Actor Spaces chats with the young and talented Kenyan born Maxwell Simba, about his performance on Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Ejiofor penned the script from the book by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer about a 13-year-old Kamkwamba who, after being thrown out of school when his family could no longer afford the fees, still found a way to build a windmill that saved his Malawian village from famine.
1. The lockdown has allowed for a bigger rise on social media, there’s more accessibility to content. How has the reception you’ve received being from starring on The boy who harnessed the wind?
I believe more people have had a chance to stay back home and watch films, consequently I have had more people reach out to me and my agents about the impact the film has had on them or to congratulate the team for the great storytelling. More film reviewers have been recommending the film to other people, something which I believe was particularly on the rise after the pandemic hit.
2. Your are a young talent and have had a great opportunity that most are afforded later on in their careers, what has the opportunity to star on this film, The boy who harnessed the wind meant to you?
It meant I started appreciating filmmaking more. Being my debut film I had no idea what goes into the process but I developed a keen eye when watching films. I started appreciating actors’ and directors’ choices more as opposed to watching passively. It meant I got to connect with a lot of film makers globally and earn a different perspective of what film making entails outside the borders of Kenya. It also gave me the opportunity to acquire formal training at the Mason Gross School of arts, something that went a long way in sharpening my skills and craft.
THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND, FROM LEFT: MAXWELL SIMBA, 2019. PH: ILZE KITSHOFF/© NETFLIX
3. Aissa Maiga who plays Agnes Kamkwamba speaks about the freedom Chiwetel Ejiofor allowed all of you on set… How was that for you?
He always allowed me to make my choices on every take and all he ever did was shape the behavior I had given him. It meant I got to make instinctual choices which felt natural to me and true to the circumstance in the scene.
4. For the longest time, we’ve had other nationals tell and portray our stories, why is it important that we are lead in our stories?
I believe no one can tell our stories better than we can. We have a unique point of view and range of experiences that shape our behavior in a way that foreign nationals may not be able to portray regardless of their level of training or expertise.
5. What did you learn from playing William Kamkwamba?
Sometimes the world may doubt your vision but if you really believe in it, you’ll make it happen.
6. The character William Kamkwamba goes through a lot of mentally challenging scenarios – how did you prepare for this aspect?
I had a lot of skype calls with Chiwetel (Director) and Alexa Fogell (Casting director) for two months before we started shooting. A lot of this time was spent breaking down William’s emotions and how to cope with that as an actor. The set was also a really supportive environment and we’d have dinners together as a family (The Kamkwamba family) to take the edge off and check in on each other.
7. In preparing to play William Kamkwamba you mention that your main focus was reading the book and actually observing William Kamkwamba when he was in your presence on set – why was it so important to figure out this character on your own and not just asking William the relevant questions?
It was important to me that I understood his backstory in a more detailed and authentic way (The book) and it felt more comfortable that I got to get his points of views while he was younger (Through the book) as opposed to his now older and matured version. It also allowed me freedom to completely build the character from scratch according to how I perceived him.
THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND, FROM LEFT: MAXWELL SIMBA, CHIWETEL EJIOFOR, 2019. PH: ILZE KITSHOFF/© NETFLIX
8. What does it mean to be a committed Actor who owns a story?
A committed actor to me is one who does all the crafting at home and comes on set ready to shoot. It means that they are bringing everything to the table and cutting down the director’s work to only modifying their behavior to suit their vision and not creating new behavior during the moment. It means they do the actors homework of creating a whole persona of the character they are playing and have enough detailed information about their (Character) life to believe in the truth of the character’s circumstances.
9. Netflix keeps launching a lot of our African brewed content, why is this such a big deal to you?
This means that we get to tell our own stories in our own authentic voices and that local artists finally get their work streamed globally and the appreciation they deserve. It opens up information about the continent to the rest of the world and helps breakdown stereotypes about the continent that have been peddled previously.
10. Your words of motivation to an aspiring young black Actor reading this?
As cliché as it may sound, whatever is meant for you won’t miss you. No matter how long it takes. The truth is, every actor has their journey that is very separate from anyone else’s and the terrain gets tough before it gets better but if you really love the craft then you will learn to persevere and keep doing what you love.