In our second part of the Small Axe: Education INTERVUE, I am talking to the young actor who plays Kingsley Smith in the episode which premieres today, December 18th on Amazon Prime.
While new to the world of film, our next guest first cut his teeth in London theatre. He’s featured in a production of Caroline, or Change! at the Hampstead Theatre and as young Simba in The Lion King at London’s Lyceum. Most recently, he played the grandson in Netflix’s Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.
Let’s welcome to the INTERVUE, Kenyah Sandy!
What was it like to take on the role of Kingsley Smith for Education?
I think it was very challenging to take on such an interesting role. I think I definitely had to do my research especially I think it’s all good knowing what dyslexia is all about and to further understand what it was. So I spoke to my cousins who had severe dyslexia. I kind of saw their point of view and how they went through life living with it. They figured out how in school nowadays how we got ten minutes extra on a test because it was so hard for them to process the words. So I saw their point of view then.
Not only just did that but I researched and saw in general what it was. I feel after that it was just believing that I couldn’t read and that was the hardest part. I think it was one scene that I did where I had to force myself to say that I can’t read this but “Kenyah, I can’t read this. Then after a while, I thought I had brainwashed to think I couldn’t. I kinda think that it made it more believable. I think also just getting Kingsley’s journey of what was hard starting really down and not believing in yourself and then by the end of it you hoped that he could succeed in reading and just getting the steps. Just kinda seeing his thought process on his journey. I only adapted his frustration I think. Looking at the words and just seeing how your vocabulary can take it out and just portraying that role was so challenging. It was very interesting to see how I was able to play with trying to understand him,
Especially since this took place in the 1960s, how did you prepare for the role? Did you have to do a lot of research on a young West Indian boy growing up during the era?
I think when I first when into my costume, I thought “Oh my God, I’m going to look so old” but my mum was like let me send a picture to your grandma and I was like “ok”. Straightaway like five minutes later, My grandma had sent me pictures of her two brothers and they look exactly like me with the same clothes, same glasses, and the afro. I felt that I was living in that time period, it was crazy. I think that really helped me get into character acting. It was really cool actually since a lot of the time you don’t get to do fancy dress but everyone was doing it. I felt that I as in the 1960s
Talk about your incredible experiences on the set of Education especially working with Sharlene Whyte, whom I interviewed a few days ago plays your mother and had nothing but good praises about you, your talent, and your performances.
Sharlene was incredible. I think that she was so strong as a black female actress that I first got the role, it was like just reading the lines and she just brought the energy. I was like “Whoa, don’t struggle. I need to reach her level.” I had in my mind that if she’s this strong, I need to reach her level and that helps me with my acting. On the set, when I was getting stressed out, she was like “It’s alright.” And comforting me. Just having that nice mother figure on set since I was away from my parents a lot of the time, it was nice to have that comfort from her. And that just brought our scenes to life.
In some of the intense scenes, we had, she just stayed in character. So when I went “Awww” and she was like staring at me. I was like “ok” I had to force myself to stay in character. She was pushing me and that was really good that she did that. If she didn’t do that, then I wouldn’t have portrayed Kingsley the way he should be.
The performances between the two of you were incredible and it shows on the screen. You got to work with Steve McQueen who not only created the series but also wrote it but directed it as well. This story in particular is kind of based on his experiences as a young boy. Did he give you some insights on his life around that time to help you develop Kingsley?
There was a lot of time on set that there were times he got emotional. When you create something that’s so powerful and you know that it relates to you so much and when you look back on it, do you go “I can’t believe that I lived through that?” On the set, I can just look at him and I can tell that it was sad of what we’re part of but it was very educational and portrayed very well. I watched it myself and knew exactly what was going on. I think that he should be very proud of himself because he did a pretty great job but I feel that I a lot of the time while on set, he had given me notes on how to make it more believable and we didn’t that a lot of the time.
I would like to ask you as a young man yourself why is education important for you?
Starting off, I always have a love for math and solving equations. Education is not just like the subjects in school, education is learning something. It doesn’t have to be academic; you learn stuff in life. Every day you are learning something new. If you used that in your learning subjects like history, math & science, I think any job that you wanted to do, I think you have to learn how to do it. I also think that any subject can link to something else that you are doing.
I also have a love for engineering and designing technologies along with math problems and learning how to calculate. They are all able to come back together. It’s that way to acting as well since you’re being able to look back at your history. If you’re smart enough to look at the right things to research and not the wrong things. I feel that education is important for any job that you want to get to school is very important in life.
When I saw you in Education, I realize that I have seen you before in Jingle Jangle. This is only your second featured role in your career. My first question is you were acting against another heavyweight in the field, Phylicia Rashad and I want to know what were your favorite moments of working in that film.
My favorite moment was the training for flying which was fun seeing Phylicia. You know when you’re seeing the other side of someone and then you finally realize it. My mother was like “Kenyah, do you know who you are working with?” and everyone was like “Kenyah, you’re working with her” and I thought “I think I have seen her before in other films like Creed” and everyone was like “Kenyah, no no, she’s serious” and then my Aunt found out and she’s like the fan of The Cosby Show and when she found out, she was screaming and said “I want to take you on the set, I was to be your chaperone. I understand that you have been working with her.” Then, my mother showed me some of the episodes and I was “Yes, she has been there from the beginning. She has been in this industry for a long time.” When I was sitting next to her, I was thinking that there was so much that she has been through in this industry and now I was working beside her. if I was wasn’t an actor, just to be in the atmosphere she just brought so much energy to the set. David was on set giving her some notes to do a set and she was able to do the scene so well. If I had a notepad, I would have written down how well she is. She’s really nice that she had given me some notes and helped me relax and bring that comfort as well.
Indeed, she’s DC Royalty being a graduate of Howard University. You are so lucky to work with not a Howard/HBCU grad but a living legend in the craft. When did you realize that you wanted to be an actor?
I have been on my journey since I started dancing and was in a dance group. Then I went to one dance class and a lady handed me this flyer for a “Lion King” cub school and asked “Would you like to try out” and I said, “I don’t mind at all”. So, I attend it and it was really cool. Acting and dancing is now going to open more doors for me. Then it got to the second stage of cub school and I felt that I am actually good and they really love me. So I attended every single week and felt that I really liked acting. I ended up getting the role of Simba in The Lion King. I thought “This is actually acting now. I’m dancing! I’m singing! And it showed me a wide variety of what I can do.” So once I finished that I was like “What’s next?” and my mu was like “You have to audition.” And I was “Oh, so that’s what I have been doing.” At that point, I was looking for other things.
What is your dream role in your acting career?
I want do to a Marvel film for sure. Just to like act in it. The fact to say to my mom that I was in a Marvel film. I love comics and the cartoons. It would be so cool to be part of it. Also to be in a thriller film, I love thrillers with suspense and music in the background. I watch a lot of Liam Neeson films
Since we are at the tail end of 2020, what are looking forward to in 2021?
I am looking forward to carrying on my journey into acting. I’ve gained enough confidence in seeing myself on stage and on television. Just having that faith that “I’m actually acting now.” This has shown me that people are appreciating my acting. I think it has given me that hope of what Kingsley has that 2021 to put myself out there. I want to get more roles and trying to understand them more and hopefully to perform them correctly
We are looking forward to seeing much more roles from you