Janet Mbugua has made an acting comeback in TV drama series Monica Season 3 after a six-year hiatus. Janet made her debut in the acting scene in 2014 with her lead role in Rush, the AMVCA-nominated Kenyan drama. She however halted her acting after just one season of Rush.

This absence was, however, not for lack of roles or opportunities. For six years, Janet says, she turned down numerous acting projects that came her way. “I’ve been offered roles over the years but I had to say no for various reasons. I didn’t have my own family when I starred in Rush so at the time, I didn’t mind the crazy filming hours. But when I started growing my family, I was very cognizant about not stretching myself. Suddenly, I was a new mum, an anchor, a brand ambassador, a moderator, a wife,” she said.

Recently, Janet changed her mind when an opportunity came to appear in Monica Season 3, the Kalasha-nominated Kenyan drama on Showmax. The timing for Monica was right, she says, but she was still apprehensive about coming back. “I always feel like you can’t necessarily double back. My background is in news anchoring. Acting was something I did because I like to embrace new challenges and experiences. To be honest, I thought I’d gotten that bug out of my system, although I enjoyed it of course. And then this role came my way,” she explained.

In Monica Season 3, Janet plays Jesse, a woman so fierce and so powerful that she terms her as Olivia Pope without the marital scandals. “What I admire about Jesse is that she doesn’t really put her cards on the table. She’s fierce but she wouldn’t necessarily show you that she’s trying to take control,” she said. “Nothing fazes her, she’s perfected the art of looking together even when she’s not and it’s kind of hard not to be drawn to her. But she also has her own skeletons.”

For an actor who is only on her second role, it felt right that Janet got to play a monumental role such as Jesse, a female deputy governor in a country that is yet to actualize the two-thirds gender rule. Through her foundation Inua Dada, Janet has empowered thousands of girls and women across Kenya. She’s also part of Better4Kenya, a group that advocates for gender equality in Kenya. And even though Monica’s world is fictional, Janet notes that it is important that people see women like her character Jesse actively take up leadership roles. “The timing of this role couldn’t be more important. I thought, wow, it’s a leadership position being played by a woman, and a deputy governor for that matter,” she says.

While she acknowledges that representation is now happening, Janet says we still need to see more of it especially because many female roles are still sexualized. “Let’s diversify these roles and have more female actors in leadership roles that are again not tied to sexual scandals only, but those that provide authority and role-modeling.”