Ariadne’s Notes: On August 24, 1:35 pm, the World Poetry Café welcomed youth star Emmanuel Kabongo to the show in a special interview about the new CBC show 21 Thunder, broadcasting every Monday night at 9 pm, PST. Also he gave tips to upcoming youth actors. He is a shinning light in the world and we wish him well in his career
New TV show: 21 Thunder shows the cutthroat world of pro soccer, a club lives and dies by the stars on its under-21 team. They are the future and lifeblood of any franchise, but most will never make it. 21 THUNDER is the story of the Montreal Thunder U21 team, following the team’s star players on and off the field. A story of love, crime, race, sex and athletic glory, at its core the series is about how a group of players and coaches unite as family in the whirlwind of life, one step away from the pros.
A CBC original series, 21 THUNDER is produced by PMA Productions and Generic Productions, and executive produced by Kenneth Hirsch (Extraordinary Canadians, Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague), Michael Levine (Republic of Doyle), Adrian Wills (The Surrogacy Trap, All Together Now), Riley Adams (Crossing the Rubicon: The Journey, Flashpoint) and Malcolm MacRury (Republic of Doyle, Saving Hope), who also serves as showrunner. Adams is co-creator along with Hirsch and Wills. The series was filmed in Montreal in summer and fall 2016.
Kabongo was born and raised in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) and subsequently relocated to South Africa during the war with his family. They later moved to Toronto, in 1998.
Since 2009, Kabongo has starred in several feature films, including The Animal Project (2014), directed by Ingrid Veninger, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, Pompeii (2014), directed by Paul W.S Anderson, Antibirth (2016), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and Brown Girl Begins (2017) directed by Sharon Lewis. Kabongo has also guest-starred on a variety of television programs, including Nikita, Flashpoint, Rookie Blue, Call Me Fitz Murdoch Mysteries, Hemlock Grove and Quantico.
He won the award for Best African Actor at the 2013 African Entertainment Awards, in Toronto. He completed the Actors Conservatory Program at the Canadian Film Centre in 2015. In 2014, Kabongo co-produced the first season of the award-winning web series Teenagers alongside emerging filmmaker M. H. Murray. Kabongo also starred as T, the series’ lead male protagonist. Kabongo reprised his role as T in the second season of the series, which he received a Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Performance in a Program or Series Produced for Digital Media in 2016. Also in 2016, Kabongo produced and starred the short film A Man’s Story, for which he received funding from bravoFACT. The short film went on to screen at the ReelWorld Film Festival in Toronto, where it won an award for Best Short Film in 2016.
In September 2016, CBC announced it had commissioned a one-hour drama series that follows the star players of an under-21 soccer academy in Montreal, titled 21 Thunder, with Kabongo slated to star as one of the lead characters, an Ivory Coast mid-fielder named Junior Lolo. Kabongo is also a supporting character in Shaftesbury’s Frankie Drake, also commissioned by the CBC.
Here is my exclusive e-interview with the amazing and talented Emmanuel Kabongo
Ariadne: What does acting mean to you?
Emmanuel: Acting to me is a mirror to life. It is a path to self-realization. Acting to me also means being a vessel, an instrument to something bigger than me. This craft has allowed me to not just learn about myself and my history; it also continues to inspire me to keep growing and gaining knowledge about people and the world. The best gift in this career is knowing that my work has affected someone personally, in a positive way. If I can continue being given a chance to do this, I will forever be content.
Ariadne: What advice would you give young black actors starting out?
Emmanuel: READ. READ. READ ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. The more you know, the more equipped you become and the more confidence you can gain. On top of self-education, itâ€™s also really critical to enroll yourself in an acting program or acting workshop(s) so that you can be familiar with the business and technical aspects of the craft, how to better take direction, improve your creativity, attain new skills, and add to your natural talents by working with other people. The most important thing is to find what style works and resonates with you. Like in any career, having a resume is critical and with it you must also include a headshot, which is a professional photo of yourself. A resume is something that you continuously build on and for those who donâ€™t have any working experience in acting, your training will be sufficient enough for someone to take a chance on you. One way to build your experience as an actor is to search for and get involved with student films or independent projects. You can find auditions online through casting services or google and once you feel you’re ready, the next step would be to get an agent. The best way to find an agent is to go on the internet and search for talent representation in your area. After you sign with someone who values your talent and potential be sure to always be on the same page with your agent. Be aware not to allow yourself or your agent to typecast you. You want to build the habit to audition for different types characters even if you don’t fit them. This will allow you to stretch yourself and not be seen as one dimensional by casting directors. The beginning will not be easy, it will feel slow and you will be thinking about giving up, but hang on and continue to improve yourself. Once you land your first role and get a taste, it will only push you to work harder and smarter. Your hard work will pay off, eventually.
Ariadne: To what, (beside your own hard work, talent and commitment) do you owe your success?
Emmanuel: First and foremost, I’m a believer of a force bigger than me. A higher power. Some call it God or the Universe. So I owe my success to the source of my creation. Secondly, my parents, Nene and Toure Kabongo. If it weren’t for their hard work, commitment and love, I wouldn’t be in North America. To say the least, I wouldn’t have been exposed to acting if my mother never watched soap operas and films. I wouldn’t have known what a set is if my father never worked as a background actor to make extra cash for the family. I also owe the character choices that I make for different roles to my siblings Billy, Vanessa, Myck and Jonathan. They help me make wise decisions before starting a gig. Because of them I make sure to bring something fresh with each character that I portray. Credit for the position that I’m currently in professionally goes to the team that represents me: Amanda Rosenthal, Marc Hamou and Mike Carr. Without their support, professionalism and dedication towards my career, I wouldn’t have been given the opportunities to portray interesting characters. Last but not least, for my education and training, I owe my gratitude to Earl Nanhu of EVN Studios whom instilled in me a solid foundation. He taught me a great deal, not just about acting but also about myself and life. I’m also very fortunate for being a part of the Actors Conservatory Program at the Canadian Film Centre. This program gave me a chance to network and form strong relationships with other actors, directors, producers, writers and casting directors. The different workshops and events provided by the program fueled me with confidence, gave insight on how to improve in my auditions and helped me understand the business behind the camera better. In the CFC is also where I met my mentor Michael Levine. He has been a champion in my corner and I beyond appreciative for his continued mentorship, support and belief in me. I don’t think I would be as passionate about this craft as I am today without these key individuals in my life.
Ariadne: What are your future plans?
Emmanuel: I would like to continue developing and getting better as an actor. I am continuously enrolled in classes because I’ve learned that, there are no limits to what you can learn about yourself and life. I aspire to work all over the world and to also get the opportunity to work alongside some of the talented professionals that I admire and look up to. Growing in a big family and working with children at a daycare for number of years has inspired me to one day have a family of my own, but right now my “babies” are the gigs I get. I also want to give back. Being Congolese, I look forward to the day that I get to go back the Democratic Republic of Congo and be part of initiatives that support shelter, education and well-being.
Ariadne: Are you helping youth in sports?
Emmanuel: At the moment I am working on other initiatives but I plan on continuing to organize obstacle courses and sports such as soccer and basketball for the daycare where I worked for many years. The age groups that I work with range from 6 to 12 year olds.
Ariadne: Please send a quote.
Emmanuel: A quote I live by is from one of my favorite books, The Alchemist written by Paulo Coelho. When you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
Sources: With great thanks to: Samantha Isenberg , Jen Gorman, CBC, The Afro News , Jen Gorman and Ingrid Hamilton. A special thank you to Emmanuel Kabongo for the excellent e-interview. Re-printed from the Afro News.
Photo credits: Jen Gorman.