Refugee that became a star

Andrew Moyo —
WHILE Zimbabwe has been celebrating achievements by local actors who have made it big on the international scene; the likes of Danai Gurira, Tongayi Chirisa and Leroy Gopal — there is one other name that has been in the shadows despite making some major moves in front of the camera and on stage.

Many Zimbabweans might not recognise her name, but London-based actress, Chipo Chung, has been doing some big things on the international film scene.

From acting as an alien in the famous British series “Doctor Who”, to portraying Marry Magdalene in “A.D The Bible Continues”, her stock has been rising with every role she has taken up.

The actress with half Zimbabwean, half Chinese ancestry has appeared in numerous productions ranging from theatre to the big screen, in a career spanning over a decade.

Some of the productions she has featured on include “Proof”, “Sunshine”, “Identity”, “Camelot”, “Sherlock”, “Fortitude” and “Thirteen” to name just a few.

She has also earned another big role on the second season of ABC’s martial arts drama “Into the Badlands”, which is set to further strengthen her acting credentials.

The actress came back home recently for the launch of “Creative Zimbabwe”, an arts initiative spearheaded by Petina Gappah and her brother Uchi.

The Sunday Mail Leisure caught up with the actress last week and she spoke about her colourful career and how she got to be where she is. She was born in Tanzania in 1977 as her mother, Fay Chung, moved there to escape the war of liberation in the then Rhodesia.

“My mother had left the country because of the war that was going on so I was born in Tanzania and only came back home in 1980 with a lot of people who came back after the struggle,” said Chung.

Growing up in Harare, she attended Blakistone Primary School before moving to Dominican Convent High School where she completed her secondary education. It was in high school where she developed the passion for acting and started doing drama.

“I spent my last year and a half in high school teaching Drama at the Convent while I was also doing plays at Reps Theatre.”

Chung also said that Chipawo played a big role in shaping her career along with other arts practitioners who went on to excel in the industry.

“I was in the first intake of Chipawo with Chiwoniso Maraire, Danai Gurira and a few others. It was a very strong intake of girls at that time with ‘Girl Power’ being Chipawo’s theme during that period.

“I then started working with Repteens at Reps then moved on to Over the Edge when I was a bit older before going to university.”

Chung went to Yale University in the USA where she studied Theatre Studies and Art, a period where she took up photography.

After completion of her studies she moved to the UK and enrolled in drama school to further her education in acting.

“I went to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, which is one of the best drama schools in the world so that was my entry point. Acting is very competitive so I knew it would help to go to a good drama school though it is not entirely necessary considering that there are many other actors who are more successful than me who never went through drama school.

“I grew up with a strong respect for education so I went through seven years of higher education in order to become an actor, which is as long as it takes to become an actor.”

Her first role in theatre after she finished school was playing Ophelia in “Hamlet” with her big break coming in 2005 when she did a play at the Royal Court called “Talking to Terrorists”.

After her success on stage, she got an opportunity to venture on the television scene, appearing on “Doctor Who” as an alien.

“My first role in television came in ‘Doctor Who’, which is one of the most popular shows to come out of Britain and I played an insect alien named Chantho. The experience was sort of funny because I was acting opposite Derek Jacobi, who is a famous Shakespearean actor that I had watched when I was still doing Richard II back in high school.”

She said that despite getting opportunities to be on some big shows, there was nothing like instant success.

“I have been acting for over 10 years now, so I guess instant success is always the work of many years so I have had my highs and I have also had my lows.”

Her role in “A.D The Bible Continues”, is probably her biggest to date, despite having other projects in the pipeline which might even be bigger.

“Playing Mary Magdalene in A.D The Bible Continues was very special because I had gone to the Dominican Convent and I grew up Catholic so I was imbued in that history but it was also interesting revisiting that as an adult.”

With the second season of “Into the Badlands”, coming out next year, she was excited to be on the series, which is on the same channel that her friend Gurira has made a name with the popular series, “The Walking Dead”.

“I am loving the fact that ‘Into The Badlands’, will be showing on the same channel that Danai Gurira’s ‘The Walking Dead’ will be showing — so that’s awesome considering that we have been friends for a long time.

“I am very proud to be Zimbabwean and to be representing the country on the international stage because we are under-represented despite being very talented.”

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  • Shoko

    Of course we can’t mention that her father is Rugare Gumbo that would be the wrong politics!