Get to Know: Kwabena

Meet my friend Kwabena. I met him in uni as we are doing the same course and he is such an interesting guy to talk to. Outside of uni he does a lot of different things, the main thing being acting which he is pursuing as a career. I decided to interview him as we have some insightful conversations, so why not share one of those conversations with you guys.

Kwabs: Hi Jummy

Jummy: Hi Kwabs, how are you?

I’m okay thank you, how are you?

How am I? I’m asking the questions here

Okay, alright big man.

So besides being a law student, I hear you’re also an actor.

Oh wow, where did you hear that?

It’s just been going around. So where did this interest in acting and drama arise?

Erm, I’m not sure. I reckon the earliest time I can remember is maybe year 6. Wait, I actually remember the first time I performed was in year 2. We had a play of the Wizard of Oz and everybody did their auditions. I can’t remember exactly but I know they had to write a part for me and I literally had two lines at the beginning and I was called Cousin Ed. There was this big thing about whether they would call be Cousin Ed or Uncle Ed and I didn’t want to be Uncle Ed because that was old. I remember making that character choice at that age and caring deeply about something that wasn’t real. But I didn’t know I liked acting then.

Going through school I don’t really remember doing that much drama. Then it got to year 6 and we had auditions for the end of year show. We did Bugsy Malone and I got the role of Leroy the boxer. I didn’t really think much of it. I did it, I learned my lines, but I wasn’t that invested. When we performed, the crowd’s reaction to my part was mad, I had never felt like that. I was never crazy good at anything; I wasn’t super smart, I was never sporty, I was never a lady’s man. But this thing, everyone liked it. I remember it being such a good feeling, making people laugh, making people react to things. So, I think that was the start, even though it was subconscious, that was where the interest began.

And then I think it really got cemented when I started secondary school. We started doing drama and I took it so seriously and there was this one teacher who always pushed me and made me feel special, I even tried to find her on LinkedIn to update her. I didn’t even think I was that good, but I had confidence and I wanted to perform, and I took it very seriously. In year 7 I was the only year 7 in a year 10 and above production of West Side Story, I had a little role written in. I just loved the vibe in rehearsal, I liked being the little one and I liked the whole process and people enjoying my performance.

That’s my long story of how it all started.

That’s good. When you first had this interest in acting and when it first caught your attention, did you feel like you had the support of the people around you?

Hmm, okay so I think the reason why the question is difficult to answer is because there are two things there. There’s the start of acting recreationally and there’s the start of a career.

Yeah that’s true

So, when I actually started doing it there was support. My family would come and watch me, and they would laugh. I wasn’t really taking it seriously at that point, I hadn’t really thought that far to want a career. It wasn’t affecting my studies so no-one had a problem, it was just an extra-curricular. It was better than being out in the street, doing nothing at home or playing games so there was support for it as an extra-curricular activity.

But in terms of a career it was a different story. In year 9 I chose drama for GCSE and some people didn’t understand why I chose it, but it wasn’t a big deal. Then, A-level choices came and that’s when I felt a bit of resistance. Initially, I chose to do Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Economics. I went to one Economics lesson and I thought ‘what am I doing here, I want to be in a drama class’ so I changed after a week (I think this is what happened, but this is the story I’m going with). At that point my grandad would always ask me why I didn’t take biology or something, but it wasn’t a big deal because my other subjects were good.

So, there was a bit of resistance there, but people would still come and watch me. My mum would always say that she wants me to act but she wants me to finish uni first. My grades were getting better so people were throwing different career ideas at me. When I came to the end of sixth form, I decided that I wanted to take a gap year and try acting, that’s where I really felt the pull back because it wasn’t conventional. Everyone felt like I wasn’t going to go to uni after my gap year. But since then, it’s been calm.

It was sick. It was mad. It was hard. It was wavey. It was dope. All of these words.

 

That’s very interesting. So now that you’ve decided that a career in acting is for you, what motivates you to keep going along that path rather than doing something more conventional?  

