“He Has Found A Way: Success In Hollywood”
The vibrant Hollywood entertainment scene has seen people from different parts of the world grow to be internationally celebrated public figures. The Hollywood film industry has actors from different countries and continents. One such actor is Zambia’s Akende Munalula.
Abandoned at three months old by his biological British father in Lusaka-Zambia, Akende Munalala and his brothers were raised by a single mother who worked as a typist, living in the more modest parts of the city meant Akende and his brothers had to go to government schools.
When he was eight, Akende met his stepfather, a Welsh artist who taught art at the International School of Lusaka, an affluent school for the ex-pat community. Akende was introduced to books by writers like Charles Dickens. The story of Oliver Twist resonated deeply with Akende who saw similarities with his own struggles growing up. The books became a means of escape and helped to develop Akende’s burgeoning imagination. A good student with mostly A grades, he became interested in writing and won several awards for the English language in high school.
After graduating, Akende found his way into advertising, becoming a well sought after and successful copywriter for more than ten years. However, it was his love of hip hop music that took him out of the nine-to-five world and onto the performance stage, where he found his true voice.
As a rapper, he produced two successful albums. However, all of that was simply leading him to act, which he felt was more his calling.
He left Zambia in 2012 and relocated to California where he lives and works to date. He has since played a number of roles in different movies including a role of Calvin in the Tyler Perry and Lionsgate film ‘Tyler Perry’s Boo 2: A Madea Halloween’, which was a huge box office hit and was America’s number 1 movie for several weeks.
Hype Magazine Zambia interviews Akende about his journey, Hollywood diversity and much more.
HMZ: Thank you for taking the time to speak to Hype Magazine.
AM: You’re welcome and thank you guys as well. I truly appreciate your support!
HMZ: Tell us about your journey to America. How did you find yourself in there?
AM: It’s never really a straight line when you are seeking something purposeful. At least it wasn’t for me. I am blessed to have talents in acting, as well as writing, which complement each other because I’ve always wanted to tell stories. The path to telling stories through film took me past other art forms such as poetry, hip-hop, and advertising. During the album release period of my album, A.S.H. RISEN, I felt I had told my story of growing up in Zambia well enough through rap that I could then move on to another form of storytelling. The acting was that next art form to pursue. But not just pursue it. I wanted to excel at it. So, I left Zambia and went to Toronto Canada where I lived for close to six months. My plan was to work in Toronto as an actor before venturing to the USA. Instead of that happening, what happened was an awakening in me of courage. I realized that to really pursue acting I wanted to compete in the biggest market, Hollywood, Los Angeles. And I had to be great as an actor. So I looked up schools to learn the craft of acting. I remember growing up respecting actors like Robert De Niro and I learned that he had gone to Stella Adler Academy of Acting. So I decided to go there. I was a student there for two years before graduating in 2014.
HMZ: How has life been for you being an African in Hollywood?
AM: I remember auditioning for a lead role in an independent film when I was just starting out. The part was substantial and the opportunity was big. My audition went really well and I believe had I been a different colour, I would have had the part. One of the producers called me later and told me straight up how sorry he was that the other producers didn’t want to give the part to a black man. That was my first experience of in-my-face-racism in Hollywood. It hurt. It certainly is something I recognize as a real thing. When people don’t even attempt to pronounce my name correctly but will figure out a more complicated European name, I feel like an outsider. It is something that I work to be above every day. I know that I am different by virtue of being African but I also know that my difference isn’t unique, but is a gift that I share with so many other people. We are in this together and I want to continue to break down barriers of race, gender, sexuality, etc. There are so many people who want to see Africa after they get to know me. So it is exciting to know that the world is changing so beautifully.
HMZ: When was the proudest moment of your career and why?
AM: My proudest moment was being at the premiere night of Boo2 in downtown Los Angeles and hearing Tyler Perry call out my name in one of the biggest movie theatres in Hollywood full of screaming fans. To hear “Akende Munalula” and to know that my name represents my people, that was a beautiful moment. I felt we had arrived, as a country and as an individual.
HMZ: So you are part of the cast together with Tyler Perry, the movie is Boo 2 Madea Halloween. Please tell us about the day you got the call, how was it?
AM: Whenever my phone rings and it is from any of my reps, such as my agent or manager, I am always excited. When the call comes after an important audition, the feeling is a mixed bag of nervousness, confidence and pride. I was visiting a friend when the call for Boo 2 came and I remember excusing myself to go outside. My manager said to me, “You may want to scream when I tell you what I am about to tell you, so please go outside.” The whole neighbourhood must have heard me! It was an unforgettable day that is still very fresh in my mind!
HMZ: In the movie, you were Calvin, who was Calvin?
AM: Calvin was the new husband to Brian’s (Tyler Perry) wife Debrah (Taja V. Simpson). Calvin was also a very successful real estate agent who made more money than Brian and spoiled Brain’s daughter, Tiffany (Diamond White). This made the relationship between Brian and Debrah more challenging, and I think that was fine by Calvin. He enjoyed seeing Brian sweat.
HMZ: What made you most proud about the movie?
AM: Firstly, it was a movie about parenting, which made it a great family movie. It wasn’t preachy and was a lot of fun to watch. It had a story that was unusual and was well told. AND IT WAS AMERICA’S NUMBER 1 FOR SEVERAL WEEKS!
HMZ: What do you think is the biggest misconception one had about the movie?
AM: That it was just a black movie. In actuality, it is a universal movie with a diverse cast and tells the story of a family that could’ve been of any background.
