Alumni Spotlight: Melissa Kiplagat

We recently sat down with MA Acting grad Melissa Kiplagat, to catch up on her career since training and to find out more about her journey to Mountview. Melissa recently starred in Kenya’s first home-grown Netflix series Country Queen, and has set her sights on more exciting screen work for the future. Read on to find out more.

Melissa Kiplagat

How did you get into acting?  

It’s something I always thought I’d like growing up. I didn’t really try it until I was in fourth grade in the US. I did acting in my O Levels, then not for my A Levels. Then I went to Brown to do Economics. Very soon after I realised I’d rather die than do this professionally, so I finished my degree anyway and in the last two years started doing a lot of theatre courses. Then when I came back, I started professionally!  

Why did you choose to study at Mountview?  

I finished my undergrad in mid 2013. Once I’d done a year or two in the industry in Kenya, I knew I wanted to do a Masters in Acting. I was really open to going to the US or the UK, but in the US I’d already been in the industry and set up my networks so I wanted to do more in the UK. Mountview is one of the top schools, so that’s how I ended up auditioning. 

Is there anything you wish you had known before you started your training?  

I wish I had known that you have to participate – obviously you need to when you’re doing that training, but I wish I’d known that you need to ask questions, you need to be more forward-footed with your engagement. The more you do that the more you’ll get out of the programme. You’ll get a lot if you just sit in the class and do what they tell you to do, but you’ll get so much more if you’re very forward-footed in class. 

Are there any highlights that stand out when you look back on your time at Mountview? 

All of them! I loved it. I honestly think that year was one of my favourite years of my life. I definitely loved doing my dissertation performance, that is probably still one of my favourite performances I’ve ever done. I loved watching everyone else. If I have to choose a specific class or something – I cannot! I loved each of them so much for different reasons – I loved combat, all of them! I really can’t pick, I loved them all!  

Did you find the transition into the industry challenging, and do you have any advice for graduating students? 

I was lucky in that I’d already been in the industry for a couple of years before I went to Mountview, so for me I was going back into it. So, I already had networks and things on the books. In terms of advice I’d give someone after coming out of a programme like Mountview’s – you just need to be seen. Do theatre, even if it’s small theatre. At least here in Kenya, a lot of casting directors love small theatre so just be seen and go to places where artists hang out. I know here in Kenya artists love karaoke so I’m always telling people ‘just go to karaoke! You’re going to meet artists there, you’re going to meet casting directors’. So I’d say, above obviously auditioning and things like that, just be part of the scene. Hang out where they hang out and do as many projects as you can. And when you’re on set, within reason, network! 

How did it feel to land the lead role in Country Queen and how has the experience been for you?  

Melissa Kiplagat, Country Queen | Netflix

We got cast in 2018 and did the pilot beginning of 2019 and then there was a huge gap. We filmed the rest of it in the second half of 2021, so it’s been a long journey. We hoped for Netflix when we were auditioning, but we didn’t have Netflix on board at that point. So coming back to shoot the rest of the episodes with Netflix on board was super exciting.

It’s an amazing project, definitely the highest quality one I’ve been in so far. To be honest, probably the highest quality series in Kenya so far, although our series these days are fantastic. It was really exciting and definitely different because between the pilot and the rest of the episodes I become a mom. So when we were shooting my little one was a few months old, so my whole life was very different for the rest of the shoot. A lot of us actually became moms and parents between the episodes. It was my first project after having my little one.  

To see the success has been a lot more than we expected. Netflix have really embraced us and gone above and beyond for the production and also for us as actors. I just came back from a week in South Africa where I got to meet a lot of the actors of South African Netflix shows and some Nigerian Netflix shows and they treated us so phenomenally well. Netflix have really embraced us and embraced Africa in general. So, it’s been an experience!  

Do you have a dream project for the future? 

I definitely want to work with Viola Davis – so anything with Viola Davis! Also I want to work with other African artists – I’d love to work on a South African project or a Nigerian project, or just a cross between African countries.  I really want to be in Bridgerton. I’m obsessed. So if I got a Bridgerton kind of role, I would die! But generally anything with Viola Davis is my number one dream. 

Is there anything you’re currently working on?  

I’m thinking of starting a podcast but I’m still in the ‘figuring it out stage’. It’s something I want to do.  

I’m filming a feature starting next week, which weirdly enough after all these years is my first lead role in a feature, so I’m really excited for that. I don’t know the title of it yet so I can’t give it a shout out.  

It’s a good time. I’m definitely excited to see what more I’m going to do with Netflix and in the industry, and hopefully internationally as well. Fingers crossed! I’m in the process of looking for agents in other countries as well, like in the UK, US and South Africa, so hopefully soon I’ll have more to share.  

Interested in Postgraduate study at Mountview? Find out more.