Eritrea: “I worked for many years to achieve my dream” Helen Tesfay
Our guest today is Helene Tesfay, brilliant comedian, actress, director and screenwriter. She recently won the Shamot Award for Best Actress of the Year. She is known for playing Maku, a character from a sitcom aired on Eri-TV.
Congratulations! You won the Shamot Award for Best Actress of 2022. How do you feel?
At that time, I was abroad and I didn’t even know that I was nominated. They invited my husband to participate in the ceremony but he could not participate as well. But he called me immediately after learning that I had won the prize. It is truly an honor to be the recipient of this award, and I celebrated this moment in Turkey with Eritrean friends. When I arrived at Asmara International Airport, my crew and my husband surprised me with great company and the trophy right at the airport. It was very good.
Could you tell us something about the film?
It was a feature film, Bahgi, written by Samuel Kifle and directed by Habtom Andebrhan. I acted like a pampered girl with a foreign accent; the character’s name is Naemi. At first I was a bit nervous because I joined the team later. I wasn’t in the original cast. I joined the team when the actor who was to play the charter that I ended up playing quit for some reason. It wasn’t easy for me to mimic a foreigner’s accent in a short time, but I tried my best to do it. Thanks to the director who helped me a lot to play the character well.
Let’s talk about Maku, the character you play in “Enda Zmam”, an Eri-TV sitcom. How would you describe the character?
Most of the time, she’s emotional and self-centered, but she’s also affectionate, sentimental, responsible, and fun-loving. The Endazmam sitcom is very special to me. He’s been on the air for three years now, which has given me a lot of experience. Besides, I am currently out of the team because of the trips I make. But I am grateful for the wonderful time I spent with the team that I consider my family.
How do viewers react to Macu, the character?
The reactions of the public are rather sympathetic and many people encourage me to continue and give me constructive ideas on the character. But a lot of other people are also mad at the sassy character I play on the sitcom. In any case, I am grateful to him and I love the character.
Let’s go back to your acting past. How did you start as an actor?
I’ve had an interest since early childhood, and when I was in college, I played during school vacations. But I became close to the game, influenced by certain cultural troupes that rehearsed in our neighborhood, Tsetserat. I watched them regularly while they practiced on plays. Soon after, I joined them and started appearing in several plays with them. It was in 2013, when I was in 10th grade. I presented my first drama on stage at the opening of the Eritrean National Festival held at the Expo grounds. The drama was in the Tigris language, and it was directed by Mohamed Ibrahim. Thus, the influence of the Srhit Seleste cultural troupe became the cornerstone of my acting career. Then a year later, I joined Efriem Kahsay’s (aka Wedi-Kuada) acting class and got a certificate. Then I headed to the Mai-Sirwa military training center as part of my national service and returned to Asmara to officially become a member of the cultural troupe. I then started appearing in comedies and short plays.
What was Wedi-Kuada’s acting class like?
It was great. Before taking the course, I thought the experience was enough to act, but after completing the course, I learned that acting academy is essential in shaping you as an actor by blending the gift you have and the skills you have acquired through experience. The course surely helped me to deepen my knowledge on the art of acting. Formal classes help you to be more confident and disciplined in acting career. What we learned in class was accompanied by practical sessions and we performed in plays staged at different public occasions during our studies.
You also took courses in screenwriting and filmmaking, didn’t you?
You are right. I completed the script writing and film directing courses last year at Wedi-Kuada. But now I’m busy, overwhelmed with acting, rehearsals and, of course, household chores. So I can’t say that I’ve done enough writing screenplays and directing films. Of course, I try to write in the little time I have. I’ve written five comedies and a feature film, and I’ve directed two comedies. But I intend to do more in the future.
You managed to shine your name in the film industry of the country in a short time. What do you think is the secret of your success?
I believe that ambition, effort, determination and commitment are the path to success. Regarding my own experience, it all started in my early childhood with a great desire to be an actress. And I didn’t just dream of being an actor, but I worked for many years to achieve my dream. My success is also the result of the efforts of my family. My husband, my mother, my mother-in-law are all reasons for my success. They are always by my side, encouraging me to keep going and helping me take care of my baby while I’m away for rehearsals and filming. I really thank them because they are always by my side, and I believe that my success would not have been possible without them.
Your husband is also a famous singer, Isayas Salih (Aka Rasha). Do you consider the fact that you are both artists as an advantage for your career?
At least he can understand the situations and challenges I face because he knows that as an artist. I spend hours away from home leaving my baby with him, and there are times when we spend long hours during rehearsals, but he understands that. Sometimes I rehearse at home and he gives me his feedback. His encouragement helped me move forward and focus on my career. He supports me in my work and helps me with many things at home; so that’s really a plus for me.
Thank you for your time.