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'Hit & Run' Star Kevin Mambo Talks Acting, Music, And His Greatest Inspiration



Tell us a bit about yourself.

What can I say? I'm an introverted-extrovert artist who was born in Zimbabwe and lives in NYC. I’m a musician and also make my living as an actor/director/writer. I’m avid about food and my puppy, Penelope.

We also see that you are an avid musician. You learned how to play the piano, saxophone, and guitar at a young age. Did you like acting from childhood? What sparked your interest in becoming an actor?

I never thought I would be an actor, but my mother reminded me that she took me to see children's theater at a very young age. After seeing the Jackson Five from the front row, and doing the choreography (I got teased as "Jackson 6”), I thought I was going to sing. I’ve always connected to the arts. I love film and TV. I was raised on Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Warner Brothers vaudeville cartoons! I can quote all of that stuff still; I think I learned Eddie Murphy's “Delirious” word-for-word, front-to-back by age fifteen. I can say it was a hit at jazz camp.

Who or what inspires you to give it your all each and every day?

My mother. She raised two headstrong boys with discipline, sacrifice, and leading by example. She spent a lot of time with chronic illness but never blinked. I reach for that when I think there isn't anything left in the tank sometimes. Also, any time one can be of service or extend kindness, I feel that is the energy that helps others and also rejuvenates our own selves. Love is powerful.

What do you like the most about being an actor? The least?

I love being able to create, problem solve, work with a team, learn, ride together in what is essentially a dream, and share that dream with others.

I hate the look I get if they mess up my makeup, wardrobe, or hair. I hate being on set in the wee hours on the water—and not having any long johns. That is very, very brutal. We work long and brutal hours, the entire team does. Keeping up the right energy for every single take is not an easy task, no matter what side of the camera you are on. First the grind then, if you are lucky, comes a little glamour. Only a small sliver of people get to have that. Even under the daily complaints is gratitude though.

You have been part of so many different projects on stage and on screen. Tell us about some of them. What type of acting do you prefer? Stage acting or screen?

I’m fortunate to have been asked to do impactful and historical work. From working with Lynn Nottage to starring in Fela! about the socio-political Pan Africanist music genius, Fela Kuti, to playing Jimmy Rodgers in Cadillac Records. I often get to cross paths with the people who are a part of these stories and movements. Mr. Roger's daughter is now a friend of mine. The history that created change, and the commentary that altered said history—I have a front-row seat to some of these flashpoints. I find that when you are engaged properly in stage or screen, everything else—for such a brief second—entirely disappears. It can really be an elusive thing—a Zen state, really. That said, the stage is the medium of the actor; taking the time to hone and craft a real human being, usually with some chronology. I always like working on the boards to learn and keep my tools sharp. I've left a lot of blood there.

Tell us about your latest show Hit & Run on Netflix. How did you prepare for the role?

Playing Detective Newkirk in Hit & Run was really fun and I learned a lot. The show is an international mystery that keeps unfolding in ways you least expect. Given that and our Noir style, I spent a lot of time preparing by contemplating silence and discovery. My father was a forensic pathologist; when I was younger, I would always ask him about crime scenes and clues. I read all of his and my mother's medical textbooks. I got into solving the problem in a clear and direct way. The silence helped bring the audience to discovery; I learned that you have to guide them since they are seeing what's happening through your eyes.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Any hobbies?

I've started some professional writing projects that I am also directing. I have a love for kitchens: knives, boards, flames. . . all of it. I used to post a lot of food pictures, I lost a few friends because of it. I love DJ'ing. I got to play at some legendary NYC venues: Sound Factory, DEEP, Limelight, and Gaslight (where I was a resident). Music can be all-consuming. I spent decades attending and singing in Jazz Clubs throughout Harlem.

With your diverse acting background, what is the first thing you do to research and approach a new role?

The legend Geraldine Page always started with hands—genius—and how we interact with the world. I usually start with physicality. I then research good versions of my ideas, and the bad ones as well. Being proficient with dialect helps it to sink in. Next comes state of mind. Then I find flaws denoted by other characters. All into the blender, pulse, pulse, serve.

Have you had to face any pandemic-related challenges while preparing or filming for roles? How has this affected film and media?

The first three episodes of Hit & Run were actually shot last in Israel during COVID. The rest were shot in NYC. I’m working on a film now that has had people in all parts of our team affected. I had COVID for several months—it is nothing to play with, at all. It deeply affects a shooting or performance schedule. This work requires congregation, even on a one-person show.

We hear you are doing amazing things, in particular, the Greatest Stories Never Told. Tell us about this.

It was a company that I was invited to join. I helped with a rewrite of Flying Hobos: the story of the first two African American men who flew across the country in their own self-built plane. The show features science and it's interactive, so the kids get to help us solve the problems that they are encountering along the way. It has been very, very rewarding. Next, Bessie Coleman and Katy Payne: we offer children a glimpse of amazing and yet unsung heroes that LOOK LIKE THEM. It is a very empowering tool to give kids so they may attempt what they may believe is unthinkable. It’s about having them understand on a deeper level that their capacity is infinite. The next thing may be beyond sight, but not beyond grasp. Now that we have a digital production, we can reach multitudes of dreaming kids. That is a reward in and of itself.