Benjamin “Benji” Onyango: One on One with God’s Not Dead Star.

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  1. Tell Me About Life Growing Up In KenyaBenjiStripe (1)

I grew up the second child of 7 boys to parents Christopher Ochieng and Eudiah Achieng Ochieng.  We were not well off by any stretch of the imagination. We lived in Ofafa Jericho on the street Lukenya Close. I attended Ofafa Jericho Primary School and later Ofafa Jericho Secondary School. Life as it would be for a poor family was not the best in terms of material possessions but we were a very happy family.

I had a strict father who kept my naughty ways in check. I didn’t do too well in my CPE due to youth gang involvements so my dad took me to Got Osimbo Primary School in the village of Ugenya to repeat Standard Seven. The school headmaster was dad’s brother-in-law, a strict disciplinarian known locally as Japuonj Okoth. There I did well despite almost dying and spending28 days at the main Hospital in Kisumu for Malaria-related illness. After passing, I returned to Nairobi and joined Ofafa Jericho Secondary School.

When I turned 18, my dad got me hired at BAT Kenya Ltd and I worked as a clerk in the Wages Department for 4 years and later switched to the Computer Department.  After 7 years at BAT Kenya Ltd I resigned and joined United States International University (USIU) to study Management Information Systems (MIT). After a year I transferred to USIU- San Diego in the USA.

  1. How Did You End Up As An Actor

I never took a single class at USIU-San Diego because I transferred to California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock, California and graduated in 1992 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science. As soon as I graduated I left Turlock for Hollywood. I reasoned that the degree was for my parents and now I was going to do what I really loved – Music and Acting.

In Hollywood I joined a Funk-Rock fusion band The Passing that later changed its name to P.F.O. While playing the Hollywood Clubs with this band I also worked as a Substitute Teacher. I also registered with Cenex Casting, the largest non-union Extras Casting Agency in Hollywood at the time. They placed me in over 60 Films and TV shows as an Extra. In 1999, I got cast as an extra in the Season finale of The X-Files TV Show. While on the set I told one of the directors I spoke Swahili.

Moments later I was bumped up from an extra to a Principal on the show. Because the TV show was a Union show, they were forced to make me Union through a process called Taft-Hartely. Right after joining the Union, other big acting jobs like Tears of the Sun soon followed and the rest as you say is history.

  1. You mentioned acting was what you loved. Anything else that interested you

Music was my first love. In my teen years in Jericho, I was the Lead guitarist for the only rock band in Nairobi then called Fireplace. We played at the Revolving Restaurant located on top of the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) building every Sunday afternoons.

All the acting I ever did in Nairobi were little skits that we wrote and acted out in our Youth Group at Jericho Baptist Church. So the answer to this question is that I love anything to do with entertainment. For me it’s always been music and acting.

  1. How Is Life As An Actor In America (Hollywood) For An African Granted The Stiff Competition

Life as an actor is already tough for everyone, especially colored folks but even tougher for Africans. There are just so many roles to go around so the competition is fierce. Those with the top agents get the first crack at the top jobs, followed by those with mid-level agents, followed by the so-called boutique agents. After the above have scratched and scraped for the main roles, the actors with no agents get the crumbs – playing extras.

  1. What Challenges Have You Faced So Far In Your Career

The challenges I have faced the most have been the lack of acquiring a top level agent. For a long time in my career I was with boutique agents but finally 2 years ago I acquired a mid-level agent. Other challenges include being type-cast due to language and mostly ethnicity. I have worked very hard over the years to be able to speak Standard American but sometimes the jobs require regional accents like southern or specific accents like New York etc. Black TV shows or movies prefer to use only blacks to play them and not an African yet we see native blacks playing Africans and putting on annoyingly fake accents.

  1. Let’s talk about your current role in the Christian movie God’s not Dead 2. How did you get the role?

My agent at the time Davis Talent Agency got me to the audition. I went in and auditioned. The list was then narrowed down to another actor and myself. We got the callback and after a second audition they went with me.

  1. What Main Theme Does The Movie Portray

The message that the movie hopes to pass along is that Christians should not be ashamed of their faith. Instead of putting God in a box, share Him with the world and if necessary in the face of opposition, defend Him.

  1. Is this you biggest Hollywood role yet?

I would say yes; this is my biggest supporting role yet since Tears of the Sun (with Bruce Willis) fifteen years ago. I am currently shooting a feature film which I am the lead for the first time in Hollywood. The movie is called Beautifully Broken and I believe from the subject matter and the fact that it is based on a true story, it’s going to be the biggest movie of my career to date. The film is about a survivor of the Rwanda Genocide that prompted the making of Hotel Rwanda some years back.

  1. Atheists have slammed the movie. Your take?

Atheists have slammed the movie because they are atheists-period. They don’t believe there is a God so they will do everything in their power to debate the issues and make arguments in favor of their belief system-there is no God.

  1. How Has the Movie Been Received, and What Does It Mean To You.

The first God’s Not Dead (GND) was received very well. In fact, it did so well it set the precedent of the Christian movies that followed (Noah, Son of God, Heaven is for Real, War Room et al). Hollywood realized that they can actually make money making Christian films. They did not, at first, believe there was a viable audience for it out there. GND 2 is now on its third week in the theaters and is off to a slow start but slowly gaining ground. The timing of its release to theaters coincided with other secular movies that are more favored by the world audience such: Zootopia, Batman Vs Superman, The Boss and then just this week, Barbershop and the Jungle Book.

  1. You have been working on self-funded project-Dysfunctionally Organized. Tell me more about this project.

Dysfunctionally Organized (DO) is a project dear to my heart. It tells the story about a man and his daughter who are both on the autism spectrum struggling to run a busy record label office. The reason I chose to talk about autism is because having been a teacher of children with autism for 15 years, I was tired of children on the Autism Spectrum being given label that did not give them justice at all. I wanted to show that individuals on the autism spectrum can also go on and excel in life in spite of their disability.

Unfortunately it has been tough getting it off the ground due to a lack of funding I have run a few campaigns on Indieogogo.com and shared it on my Facebook page, but unfortunately many of my friend haven’t bought into the vision and have chosen to LIKE it on Facebook rather than support it by contributing $1 towards it. But I am appreciative of the few who have contributed and helped us get to Episode III notably a true philanthropist, Lydia Akumu of Century Health Services in Bakersfield.

What Other Projects Are You Working On

We are currently writing the spin-off to Dysfunctionally Organized as requested by a major network that we pitched the idea to last month. They want us to write 10-11 minute episodes of the spin-off. They have been kind and given us three months. So we are furiously writing. Not many times do you get a break like we did. We are therefore working hard to write material that is funny at dramatic at the same time.

Any parting shot?

Thank you for taking the time to support actors like me who may seem not to have a voice but your platform gives it to us.