Eugene Wanangwa Khumbanyiwa, the Malawian, South Africa-based stage, television, film and voice actor, popularly known for playing the role of Obesandjo in the 2009 Oscar-nominated sci-fi hit District 9, says it always feels good to come back home.
The Hollywood actor was speaking to Society during a brief holiday to Malawi over the festive season.
Khumbanyiwa, who was born at Cobbe Barracks Hospital in Zomba, was in Malawi to see his parents in Chirimba, Blantyre and said the trip was a rewarding experience.
“Although it was a family visit, it always feels good to be back home. It’s been a wonderful experience. The reception that I got from Malawians was amazing,” he said.
Khumbanyiwa, who also stars as Nero in the Hollywood race thriller Death Race 3, disclosed that the Malawian experience has driven him to want to give back to the country of his birth.
“My plan is to start a foundation under which we can start to uplift youths that are involved in the arts in Malawi.
The intention is to partner with professionals so that we can work together in this quest,” he revealed, adding that the plan revolves holding workshops with aspiring actors to let them in on acting secrets.
Khumbanyiwa, whose role as Obesandjo, a paralysed psychopathic Nigerian who believes that eating alien body parts will enable him to operate their weapons, earned him rave reviews, noted that the past year has seen him making huge strides in his acting career.
“2013 started slow but it has been a wonderful year because of the trip I made to Hollywood and the potential connections that I made,” he remarked but revealed that 2014 is the year that he is going major.
“There is something that Malawi will be very proud of. There are a lot of projects that everyone should look forward to. 2014 is a year of open doors and blessings in abundance. This year, I am permanently relocating to the US,” he said without disclosing the finer details of the projects.
Khumbanyiwa used his holiday to scan the Malawian movie scene and chanced upon the opportunity of meeting up with film director Shemu Joyah.
“For the first time, I met Mr Joyah and I am proud of him and we are looking to working on a Malawian film. With Shemu, we talked about the prospect of working on a Chilembwe biopic. Chilembwe was someone who is an icon so it would be a blessing to be part of that cast,” he said.
The Pretoria-based actor advised Malawian film-makers to be bold.
“We should not be afraid to put our work out there but let’s not sacrifice quality over quantity. I have not had time to watch Malawian movies but I am looking forward to watching as many as I can. My advice to film-makers here is, let us be original, let us be Malawian, let us tell our stories. That is the reason I speak Chichewa in the movies that I star in because I am proud of who I am. When something is unique, there is always a demand for it out there. Identity always stands out,” he said.
Khumbanyiwa further revealed that he has never had it easy in South Africa, but his faith and perseverance have seen him prevail over every hurdle.
“It was never easy but prayer, faith, hard work and dedication kept me going,” he said, before chipping in words of advice to aspiring actors.
“You ought to have vision because the vision has got the power to shape you. And the vision has the power to instill discipline in you. When you have vision, you have no time to waste.
Khumbanyiwa, who has four siblings, was born to Major Stewart Khumbanyiwa, a retired soldier, and Victoria, a retired primary school teacher.
He moved from Malawi to South Africa in the early 2000s and worked as an IT specialist before pursuing his childhood dream of becoming a professional actor.
He started his acting career as an extra in the 2004 Oscar-nominated Hotel Rwanda, starring Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, playing one of the hotel staff members.
After that he worked sporadically, appearing in TV commercials and prime-time soaps like Generations, Scandal and also had a role in South African independently produced hit film Jerusalema (Gangster’s Paradise) before landing a role as an underground war-lord in the Peter Jackson-produced and Neill Blomkamp-directed four-times Oscar-nominated sci-fi hit District 9.
Upon gaining critical acclaim for his performance in District 9, he appeared in an American TV commercial for a security product.
In South Africa, he continued to sporadically appear on television in popular TV shows such as, 7 de laan, Rhythm City, 4 Play, Laugh Out Loud’ and in independently produced South African films like: Paradise Stop, Algiers, Cry For Love, and a number of film shorts.
He also does voices for both TV and radio.
His voice work credits include the prestigious African Cup of Nations (AFCON2013) soccer tournament’s ‘hello’ radio ads campaign for the City of Johannesburg.
Last year, he appeared in the Universal Pictures production Death Race: Inferno, a third installment of the Death Race film series franchise as the African racer Nero alongside Luke Goss and Danny Trejo.
Khumbanyiwa will be reuniting with the Death Race: Inferno director Roel Reiné for Behind Enemy Lines: Congo to be released this year.