Hmm, I enjoy it, I like it, and I wanna be really good, like really really good, and I feel like I can be really really good. And I feel like that same feeling of being good at something is still a driving factor. It’s good pay, but now I don’t care about that as much. I still care, my family’s not rich so money is still a motivating factor. It’s a nice job and you get paid well for it but there’s a lot of good jobs that you get paid well for. It’s more about the combination of enjoyment and getting paid well. But I don’t think the money is a driving factor anymore because there is this quote by Morgan Freeman, forgive me if I’m wrong, but he said he’d still be doing his job as an actor even if he wasn’t getting paid a lot and as time has gone on that has become really real for me. It’s really enjoyable, I really enjoy the profession and the craft as I get into it. It teaches you a lot about people and the human psyche and yeah, it’s just fun. It’s a gift I have that God has called me to do so I can use it to help people. I think, I hope, I pray.

So, you’ve recently come back from Scotland, where you were playing the lead in a movie

Yeah one of the four leads. There was a main lead, big up Amir!

How was that experience for you?

It was sick. It was mad. It was hard. It was wavey. It was dope. All of these words. It was really really good. It wasn’t just Scotland it was the whole process which was very interesting. The process hasn’t ended really because for some films it ends when the film comes out, for some it doesn’t end for 20 years afterwards as people still talk about it; people still probably pull Leonardo DiCaprio up in the street and go ‘oh you could have fit onto that piece of wood with Rose in The Titanic.’ So, for some films it doesn’t end, and I feel like I’m still in that process but yeah it was mad. It’s a film called Limbo by a man called Ben Sharrack. I got sent the audition by my agent, but I didn’t really want to do it because the character was Sudanese and I felt like there were Sudanese actors out there that could do that. Something was just telling me that it wasn’t for me and I had some uni work, so I decided not to take it. And then I got another call from my agent telling me that they want me to tape for it, this is basically where you film yourself reading the lines and reacting to it. It’s funny and difficult. My agent told me that they were happy for me to play around with the accent and where the character was from so, I taped for it with my bredrin Raja, big up Raja from Pecks! After I sent it off, they asked me to come for a meeting. So, I go in, sorry this is such a long story

Go for it

At one point, either before or after that audition, I had read the full script and it was amazing, unbelievably amazing, and it’s very rare that I read scripts I guess because of the level I’m on. The work sometimes is still a bit artificial in terms of the feelings and character development and stuff. I just read that script and thought this is mad, like this is mental. I spoke to the director, the producer and the casting director and they were all nice and I was just really interested and had a lot of thoughts about the character.

So, I did that, and they called me back again for a next audition where I had to do a bit by myself and a chemistry read (which is where you read with another actor whose role is alongside yours to see how you work together and look together on camera). I left feeling terrible, I thought I shanked it up as in I thought I messed it up. The feeling just wasn’t there for me and it was difficult. When I spoke to the guy I read with after, Ola, he told me that the directors and producers told him he could vibe with the lines how he liked so he wasn’t completely on script, but I learnt it as though he was gonna say stuff line for line. I was really shook cos I wanted that, it was the first time in a long time that I wanted a role. My mum was worrying as well cos by this time she’s my dawg when it comes to acting, she’s like my fan innit. I was praying a lot at one point but there’s a verse, Proverbs. 3:5, which says ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all ways and He will direct your paths.’ So, I was just like, let me trust in God and be calm. There’s another verse about worry, I think it’s Matthew 6:27, it’s like ‘can worry add a day unto your life.’ So, I just stopped worrying.

As soon as I forgot about it, my agent calls me and tells me I’ve got the role. It was mad, like I was gassed. That was a big part of the whole process, not just going to Scotland. The stuff after that was amazing like flying out. The area I live in is nice but, I’m not rich so we don’t go on holiday regularly so even seeing like the tickets. I get that it’s just Scotland, but I was flying somewhere to work, they were paying for me to stay somewhere. So that was sick in itself. What was gassing me was the work, the work was sick. I learnt a lot in 10 days of shooting.

All in all, it was a sick experience.

Every single opportunity is an opportunity to learn.

 

Was this your first time being abroad and filming for a movie?

