unless they start the talk in Luganda, don’t bring your Luganda. It’s rude. But it’s only when you begin so, then we continue. Obviously that’s my most comfortable language though, I read a lot not to lose the language. And when I realize you are Namukasa, I don’t bite my tongue with English. But in most of the roles given to me in movies, I’m required to interchange languages for people to relate with the movie. It’s been found out that even here, people don’t relate with English so much. We have to make it authentic as Ugandan. We want others to know what we are doing.
What defines your resilience?
Simple: It’s passion that doesn’t relate to fame but to doing what I ought to do the right way for what is worth doing is worth doing well.
What has been the advantages and disadvantages of being in the limelight?
Positively, the way has been paved for me and I am welcome anywhere and everywhere. I have used the humility I was brought up with to have my feet on the ground. Everyone steps on the ground but with their heads up which is what I do. On the other side of the coin, People have a mentality that we are loaded with money. I hate the word ‘celebrity and it helped me that because of age, I’m not trapped in that celebrity zone. A celebrity that can’t even do charity?