Lucy Suubi is the kind of woman who believes in being a small fish in a big pond instead of a big fish in a small pond. The stunning model’s quest for greatness is her constant motivation as she tries to launch a movie career in Hollywood, writes Andrew Kaggwa
Lucy Suubi’s breakthrough was the continent’s then famed modelling competition M-Net Face of Africa. The competition that had been conceived to give African models a platform to showcase their talent to the international market launched other hopeful models careers such as Hellen Mugisha 1998, Patricia Namayirira in 2000, Munirah Namakula in 2006 and Salma Nassanga. Suubi, to many Ugandans could be remembered for being the last representative of the country in 2008.
The right look
In 2008, Suubi came back to Uganda from Canada for a vacation. When Face of Africa auditions were announced, many of her friends encouraged her to participate in the competition but she was hesitant because she felt she did not have the right look.
“I had seen pictures of the girls that had represented Uganda before,” she says.
According to Suubi, the image of an African model has been misrepresented for a long time; “it is like people out there are deliberately making it look like there is only a single shade of Africa.” Suubi who had already done some modelling work in Canada and wanted to pursue it as career recognised what a big opportunity this was and decided to audition secretly because she was already convinced she had no fighting chance at all.
If she had been partly hopeful before, getting to the auditions confirmed her worst fears. As a light skinned model hopeful, she looked as out of place as a fly on a wedding cake.
“The place was swarming with women who all looked alike; dark, tall and skinny. To make matters worse, they gave me that pitying look like I was a lost sheep,” Suubi recounts.
Nevertheless, she decided to ignore the stereotype and give the competition all she had and to her utter amazement won. “When I was announced winner in Uganda, I could hardly believe it,” she says.
Suubi’s journey had just begun. She joined other regional winners for the next level competition in which Kenya and Tanzania were eliminated leaving her as the sole east African representative.
“I felt the heavy weight of representing the region on my shoulders, which gave the competition an elevated significance in my mind,” Suubi shares. The stunning model managed to make it to the top 10 which was more than she had hoped for, entering the competition.
The bigger stage
Although she did not win, Suubi says she is forever grateful because the competition equipped her with skills and exposure that made her a better and more confident model. She notes: “Although I had done some work as a model, I had not received the kind of training I did with Face of Africa. We had the opportunity to work with reputable professionals in the field that coached us about the walk, handling the pressure and many other things that go into turning an amateur into a professional model.”
She says that by the time she was back in Canada, she was emotionally and physically ready for a bigger stage. “And just as I planned, I managed to break into the New York and Los Angeles fashion scenes,” says the model who has gone on to make an impression on the highly respected New York Fashion Week.
Lights, camera, action
Having established a successful career as a model, a casual remark sparked in her a dream to become a movie star. Suubi has great ambition and never settles for the status quo, so she started chasing the dream with all her strength. But just like her skin tone had stood in her way during the Face of Africa competitions, it has been one of the biggest hurdles in her search for movie roles.
“I am always told I am not enough. When I audition for some roles, I am told I am not dark enough while I am not light enough for others,” she shares. Suubi is facing the same problem that most nonwhite actors in Hollywood face.
Award winning actresses such as Octavia Spencer have openly talked about their struggle to land leading roles in Hollywood. She revealed that black and ethnic-minority actors often found it difficult to win high-profile parts on the big screen. Spencer, who has since made the shift to television in search of starring roles, said she found herself constantly offered supporting parts despite her status as an Oscar winner.
“The roles I am being offered in film are too small to sink your teeth into, and I thought it was time to be able to live with a character at inception and travel with her to fruition, and allow myself to evolve as an actress,” said Spencer of her decision to move to the small screen.
Even with this herculean challenge to overcome, Suubi is determined to work as hard as she can in order to break into the mainstream film establishment of Hollywood.
So far Suubi has been able to land roles that have only a limited time on the screen or where she was called in as a special talent. Special talents on film sets are usually people called to execute specific roles that could include physical skills like swimming.
But her biggest cash cow in acting is being a body double for bigger stars. Body doubles are the ones who execute scenes that the main character cannot pull off on camera. Originally, they did sex scenes and nude scenes, these days are required to know almost the entire script so as to be able to act whenever the star is not available.
For instance, Suubi has been a double for singer Rihanna on Bates Motel to mostly shoot scenes the singer was not able to do due to her schedule. Even when she was available, there were scenes a double had to execute because Rihanna had gained some weight and did not feel that confident to show it.
“While playing a star’s body double is good, it has whetted my desire to be the star. I am therefore doing whatever I can to land my own my own roles,” she says.
Even though Suubi is currently pursuing an acting career, she is majorly identified as a model and she feels that bond to the industry. One of the most misconceptions about modeling that irk her is that models earn a lot of money for doing nothing other than looking pretty.
“Modelling is a choice and becomes part of your life. It requires commitment, discipline and hard work. For one to have a successful career, they must not look at it as something they just do to make some quick money. There is an investment in clothing, undergarments, personal care, and other things specific to the different kind of modelling. Every good model needs guidance, a good manager that will make sure you get the well-paying gigs and get paid for them,” she says adding that in the past, models were often exploited.
Smile, smile, smile
According to Suubi, a successful model lives a very busy life. They are always either travelling for work or working which separates them from friends and family for long periods of time. With time, it becomes fairly easy to keep up appearances even when the person is stressed out or depressed.
“The runway demands a lotphysically and psychologically. For instance while on a campaign one is expected to be in tip top condition. Not just physically but psychologically and emotionally too. Photographers and models hate working with unhappy or depressed people so you must find a way of projecting positive energy at whatever cost,” she elaborates.
She further notes that the modelling business, even when people make it, it is one that has many rejections; “I have been told to lose weight, get a nose job, try to become lighter while at the same time I was being told I am not dark enough. One needs to have a firm support system and a profound belief in their individuality so as not to listen to the wrong advice and end up making mistakes.”
Models also need to be smart enough to make investments and diversify into other careers because modelling has a short career span.
“Brands and clients are always looking for fresh faces. It is, therefore, dangerous for models to plan on surviving on their careers for a long time. Go to school, learn another skill that will come in handy when the bookings run dry,” she advises.
A medical aesthetician by training, Suubi is doubtful she will ever practice again because she tried it before but did not enjoy it. In addition to a career in acting, Suubi has her sights on producing and writing for Ugandan cinema, but before all that she has enrolled for a degree in Marketing because she believes it goes hand in hand with acting.