Yeah yeah. I was meant to go abroad for a TV series called Living the Dream. It was a tiny role and was meant to be filmed in Spain which would have been peng. But of course, it had to fall around the dates of my exams in first year, so I couldn’t do that. So, this was the first time I had to leave the country. Leave England, I know there’s haters here that will say I was still in Scotland, but it wasn’t main Scotland it was a Scottish island that was quay out so thank you very much.

So, was this whole experience what you expected?

You dunno what to expect, like you genuinely don’t know. It was my first film. It wasn’t completely different from what I expected because I didn’t expect anything.

So now that you’ve had a diversity of experiences in acting, where do you see this career going?

I dunno. I can’t tell you, cos as you know I don’t plan my life like that. I just pray, and things come my way, and I carry on auditioning, I carry on doing work and I see what happens. I don’t have a 10-year plan, sorry to say, because I feel like life is very flexible. I might have a rough 2-year plan. I see myself after university not practicing law, I see myself having another job where I can also audition. That’s what I see in the short term. But in the 15-year, 20-year, I dunno. I’d like to do some really good work, maybe win some awards. That would be nice. I feel like awards are great for yourself but also for some people that are big for other people. I genuinely don’t know, I’m just floating, trusting God.

You’ve touched on the fact that you are studying a law degree, and that you’ve studied drama in the past. What made you decide to study law rather than going to an acting school?

Erm, my mum. At the time I was not happy that she did that but now I’m happy. My mum said I can take my gap year, but I need to go and study my law degree. At that time, she didn’t know I had done professional work and I didn’t have an agent, so it was well grounded. I think she’d still say the same thing to me now even with the work I have under my belt. And I’m happy she said it. The thing is I can always go back and study drama. And at the time I thought that studying might delay me from starting and getting work.

Obviously, the law degree at King’s can be very intense

Very very very very very very

*cries in agreement*

Very very intense

And you also have your career moving forward on the side. Do you find it hard to balance the two?

No, not the two of them, with the other stuff I do in my life yeah. Last year it was hard to balance them, but I think it was because I wasn’t really calling the shots with my agent. All actors who are reading, this is something I got told, you gotta call the shots with your agent. You can’t be stubborn and not listen to what they’re saying but you gotta know when to say no and not feel bad about it.

But you can do it as long as you have the right people around you and you’re motivated. And they actually complement each other a lot. Law more so compliments acting than acting compliments law. The skills I’ve learnt from law have been really useful, like time management skills. Even reading, like how many pages of reading do we have on average a week for law?

I would say around 100 per module, and there’s four modules.

That’s only required reading, then there’s further reading. So, when I get sent a 100-page script and I have to read it for the next few days I used to find it so hard. Now it’s alright, I skim through it fast. So yeah God works in funny ways, He teaches you skills in mad funny ways.

Finally, what advice would you give other young people that are considering getting into acting and perhaps having a career in acting?  

First of all, disclaimer, I am very very early on in my career. I haven’t done that much compared to a lot of people my age so I’m not moving like I know everything. This is just my experience and the stuff I’ve learned.

Should I do both a law degree and acting or just one?

Do both  

For a law degree, you need to be resilient. Don’t beat yourself up, just keep going. Keep trying to read, keep trying to learn, things will get easier small small.

For acting, make sure you enjoy it. Don’t do it for anyone else, don’t do it because you think people are gonna rate you. ‘Whatsoever you do, do heartily as unto God not unto man.’ Don’t try and force things and move too fast. Try and be the best, you always have something to learn. That’s one thing I pride myself in. I knew I wasn’t rich, and my mum wasn’t able to get me into all these things again so every single acting class I was in I was getting the most out of it. When I’m on set, in rehearsal, even in drama class in school I would get the most out of it. Every single opportunity is an opportunity to learn. Learn fast and keep learning. Make your ceiling high but don’t put a cap on it. Don’t deceive yourself. Try and get a good agent, but once you get one that’s when the hard work starts. Personally, I think networking is cool, but I try not to bread it. Bread it means like beg it. There’s no need to force it. Have good advisors, have good mentors, pray. I’m sure I could go on for ages but those are just some of the things if that’s okay.

That’s great! Thank you for your time, and I wish you the best of success in the future

Feel free to follow him on social media

Instagram: kwabsansah

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