HMZ: Now did you ever feel like you missed out on Black Panther, is it a project that you have loved to be part of?
AM: When I watched Black Panther, I got this feeling in my soul that I was meant to be in that world. I felt so inspired to see so many black faces and so many fabrics of African design and to hear those accents (we can debate the accuracy another time, lol), I was moved. Here I was watching this landmark film and I was from that world. Of course, I want to be in the next one! And there are more movies with African subject matter that are coming to the worldwide screen soon.
HMZ: You have done other movies, The Incision, Tear Jerker… tell us about Tear Jerker a very sentimental story, as an African coming from a culture with values that are anti-gay how did you feel being part of such a project?
AM: I love telling stories of characters that are completely different from me. I read the script for Tear Jerker and knew immediately that I wanted to be part of it. The movie is about finding one’s true self. It is about finding the courage to become who you truly believe you are.
HMZ: On The Incision, what was the movie about and what role did you play?
AM: The incision was about the illegal organ trade and the fight to stop it.
HMZ: Another highlight this year is your role as a diplomatic attaché in COUNTERPART. Tell us more about this role and how is it interesting?
AM: I fell in love with COUNTERPART because of the central question it asks, which to me was “What if there was a parallel universe and you could see the choices you would have made in a different world”. That premise has always fascinated me. I do believe there is so much we do not yet see that is beyond our wildest dreams. In COUNTERPART, each character has a twin from another world. So playing Pascal, I always tried to imagine what my counterpart, my other, would be doing in the other world! I was dying to me him, to meet me.
HMZ: Tell us about other movies that you featured on and how interesting were your roles?
AM: A lot of the work I have been doing has been career-building work. So there are films that may not be available to see, but where meaningful and interesting. With every part, I look for the heart and soul of the story. As long as I find the part truthful, then I give it my energy.
HMZ: Are there any projects launched and upcoming in other African countries as well?
AM: Presently, I have projects in pre-production that will be made in Africa, but I cannot confirm where. I am looking forward to collaborating with more African storytellers.
HMZ: When was the last time you were in Zambia, how was it and what were you doing?
AM: Late 2019 for Christmas and the New Year! I was there launching the Filmmakers Guild of Zambia with Lawrence Thompson and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. I was teaching acting classes to actors and I was also teaching Directing Actors to young directors from Southern Africa at the MultiChoice Talent Factory. It was an important time to visit and share my story with others on TV and radio. Can’t wait to be back there!
HMZ: Do you still feel a strong connection to Zambia?
AM: I love Zambia and it will always be in my DNA. My travels around the world are purposeful because of where I come from and how I grew up. My story is a Zambian story told in a global language.
HMZ: Do you watch any show/series from Zambia? As a Writer-Director and Actor, is there any show you would like to work within Zambia?
AM: I watch everything that is being produced in Zambia because I like to stay informed on what is happening back home. There talks underway to produce new shows in Zambia so I am excited to direct and write for Zambia.
HMZ: You have worked with the best in this industry, you retain the best status yourself, what 3 tips can you give to Zambian actors that can help them with recognition?
AM: Marketing, marketing, marketing. Discover who you are and bring your brand to the world. Yes, we are artists, but we are also part of an industry called show business. So show the world who you are. Reach out to industry professionals and introduce yourself and ask how you can add value.
HMZ: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
AM: Learn the craft, love the craft, and write your own projects as well. Do not wait to be discovered. Show yourself to the world. Every dream is real.
HMZ: What kind of world do you wish to see?
AM: I wish to see a world that embraces all our differences, our uniqueness and our individualities without forcing anyone form of ideology onto others, but sharing ideas openly. A world where barriers are torn down so we can all reach our dreams without fear. A free world.
HMZ: We currently facing a pandemic worldwide, how has this coronavirus affected your work/lifestyle? What advice can you give to everyone out there?
AM: When the pandemic hit, I was on production. It was simply a murmur two, three months ago. What surprised me was how quickly and devastatingly it spread. So many people lost their lives and loved ones. Fear, which is something that I have constantly explored, felt so close to home suddenly. Like most people, I took to being inside and being creative as a way to stay sane. Work in terms of filming was halted, so I found myself having a lot more uninterrupted time to write and to work on my craft. My advice to anyone out there is to take this seriously and to find ways to stay connected to self and to inspiration. When COVID-19 is fully under control, it is us who will have to come out better than we went in. So, taking care of your mental health as well as physical health is job number one.
HMZ: Is there anything that you promised yourself you’d do if you became famous, that you still haven’t done yet?
AM: In one of my songs on A.S.H. RISEN, I talked about helping a man who is homeless to find a home and purpose. That is still a dream I want to achieve. I want to use my platform and my voice to help others achieve their goals. I am working on ways to do it. Anybody reading this who wishes they could have a road map, it is coming, I promise. I haven’t forgotten about you.
HMZ: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
AM: I wouldn’t say a question just for me, but I think for everyone that is really thoughtful is “How can I help you?” I know it such a simple question, but it really is a touching one, to know that someone else is thinking of you and your needs. That’s what makes the world a better place.
HMZ: The month of June we celebrate Father’s Day, what is the best advice your dad ever gave you, that you will always pass on to your own kids?
AM: I wish I could say that I knew my dad and that he gave me profound advice, but the truth is I do not know him. My advice to my children is “Live your truth and show up with a purpose for what you believe in every day.”
HMZ: Any last words for Hype Magazine Zambia readers?
AM: Doing is the new thinking. Get out of your head and make your dreams happen. Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission, give it to yourself.