Actor Kofi Siriboe talks about his road to "Queen Sugar"
Siriboe, 22, says he learned some important lessons from Oprah and Ava Duvernay
Over the next few months, there will be no shortage of new TV shows vying for viewers’ attention. Hopefully not lost in the chaos of dozens of series premieres? The great batch of fresh new talent poised to have breakout years.
CNN’s Fresh Faces interview series aims to introduce some of those talented newcomers.
Name: Kofi Siriboe, 22
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Where you might know him from: “Awkward” (MTV), “Straight Outta Compton”
Now starring in: Ava Duvernay’s family drama “Queen Sugar” (airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN)
He plays: Ralph Angel, a formerly incarcerated father trying make a new start for himself and his 6-year-old son Blue
Acting hero: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Favorite TV show: “Narcos”
Last show he binge watched: “Ray Donovan”
I start all of these interviews by asking everyone what their first paying job in the industry was. So, spill.
I started as a kid, when I was about 5 years old. Me and my brothers – there’s three of us and I’m the middle child – started doing print work and my first one was a Kumon commercial. [Laughs] It was ages ago. When I was about 17-18, I started taking [acting] more seriously and that’s when the TV work started picking up. I remember my first job that really shook the artist inside of me, I guess you would say, was “CSI.” As soon as I did “CSI” I was like, ‘This is fun.’ I really wanted to do this on a level I knew I had to work for.
Are your brothers still in acting?
Yeah, we’re all actually going to “The Steve Harvey Show” next week, which will be super exciting. But my little brother, Kwesi Boakye, has worked more than me; he has more credits than I do. My older brother, Kwame Boateng, is the same. They’ve been in the industry and are super vets.
Were your parents in the industry?
Actually, no. My parents came from Africa. They were both born in Ghana, West Africa, and they came out here. My mom went to college out here and my dad went to college in Ghana. And yeah, they weren’t born in the industry or know the industry. None of that.
So let’s talk about the audition process for “Queen Sugar.” This was obviously a very competitive project. How did you score the role?
It was exciting because I was in a place where I was really excited about auditions. And I just new something great was on the other end of all the auditions I was going on. But I saw Ava tweet that she was looking for this character to be filled – Ralph Angel. And you know when she tweets something you think, ‘Wow she must really need somebody because Ava is a good name. I’m sure she’s seen everybody – except for me!’ Clearly I hadn’t gone in the room yet if she was looking for this character. So that was ironic because the next day I got an audition to play this character and I felt like it just fit perfectly.
Wait! So after you saw the tweet, did you call your agent?
I didn’t even call anybody! I saw this tweet because I got tagged. There were a bunch of tags for all these other actors, and I had one or two tags. The next day I got an audition but I never even mentioned it to my team at all.
That’s amazing. This has been a crazy year for you. I watched the screeners for “Queen Sugar” and then watched a film you’re in, “Kicks,” for another story. I remember being stunned by your transformation. That character – Flaco – can be so mean! What appeals to you about playing that range?
I really love the different mediums of film and TV because Ralph Angel, I got to build. Flaco was created and I got to live with him for about two months and then let go of him, which was kind of hard. I love being able to bring vulnerability to characters that are normally looked at as very masculine. Like, Flaco has no remorse if you look at it on the surface level, but after watching the film, I would hope you would see the sensitivity and the vulnerability that was also in somebody like that. So that’s something I wanted to bring to Ralph Angel.
At 22, what is it like playing Ralph Angel, a character that has lived a lot of life? He’s essentially a single dad, been in trouble with the law. There’s so much packed into this role.
It’s kind of funny, I tell my friends to call me Uncle Kofi. [Laughs] I play up this whole dad aesthetic thing, and I feel like it carried over into my art. But it’s cool because I get to bring sensitivity and a young perspective to something that is looked at so one-sided. Being a dad can be young and cool and hard and complex and beautiful and all those things. So to have a shot to start a conversation at 22 is, for me, personally, practice for my own life. God knows I can’t wait to be a father and actually have children one day. It’s also really just to push that narrative forward and represent something for a kid who might not really see a father like that in their life.
Tell me about working with Ava and Oprah. What did you learn?
Working with Ava and Oprah was a dream come true. I had no idea what to expect because my expectations were so high for both of them. But they were so welcoming and open and shared themselves and the knowledge they’ve acquired through their journeys. I feel like literally the luckiest actor in the world.
Is there a memory or a moment during filming that stands out? Something that you’re going to remember 20 years from now?
Oprah called me in the middle of the season. I think it was episode 6 or 7, and we spoke on the phone for 20-30 minutes and giving me praises about the work I’d been doing. She told me that even though she’s not on set every single day, she’d been watching [footage]. She was just very, very warm and shared how she felt about it and how it affected her. That kind of love and praise coming from somebody I respect so highly, it motivated me to finish up the season strongly. I felt like an athlete in a weird way – an emotional athlete. She and Ava and all the directors were my coach and around episode 7 or 8, it was the playoffs. Then we had the finals. I felt very supported. For her to be Oprah – and Ava to be Ava – and give those phone calls and send those text messages and late night emails, that meant the world to me because they don’t have to do that. This is show business and they made it so much more than that. They made it a very personal experience.
That’s such a classy move.
Yeah, it is. I took notes from that. I really did.
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.