Image by Jody Zung

Image by Jody Zung

The Strength of Belinda Owino

In two years, a lot can happen, and for Belinda Owino, her journey kicked it into high gear. In 2013 we chatted about her experience as a background actor on “Django: Unchained” and how her hard work and determination paid off with the start of her career. Now, in 2015, Owino has had the most extraordinary experience; she was hand picked to star in Tarantino’s new film “The Hateful Eight.” It was great to catch up with an old friend, and all about her career, and how sometimes with a little bit of work, fate works her magic.

“I will never forget it. It was an email message from Quentin informing me that I was cast followed by a bunch of ‘Is this real life’ and ‘thank you so much!’ for about a few days (laughs),” Owino says.

It’s not every day that you get an email from one of the most influential and beloved film directors of the last 20 years, but if you know anything about Owino and her work ethic, you aren’t surprised. For her role in Django, she commuted to New Orleans from Houston so she could be an extra in the film. It’s this determination that showed her dedication to film, to being a part of creating something, no matter what size her role was in the film. 

Tarantino is more than just a director in the film industry, he’s a creator and wants like minded people around him. Owino loves what she does, and puts so much passion and energy into her roles that you see the excitement emit from her being, and it’s this love that made her perfect for working once more with Tarantino.

“Completing ‘The Hateful Eight’ definitely instilled a heightened level of persistence in me. It made me strive to be better. My mindset is set at ‘ready-set-go!’” Owino adds. “Looking back, the ride was filled with a lot of patience but so many great feelings of milestones in the process. Epic is the best word to explain it all.”

Image the Jody Zung

Image the Jody Zung

And so her journey began. Moving from a background actor to one of the secondary cast (besides the eight, of course), was a huge move in the world of characters for an actor. Owino wasn’t just some face in the background, but instead an influential part of the story and atmosphere of that world. It might have been intimidating for some, most actually, but thankfully the sets that Tarantino assembles have everything but hierarchies. She was returning to a family, where everyone knew your name and each job was as important as the next.

“Everyone is not just committed to work, but they are all committed to film and the film they are working on,” Owino says. “It is a magical experience to see everyone from the crew, the cast, and Quentin himself, work fluidly and in-synch with enthusiasm and passion.”

To hear Owino talk about the set makes you jealous that you missed out on the best party of the year. She reminisces on her friendships and memories, making sure to point out that that even though they all were working on a shared goal of this unbelievable script, they were all in this together, friends above status. This camaraderie helped with the trust that was not only established but needed for a project like this.

This project was a secret for quite some time. Even during production the story was tightly guarded, even among the cast and crew. This wasn’t done to keep the journalists and reviewers at bay, but instead because Tarantino wanted to keep the anticipation for the adventure alive for the audience and the cast. Owino appreciated this, and it made the creation of her character that much more of a joy.

“I not only approached the process with preparation but with an open mindset too, in order to adapt upon Quentin’s request. That is what is great about Quentin,” Owino says. “As an actor, you must trust his decisions because he is truly an actor’s director. He wants you to do the absolute best and to also push through limits you built in your head.  He wants everyone to be and look his or her best. This is what helped me relax and let Gemma (my character) be Gemma.” 

Image by Jody Zung

Image by Jody Zung

Being able to talk with Tarantino on set about her character was priceless, but her preparation for her role as Gemma began as soon as she got that email. Owino researched and studied more than most actors would dare to do. She watched every Western she could get her hands on, even obscure ones that she found on YouTube. Like any self-respecting film school student (graduate at the time of publishing), Owino furthered her dive into the genre with an in-depth paper about the entire film from character to dust pattern from galloping hooves.

“I wanted to be all in ‘Western mode’ to get ready for this experience. Even though I was not required to ride a horse, I personally committed myself to horseback riding training,” Owino explains. “I took the whole preparation process seriously because I believe in committing 500% to an opportunity with enthusiasm and appreciation. There is no such thing as over preparing because as an actor, no matter who your character is in the story, it is up to you to get in that era, time zone, and climate of the story to remain authentic.”

To describe “The Hateful Eight” as an authentic Western is an understatement if there ever was one. Tarantino has worked to transport the audience back to a time when films were always regarded as adventures, not just the ones with special effects and superheroes. The camera and lenses used for this film were last used in the epics of the past, the location was on a secluded mountain-top in Colorado, and the attention to detail was unprecedented. This film isn’t just a journey for Owino, but for the audience as well.

It’s amazing to think that the first two major productions she has worked on as a professional actor involve some the best in the industry, both in front of and behind the camera. It’s hard to fathom where she could go from here, but Owino is up for whatever comes next.

Written by Lisa Mejia
Images by Jody Zung